Tuesday, June 19, 2012

How to Make Your Own Killer Author Website


Let's talk websites.

Why do you need an author website?
Your author site is a vital aspect to your writing career. It's a place where readers and press go for information about you, your book, where you're signing--all that good stuff. It's a place where you can advertise as much as you want, where you can entice readers with exclusive content, and where you can make a lasting impression. You pretty much have to have some kind of website these days. If a blogger wants to interview you and needs your contact information, they're going to look for your website to get it. If someone reads and adores your book, they'll go to your website to read more about you or what else you may have written. Not having an author site can frustrate readers, bloggers, and press because it becomes difficult for them to contact you or find accurate information about you, your book, or your appearance schedule. And having a clean, snappy site makes you look attractive to publishers and readers alike--but it's not always cheap to hire a website designer, or to take take the training and buy the software necessary to build your own from scratch.

I decided to make my author website around the same time my book deal for Origin was announced, because I knew I needed a central online presence where readers could go for definitive information about me, the book, signing appearances, and things like that. I researched just about every site-building website out there, from Google to tumblr to Wix, settled on one, and in no time, had my site up and running.



Why I chose Wix
I'm by no means any kind of website designer, but the program I chose is perfect if you're like me, and just want something easy but slick and highly customizable. That's why I went with an online, template-based website builder, instead of making it from scratch with Adobe or something like that. I just don't have the time to spend hours and hours learning something that involved. I also didn't want to hire a designer because 1) I'm cheap that way, 2) because it's fun, and 3) I like to control everything that goes on my site. I know you can totally do that with a designer, but I wanted to be able to update my site whenever I needed to without having to go through a middle man. And the program I used to make my site is so easy to navigate, there was just no need to seek out a third-party.

Many authors find that a blog suits all their website needs; for a while, I did the same thing. Sites like Blogger and Wordpress enable you to have multiple pages, so you can have a bio page and a contact page in addition to your blog. And that's totally fine. Blogs are great ways to accomplish basic website tasks and most people have no trouble putting one together. They're quick, easy to update, and fairly customizable in terms of color schemes, backgrounds, and fonts.

(Kristin Cashore uses Blogger as her website. Looks great!)

But I wasn't satisfied with the blog format for my website. To me, a blog is expected, rigid, and too template-based. I wanted something with a little more pop and pizzazz, something that would draw my readers in and encourage them to stay a while. A website is like your living room; you want it to be interesting and comfortable, a place where people can spend time and leave feeling enriched in some way. And you also want to be able to express your own unique style and personality through your website, which is harder to do on a blog.

Hence my decision to go with Wix.com, a flash-based website builder that you can learn in a snap. It also gives you the option of using your own domain name, and if you don't own one yet, you can purchase one through Wix. They have lots of other great marketing features, like Google ads, search engine optimization, and things like that; if you're an indie author and want to sell your book directly through your website, Wix has some great e-commerce tools that allow you to set up an online store right there on your site. And Wix is almost entirely drag-and-drop, which makes putting your site together quick, easy, and streamlined. The only downside I've found to Wix is that flash websites are not viewable on iPhones, but that's just something I decided I could forgo. It's not a big deal, and I love the beauty and simplicity of flash websites. Wix is also free for their basic package, which includes all of their website building tools. After creating your site, you can upgrade to a fairly inexpensive package if you want some of the perks Wix offers (such as using a custom domain name). Wix also enables you to link your site to Google Analytics, which analyzes your site traffic like pageviews, time viewers spend on your site, and how they found your site to begin with.

(This is what the Wix interface looks like. 
It's so self-explanatory my seven-year-old sister could use it.)

Since Wix is my website builder of choice, this post will focus mainly on how to create a site with their interface. However, the principles will be applicable across a range of website building sites, should you choose a different host.



Basic Terminology
If you're completely new to the website-creating side of things, here are a few terms you'll need to know:
host - this is the company which provides you with the domain, address, and physical space necessary to run a website. Usually you have to pay for a website host; Wix is free at the basic level, however.
domain name - this is the name of your website, which, when typed into the address bar, directs viewers to your site (ex. jessicakhoury.com is my domain name).
domain registration - before you can use your own domain name, you must register it. Wix can do this for you, or you can register your domain name with sites like GoDaddy.com. Registration is usually valid for one year and must be renewed.
home page - this is the first page viewers see when they go to your website, unless the link they used to get there is connected to a different page on your site.
menu - this is how viewers navigate between content on your site
HTML - this is the base language used for creating websites, and does not interact with viewers.
Flash - a more interactive, vector-based website platform. Many people prefer HTML or the new HTML5 to Flash when building a website, but I am all about the sleek, interactive, and beautiful way Flash looks on a site. Totally up to you, of course.
If you run into other terms you don't recognize, here's a great glossary that might help you out.

