The 10 Essential Ingredients Every Author Website Needs
If you’re a writer looking to make a living from your books, you’d be right to get an author website together. This place on the internet becomes your central hub where readers can find your body of work in one coherent place.
Creating an author website doesn’t necessarily involve the same ideas and activities as other business websites. In this post, I’ll break down the 10 essential ingredients I believe every author website needs, so you can be sure you’ve got everything covered for your author website.
1. An appropriate domain name
The obvious choice for authors is to get a website named after themselves. Here, I’m using janicecumberlidge.com as my author website, which should be easy for readers to find if they type in my name into one of the search engines. If you use a pen name to write under, you can try to get that name as your domain.
Another option, if you write books in different genres and don’t want to confuse your audience by having non-complementary books under one umbrella, is to create a website named after your book. For example, I have crackingthewebsitecode.com for my first book (Cracking The Website Code), and that’s where I write articles on the topic of web design and marketing, as well as providing access to the bonuses I offer with that book.
To find out if the domain name you’d like to use is available, you can use instantdomainsearch.com to check names as you type. I’d advise registering the domain name with the same company you are going to use for your website hosting. I use LCN.com here in the UK and I can also recommend bluehost.com if you’re in the US.
2. A design that reflects your style or genre
When you create your website, you’ll want to design it in a way that appeals to the readers in your genre. You can do this by including colours and images that reflect or complement those used on your book covers. If the design of your website doesn’t align with the emotions your books stir up, you’re less likely to have new visitors to your site signing up for your mailing list or buying your books.
Make your website such that there is no doubt what type of author you are and design it to complement the mood you conjure up in your books. If you’re a romance writer with uplifting stories of love, this may mean that you choose one or two of the colours from your book cover and use those as a basis for your website design. Likewise, if you’re a horror writer, you may want to include dark images that reflect some of the scenes imagined in your books.
3. Features or pages for each of your books or series
It should go without saying that you will want to feature all your books on your author website. After all, that’s one of the main reasons readers will look you up or visit you on the internet – to find out more about your books.
If you have just a handful of books in your collection, you may want to display these all on one page of your site – probably the home page, as this is where visitors are likely to land if they visit your site without going through a link you provided. You could display your books as 3-D images on a bookshelf where visitors can click through to learn more, or have a section of the web page dedicated to each book individually – an expanded version with a description and reader reviews for example. The choice is yours.
If you have a large collection of books, whether it be standalone books in one genre, or over several series or different genres, you may want to show your latest book in each collection on the home page, with a click through to learn more about the full series on a separate page.
Whichever way you choose, be sure to make navigation simple, and minimise the number of clicks a visitor has to make to get to the information they’re looking for.
4. Your author biography
Most people who read your books will only have a passing interest in you as an author – they normally just want to learn more about your fiction, not your life history – so your author bio doesn’t need to be more than a few sentences or a couple of paragraphs long. If you do want to expand on your life as an author, you could show a button in the short version of your bio so that readers can click through and read your long version. This should satisfy most visitors and not distract those who aren’t too fussed.
5. Ways for readers to sign up for your list
“A list?” I hear you cry. Yes, a list! An email list to be precise.
If you’re serious about your long-term career as an author (even if it’s not your full-time occupation at the moment), you will definitely need to start an email list.
Why? Because people who are willing to give you their email address so they can get to know you and your work better are likely to be more deeply invested in you and therefore buy from you when you have new work available. The only exception to this would be if you grew your list by offering a free incentive that many people would want, even if they don’t care about your books, such as a Kindle or iPad giveaway – these are not going to be your target readers most of the time.
Starting an email list is very easy, but what you don’t want to do is start collecting email addresses then send out updates from your personal mail account on your computer. In order to centralise your reader contacts list and make it a whole lot easier to deliver content in a timely manner, you are best starting off with Mailchimp as your email service provider. It’s free up to a certain number of contacts (2000 at the time of writing) and you can even create automated email sequences that can be sent out on a fixed schedule after a reader signs up. Mailchimp is the service provider I am using to collect reader email addresses (see the footer of this page to sign-up for mine, I’d love to have you!) Other email providers include GetResponse and Benchmark (which I have also used) and Mailerlite – just find the one that appeals to you the most as they all do pretty much the same thing.
