Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Let's Talk About Websites

We live in a digital world. Everyone is online, and it's not uncommon to see toddlers with their own iPods and iPads. Gone are the days where a reader hears about a new author and checks said author out at their friendly neighborhood bookstore; now, when hearing of a new book or author, a reader hops online to see what the hype is all about. Without a website to land at, where is the reader getting the information?

Truth time: it takes a thirty-minute drive for me to get to my nearest bookstore, and their YA/NA (my most read categories) section is nearly nonexistent. The nearest Barnes & Noble is an eighty-mile drive. We have a decent public library, but it is still sadly lacking in many of the books I like to read. The internet is where I need to go to get what I want.

Amazon has done great things for those looking for information; often I peruse author and book pages, looking over reviews to see how others seem to like the book I'm interested in. But I've found that many readers, myself included, like a more personal look at the author, something that shows unique style and personality, and this is where the author website comes in.

Websites don't have to be a scary thing, I promise. While learning HTML and CSS (it's okay of you don't know what that means) can help you get your site looking exactly how you want it, it's not at all necessary to get things going. So what do you need?

  • A Domain Name: This isn't totally necessary (you'll notice this blog is not on a custom domain), but having your own domain name has its benefits, the most obvious being that readers don't have to remember if your site is at blogspot or wordpress or any other number of free hosting sites. Domain names are cheap, and you can point them to one of these sites, keeping your hosting free. 
  •  A Web Host: You can host your website through Blogger and, and that is a great route to go, especially when you are first starting off. If and when you want more control, you will need paid hosting. A quick web search will turn up many great options for this. 

Yeah, that's pretty much it, and you'll notice that both of those things are easy and potentially free. That's how simple it is to get yourself a website. It's really something that we, as writers, can't afford not to do. A quick Twitter poll shows me that I am not the only person who has bought an author's book in large part because I liked what I saw on her website, nor am I the only one who skipped a book I was neutral about when I was unable to find anything on the author. There are a lot of books out there, y'all, and we need to be doing what we can to make information about ours as accessible as possible. 

After asking around, I found that most people have specific things they like to see on an author website. So if you are just getting started on your site, or looking to update an existing one soon, consider making sure you have these elements: 

  • An About the Author page. Yes, people want to know about your books, but especially in this society of knowing the ins and outs of everyone's life, they want to know about YOU. This doesn't mean you have to tell us all the gritty details of your life (in fact, please don't), but a little something is nice. Help us put a person behind the words. 
  • Pages About Your Books. After all, why are we there? Give us synopses, teasers, extras, playlists... whatever you are comfortable sharing. Your books are your babies; this is your chance to make them shine and convince readers to read them.
  • A Contact page. How else will your adoring fans send you gushing letters of endless love?
  • A Blog. This one comes with a caveat: only have the blog if it's something you enjoy doing. Don't force it; readers will be able to tell.

You can have much, much more than this, and many authors do, but I suggest having at least these basic elements. 

I've been studying author sites for weeks now, taking notes of things I like and dislike about them, as I set out to redesign my own website, and I'm interested to hear from y'all: 

Which author websites are your favorites, and why? Leave it in the comments. 

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