Okay. On to the actual creating.
There are several basic things your website needs to be:
1. Professional - This doesn't mean your sites need to be made by a professional; it just means your site needs to be professional. Just like that manuscript you've been working on, your site should be polished and free of grammatical mistakes. It shouldn't look homemade. Creating a website does require a level of aesthetic competence.
2. Easy to navigate - Viewers should be able to quickly and easily find links to the content they came to see. They shouldn't have to hunt around for information. Be organized with your content and make it simple to click from one page to another.
3. Consistent - Maintain consistency in style, content, and navigation throughout your site, to make the most effective professional impression.

There are several basic pages your website should have:
1. About Me - who you are, why you write, etc. This is your reader's chance to get to know you better, beyond a book jacket blurb.
2. Books/Works - It wouldn't be an author website if it didn't talk about your book! Make it easy for the viewer to find a place to purchase your book, as well. Any exclusive content (quizzes about the book, related short stories, posts about the writing process, etc) makes your site that much more interesting and valuable to the viewer.
3. Contact Information - One of the main reasons viewers will come to your site is to find out how to contact you directly. Provide links to your other online profiles like Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads, and maybe even drop in a contact form through which they can message you right from the website.



Other pages you might consider adding:
1. Appearances - Let readers know when and where they can meet you, whether it's in person or online for a blog tour or webchat
2. News - What's the latest development in your book's journey? (Probably not updates on your kid's potty training or what you think of the last episode of the Bachelor. Keep it focused and professional.)
3. Resources - What are some books or sites which helped you on your writing journey? These are great things to have on your site. Maybe add a list of websites related to your book. Be creative!
4. Guestbook or Comments - Enabling viewers to leave a comment is a great way to let them interact with your site.
5. Widgets - These are third-party applications that add interesting and interactive content, such as quizzes, Twitter feeds, Goodreads reviews... There are hundreds of widgets on the web, and Wix even lets you use HTML-based ones on your site.
6. Book trailer - Your website is the perfect place to show off your awesome book trailer, author interview, or other book-related vids!
8. Photos - Have photos from your signings? What about photos of your readers with the book? Consider adding a gallery to your website.

Be professional.
I'm touching on this again because it is just. that. important. You don't want people coming to your website and thinking you look like an amateur--even if you are, when it comes to building sites. You want to look clean, accomplished, and competent. Your website is one of the most public expressions of who you are. You probably wouldn't show up to a book signing in sweatpants and overlarge flip-flops (or maybe you would; maybe that's your thing--I don't know, but still...) so don't show up online looking anything less than a pro. Even if you're not published yet, it makes a HUGE difference to viewers--or maybe agents and editors interesting in your work--if you come across as a competent and professional individual. Even if this is your first ever website, it doesn't take much to look like a pro. Often the best way to achieve professionalism is through simplicity--something I have personally never been good at. I love decorating the snot out of my website, as you can probably tell, but I do so at the risk of looking gaudy; it's a delicate balance, and if you're not sure you can pull off the fancy graphics, stick with simple. It pretty much always works. Oh, and keep your site updated. Seriously. There's nothing more aggravating than a website that hasn't been touched by the author in months. Don't get lazy--your website needs constant attention. Feed it. It is your pet.

Be pretty.
Well, you don't have to be pretty, but...Hey. Just don't be boring, okay? Inject your own personality into your site. Unless you're boring. But of course, you're not--you're fabulous. Flaunt your uniqueness through your site, but not in a way that is off-putting or unapproachable. What's something you love? Butterflies? Make a butterfly-themed website, but not overly so. You write gothic horror? Go black. Get fancy with the skulls-and-crossbones or spiderwebs. Whatever. Just not too much. Don't overdo the personality, or the site gets cluttered and overpowered. It's always safe to go with a theme related to your book(s). Origin is set in a jungle, so I went with a jungle theme for my site. Pretty self-explanatory. Whatever you do, be consistent. Don't change your theme with every page, or viewers will get distracted and confused. And it won't look professional. 