Autoresponders are great for delivering content to your new subscribers, without you having to lift a finger. You can pre-define a series of emails and schedule them to go out a set number of days after your reader signed up, so if you set up a few of these emails up front, your reader will be able to get to know you and your books over a period of time, and you have the potential to make new sales by the end of the sequence, or in future when you have more to offer.
With each of the email service providers, you will be able to design a form to place on your website, that will enable visitors to put in their name and email address, so that they can get themselves onto your reader list and receive any goodies you have to offer, which leads me to the next point…
6. An incentive for readers to sign up for your list
Now you know you need an email sign up, it’s time to think what your readers would like as a welcome gift in exchange for their email address. Many authors give away the first book in a series, two or three novellas, or even the first book in each of your series’ (if you’re more prolific!). I have tested giving away a chapter of one of my books as an incentive, and I don’t believe it was enough. To make the most of the people that land on your website sign-up page, your offer has to be easy to understand and too good to resist. I’m working on a suitable giveaway for my mailing list that is in line with the type of novel I’m currently writing. If only there were more hours in the day!
One thing to note is that you shouldn’t give away your whole book if you are tied into Amazon KDP Select – their terms say you may only share a small (10-15% – check their terms for the exact amount today) sample of your book for free. If you share more than this and they find out, you could be banished from their store, which wouldn’t be good for your future sales potential! So if you do have a series of books and want to give the first away, take this book out of KDP Select and leave the others included in it if you want to take advantage of their program.
7. Regular content updates
What do you put on your author website? Should you make it a static site that just serves the purpose of getting new readers to sign up for your list and informing existing readers of new books? Or should you constantly try to update your site with new and interesting posts your readers may be interested in?
There is no correct answer to this question and it really is up to you how you spend your time – would you be better writing more books and getting them out for sale, or would extra traffic to your site give you valuable new readers to introduce all your books to? Both are highly desirable so it comes down to what you as an author are comfortable to do. But if you leave your site with the basic set of pages and don’t do regular content updates, you will need to work harder to make sure you get new visitors to your site and onto your list, as Mr. Google will not have a whole host of pages from your site to feature in his search results.
8. Ways for readers to buy your books
It goes without saying that as an author, you want people to read your books. This means you will need to offer a way for readers to land on the appropriate sales pages.
This can be as simple as having a single web page that displays all your books covers with a brief description, then a link through to your preferred book store (or a choice of book stores readers can click through to).
On my website here, I currently have my books displayed on the home page, so that people landing here can get an appreciation of my work without having to go hunting for it. You will see I have buttons that take visitors straight to my Amazon page, for ease of purchase.
9. A way for readers or press to contact you
Being a shy, unassuming author is all very well, but if you have a great book on your hands and people want to congratulate you on it or – even better – feature you in a publication or on a podcast for example, you’ll need an easy way for people to contact you. The simplest method is to put a contact form onto your website, where visitors can leave their name, email and message, and this is delivered straight to your inbox.
What not to do is display your email address straight in plain text on your website – this invites spam or junk mail by the thousands and you will soon wish you hadn’t made such a silly move. Make sure to install a fit-for-purpose contact form on your site, and make it easy to find via a ‘Contact’ menu option.
10. A flavour of ‘you’
Readers who want to know more about you as an author and as a real-life person (yes, we’re real, ha ha) will appreciate you putting your personality into your website and your emails. After your books and your content, you are the one thing that may intrigue your readers, so be sure to share your writing journey, the progress you’re making on your upcoming books, and a taste of your life outside of your love of writing. The more engaged your readers are with you personally, the more likely they will be to purchase book after book from you, because it will feel like they’re supporting a friend. I’m a cat-lover (some say crazy-cat-lady) so I’ve injected a few cats around the place, but all in good taste and nothing too intrusive.
And that, as they say, is a wrap.
I hope you agree with my list of the 10 essential ingredients every author website must have, but if you have any more to add, please comment below, I’d love to hear what’s working for you and your author website!