For everything you’re told you have to do as an independent author publishing and promoting a book, I’d argue there are only two absolute, universal musts: you must get a professional edit and you must have your own author website.
Whether you’re building your author platform, hosting a blog, interacting with readers, or providing a behind-the-scenes look at your creative process, you need a home on the web — a hub for your online marketing activity. Over the last 10 years, I’ll bet there has not been a single successful author who didn’t have a great author website.
It’s a given that your site should be clean and easy to navigate, and it should contain a few other key elements. Four things your author website must have include:
- Your latest book/news front and center. This might seem obvious, but I’ve seen too many sites where the author tries to inject him/herself into the foreground. It’s understandable why an author might want to do this, but it’s important you reject this impulse. Feature new content first. What readers are really coming to your site for is to determine whether or not they should spend money on your book. Promote your book and save the promotion of your face until you’re a household name.
- An obvious “call to action.” What do you want your web visitor to do? Buy your book? Sign up for updates? Add their name to your newsletter mailing list? The goal of every great author website is to elicit some kind of action from the reader.
- A clear way to contact you, the author. This includes links to your social media profiles, but there should also be a way to contact you directly. You don’t need to post your email address, you can have a widget or form that keeps the email address private, but a direct line makes you likable and approachable.
- Promotion of upcoming events. If you have book readings or signings scheduled, they should be prominently placed on your site — with special offers to drive attendance whenever possible.
Of course, some author websites are better than others. Here are a few I think really hit the mark.
Gillian Flynn, the author of Gone Girl, has a site that checks all the boxes.
Her latest release/production is featured front and center, along with prominent links prompting users to purchase the book at all major online retailers. Below that, her subscription sign-up anchors the bottom of the front page. What’s more, Flynn has customized her entire site to fit the graphics and mood of her latest book. This is immersive, purposeful, progressive branding that emphasizes exactly the thing Flynn wants to emphasize.
Joe Abercrombie’s site gets the job done in a no-nonsense fashion.
The layout is a bit dated, but the site accomplishes everything it needs to. His books comprise the focus of the front page. There are a variety of clickable links prompting readers to learn more about Abercrombie and his work, and news about his upcoming releases and events are clearly accessible.
Abercrombie accomplishes all the essentials without being flashy. A good author website can be simple — you don’t need to pay a designer thousands of dollars to design it — as long as it’s effective.
Nonfiction writers need websites, too, and while Antony Beevor’s site is a little heavy on the author biography angle, he’s earned the right to focus on his life as he’s developed a loyal and devoted following. This is also more common among historians, writers of business books, speakers, and people who have a loyal community of followers. These folks have to insert themselves into the marketing focus a bit more proactively as they’re selling their expertise, not just a titillating title or unique style of prose.
Still, Beevor accomplishes the “musts.” He directs readers to a prominent events feed as well as a blog which itself provides insight into the writer’s mind and life.
E L James
You’ve got to hand it to E L James, who brought the taboo world of kink and BDSM out from the shadows, into the mainstream, and onto the big screen.
Her site exemplifies why she was able to do this so effectively. It’s clean and designed to help illustrate her concept of “provocative romance.” It also showcases her personality with a gallery section that contains wine lists and music playlists — all of which collate the gastronomic and cultural references of her books. James also includes a window into her social feeds, which itself highlights another important ingredient in her success: the in-depth way she interacts with her fans. She retweets their material and broadcasts regular appreciation for their fan fiction. This has built her a community of followers who are as loyal as any author out there.
As our industry continues to evolve, the things that make for a great author website might change. But one thing won’t: the fact that creating a great author website is less about how it looks than it is about what it has to say, who it says it to, and how often it can delight the reader. Without an author website that accomplishes as much, you’re hindering you chances for success.
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