Welcome, everyone, to the new home of The Bookshelf Muse! I hope you’re finding your way around easily. Angela and I feel like we’ve upgraded from a condo to a multi-family home. Finally, there is ROOM for everything!
In the effort of full disclosure (which I try to avoid whenever possible) I’ll say that we were
totally insane a little over ambitious, trying to launch two books and a new website at the same time. To make it work, we had to divide and conquer; I moved forward with finalizing, approving, and uploading the book files while Angela set up the website on her own. She’s a beast, I tell you. A BEAST. I know this from the wounded-animal groaning sounds that she periodically uttered during the process. But with the help of some great friends, she did it, and it turned out great. So here we are, moving forward, business as usual, and it’s time for the first guest post at our new home. Ironically, the topic is…Website Tips! Excerpted from Everyday Book Marketing: Promotion Ideas to Fit Your Regularly Scheduled Life and first appearing in Author Magazine, Midge Raymond’s post is a timely one for us and one that I think many authors may find useful.
A website is, of course, essential for authors—though keep in mind that it needn’t be expensive or high-end. You simply need to have an online presence so that readers, potential reviewers or interviewers, or anyone else interested in your book can find and contact you.
So, how to go about creating a website?
First, spend some time on author websites to discover what you like. You’ll want your own site to emulate what you like about your favorite author sites. Doing a redesign can be time-consuming and/or expensive, so you’ll want your website to be something you really like from the beginning.
Second, figure out how much time and money you’ve got to work with. A website needn’t be flashy (in fact, the flashy sites, with bright colors or lots of animation, can actually irritate visitors); it only needs to be pleasing to the eye and easy to navigate. Also, think about your domain name and try to register both your own name and the title of your book, but host only one (for example, ForgettingEnglish.com redirects to MidgeRaymond.com; this way, I have only one site, but people who remember the book title but not my name will still be able to find me). You can register domains at such sites as GoDaddy.com or Register.com and build your own (or hire someone); many authors use blog software (such as WordPress) to host their websites, which is very affordable.
Third, define your goals as a writer and how your website will serve these goals. If you’re on your sixth book and are ready to step into high gear to brand yourself as a writer, you’ll have a lot of content to manage and you might want or need a professional designer. If you’re about to publish your first book, you may want a simpler, affordable site that focuses on your book and your bio.
And, finally, during the process of creating your website, ask friends and family, fellow writers, and others for their feedback—it can be hard to take a step back and see your site objectively when you’ve been immersed in the process. Ask them whether they’ve found everything they need, whether anything was confusing or hard to find, and what might be missing.
Here are a few tips for creating your website essentials…
The home page: This should be welcoming, of course, and also should appear up-to-date. Because I don’t always have breaking news, I simply change the date on my website so that visitors know I’m still alive, still writing, and still doing events and classes from time to time.
The events page: You’ll want to list your upcoming events as well as past events—this helps with search results, and also gives prospective hosts a good idea of what you’ve done before. Most important is that you list your events from most recent to earlier. Past events should appear at the bottom of the list, upcoming events at the top—otherwise, the page will not only look outdated but visitors may not see what’s next if they don’t take the time to scroll down.
The book and/or publications page: Because Forgetting English was my only book for a long time, and because it contains only ten of the dozens of stories I’ve published, I started out with a tab that read “Publications”. This allowed me to include Forgetting English as well as other short stories that have been published in literary magazines (and it made me feel very prolific). Later I added a “Books” tab on my navigation bar as well. Whichever way you choose to go, be sure to include your book’s cover image and a description, as well as links for where readers can buy it.
Somewhere on your website you’ll want to include an excerpt from your book, and the books/publications page is a great place for this link. Posting an excerpt is essential not only for letting readers sample a few pages, but it’s also helpful for book bloggers or reviewers who may decide whether to review your book based on a few pages.
The bio page: Go with whatever style biography you prefer, keeping in mind that your website’s bio shouldn’t be so short that it doesn’t offer enough relevant information, or so long that no one will read it. And always include a good, professional photo.
The reviews page: Show off your reviews and blurbs wherever you can (this is not the time to be modest). You can label this page Reviews or Praise, depending on your initial ratio of reviews to blurbs, but do make sure it’s easy to find. You can list reviews by date or even by prominence (i.e., putting a Publishers Weekly or New York Times review ahead of a blog review).
The reading guide or list of discussion questions: Whatever the genre of your book, it’s a great idea to include a reading guide and/or discussion questions—for use in book clubs, schools, university classrooms, or any other group that may be interested in your book. (My Forgetting English reading guide is actually on my blog, but I link to it on my book page so that readers can find it easily). Include your availability as well as information on how to contact you for speaking events, teaching gigs, or book club meetings.
The links to social media: Always include links to Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and any other social media on which you’re active; this makes it easy for readers to find you and share you. Use those perky little icon buttons, which make them easy to spot, and put them in the upper right corner of every page of your website, where visitors can’t miss them.
The way to contact you: One of the main purposes of a website is to connect with readers—as well as to be accessible to reviewers, reporters, etc. If you are worried about being inundated with spam, use a contact form instead of posting your e-mail address. And always do your best to respond to every (legitimate) e-mail you receive.
Midge Raymond’s short-story collection, Forgetting English, received the Spokane Prize for Short Fiction and “lights up the poetry-circuits of the brain” (Seattle Times). Originally published by Eastern Washington University Press in 2009, the book was reissued in an expanded edition by Press 53 in 2011. Midge is also the author of two books for writers: Everyday Writing and Everyday Book Marketing. Her work has appeared in The Writer, the Los Angeles Times, TriQuarterly, American Literary Review, Ontario Review, Bellevue Literary Review, and others.