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Best Practices for Author Site Design

by Alison on September 17, 2012

When writing my recent post Facebook Tab for Authors I threw in something that I wanted to discuss at more length:

If you think of your online marketing efforts as a wheel, each social network is a spoke on that wheel reaching out to a different community. In the center is your author site, where, hopefully, your blog lives. Whenever you can convince someone to move down a spoke and connect directly with the hub, you’ve helped them move from a casual fan to a devoted fan.

Here, I made a nifty graphic for you.

I personally think that having an author site is almost mandatory. In a day and age when my local dry cleaners has a site, not only offering a peek into their green cleaning methods but also detailing how to sign up for text alerts once your clothes are ready, I think it’s safe to say that consumer expectations have been raised to the point that we generally assume all authors have sites.

Your site is, in fact, the hub of all your marketing efforts. But it’s also probably not going to be your first point of contact with people.  That’s what the spokes on the wheel–the social networks–are for. They’re helping you be social.

Why are there so many spokes on this wheel? Well, not everyone will want to connect with you on the same social network. Some people love GoodReads. Others spend their whole day on Tumblr. The goal is to find like-minded people where they’re already hanging out online and convince them to move down that channel to connect with your author site–which is the core of your marketing efforts.

(Side note: Don’t worry. I’m not advocating that you do all of these social networks at once. Certainly if you want to, you can and should. But if you don’t have the time for all of them, you’re better off doing two of them well than all of them poorly.)

 So given the importance of the author site, you’ve got to make sure it’s right. Everything listed below is simply my opinion after years and years of observing and interacting with author websites. The beauty of the web is how flexible it is so all rules below are made to be broken.

The recurring chant of this post will be: KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid!) We are living in the world Google built, and they taught us to love white backgrounds and pared down site designs. Just compare the simplicity and beauty of this to cluttered, distracting feel of this.

 

URL: Let’s begin at the beginning, shall we? The URL for your site should be thought through in advance. The temptation with authors seems to be to make the URL of their site the name of their book, like www.GreatestBookEver.com. This is fine, but what happens when you start writing your next book?

You, the author, are the brand. The book is the product. If you plan to write more than one book, make the URL for your site your name as it appears on the book’s cover. If your name is something very common like Jane Smith and it’s no longer available, consider instead www.JaneSmithBooks.com or www.JaneSmithAuthor.com.

Now let’s check out a famous version of this mistake. Let’s say you are a big Jonathan Safran Foer fan and you want to learn more about his books. You’ll quickly discover www.eatinganimals.com and….that’s it. There’s no mention of Everything Is Illuminated or Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close on that site or any other site. Your best bet to learn about him is the Wikipedia page! (The Eating Animals site is good, though.)

 

Graphical Header: Your graphical header sets the tone for you site and should hint at who you are as a writer and the types of topics you write and blog about. If you’re a business author, your header should look professional. If you’re a suspense writer, your header should look haunting and true crime-esque.

Not only should your header be attractive and set the tone of your site, it should also serve one very important function: when clicked, it should return the user home. This is kind of a digital shorthand for the web and people subconsciously expect it to work that way. It’s a nice life preserver for a user who has gotten deep in your site and needs help getting home.

Let’s look at some good examples of awesome graphical headers.

I love Rick Riordan’s site for the PERCY JACKSON series. (This is a great exception to my best practices. When a series becomes iconic, it’s often better to build it a stand-alone site. But that’s a good problem to have and something that can be tackled AFTER you hit the New York Times Bestsellers list.)

I also love Rachel King’s header, giving you a sense of her work and drawing you in.

And Peter Carey’s, which is very bold, masculine, and striking. People love big visuals on the web so don’t afraid to go big with your header.

 

Navigational Tabs: At the top of your site, you need to have tabs representing the major pages–or sections–of your site. I recommend having tabs for: Home, About the Book, About [Your Name or The Author], and Contact. Those are the four basics and you should take a very critical look at each tab beyond those that you add. Do you really need it? Can that content fit somewhere else?

You’ll notice on my own site, I included two more tabs–Resumé and Press. In my case, I asked myself if this content could fit under the four basic ones and concluded no. This is both an author site and a professional site for me so I needed a place to house my professional information.

