9 Essential Things Most Author Websites Need And Don’t Have

Do you have an author website?

And yeah, I hear some of you saying you don’t need one because you aren’t published yet.

Are you querying? Are you agented? Then it is time to start thinking about finding and connecting with your audience. Don’t panic. Just start thinking about it as well as the persona you’d like to put out in the world when you are a published author.

By the way, if you are a nonfiction writer this is part of your platform which is a MUST in today’s publishing world. You can’t sit back and think about it, you need to start building today. In fact, yesterday would have been better. (Trust me, I’ve been down that road. Email me if you have questions about that.)

The deal is this: It’s time to start building your brand and drawing readers to your website for content that speaks to them and ties in with what you like to write about and who you are as an author or to-be-author. You know–that certain something that sets you apart from the herd. That place where your real life experience and passions tie in with what your audience needs. And yes, that takes time to discover and poke at, so the sooner you start, the better you will be at it honing in on it when your book comes out and you need to hook some readers. After all, you want them to keep coming back to your website, right? Right. (If you aren’t sure why you want to do that, keep reading.)

Jean Oram.com banner. Simplicity at its best for an author website

Keep it simple!

After snooping around at fellow author websites a few months back I discovered several common missing elements from their author websites. When you build your author website or blog, these are nine things to keep in mind no matter what you write about.

Seven Elements of a Successful Author Website

1. A reason to come back to the site.

This is huge and strangely very often forgotten about. Put yourself in the reader’s shoes. Think about websites that YOU like to return to again and again. Are they amusing? Maybe short posts with something you can use in your weekly improvement goals? Is it a serialization of a short story that has you hooked? Now think what you can provide to your own website that is of value to your readers. Something that will make them want to come back again and again. (And then see that you have just released a new book that they can’t help but buy!)

2. Mailing lists

This is called permission marketing. In other words, you have gained the permission of the list-signer-upper to market to them. Not spam them. Market to them. Gently and eloquently. They sign up for your list because they feel that it will provide value to them. In other words, when you have a new book out, or a deleted scene too good not to share with the world, they want to hear about it.

How perfect is that? Think of all the times you’ve stumbled across an author you liked, looked them up, found they didn’t have any more books to read and wandered off again? A mailing list (prominently displayed) on your website/blog is a great way to connect with your readers long-term and remind them (gently, of course) that you have more content (books) they may like. There is no need to send newsletters or emails frequently. Some authors send theirs out once or twice a year and are maybe a half a page in length–the important lesson here is value to the reader (something to make them sit up and go YEAH! I LOVE THIS!).

3. Reader content

I touched on this above, but basically what I am getting at here is that you need to have something on your site that is valuable to your reader. Yes, they want to learn a bit more about you, but they also want to be entertained, uplifted, and maybe even dazzled. They want to get something of value. It is a crazy-busy world with 80 million things tugging at our attention. Give them something that makes it worth their while. Put yourself in their shoes and you can’t go wrong.

4. Mobile friendly

A lot of people surf the web from their phones, tablets, and even ereaders. This site, for example, looks a-okay on my husband’s Kobo as well as on my iPhone. Your website or blog theme doesn’t have to be fancy, but get a theme that is “mobile responsive.” Don’t use those stupid plugins that say they make your website mobile friendly. Generally speaking, they suck. They do in a pinch, but aren’t the answer. Yes, even the WordPress one and the Blogger one can kind of suck. For example, have you ever tried commenting on a Blogger blog with a phone using their mobile version (I’m talking about regular themes with a mobile option rather than a true mobile responsive theme)? It doesn’t work for me. And so I rarely comment on Blogger blogs anymore because about 80% of the time I check blogs from my phone and I can’t be bothered to scroll all the way down to click on ‘full website’ or whatever it is. I’m sure I’m not the only one.

Responsive theme

Responsive theme as currently used on The Helpful Writer. Check it out on your mobile device. How does it look? Let me know!

5. Social media

Readers sometimes want to connect with authors. Make sure you have your social media links, etc., in a prominent place so readers can connect. Connecting through social media with those most interested is another way to create visibility for your brand and titles. It’s not about the number of followers, it’s about having quality followers who are genuinely interested in what you are sharing.

6. Media page

A media page is basically a page with an extended bio, headshot, list of books, cover art, etc. It is a page for reviewers and reporters to get the basics they need about you in order to post it on their blog or in their article. Make it easy for them. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone to author websites looking for a headshot or cover art and not found it! Make sure you also leave contact info–your email address. This could mean the difference between being contacted for an article or similar opportunity or not.

7. Book selling links

This is a no-brainer–or so you would think. You have books to sell? Make it easy. Link the crap out of your book. Don’t just list one seller hidden away in the depths of your website, give readers options–even if nobody ever clicks on all the suppliers, someone might! Plus, people like options (within reason, of course).

8. Up to date

Keep your site up-to-date. If you can’t update things like your bio regularly, make sure the content you place online is evergreen–in other words as good today as it will be in six months. But… you may also run into the issue of making it worth your reader’s while to come back to your website. On the flip side, if your content stays the same on your website BUT you have a REALLY strong and compelling call to action that encourages TONS of your visitors to sign up for your mailing list, then your website has done its job. (Assuming that is your site’s purpose, to funnel readers/visitors into your mailing list where you really razzle-dazzle, sparkle and shine.

