Your website is the centerpiece of your business, unifying promotion, outreach, newsletters, social media, and ads. It’s the definitive source on your brand, your persona, and what your author career means. A poor website confuses and dissuades, while a great website engages and excites, transforming strangers into contacts, allies, and fans.
There’s only one place on the entire internet that’s all about you—and that’s your website. The only question is: How do you make use of it?
For us, it comes down to seven key activities, ordered from most important to least important:
- Make a Brand Promise: Press your readers’ buttons by expressing the flavor and content of your books through your website’s design and copy.
- Grow Your Mailing List: Entice readers with a compelling offer to join your list, so that you have opportunities every month to convince them to pick up one of your books.
- Sell Your Books: Persuade visitors to click the buy button (on your site or elsewhere) by leveraging your brand, covers, blurbs, and extended metadata.
- Garner Media Attention: With slick, digital press kit on your site, you’ll be fully equipped to reach out to reviewers, podcasters, and the press to reach readers further afield.
- Connect with Industry Pros: Convince agents, publishers, and authors in your genre you’re worth their attention with a professional website and a strong brand.
- Spread Important News: New book just came out? New award on the shelf? Excite guests with your essential news, and keep them checking in from time to time.
- Build Your Community: Create space for your readers to connect with you and with one another by cross-pollination audiences across myriad platforms.
Looking at that list, does it occur to you just how few authors are actually leveraging the power of their website? It does to us. But what really gets our juices pumping is knowing just how much potential there is for those who actually do!
In the next few sessions, we’ll discuss each of these activities in turn, with easy tips for exactly what to do and exactly how to do it.
Life’s too short to read every book. So we mere mortals rely on context clues to help us decide if a particular book—or a particular author—is worth our time. Unless we see immediate signs that a given author matches our sensibilities and our standards, we pass, moving on in our search for our next read.
From the very first moment your website loads, you must immerse your reader in your brand. From your pen name itself, to the site’s colors, fonts, images, and copy, every sign must point readers to exactly the experience your books deliver.
Some qualities, all good author brands share—such as being professional and accessible—but others are uniquely yours. Are you spooky or haunting? Sensual or sexual? Thrilling or electrifying?
Remember, unless your brand resonates with that particular visitor, you will not be able to get them to take any other action. So make that promise, and be specific. “I promise to be a good read,” is nowhere near as enticing as, “I promise to leave you breathless in impossible, otherworldly realms.”
When a visitor lands on your website, you have one chance to get them to take an action, or you might never see that visitor again. However, if the one action you get them to take is signing up for your mailing list, then guess what? You have weekly opportunities to get them to take action.
That’s why growing your mailing list is more important than selling books, getting reviews, or building industry connections. You can do all of those things over and over again once that person is on your list.
So make them an offer they can’t resist! Most of the time, this means trading a short story for a list signup, but depending on your genre, you may be able to offer epic fantasy maps, gamelit character sheets, how-to checklists, or exclusive video recordings. The sky’s the limit, but that limit is this: Whatever you offer, it’s got to be something your readers want from you. In other words, it’s got to be on brand.
When brainstorming what to offer and how to offer it, put yourself in the reader’s shoes. What do they know about you when they arrive on your site? What will inspire them to sign up? And how will that freebie persuade them to buy your books?
Fun fact: Your Amazon sales pages have only one link to buy your book, but (literally) 500 links to other products. Why? Amazon doesn’t stay up at night worrying if you build a career. Amazon only cares that Amazon makes money.
The same goes for all the other retailers.
But on your website, your books are front-and-center. This gives you the opportunity to immerse readers in ways no other platform provides.
Your goal must be to persuade readers your book is a no-brainer purchase. So put those covers, and those blurbs, and every convincing detail where site visitors can find them, and let them swim around—not in an ocean of books, but in a kiddy pool.
Got sample chapters? Choice reviews? Interviews and articles where you discuss the book? FAQs from readers? Photos with avid fans? These are all great details to display (in a professional, clear manner).
And of course, links to your top retailers. Your visitors will not click the Amazon button until they’re sure they want your book, so by the time they arrive at the Jolly Orange Giant’s website, they won’t even see the other 500 links. They’ll just click buy.
Nothing gets an author going like a glowing editorial, and a great website is an important step to getting there. Whether you’re reaching out to niche bloggers, bookstagrammers, reviewers at the New York Times, or the scheduling agent on Good Morning, America, your query letter will be dead in the water unless it links to a beautiful, professional, digital press kit with all the right assets.
Gone are the days where you mail a hardcopy or a PDF. You need to have those versions on hand, but in the 21st century, the media wants your press kit to pop open, sized for their screen, with clickable links and downloadable images in every size.
The name of the game is trust. Can this potential reviewer or interviewer trust that your book is worth reading and recommending? Can they trust you won’t throw a fit on their show? Can they trust you’re professional enough not to sic an outrage mob on them if you don’t like their criticism?
Whatever you write, you prove that trust with: a strong brand, a professional headshot and bio, a well-organized list of accolades and media resources, and a clear, quick, responsive website with readable text and enviable colors.
It’s impossible to say just how many great books have been lost to the sands of time. But if the number of poor books universally remembered bears any relationship, it suggests that an author’s network is a powerful indicator of their future success.
For this sort of thing, previous generations relied entirely on face-to-face encounters. Lucky for us, our digital age offers us a digital face, which we present to the world even while we sleep. That face—you guessed it—is your website, the definitive source on everything you.
Whether an agent, a publisher, or your fellow authors want anything to do with you will rely to a large degree on the digital face you present. Is it professional, approachable, and interesting? Or crufty, disorganized, and bland?
Pros are always on the lookout for savvy up-and-comers and reliable, long-term allies. Whether they chose to do business with you can often depend more on these qualities than your sales rank. So it’s essential that when somebody sees an interesting tweet you posted or your debut book on the charts that when they look you up, what they find conveys professionalism, kindness, and direction.
When a reader wants to know what’s new with their favorite author, where do they go? The author’s website. And when they get there, what do they find?
Too often, it’s a stodgy old blog with five posts about the author’s cat… from 2003. Such an experience teaches the reader two lessons: First, that the author is not worth checking in on. And two, that even if she were, her website isn’t the place to do so.
Here’s the thing: It’s okay to not have news. But even if it’s been a slow year, you need to ensure that readers keep checking in. They’re just as busy as you are, and after a while, they simply won’t come back. And you want them coming back.
So first and foremost, your site has to say what new books are available for sale. And second, it needs to say what you’re working on next. Once that’s covered, inform visitors of essential updates, such as new publications, new awards, new partnerships, new products, upcoming events, and so on. And if you’re a particularly good essayist, then post some essays your readers will care about.
Either way, keep it to the essentials. You just need visitors to know you’re still a working author, and they’ll keep coming back.
Everyone wants to be part of a community, even your fans, few though they may be. And as the hub connecting all of your activities, both digital and physical, your website is uniquely positioned to gather all those lonely readers into a tribe.
While later in their career many authors would benefit from hosting a forum on their site, for most authors, such a forum would be an embarrassment. Like Gatsby’s mansion once all the guests had gone.
Instead, your site should function more as an events board. If you’re active on a particular social media platform, use your website to notify visitors when you’ll be doing live video, an AMA, or of a tweet thread that went viral.
The idea is to use your best content to draw readers who normally follow you in one channel to another. And another. And another. Over time, this will allow readers to develop a deeper relationship with you as well as with each other.
Fandom is a phase shift. Get enough fans in the same place, and they start to boil. Soon the whole room will be filled with them.