Guest Post by Moira Allen
Do You Need an Author Website? (Part 1)
Do you want to impress editors? Do you want to attract more readers and sell more books? Do you want readers and editors to know that you are an expert in your field? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you’ve answered the title question as well: Yes, you need a Web site.
For the first time in history, writers have access to something they’ve craved since the first cuneiform was chiseled: worldwide publicity at almost no cost. The Internet offers writers an opportunity to promote their books, become more accessible to their readership, establish their expertise, and enhance their professional standing with editors (and other writers) — all for the cost of your ISP connection and a little time spent learning HTML.
Before you rush out to post a home page, however, stop and take a deep breath. The Internet is flooded with sloppy, unimpressive, cutesy, and trivial “writer” home pages. As a professional, you want something that says more than, “Hi, my name is Bob, click here to read my stories, click here to see a picture of my dog!” Before you launch, you need to make some important decisions about your site.
Five Great Reasons for a Web Site
A professional Web site requires a professional purpose: It should, in some way, advance your career (or your dreams). Your first step, therefore, is to determine what writing goal is most important to you at this time. Is it to sell more articles to magazines? To sell more copies of your nonfiction book? To attract more readers to your novels? To interact with your readership? To educate and inform your readers? To become more involved in the writing community?
Keep in mind as well that visitors aren’t impressed by sites that are little more than electronic ads for your books. Purpose must be supported by content, just as content must be guided by purpose. Choose both with care, and you’ll be able to give readers a reason to stop by, to stay and browse, to come back — and to tell their friends.
Following are five of the more common purposes for writers’ Web sites and the types of content that can help support those purposes:
Reason #1: To Post Clips
One of the downsides of electronic queries is the impossibility of attaching clips. The easiest solution is to post a selection of appropriate articles on a Web site and provide the URL in your e-query. A clip site should include:An introductory home page that indicates the type of articles that will be found on the site. It’s a good idea, if possible, to organize a clip site around a particular theme (e.g., science fiction), rather than “shotgunning” your site with copies of clips on a host of unrelated topics. Another option is to cluster clips around two or three separate categories (e.g., pets, travel, writing). Your home page should also list your name and provide an overview of your credentials.
- Selected clips of your best work. Before posting clips of previously published work, be sure you own the necessary rights. If you’ve sold all rights, produced the material as work-for-hire, or do not own electronic rights, you won’t have the right to put the material on your personal Web site. Nor should you simply scan clips and post them as image files, for two reasons: First, image files are cumbersome to download, and second, a magazine clipping may contain copyrighted elements that don’t belong to you (such as artwork, advertising, etc.). If you prefer to scan your clips before posting them, translate them into text files first.
- Copyright information on every page. Since the point of clips is to let editors know where and when you were published, be sure to include complete copyright information with each article. In your copyright notice, list the title of the material, the copyright date, your name, the name of the publication in which it appeared, and the date of publication. (This information will also be useful to anyone using your material for research.) Your copyright notice might look something like this:
| Sample Copyright Notice (Each Page)
“Ten Ways to Get the Most from the Internet” © 1997 by Ima Good Author Originally published in Write Write Write, October 1997 All rights reserved. For reprint information, contact IGAuthor@myisp.com.
Reason #2: To Establish Your Expertise and/or Educate Readers
Some writers focus upon a particular area of interest, expertise, or passion. Others pursue writing as a secondary interest, in support of or in the context of a special interest, hobby, career, area of study, or similar area of expertise. In such situations, your goal may not be to convince editors that you are a brilliant writer, but that you are an expert on a particular subject. Similarly, you may be as interested in promoting a general understanding of your field as you are in promoting your own writings in that field. In this case, an expert Web site may work better for you than a purely writing-focused site and would be likely to include the following elements:
- A home page that describes the subject area itself. Title this page in such a way that anyone interested in your topic or area of expertise is likely to find it. Choose keywords that would be chosen by a searcher, and put those words at the top of your page, so that they will be properly indexed by search engines. Make sure your home page clearly describes the subject area of the site, the types of materials that will be found there, and how to access those materials.