Be approachable.
It's okay to go into the third-person for your bio, but I really recommend being open and personable in your site. Talk to the viewer, not down to him or her. And be courteous. There are a gazillion other sites your viewer could be at right now, but they chose you. Respect that and treat them with graciousness and enthusiasm. They are the customer and you are trying to sell something, whether it's your book, your brand, or just you.


Overall, your author website is a wonderful opportunity to engage your readers on another level, provide necessary information, and ultimately direct them to that single most important objective--buying your book. All the elements of your site should come together as a cohesive, focused whole, and if they do, your viewer will leave with a favorable impression of you and your work. On the other hand, if your site is confusing, overwhelming, or lacking basic information, it can damage your reader's view of you. So don't approach the task of website creation lightly or casually. Put thought into it, take your time, and make use of the many resources available on the internet. It's also a good idea to look at other author sites to see what works, what doesn't, and to get inspiration.

Here is a list of author sites I've found to be particularly good, whether through sleek design, well-organized information, professional presentation--or usually all three.

I hope this has been helpful in giving you a start to your website-building journey! I have so much fun working on my website, and hope you do too. If you have questions about how I made my website, about anything in this post, or about website building in general, feel free to leave them in the comments and I will answer as best I can.

Cheers!
Jess





60 comments:

  1. I've just favorited this article. This is great information!

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    1. Nice to read your article! I am looking forward to sharing your adventures and experiences.
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  2. I also discovered Wix a couple of months ago and while I have been tinkering with the 'free' version so far I can completely see me using it to create an author website (when the time comes I am actually one!). Thank you for the great tips and links!

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  3. Hi Jessica,

    There are actually quite a few downfalls to using Flash to create your web site. The biggest being that you really hurt your search engine optimization (SEO). If you're interested in learning more, check out this letter from Steve Jobs, on why Apple doesn't support Flash: http://www.apple.com/hotnews/thoughts-on-flash/.

    I just thought you should know... I'm a YA writer with some webby knowledge, and I like to help out my YA peeps when I can!

    Bridgid

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Bridgid! Thanks for responding! Yes, I've read about the SEO downside to Flash, and that is unfortunate. However, I know for me, most of my traffic comes from links on Twitter, Facebook, etc., and not searches.That's the great thing about networking across multiple media--if someone finds you on even one site, they can instantly jump to your other profiles. It is important, though, that you know what your priorities are and that you can weigh the advantages of one platform against another.

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    2. That's great, Jessica. I think it's wonderful that you've found something that works for you. I just want to give your readers an alternative perspective. :)

      I also wanted to mention that, in addition to not running on devices that use iOS (iPhones, iPads), Flash also doesn't run on Windows phones, and it's really difficult to use on Android phones.

      Best of luck with your new book! I love the cover. :)

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  4. I have bookmarked this link as it is very educational, my kids will be following this post too.
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  5. It's really important to know how to create a website. It is more efficient, and you can put some personal touch in the lay-out and design. But sometimes there are certain factors in which that we have to hire someone to do the coding for us. For example, if you installed a plug-in and wanted it to be placed somewhere you want it to be. By the way, choosing Wix for your website is really cool. And I really learned something this blog post. It was very informative! Thank you, Jessica. Best wishes!
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  6. That’s one killer website! Have you ever tried making one with other CMS platforms? I would suggest making one using Wordpress. This kind of platform is a must-have if you are into blogging. Plus, you’ll be able to make some profits with it once you mastered it. If you’re an ACE in web designing, I’m sure that you’ll make a lot of moolah, because Wordpress is in demand these days.
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  7. Hello sir, Are you ok? You have published a original material.

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  10. Thanks for sharing this, Jessica. It can help those who want to make their own website. Anyway, making a web page is like making a magazine. In order to get an influx of readers, the content must be relevant to your field. And aside from that, it's really a must to choose a theme that will entertain your viewers.

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  11. I do not use Wix for making website, and the CMS I choose is WordPress.
    The Free wordpress themes and plugins are so nice to make the website to be what I wish to be.

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  12. Hi. Just found your post and LOVE your website! Plan to follow in your footsteps to create my own Wix.com author site. Quick question: in your post, you mention that your site is not view able from iPhones, but I was able to see your site both on an iPod and iPhone. Did you switch (or recreate your site) from flash to HDML5 since writing the post? Thanks!

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