Dos and don'ts for writer websites...?

Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and promoting your book on the Internet

Dos and don'ts for writer websites...?

Postby craig » 01 Apr 2012, 11:20

I'm in the early stages of creating a website. I chose to go with a website versus a blog because I don't want to be constrained to the time requirements that regular blog posting demands -- and I think I want something a bit more static than dynamic.

I'm also going to a few writers conferences this year which post their guest list online -- and I know for at least one of them, you can request that they hyperlink your name to your website or blog -- so I figure it's probably to my benefit to have something set up before these conferences come about.

I had some questions that I'm hoping some people here would know the answer to or would have opinions about.

- I read somewhere that a "Welcome" page is an outdated idea and annoying. So would it be better to not have one? And if there's no welcome page, what should be on the home page?

- I have a small publication history -- one short story several years ago and four articles. I'm in the midst of designing a section of my site that would have the publication history, with cover art, cover blurbs / info about the articles, and links to purchase the book my story is published in. I have no problem making the short story publication widely known, but I have some hesitations about the articles. All four are published through various national church publications, two of which are in magazines that are not available online. The remaining two are available online, but I'm not sure if I should link to them or even acknowledge their existence, because (1) they are on somewhat controversial topics and I'd really rather not get drawn into some quarrel or be the victim of nasty emails, and (2) one or both of the articles available online specify which church I attend, which I really don't want put out there. So... any thoughts on this? How I've got it now is that I explain the general topic of the articles (without getting into details and thus avoiding the controversial stuff) and state that they are unfortunately not available online (and I think both articles are not easily found on google, so it's not like they're the first things that pop up when my name is typed in).

- What pages / sections should be included in a writer's website? I've currently got an About page, Publications, News, Links, and a possible blog, which would be updated sporadically (even though I opened this post by saying I wouldn't want to blog -- but if it's part of the larger site, then my blog wouldn't have to sell itself or stand on its own... right?).

- I'm working on a novel, but I feel I shouldn't talk about it online since I have no clue whether it'll ever be published or not. (I feel I should only be talking about my work if it will definitely be available to the public at some point.)

- What do you look for on an author's website?
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Re: Dos and don'ts for writer websites...?

Postby cheekychook » 01 Apr 2012, 15:04

I'm no expert of websites or blogging, but I do maintain an author website and can tell you my opinion and what I know from other authors.

The most common home pages these days are those that take you to the most recent post. I don't know why, that's just what's popular these days.

It's important to have pages about you, about your work, etc but there's a tremendous amount of flexibility in how you set that up and what you choose to have on the different pages.

The biggest thing that most people look for in a site is that it's easy to navigate. (Not sure I've even attained that on my own!)

Also, don't forget to have info about how you can be contacted, some sort of search feature so people can search for a particular word/past article on your site, and a basic "about" page that describes who you are, what you do, why you have a blog, or whatever else you think someone who goes to your blog might want to know.

Definitely have it up and running before you go to the conferences---it's one of the main pieces of advice they hand out at any networking seminar. Also try to have a semi-current post up when just before you go to the conferences so there's something current and recent for people to read if they do go to your site.

You're welcome to browse my site to see what I've done. As I said, I know very little about all this, but I've been able to put this together and haven't had complaints about it being difficult to use. karenstivali.com

Good luck! And don't forget to put a link in your sig-line once you get your site up and running!
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Re: Dos and don'ts for writer websites...?

Postby MattLarkin » 02 Apr 2012, 05:28

Hi Craig, I'm a little confused about what you want to accomplish with the website. As for your publication history, only list those things you want readers of your website to have access to. If you're not creating the website to advertise your novel writing, what are you creating it to advertise? Whatever the answer to that question, it should determine the focus and scope of your site.

Yes, welcome pages are dated. The problem is it means one more click before the user gets to any actual content. Cheeky mentions most recent posts, which is the most common setup for blogs. Websites don't really have posts, they have pages. It sounds to me that's what you want--static pages you don't need to update very often. If that's the case, your home page probably has News items, as well as links to your work (if that's what you're advertising).
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Re: Dos and don'ts for writer websites...?

Postby Sommer Leigh » 02 Apr 2012, 08:08

I'm agreeing with everyone above in just saying no to welcome pages. Remember the average web user has the attention span of a fruit fly. They need to get what they want fast and then leave. Rarely does anyone linger on a website anymore.

Your home page should be a snapshot of everything everyone might want to know about you if they don't want to dig too far. So it should have who you are and what you are - your name and writer of <insiert genre>. Then list your latest piece published. It should have contact information in this same area, but you should also have a page dedicated to your contact information. You're doubling up but you want something quick for people to find by your name, like an email address, and a more comprehensive contact page with your email and any other information you want known. You can include what you're doing now - if you don't keep a blog, giving readers a way to date your website is important. So if you include a sort of news section where you can say - I'll be at this conference on this date, this short story is released on this date, finished second round edits on the novel on this date, whatever. Static pages are static but your readers should still be able to grasp some information about what you are doing RIGHT NOW from it, even if you don't blog.