- An array of information resources. The best way to establish your expertise is to provide expert information. This could include articles that you’ve published on your topic, a set of FAQs developed specifically for the site (e.g., “Ten Ways To . . .” or “Questions People Ask About . . .”), or full-length articles written for the site. You might also consider posting a regular column, such as a news column that keeps visitors up to date on developments in your field or a Q and A column in which you answer questions posed by visitors to your site. Archive back issues of your column elsewhere on your site. Whatever materials you choose, your goal is to ensure that anyone who comes to your site with a question is going to leave with a worthwhile answer.
- A selection of top-quality links. To position yourself as a vital resource site in your field, you’ll need to surf the Web for the best links to other sites in that same field. This accomplishes two purposes: It adds to the value of your site and encourages other sites in the field to link back to you (thereby increasing your traffic). Remember that your visitors
rely on you to screen sites — don’t add any link that you haven’t personally checked.
- A bookstore. If your goal is to establish expertise, consider offering a bookstore of titles related to your subject or field. While such a bookstore may compete with your own title, it will also give readers the added benefit of your expert recommendations — and show editors that you have done your homework and are familiar with the top titles in your field. If you set up an “associates” program with an online bookstore, this portion of your site can also earn money — see chapter 10 for more details.
- Your credentials. Keep your bio short, sweet, and professional. Focus on anything that supports your standing as an expert: education, credentials, job history, personal experience, and so on. Let visitors (and editors) know that they can trust you as a source.
Reason #3: To Promote Your Novel(s)
Novelists are finding the Web an excellent place to highlight past, current, and forthcoming novels of all types and genres. A novelist’s Web site will often contain many of the following elements:
- An introductory home page that clearly lists your name (e.g., “Welcome to the Joan Q. Novelist Web Site”). Keep in mind that most fans will search for your work by author name, not by title, so your name should be prominently listed toward the top of your home page. Otherwise, it may not be indexed properly by search engines (see chapter 9 for more details). This page may also include your table of contents (TOC), perhaps a list of your novels (with click-throughs to pages with more information), and perhaps some images of your covers. It should also include your copyright statement (see “Five Things Every Web Site Needs,” below).
- An author bio. Fans will want to know more about you, so satisfy their curiosity with a brief, professional biographical sketch (and a photo, if you wish). This is a good place to discuss how you began writing, why you write the types of books you do, your expertise relating to those books, your future writing plans — and, of course, how many cats you have.
- A bibliography. Many authors provide a list of all their writings, including short stories, awards, and any other credits.
- Descriptions of your books. This is your chance to give readers a better summary (and teaser) than they will find on the backs of your books. Try to include images of your book covers as well. If you can’t obtain image files from your publisher, you can scan in your covers yourself, or take them to a commercial printer for scanning. If you are providing lengthy descriptions of more than one novel, consider using a separate page for each, with a second-level TOC listing all the titles you’ve included.
- Excerpts. Selections from current or forthcoming novels are often a major attraction on novelists’ sites — and an excellent sales tool as well. Such excerpts give readers something free to take away, but also leave them hungry for more. Choose an excerpt that a reader can understand without having read the rest of the book — but ends with a cliff-hanger that will make the reader want to read the rest of the book. (You’ll probably need your publisher’s permission to post such an excerpt.)
- Background information. Is your novel set in a particular historical period, locale, or cultural milieu that readers might want to learn more about? Your Web site is an excellent place to answer questions, post background history or details, explain unfamiliar terms and concepts, and provide links to other sources of information on the Web.
- Writing tips. Many of your fans undoubtedly dream of writing the types of books you write. Give them a hand by offering some advice on writing in your field or genre. Such a section will also improve your chances of receiving links from other writers and organizations in your field, because other writers and organizations will regard it as a useful site for writers as well as readers.
