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Author Websites: Eight Common Missed Opportunities (and What to Do About Them)

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Recently I sent a survey to authors I work with through my book studio. The survey asked if the author has an author Website, why the author has a Website, and what the author uses the site for. The results surprised me.

An author’s Website can be a fantastic tool if and when it is used effectively. But these writers had lots of misconceptions about what their Websites are for, and more often than not they had sites simply because they felt they should. As a result, they were missing a lot of important opportunities.

Here are some of the typical missed opportunities along with some pointers on how to take advantage of them.

Missed opportunity 1: Engaging and interacting with visitors

Websites let authors attract and connect with readers in between book releases. Authors used to be able to do those things only through their books, through in-print and on-air coverage, and through in-person events. Now, the Internet has given authors the power to communicate with their readers—and potential readers—every single day.

While social media provide a fantastic way to facilitate continual engagement, they operate in a fast-moving world where distractions are plentiful and authors don’t own the content. It’s shortsighted for authors to invest a great deal of time in sites where the rules and regulations could change so that people move away and on to the next best thing; and if a site closes down, all the followers an author worked so hard to gain could be lost overnight.

I like to explain an author’s Website as the author’s hub, a place to build a community and engage in two-way conversation with followers. At their sites, authors have full control of the image they want to present and the content they want to share with their readers and the media.

Authors don’t have to fight for a reader’s attention on their own sites, and they don’t have to compete with the other allures of social media. A blog and newsletter signup on an author’s Website are great ways to facilitate interaction.

Missed opportunity 2: Generating next steps

Websites can be confusing and overwhelming if they are not laid out well. Authors’ sites should make it easy for people to know what steps to take—and tell readers who land on a site what the author wants them to do next.

Some specifics:

  • At the end of every page of a site, there should be a call to action—an instruction about what to do now. For example, “Check out more . . . ” or “Subscribe to the blog . . . ”
  • At the bottom of the site’s About page, a simple line such as “See my books on GoodReads” can encourage a purchase or the act of reading more about the author’s work.
  • To avoid overwhelming visitors and have some control over how they use the site, you should provide only one navigation bar.
  • A simple sidebar always wins over any element on the site that’s vying for attention and creating a distraction (examples include a blog roll, an advert, and so on).

Missed opportunity 3: Getting your great content read

If a site is painful to look at or slow to load, a reader will click the Back button right away, no matter how much great stuff is on the site.

That’s why using Flash on a Website is usually a terrible idea. Since everyone’s attention span is short on the Net, if your site takes longer than 20 seconds to load, you’re losing visitors right away.

Too much use of color and fancy graphics can detract from great content, leaving visitors confused about where they are and what they should be doing.

No matter how beautiful a site looks, if there is nothing to do on the site, then visitors will leave in under 30 seconds. But if you give them something to read, do, learn, and/or download, you make their trip to your site worth their while.

Missed Opportunity 4: Collecting visitors’ email addresses

Authors who collect email addresses in as many ways as possible—in person and online with a simple form—are able to continue marketing their books and communicating with interested people. And when their next books are ready to launch, they will have a direct and easy way of connecting to everyone who might be interested in that.

Sometimes it’s useful to offer a free gift, such as a checklist or report related to a book, in exchange for an email address, and of course it’s always useful to assure people that you won’t share their addresses.

I encourage authors to use Mailchimp for collecting email addresses and sending newsletters. It’s fairly easy to manage, and it’s free until you hit 2,000 subscribers. The company gives you a code to copy and paste on your site and in blog posts to create a signup form.

If sending newsletters regularly isn’t do-able, it’s okay to send news less frequently, perhaps every other month or quarterly or in connection with holidays.

Missed opportunity 5: Showing some personality

It’s important to convey a sense of the author’s style and brand in the first few seconds to avoid losing potential readers.

Color, font, and graphics are integral parts of an author’s brand and should reflect the author’s work and style.

A picture of the author with a bit of flair (as opposed to a standard headshot) helps convey personality. And biographical material on the About page that is super- interesting to read should demonstrate that this author is what every great writer is—a storyteller.

Missed opportunity 6: Speaking to readers (not other writers)

Too many authors have their fellow writers in mind when they create content for their sites. Their About pages go on and on, spouting statements such as, “I’ve been writing since I was a child” and “I completed an MFA at . . . ”

An effective About page tells readers the story of the author’s life and work, with an eye on what they will want to know about and enjoy reading.

Similarly, blog posts should not be about writing; they should be about themes and topics that relate to an author’s work and that targeted readers and potential readers will enjoy.

Missed opportunity 7: Making things easy for the media

Media people are generally pressed for time. They want to find all the information they’re looking for in one place. This means that an author’s site should have one area where photos, blurbs, bios, videos, contact information, and other kinds of content that media might want are nicely laid out and easy to download.

Missed opportunity 8: Encouraging contacts

Easy-to-spot, easy-to-use contact information can lead to great opportunities. Thanks to the contact information on my author site, I’ve heard from magazine editors, radio show producers, and even an agent interested in representing my work to other publishers.

More important, I hear regularly from readers, which keeps me inspired and fulfilled. That’s the best reason to make it easy for people to drop you a line while you have their attention.

Every author site should have a contact form or a dedicated contact page that includes an email address as well as links to social media sites.

Along with the other elements that go into a professional-looking, interactive, reader-focused Website, something as simple as contact information can make a big difference.

Whether you’re an author or a publisher or both, I hope these tips and action points will encourage you to think about an author Website as an amazing tool for attracting and connecting with readers and the media.

Laura Pepper Wu is the co-founder of the award-winning 30 Day Books, a book studio that provides marketing tools and resources for authors. Her latest projects include Authorlicious, a Website theme built just for authors, and the e-book 77 Ways to Find New Readers for Your Self-Published Book, available at 30daybooks.com/77ways. She blogs at 30DayBooks.com/blog.

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