 

Blog: But wait, you might ask. Don’t I need a tab for my blog?

If you’re going to blog, it is my belief that this information should feed directly onto the home page of your site. You have a matter of SECONDS to grab the interest of someone who lands on your site–either via a link on social network or via a Google search. Any extra click you put in their way is a mistake. You want them to land on the main page, spy something in a recent blog post that will draw them in, and stay.

Plus, that way as you update about your book’s publication or a reading you’re doing at a local bookstore, that information will be front and center on the homepage.

How do you make your blog feed directly onto your homepage? Well, any professional site designer can make this happen but if you’re doing it on your own, I highly recommend setting up your entire site on a blogging platform from the very beginning. My site is on WordPress, but I use a custom URL, which I highly recommend. www.alisonpresley.com is so much better than www.alisonpresley.wordpress.com.

If you do blog on your author site (and I highly recommend it if you have the time since it will drastically improve your SEO), you’re going to need a few things in one of your sidebars:

  • a “Search” blank,
  • a list of categories you talk about,
  • and a “Subscribe by Email” blank.

Again, just like the navigational tabs, I recommend taking a hard look at anything beyond this. You want your site to be clean and calm–not cluttered and noisy.

 

Forget the Buy the Book Tab: You might be thinking, Hey, wait a minute. Surely, I want a “Buy the Book” tab. I want people to buy my book, right? And the video trailer? What about that?! 

Many, many authors do have “Buy the Book” tabs, but I’m personally a fan of housing all book related info under a single tab. Ideally this tab gives the reader a complete look at all of your books, features the cover of each, and shows the reader how to purchase each in a clean and simple way. No blinking buttons! No sales-y language. Just here’s a quick intro to my book, here’s the cover, the excerpt, and the video trailer–and it’s available now at these retailers.

Short, simple, and non-intrusive. 99% of consumers already have a preferred method for buying books and they’re going to buy it that way anyway. But it doesn’t hurt. (You’ll note that I skipped buy buttons on my site altogether and have simply made the covers click through to Amazon.)

 

Okay, there you have! Those are my best practices for author site design. Just let me know if you have any questions or comments. I’m happy to answer them in the comments section below.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Serenity Bohon September 17, 2012 at 2:35 pm

Another freakishly helpful post. :) Q: One of the first things I look for on an author site is how to follow them on twitter. I figure I am more likely to keep up with them that way. Are you thinking it’s counterintuitive to point away from your landing page with twitter/social links?

Reply

Alison Presley September 17, 2012 at 7:30 pm

Seren, I love this question–and now I wish I had included it in the original post.

It’s my opinion that people have come to expect your social media info to be easy to access and in the upper right-hand corner. As you can see, my site FAILS at this and it’ll be in my next iteration.

(I suspect this trend is thanks to Tumblr, who taught people that this type of info will be located in the upper right-hand corner. Now it’s become the default spot for it.)

I think having the social media buttons integrated into the header (and thus on every single page) is the way to go.

Check out this header Crown Publishing Group did for their Scribd page. http://www.scribd.com/crownpublishinggroup

Holly Becker’s Decor8 blog is a great example too: http://decor8blog.com/

And I also like how Joy does it on her site. http://ohjoy.blogs.com/

Hope that helps!

Reply

Serenity Bohon September 17, 2012 at 7:56 pm

Why, yes, it does help! Great answer AND examples? You amaze me.

Reply

David Hopkins January 14, 2013 at 10:57 pm

Hello,
I was hoping for some advice. My father is has written one book and is beginning a foray into the blogging world as well and he was wondering what would be more advisable for his Twitter account. The blog will be focused on the business of soccer in the US and will continue to the focal point of all discussions; however, he was unsure what direction to go with his Twitter username. Below is the question. Any recommendations?

Dave I have been looking at my Twitter account. i have two options

1-GaryHopkins@soccerbizusa
2- GaryHopkins@gjhopkins

My blog and website will be soccerbizusa ….and all my posts will be on this ?

What would you recommend i use for twitter….?

Reply

nicki minaj halloween costume September 9, 2014 at 11:06 pm

Hi! I’ve been following your website for a while now and finally
got the courage to go ahead and give you a shout out from Atascocita Texas!
Just wanted to tell you keep up the good job!

Reply

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