- A news page. Let readers know when your latest book is coming out, what awards you’ve won, when you’ll be appearing on television or radio talk shows, when and where you’re giving talks or book signings, and anything else of a newsworthy nature. Some authors also provide links to fan sites, book reviews, and online interviews.
- Links. No site is complete without a few links. Choose those that relate to the general purpose and content of your site — other sources of background information or other sites for writers in your genre. You might also seek reciprocal links with other authors in your field.
- Other works. Some authors use their Web sites to archive previously published stories. This works well if the stories are relevant to the novel you’re trying to promote. Be careful, however, about posting material that is likely to shatter the image your fans have of you as an author; this could have a negative effect on the works you’re currently trying to promote.
- Ordering information. Make sure that visitors can find out where and how to get your books. One easy way to prompt sales is to link your book title(s) to an online bookstore, such as Amazon.com (see chapter 10 for more details).
Reason #4: To Promote Your Nonfiction Book(s)
The key difference between a fiction and a nonfiction author site is that while fiction readers tend to be author-focused, nonfiction readers tend to be subject-focused. A Web site designed to promote a nonfiction book, therefore, should usually focus on the subject of the book, and include:
- An introductory home page that will attract visitors searching for information on your subject area. Your name may be less important than keywords that describe the subject. To be indexed properly in search engines, those subject keywords should be close to the top of the page.
- Information of value to readers. Perhaps the best way to promote a nonfiction book is to offer useful free information. Turn your site into a resource on the topic of your book. Offer FAQs, articles, and other forms of information that will help the reader immediately. Avoid, at all costs, the appearance that the information is just a plug for your book or that you’re manufacturing some sort of hype or crisis that your book will solve. Make sure that visitors can benefit from your site itself, whether they buy the book or not; this will also encourage referrals.
- Links. One way to make your site a genuine resource is to include a list of links to other sites covering similar topics. This will help convince visitors that you are genuinely interested in sharing information, rather than simply trying to peddle a product.
- Your credentials. Before accepting your advice or information, readers will want to know why they should trust you. Readers won’t want personal details here, but information about your education, experience, background, and anything else that will demonstrate your qualifications.
- A summary of your book. On a nonfiction site, it helps to keep book promos low-key. Offer a summary of the book, along with a cover image, on a separate page that also includes ordering information (such as a link to an online bookstore).
Reason #5: To Educate and Inform Writers
Initially, one of the most common features of any author site was a selection of writing tips. Now, sites for writers have proliferated beyond count (the resource appendix at the end of this book just scratches the surface). There’s still room on the Web, however, for high-quality writing advice.
The best approach to a writing tips site today is to move beyond general “how to write” (or “how to format your manuscript”) topics and focus on your area of specialty. What can you offer writers that isn’t easily found elsewhere? Focus your site on writing for a specific genre, category, or field.
For example, if you’re a mystery writer, share tips on how to become a mystery writer — or how to become a better mystery writer. Be creative: Don’t just talk about writing techniques, but tell your readers where to find helpful research information, such as sites that cover forensics or police procedures. Offer links to publishers of mystery books or short fiction. Seek reciprocal links with other mystery sites. Offer a “contest” page that lists writing contests for amateur mystery authors. Offer links to mystery e-zines. Offer a bookstore of how-to books for mystery writers.
|Copyright © 1999 Moira Allen – Reprinted by Permission|
Bio – Moira Allen is the editor of Writing-World.com, and has written nearly 400 articles, serving as a columnist and regular contributor for such publications as The Writer, Entrepreneur, Writer’s Digest, and Byline. An award-winning writer, Allen is the author of eight books, including Starting Your Career as a Freelance Writer, The Writer’s Guide to Queries, Pitches and Proposals, and Writing to Win: The Colossal Guide to Writing Contests. In addition to Writing-World.com, Allen hosts VictorianVoices.net, a growing archive of articles from Victorian periodicals, and The Pet Loss Support Page, a resource for grieving pet owners. She lives in Maryland with her husband and the obligatory writer’s cat. She can be contacted at editors “at” writing-world.com.