The Ingredients of Effective Writer Websites
Writers should use web sites to:
- promote themselves, their work or their expertise,
- promote a specific title, or series,
- or to make samples available to publishers, editors or authors.
Often a writer’s site will cover all three areas by creating different sections within the same site.
A writer particularly needs to stay on target with his or her site. The purpose of the site directs the content. Misplaced focus is the number one mistake made by writers posting sites. Is the site to attract and support other writers? Is it display subject expertise for an editor, potential book buyer, someone looking for a speaker? Is it to build a “brand name” for a series of titles by the writer or for the writer his or herself? I’ve read numerous techniques in writing publications to help writers imagine their audiences. A writer should put these techniques to use when designing his or her web site, so he or she can build the site for the correct target audience. For example, do not build a site with content for other writers (e.g., agent lists, writer’s resource links) if the purpose is to establish the writer’s expertise on stock market investing for retirement.
Promoting the Author
Even if the author isn’t planning to provide ancillary services such as public speaking, consultation or additional writing services, the writer should provide the following information on the site:
List of author’s work (Bibliography)
A personal decision can be made about including out-of-print, but I recommend signing up for a bookstore Affiliate Program and linking your titles to the bookstore ordering system.
If you don’t wish to receive email or material directly, at least put the mailing address of your publisher or agent. Who would object to a fan letter or two? And it might be something more lucrative.
Your contact page may also be used to build a personal mailing list for promoting future releases and notices of page updates by including a signup or contact form. Building a mailing list can be useful downroad. Getting a little background information about the person signing up can also build your private list of experts to consult when you’re working on something new.
This should include any forthcoming titles or publications such as articles, author’s readings, book signings, conferences, public speaking engagements or other personal appearances, award nominations, awards and so forth.
Author’s personal information
Usually something of the author’s background, philosophies, and what not. This is the appropriate place to put any kind of brief personal information that you want to share. It should be reasonably brief. Remember the performing artist’s motto — always leave them wanting more. If nothing else, a repeat of the cover jacket information is useful.
How elaborate the author gets with this site category depends greatly on the author and their self-promotional comfort level. The more the author can make this material relate to either the kind of writing he or she does or the target audience for his or her books, the better. Danielle Steele could fill hers with schmaltz and glitz and large, rich quantities of white space while Doug Copeland might get away with a Wired-style layout including excerpts of his work in a Flash presentation using hip hop alternative background music.
Of course, navigation must always be clear, clean and consistent throughout the site.
The additional content here is not to promote a specific title or series, but content designed to promote the author. In marketing terms, to help establish the author’s “brand identity”. In other words, to establish the author’s expertise or command of some area, or to create a persona for the author. For example, Stephen King will forever be “branded” as a consummate horror and terror author. Danielle Steel is identified with the “glitz” novel — and lifestyle. Terry Pratchett is associated with humorous, allegorical fantasy. And if someone says “Julia Child”, the first thought is food and cooking and someone sunny, warm and personable.
The additional content should support the author’s fundamental purpose. Therefore, a mystery writer who wants to position herself as an expert on forensic pathology might, for example, cull interesting true cases for a “Strange But True” section, Forensic news and breakthroughs for an “In the News” or compile and comment upon online forensic links and resources (such as the LA Morgue’s store). An historical romance writer who wishes to appeal to Regency readers might decide to create information pages on subjects such dress, deportment, historical events during the time period and so forth.
Whatever the subject of the content, it should remain consistent. Even an author whose professional identity is “Renaissance Man (or Woman)” must do so in a consistent fashion. For example, posting essays on topics ranging from “Baseball: If We Can’t Fix the Game, Can’t We At Least Fix the Concession Stands?” to “The Neo-Rococo Revival in Industrial Design” to “Democracy After the Birth of the Pregnant Chad”, under a collective banner of “Essays from the Unquiet Mind of [insert author’s name]”. An author’s professional site should not mix totally unrelated materials or obviously personal material with professional material. The personal can be used as part of the professional material but with conscious intent and an awareness of how it directly relates to the professional material.
The content used to establish or reinforce an author’s identity may overlap or be similar to content that promotes a specific title or series, but is not the same material. The purpose of the author’s promotion material is to appeal to the author’s primary target audience and establish the author’s authority.
Next week, we’ll look at “Promoting a Specific Title or Series.”