What Your Author Website Really Needs

By Sue Campbell

There’s a lot of overthinking and overspending that happens with author websites. Do you need to spend multiple thousands of dollars on your online home? For most writers, the answer is no. A small investment, good copy and careful attention to a few basics will give you a professional looking author website that will help you attract and retain readers.

If you’re looking to build or update your author website, start by surfing the sites of other successful authors in your genre so you can get a feel for reader expectations. Then figure out how to put your own special twist on the conventions you find.

Here are the basics to concentrate on.

  1. A Premium Theme or Template. While you don’t need to spend thousands on a custom design, it is a smart idea to invest a little bit (around $150) in a good premium theme or template for your website. Premium themes generally look better, offer more flexibility and have stronger built-in security features. If you’re self-hosted on Wordpress, I highly recommend themes from Studiopress.com* and have used them exclusively for years on any Wordpress site I build. Their themes look fantastic, offer great security and support, and are optimized for Wordpress’s new Gutenberg interface.

    Of course, instead of Wordpress, you can also use a service like Squarespace (where this particular site is hosted) and get great theme options and support as well. It’s a great options for those who are bit less tech savvy.

  2. Prominent sign-up forms. Once you have a fancy new theme, you want to make sure you have multiple options for readers to sign-up for your newsletter. Put a sign-up form or a link to a sign-up form in all of these locations: menu bar, above the fold on the homepage, in the footer AND use a time-delayed pop-up.

  3. A sign-up incentive for people to join your email list. I don’t fork over my email address to just anybody these days, do you? I’m far more likely to subscribe to a list when I know I’m getting something valuable to me. Your readers are the same way. You need to offer them something more than just “sign-up for my newsletter and you’ll get updates about what I’m writing.” Please, be more generous than that — offer something that will make their day a little better or a little easier. Options vary for fiction and nonfiction writers. Use your imagination. Some examples: I have one client who gives away a free digital copy of one of his picture books, another who gives away her entire novel — one chapter at a time — and another who offers a collection of essays as an ebook. For nonfiction, you can easily spin off materials from your book and create a short email course, a checklist, a discussion guide, a case study, repackaged research materials, etc. Please make sure your giveaway to strongly tied to what you actually write about! If your author site is focused on picture books, your giveaway should not be a white paper about cryptocurrency. I know I shouldn’t need to say that, but experience has taught me otherwise.

  4. A good headshot. No blurry pictures or your face cropped out of a group photo, please. While you don’t have to hire a professional photographer, you may want to consider it. If that’s not feasible for you, make a friend with a super new iPhone, get gussied up, stand in front of a bookcase and have your friend take a few snaps in “portrait” mode. NO SELFIES. I mean it.

  5. Professional bio. I know, I know. I hate writing my own bio, too. Just blurt out a draft and then ask a few trusted friends to help you toot your own horn a bit. And a dash of humor never hurts. Read the bios of other successful writers in your genre to get a feel for what works.

  6. Descriptions of your books with links to buy + blurbs. Pretty self-explanatory, but if your book is not published yet, you should definitely put in a description and a cover mock-up if you have one.

  7. A way to book you for events or otherwise contact you. If you want speaking gigs and author visits, be sure to give folks a way to contact you for booking and an idea of the types of talks you give.

  8. A blog (optional). It’s your lucky day, I’m not going to tell you have to blog. However, Google, Master-of-All, does like content to be updated regularly and blogging is a good way to do that. You can even use basically the same content as your newsletter. That’s what I do for this blog. The newsletter is a blog post, plus a little extra just for subscribers.

  9. Gated resources (optional). If you’re writing nonfiction, it’s a great idea to create some content that can only be accessed by becoming a subscriber. Fans love getting their hands on a big vault of helpful goodies.

  10. Links to your social profiles. While I don’t think authors should spend a ton of time building large social followings, it doesn’t hurt to link to your existing profiles on your website if fans want to connect with you that way.

See? That’s just ten things! Hopefully, that’s more manageable than you thought. Still, creating a website can feel daunting if tech just isn’t your thing. Decide which pieces you can handle yourself and which pieces you need to outsource and then get cracking. And if you want some help with some of the pieces, Pages & Platforms offers website building services and website assessments. Contact us for a custom quote.

*This is actually an affiliate link. Studiopress is my only affiliate relationship because I can recommend them without any hesitation. If you buy using this link, you pay the same price, but I get a small cut.