Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Website Wednesday

I was thinking the other night about what elements are absolutely necessary to a writer's on-line presence, and I have determined that it boils down to one thing: a website.

I must admit, as a reader, it's nice to have a Twitter account to follow should I want to read 140-character missives from my literary heroes at 3:00 AM, and I do like the idea of being pretend bros with my favorite authors on Facebook. When I've read a book I really enjoy, however, and I want to read more work by that author or learn more about him/her, I generally throw their name into Google in the hopes of finding an author website.

Websites are more crucial than social networking sites (or even author blogs, although many an author website sports a blog as a component) in that they provide a relatively self-contained, centralized point on the web at which readers can learn about upcoming author readings, other books by the author, reviews, the author's biography, and so on.

A few rules of thumb, in the oft-used and ne'er-gone-wrong Bullet-O-Vision™:

· Give your website a modern feel. No 1996-style frames, animated .gifs, tiled backgrounds of your dog, rainbow page breaks, &c. Hire a professional (or your teenage son) if need be.

· Less is more. You don't need to record every single award you've won or article you've written since middle school; stick to the basics.

· Choose a good domain name. Hint: "http://www.newjohnsmith1-2-3today.info/" is not a good domain name.

· If you've got an agent and/or publisher, make sure they link to your site. Also, if you do decide to rock the Facebook/Twitter frontiers, make sure those accounts link back to your site, as well.

· Use Google Analytics (or a similar service) to track the number of visits, page views, &c your site receives on a daily/weekly/monthly basis. You'll be glad you did.


  1. I was just getting ready to overhaul my website, so this was a very helpful Bullet-O-Vision. Thanks!

  2. HAHAHA: "Hire a professional (or your teenage son) if need be."

    So true, so true. Also, I would say IF you're going to have music (please don't! but IF you do...) make d*mn sure there's an option to turn it off.

    Also be aware that Flash and other animations look cool, but not everyone has great computers, browsers, or internet connections.

  3. I have just created my website, and now working out the contents etc. so this was an interesting post. My host offers visitors details, but I hadn't though of using Google Analytics. I will go and check out if it offers anything extra.

  4. The compliment I receive most frequently is on the quality of my website (http://josephlselby.com). More and more, I see prospective authors using blogs as their websites. Perhaps this is because of the amount of industry professionals on Blogger or the ease of setting up a WordPress site. I think it falls short of what the website is meant to communicate to potential readers. They want to know about your writing, about your future writing, and a little about you to establish some sense of internet friendship which can grow into product loyalty. Blogs might be able to list that in various posts and then offer links in the sidebar, but it isn't clean, isn't intuitive, and it doesn't keep the viewer on the page for long.

    If you're using Google Analytics (more useful for bloggers, podcasters, and salesmen who can use it to track what works and what doesn't), one of the metrics is how long users stay on the page. If a page is uninteresting or overly complex to the point the user has to stop and figure it out, they'll just bounce away and you'll see "average time spent viewing: 7 secs" and that's just disappointing given how much information you put there.

    There are some templates in WordPress that move away from the standard blog format (and others that can be changed to appear so if you know some php). Freewebs is a useful service, but it gives you less bandwidth than if you run your own site through a domain host like Go Daddy. Still, if you don't have the money to hire someone to build you a professional site or the ability to do it yourself, it is a suitable option.

  5. Terrific advice! I'm constantly googling authors to see what's on their website, and if it's outdated, ugly, hard to navigate, or unprofessional looking, I can't help but feel a tiny bit differently about that author and his/her books. I suppose that makes me a judgmental bitch, but I can't help being a very visual creature.

    Love the blog!

  6. Actually, I'm going to have to disagree with Joseph here. (Although I will say his website is lovely :D .) As an Internet marketer, I see blogs used successfully as static websites all the time. If you use it correctly, a blog back-end is more than sufficient for a writer's website. (An ecommerce website, not so much.)

    In addition to blog posts, WordPress also creates static pages. The vast majority of templates I've seen display these pages as a top navigation menu bar (with an option to list them on the sidebar on any template). They are just like the pages on any other website—atemporal, static information such as biographies, books, contacts, etc. In fact, there's no requirement to have a blog anywhere on a site just because you use WordPress as the content management system—the entire site can be static pages, from the front page on down.

    (With some coding, the top-nav menu bar is also possible in Blogger, though it isn't as neat as it is in WordPress, as Joseph notes.)

    WordPress is very flexible and customizable, and although there can be a steep learning curve, it doesn't require ever learning or even seeing code.

    Google Analytics is also highly useful in determining where your visitors are coming from--what websites are linking to you or talking about you, or which of your online efforts are making an impact.

    Eric's advice is great. I've done a couple series of author website reviews with a professional website designer as well as a series on what author websites should do (and I also did that article on Nathan Bransford's blog the same week as Eric, on what an aspiring author's website should have) on my website, JordanMcCollum.com .

  7. I definitly think its great for authors to have a website too, it helps the reader feel closer to them and in a sense creates a community.

  8. @Jordan: Don't get me wrong, I think when done write a blog-style website can be effective. I just don't think it's done right very often. It's best utilized for exactly how it's named: a blog, which requires semi-regular and relevant updates, something an author might not be inclined to do. A sparsely updated blog is almost worse than no website at all. The style of the website needs to be what's most effective for the author, and I say in most cases that's not a blog.

    I have built seven different WordPress sites (podgecast.com as well as gamelocus.net and its subsidiary sites) and without coding, most of them could not have reached anything but their barest potential without an ability to intuit or genuinely understand php, which is not as simple as HTML.

    I don't think this goes just for authors. There are agents out there who only have blogs for their company websites. These agents are not on my first-tier list to submit to. If your agency is not capable of producing a simple website, how can I trust you to understand the changing electronic market and the demands on the agent to properly represent the interests of your client?

  9. Thanks. I have both. Started a website in 2006 before moving to Borneo from Penang, Malaysia (I'm an American expat), hence my website is http://www.borneoexpatwriter.com/ and I started a blog using the same name in 2008, with 3 or 4 posting per month. I know, I need to be more regular about this, but usually they're long posts, some that have been turned into feature articles. Getting them written is the important part, and then selling them is a bonus.

    I have no idea how many visits I get on the website (thanks for the tip!), but it has allowed people to track me down -- all the way in Borneo -- to set up interviews (most recently International Living -- they set up an appointment from Ireland last month and came all the way to my door) as well as article assignments ($500 for one from the US).

    I don't get enough of these, but the fact that I do get some (and potentially a lot more), speaks volumes and has paid for the website! Yes, get a website so people who are interested in you or are looking for writers in your geographical area can find you (and this is also where I post my interviews, book reviews, and writing related articles so these can be found too). Works for me over here! All the best!

    PS I have a short story coming out in Descant and an article coming out in The Writer (May) and both of the editors, in the last week, made passing comments about liking my website! They noticed! Sure made me feel proud!

  10. @Joseph—Yeah, it definitely has to be done right. I've seen it done well, but mostly by professional authors. I totally agree that an agency that only blogs rather than creating a website in addition to a blog lacks some credibility—but I wouldn't think that of an aspiring author who made his/her own site. It's a starting point, and it's better than nothing (well . . . sometimes ;) I've seen some pretty bad ones, too.).

    (Side note, I just found out today that Blogger actually does have atemporal pages, which you can set up really easily. Cool.)