9. Keep it simple

You don’t need a lot on your author website. Keep it clean, crisp, and not crazy-busy. Make it easy to find the content listed above and your reader will love you! (As well, reading simple design websites on mobile devices is much, much better.)

What do you think? As a reader/fan, what do you like on author websites? Do you have an author or author-to-be website/blog? Leave a link to your site in the comment section as well as your thoughts on author websites.

P.S. My new one is at www.jeanoram.com. What do you think? Does it need improvement?

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15 comments on “9 Essential Things Most Author Websites Need And Don’t Have
  1. Jodi says:

    Don’t use Flash! Would be a tip I would add to that. I know that sort of follows the mobile friendly site rule. Flash is a huge issue on most of the sites I’ve been seeing.

    Second do not use music on your site. Nothing worse then cruising around the internet at midnight all the sudden having music blasting out of your speakers.

    Third. Give away swag. I don’t care if its just a desktop background people want free stuff.

    Well I loved the article and I realize I need to do some of this myself. Chow.

    • jeanoram says:

      Jodi, those are excellent tips. Along with avoiding Flash we should probably also mention website load times. Some are horrific and turn impatient surfers away.

      And yes, music is a no-no. At least the stuff that autoplays.

      Thanks for adding your most valuable two cents, Jodi.

      • Jemi Fraser says:

        Those are great tips! I’ve got my blog going on, but I really need to get busy creating a website too! One of these days!

        Agree with Jodi about the music too – that one drives me nuts 🙂

        • jeanoram says:

          Jemi, a blog is a fantastic place to get your feet wet. It’s nice to start a website before you think you need it so you have time to iron out glitches. For example, for some reason this blog isn’t showing me the website first page–just jumping to the blog when I view it on mobile. And so it is nice to have things running smoothly by then. Plus, it is nice to know who to contact if things go wonky–I had another website of mine run out of bandwidth on the weekend. Eeek! But I knew who to talk to so it was resolved quickly.

  2. Sounds like some good stuff there. I think I need to add a “signup” to my website … send an e-mail on new publications … just have to figure out how. Also, I probably ought to put Amazon and B&N links, but I would really rather have the buyer go to the publisher’s website for the book. Hey, we all know, that gets a higher royalty amount on the sale!

    • jeanoram says:

      Higher royalty rates aren’t to be snubbed, James. In that case I think I’d do like you! Plus, the reader may find other great books they enjoy from the publisher. That’s a win-win.

      A sign up isn’t too difficult. There are plugins and widgets for WordPress and there must be for Blogger as well (which are two of the more popular DIY site builders). The hard part is deciding which mailing list provider is best. I like Mail Chimp but I have heard great things about Constant Contact and another one that escapes me at the moment. Basically, the good ones will offer a ‘small’ list service for free with the option to upgrade (pay) for more circulation. They will also help you make sure you stay within SPAM laws and offer text, mobile, and HTML mailing options. You can also separate your list so you only email some folks, track clicks and open rates, etc. Snoop around, see what others are using–and of course, Google until you know all you think you need to know about it!

      Good luck!

      • I don’t want to put a signup on my blog, I want it on my website which is coded in pure raw HTML. I’ve looked and there are two pieces I need … one is easy, the other I need to study. And I have no intention of paying someone to mail out notices. Once I figure out how to collect e-mail addresses, I can just build a mailing list in Mozilla Thunderbird and send e-mails manually. Don’t expect to do more than 3 or 4 a year, on releases of new books.Thanks for the suggestions, but I want to keep it real simple … and real cheap!

        • jeanoram says:

          James, it sounds like you have a plan and the skills and know-how to pull it off! Good stuff! If you use raw HTML for your site your options for the sign up will be exactly how you want it. If you go your own route with a mailing list I might suggest making sure it is easy to unsubscribe (SPAM laws and all). I’ve ended up on some lists (never subscribed–but that’s a different issue) where there is no way to get off the list other than to email the list owner personally and request removal.

      • Pia Sparks says:

        Aweber and Mailchimp seem to be the kings in list building. I use aWeber, and although it’s pricey, I think it’s worth it. The stats and tools are really cool.

        • jeanoram says:

          Thanks Pia. It does sound like Aweber, MailChimp, and also Constant Contact are the big ones. The stats features, like you said, can be so very helpful in determining what works and what doesn’t for newsletters. Good to hear from someone using Aweber. Thanks!

  3. Katz says:

    I certainly with my favourite authors had mailing lists I could sign up for, or at least Facebook pages that are updated regularly. I also like to see a list of personal appearances the author is doing such as conferences, speeches or book signings.

    • jeanoram says:

      Hi Katz.

      Good call on keeping social media up-to-date. Authors never seem to come to my area, but if you lived in New York or somewhere major I could see how knowing when and where a fav author might turn up could be thrilling!

      Thanks for commenting.

  4. Hey Jean great blog. going to go back through my webpage with your tips in mind.

  5. I’m certain it will. Now just gotta make it a priority. Thanks.

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