The static homepage should have a picture of you and a very easy, graphically pleasing way to search through your site for more information. A bio page, a contact page, and a separate page for each published, purchasable story etc.Your home page should also include all your social media links, up to date twitter feed, and RSS button. These should be PROMINANT, so don't stick them at teh bottom. In fact, they should be as close to the header as possible. Copyright info always goes at the bottom.

An author website is sort of like a resume. Information someone might want to know about you should be easy to find on the first page, because most people won't click further. Having a graphic of your cover art for your short story (if you have cover art) should be on this page as well, but you don't necessarily need to include how to buy it. If they click on the cover it should take them to a page dedicated to that short story with a synopsis, how and where to buy, and any blurb reviews or links to online reviews.

Do not include anything that is not relevant. If you don't want those articles listed on your site because they have nothing to do with your short stories or publications, don't include them. While the site is like a resume, it's not a resume.

And the best rule of thumb? Go to 5-10 author websites you like and compare and contrast what you like and don't like about them. Notice what similarities they all have. Emulate that. When it comes to websites, you really don't want to stray far from the norm. You don't want to stand out too much when it comes to the basics because readers will know how websites are supposed to work and if yours is designed differently, they'll be frustrated.

Also black or very dark backgrounds are pretty dated. Clean, bright websites are more modern and are easier to read from. Darker websites tend to be effective in certain media (like film when your graphics and video trailers are the center stage and you're emulating a dark theater). The website look should tie into what you write about though. It should remind the reader of the genre or storytype you write.
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Re: Dos and don'ts for writer websites...?

Postby tianalei » 02 Apr 2012, 08:22

I had a hard time deciding what to put on my homepage. I settled for a brief bio with the various ways someone can contact me via my social networks. In a way, I guess this is like a "welcome" since it doesn't go straight to my blog or news, but because I blog so randomly (like you) I wanted something static there that I could control, also, since I'm unpublished, I don't really have news ... It links to all of my pages and basically gives people a visual landing page. My homepage has my picture and a rotating image of bookish pictures I like.

The pages I have are "About" "Blog" "Contact" "Books" and "Subscribe". I did the whole website through Blogger and it's hosted there, but there's still a lot of functionality to make it look like a website if people are creative enough (or know enough HTML). Because you are the one in control of what you post, don't put links to any of your articles that you wouldn't want to share.

You can see my site here: http://www.tianasmith.com
My writing blog is at http://www.tianasmith.com and my custom & premade blog design shop is at http://www.theblogdecorator.com. You look nice today!
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Re: Dos and don'ts for writer websites...?

Postby Sleeping Beauty » 02 Apr 2012, 09:33

Case in point: I went to Tiana's blog and I've been reading for fifteen minutes because it's such a lovely design and the blog content is interesting, as opposed to simple self-promotion. Take all the tips you can from her!
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Re: Dos and don'ts for writer websites...?

Postby tianalei » 02 Apr 2012, 16:11

Aw, thanks Sleeping Beauty :) Glad you're liking it.
My writing blog is at http://www.tianasmith.com and my custom & premade blog design shop is at http://www.theblogdecorator.com. You look nice today!
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Re: Dos and don'ts for writer websites...?

Postby Mira » 02 Apr 2012, 20:29

I agree with Sleeping Beauty. Tiana, that's gorgeous.
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Re: Dos and don'ts for writer websites...?

Postby tianalei » 03 Apr 2012, 08:07

Thanks Mira. For anyone who is interested, I'll actually be opening a blog design shop in a couple of months (still working out the kinks with everything). For now, if you want me to redesign your Blogger blog and make it into an author website, you can email me at tianalei (@) gmail (.) com. (I feel kinda funny posting this - like it's an advertisement. So, please ignore if you think it's tacky, lol.)
My writing blog is at http://www.tianasmith.com and my custom & premade blog design shop is at http://www.theblogdecorator.com. You look nice today!
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Re: Dos and don'ts for writer websites...?

Postby Mira » 03 Apr 2012, 10:04

tianalei wrote:Thanks Mira. For anyone who is interested, I'll actually be opening a blog design shop in a couple of months (still working out the kinks with everything). For now, if you want me to redesign your Blogger blog and make it into an author website, you can email me at tianalei (@) gmail (.) com. (I feel kinda funny posting this - like it's an advertisement. So, please ignore if you think it's tacky, lol.)


No - I think it's very cool that you're offering to help folks. You clearly have a talent!
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Re: Dos and don'ts for writer websites...?

Postby craig » 07 Apr 2012, 16:26

Thanks everybody -- this is super helpful!

I'm gonna mull this over and then come back and read it all again and mull it over some more (and visit everyone's websites and the websites of authors I read and then think about it some more)...

I had a barebones website put together, but I don't think it's the greatest and will probably be torn apart and rebuilt...

Will be back!
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Re: Dos and don'ts for writer websites...?

Postby proser » 21 Jun 2012, 14:51

Don't be tempted to add a PayPal donation button (this goes for any website). It looks tacky and the chances that someone will actually reward you financially are slim.
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