This article, written by Tawdra Kandle, is from the November 2022 edition of Nink, the monthly newsletter of Novelists, Inc. (NINC). Nink, which is packed each month with informative articles for career novelists, is a benefit of NINC membership.
When I was a brand-new, green author who knew next to nothing and had no clue about how to promote my just-published first book, a wise friend told me that I needed a website. She sent me to Godaddy.com to buy my domain name and then constructed the basics of a very rudimentary website for my author business and books.
To me, it felt like magic.
Nowadays, thanks to some generous author assistants and other web-savvy friends, I know how to manage my own website. I’ve even (gasp!) learned how to put up a fairly pretty website from scratch for my new publishing ventures. It isn’t quite as rocket-sciencey as I once thought (although at times, there’s a decent amount of trial and error happening—or as I call it, let’s just see what happens when I do this . . .).
Mastering my own website was an important step for me, and even now, when I jump over there to work on my end-of-the-month updates, I’m grateful that this is one tool on my belt that is 100% mine. No one will tell me that the man-chest covers are too nipply (I see you, KDP!), or that I can’t use a certain font on my descriptions (Hello there, Apple Books!). I can run my blog however I see fit, and when I decided to tackle some sensitive issues there in late 2020, no one threatened to close me down.
I’ve learned the benefit of using my newsletter and website hand-in-hand, sending readers there instead of to other sites whenever it’s possible. Because, you see, the more comfortable readers are with stopping frequently at the website of their favorite author (me), the more likely they are to fall into my other books and series.
I can also engage those readers more deeply by entertaining them with my blog, informing them with pages that show how series are linked or offer a suggested reading order for my various genres, and even selling to them in my website store. Why shouldn’t they want to come visit—and stay awhile to explore?
As most of us know, an author website can be as basic as an eye-catching landing page with links to our books or as complex as a site with multiple menus, pages, and an associated blog. How you use it is entirely at your discretion. Perhaps you want the most low-maintenance sort of website, something that only needs to be updated when you have a new release. Or perhaps you want to provide your readers with an immersive brand experience.
Over the past ten years, I’ve played with multiple concepts on my website. Currently, on the right-hand column, I keep three static categories: My Latest Release, What’s on Special This Month, and My Next Preorder. I make sure to update these widgets and their associated pages each month or as often as required.
Beneath those quick info-shots are all of the logos for all of the vendors where my books are sold, linked to my page on those vendors. I do my best to keep the logos as current as possible, especially for those companies who have in the past frequently changed their preferred names and/or graphics.
Beyond keeping your information accurate and current, what else can you do with your website to use it to its fullest potential? The opportunities are plentiful:
- Make your site an extension of your books or series. Do you write sci-fi or fantasy? You can add a page that serves as the space cantina for visitors new to your worlds, a place where they can find out more about the characters and their history. If your preferred genre is small-town romance, you can do something similar with the community diner, offering a cozy spot where local gossip is shared and sneak peeks for upcoming books just might be the special of the day. Consider adding maps of the most familiar settings of your books, or create a family tree so that readers can see at a glance just how all of your characters are connected.
- Use your site to offer the most dedicated readers exclusive, just-for-them content, something no one else can access. You can write a special short or deleted scene and add it to your website on a password-protected page.
- Serial stories are so popular right now—but you don’t always have to add a story to a subscription site if you’d rather not. Publishing your entries on your website is a terrific way to draw new and increased traffic on a weekly basis as your new chapters go up. I did this last year, beginning a story in early August that ended in October, days before a big (and clearly related) release went up. It was very well-received by my readers—and then this year, I released the same story on several subscription sites to draw in new-to-me readers. A big win on both sides!
- Train your readers to expect both goodies and info on your site. When I do author cross-promo, I will often add a line to my newsletter that links to a post on my website. The post contains all of the pertinent information on the new or promoted books for that week, and having readers click the link and visit the site increases my web traffic. I’m also counting on the fact that most will wander around a little and visit other areas of the website. (They do!)
- Remember that your website is your virtual storefront, even if you don’t actually sell your books there (Though why are you not selling your books there??). Just as you wouldn’t want to present a cluttered, dusty, and outdated table at an in-person store, neither should your website appear to be dated or cluttered. Visit it often and with a critical eye, watching for graphics that are no longer effective or branding that you no longer use.
- Speaking of branding, this is a huge must for your website. Your colors, fonts, and graphics must absolutely be spot-on for your author message. If you write dark and angsty romance, a photo of a young woman picking flowers in a field isn’t what you want on your website header. Don’t be afraid to tell site visitors over and over again who you are. Use your taglines and logos to drive home the message.
- Consider adding a store to your website. At this year’s conference, the buzzword phrase was definitely direct sales. I use Payhip to sell my ebooks from my website, and my experience has been overwhelmingly positive. I simply add the books to my Payhip store and then copy and paste the code for that book onto a page on my website. I’ve found that giving each series a separate menu entry and making each book in that series a sub-entry of that option works best, but there are a variety of ways to make this work, depending on how many books you’re selling and how you’d like to present them. I’m working hard to train my readers to go to my store first, so whenever I have a freebie or a discounted book, I use my own website link (and often a coupon code so that the lower price is only offered to my newsletter readers) for my subscribers.
Talking about the endless opportunities for author websites is motivating me to go work on my site again. Just as I like to do a huge housecleaning every spring and autumn, it’s a great idea to tidy up my site at least twice a year, in addition to my monthly tweaks. This includes testing links, making sure covers and blurbs are right, and trying some new features here and there. I might add a pop-up subscriber link for my newsletter, or maybe embed my TikTok stream on the sidebar.
The possibilities are exciting—and since this is my little corner of the publishing world, I want to make it beautiful and appealing, drawing my existing readers back time and again and enticing new-to-me customers to linger in the world I’ve constructed. Don’t neglect this important tool in your publishing toolkit!