Charlotte Duckworth: The essential guide to author websites

With the new year fully underway, now is the perfect time to get your author website up and running and make the most of your online presence. If you think how much of life is lived online these days, it seems strange that some authors still don’t have their own websites. I know that many authors abhor technology, but your website really doesn’t need to be an insurmountable tech mountain!

As a novelist who also happens to be a website designer (!), I’m clearly biased, but I really do believe that it’s worth investing in your own website. Here’s why…

The benefits

  • ‘A website makes it real’ – it shows readers that you take your writing seriously and that you are in it for the long haul
  • It’s the only place online you have complete control over your profile
  • It’s a place to house all your books together in one spot, making it easy for readers to discover more about you and your writing
  • It’s the easiest way to build an author mailing list
  • It provides a convenient place to house all the contact details for your publisher, agent, film agent etc, meaning that if important people want to get in touch, they can do so easily
  • And on that note it offers an easy way for your readers to get in touch and tell you they love your books!
  • It’s great for press, as it means they can easily find your official bio and headshot when writing pieces about you
  • It’s the best way to offer ‘behind the scenes’ and additional information about your events and news

The options

When it comes to building a website, you have a few options:

  • DIY – if you have the time, the tenacity and enjoy a bit of tech, then it’s pretty simple these days to build your own site. I would highly recommend Squarespace, the platform I design on – it has a beautifully simple drag-and-drop content management system with some amazing templates, plus it’s super secure and really good value for money too.
  • Do a build-your-own-website course – there are plenty of these around and I’m actually planning to launch my own author-specific course later this year (so if this might be of interest, do sign up to my mailing list to be the first to hear when it launches!).
  • Hire a web designer. This is the most straightforward and (hopefully) stress-free option but obviously requires more budget. However, paying a designer to build your site is also a one-off business expense, and you may consider it worth investing in a professional site that can grow with you if you’re planning to develop a long-term career as an author.

What to include

Hopefully, I’ve persuaded you that 2020 is the year that you’re finally going to get your author website sorted! But if you’re wondering what exactly you need to put on your author site, then allow me to enlighten you:

  • A mailing list sign-up form: I feel strongly that all authors should start building their mailing lists as soon as possible. Your mailing list is the only data you ‘own’ and more important than your social media platforms; their algorithms can and do change. Make sure there’s a clear sign up form on every page of your site, asking visitors to join your list. It’s also worth considering an incentive (after all, don’t we all get too many emails these days?) such as a free short story, to encourage visitors to sign up.
  • Links to buy your books: It sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised how many authors don’t link to retailers from their websites so that visitors can easily and quickly purchase their books! Ask your publisher which retailers they recommend you link to, and make sure these links are very clear on the page by, for example, using buttons to draw attention to them.
  • Your author biography: It’s also a good idea to write it in the third person, so that journalists and bloggers can easily copy and paste it.
  • A contact form: It’s lovely to receive emails from readers, but you don’t want to put your personal email address on your website. Instead, add a contact form, which protects your privacy and will filter out any spam.
  • Professional contact details: And on that note – don’t forget to include links to your agent, publisher, publicist and any other professional contacts that people searching for you might need.
  • Links to your social media pages: Another thing authors often forget – make sure you put links to all your active social media links on your author website. I say ‘active’ because there’s really little point in linking to a dusty old Twitter account that hasn’t been updated in years. If it’s not something you use regularly, take it off.
  • Testimonials / press reviews: Your author website is obviously the perfect place to collate any your author reviews, blurbs, newspaper/magazine/blogger reviews and interviews you’ve done. You can confine these all to one dedicated page, or sprinkle them throughout the site to break up the other pages.
  • Details of any upcoming events: Not all writers do events, but if you do, make sure they’re listed clearly on your site, with links to how readers can book tickets if necessary. And remember to remove them once they’ve passed – a website with out-of-date event listings doesn’t give a great impression.
  • Reading group questions: It’s also worth adding any Book Club material you might have prepared with your publisher to your website, so that readers can find it easily.

What about blogs?

I get asked a lot of questions about blogs, and whether or not authors should have them. And I always say the same thing: they are excellent, but only if you make a commitment to them.

Blogs are a brilliant way of bringing fresh eyes to your website, and are also great for your SEO (search engine optimisation), as Google prioritises websites that are updated regularly.

But for blogging to truly pay off, it needs to be done regularly and consistently, and be treated as seriously as all your other writing projects. This means spending time to really research the art of blogging, including what subject matter is going to be most beneficial to your audience, how long the posts should be, how to format them so that they are as useful as possible, making effective use of images and making sure you use keywords effectively in the copy and in your blog titles.

Blogging is a huge industry, so if you do decide to launch a blog, you’ll find lots of great advice online about making the most of yours. My biggest tip with blogging is to find a schedule that works for you (whether that’s daily, once a week, or bi-monthly) and be consistent. It’s easy to run out of steam after your initial enthusiasm wears off, so make a commitment and stick to it!So that’s it; my essential guide to author websites. You really don’t have to spend a fortune, or an age, but setting aside a day or two to professionalise yourself online is really worthwhile, and most authors are so proud once their websites are up and running. It’s great to see all your hard work showcased in one place. Don’t forget too, that your author website is a legitimate business expense!

If you have any questions about setting up your author site, then I’m happy to help! I also blog regularly about all-things-author-websites, sharing my top tips and advice, and you find all my latest posts here.

And if you’re a debut novelist, do download my free 30-page ebook, The Debut Author’s Survival Guide, which will hopefully answer all your questions about the most exciting (and terrifying) year of your writing life!

Good luck!

 

Charlotte Duckworth is a 2017 graduate of our Writing a Novel course, and is the author of psychological suspense novels The Rival, Unfollow Me and the upcoming The Perfect Father, all published by Quercus. She also runs her own web design studio here, specialising in beautiful Squarespace websites for authors. You can chat to her about books, snacks and avoiding her WIP on Twitter @charduck.

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