This Friday, let's discuss some elements for you to put on your website. I think once you decide who your audience is, it's then a matter of what would encourage them to stay and poke around.
Self promotion has such a negative connotation at times, but it's really undeserved. Sometimes, when you see writers hawking their books like a street vendor, it might start to look a little crass, but if done right, you won't ever notice the sales pitch.
What you are trying to achieve is interest. The rest is up to the visitor.
A writer's website should be orchestrated like a guest visit. When people come to your home, you introduce them to your family, offer them a tour of your home, and put a drink in their hand. A website shouldn't be treated much differently. A web visitor is essentially in your home.
What are you going to show him? What will you offer?
The first step is to make it visually appealing. Are the colors pleasant? Is the layout clean? Is your type readable?
Don't take your own word for it. Ask for blunt opinions. Remember too, that different browsers may wipe away your formatting, limit your graphics or shift elements in strange places. It's a technical issue that I hope the great internet minds of the world will fix one day. For now, it's still a problem. Be sure you hire a good web master if you can't build the site on your own.
So what can you put on your website to make visitors feel at home?
Adult readers are going to have different requirements from YA readers. YA websites must appeal not only to adults but to children. What will you have to appeal to them?
We'll start with the basics and then add to them.
Home page: This is your resting page (the index page). It's usually the first thing people see. Here is where you might want to put a welcome message, a bio, or an announcement.
Some people put their blogs on their home page. That kinda kills two birds with one stone. It's a good way to get people to not only visit your website but also for them to know what you're doing right now. It can also backfire. (more on blogs later.)
The Bio: Some people put this on a separate page, others combine it with another element like the home page.
Bibliography: Your backlist. What have you published? List them here.
Contact Page: Sometimes this requires a little technical know-how to make this interactive. But it can also be as simple as an email address. Note: If you post an email address, you can save yourself some spam by making the link an object rather than text. Spam spiders look for specific words that indicate an email addy. If it sees an object, it will ignore it. (At least for now.)
Contests: Many authors hold regular contests. This can be expensive if done regularly. But only you know what works for you.
Organizations: This might be more useful to readers who are also writers, but I love to learn what other organizations the author I'm following belongs to.
Games: For kids of all ages. Make them age appropriate with easy to follow rules. It's not so much to draw interest to your book as it is to keep them on your page longer.
Freebies: This can be anything. Bookmarks, bookplates, books, or downloads. Everyone loves free stuff. We'll have a huge honking list of freebies in later posts and we'll discuss what works, what doesn't and why not.
Links: A great place to link other authors and places of interest.
Portfolio: I have a portfolio page. Just something to show off what else I can do and sometimes earn a little cash from other venues. If you have a hidden talent in a field that might go along with your books, consider adding it.
Works In Progress: Some people do this. I'm not too crazy about the idea of posting anything but polished stuff. Proceed with caution.
Interviews: List the links of interviews people have done with you. Note: I also have interviews I've done with other authors, just to give people an introduction to someone who is possibly new to them.
Reviews: Got a good review? List that too.
Events: This is where all your news on book signings, readings, conferences and workshops goes. If you're making an appearance, be sure to tell everyone.
Navigation: There should be a navigation map on EVERY page. These are links that will take you to each page on your website. There is nothing more frustrating than being left on a page with no way to go elsewhere without hitting the Back button.
Okay, now let's get more specific with lesser used elements.
Related Links: Do you write fantasy with mythical creatures? Consider introducing your visitor to websites that host fantasy fairs, or a Yahoo site that discusses ancient legends. It doesn't have to be all about you or your book.
If your latest book deals with gardens, think of all the places you could send your visitors. These are places you probably already know if you used them for research. Don't forget to look into doing a mutual link to the places you send them to.
Photos: I'm spare with photos. I would be fearful to put up photos of kids and I really don't think people need another look at me. I also fret it might eat up the bandwidth. I don't want people to cuss me when their pages load slowly. Post photos at your own risk.
Related Books: The mongo online booksellers are big on this one. "People who bought this book, also liked this one too." Tout your friends. If they have a book in the same vein as yours, put a little marketplace of links to their books. Again, don't forget to ask for reciprocal links.
Blogs: You can put your blog on your website with the right code. I used to do that but I've since changed my mind since I mostly blog about things other writers are interested in rather than the average "civilian". If I ever do put another blog on my website though, it will be posted with news that the fan can use.
The etceteras: I've been on sites that have neat little add-ons. You can add a daily horoscope, a weather map, a quiz, or one of those little video games. It has absolutely nothing to do with your book, but it gives the visitor a chance to pop in and maybe he'll see what else you have going on today. Recipes, puzzles, illustrated trading cards of your characters, screensavers, maps of your story's world.
The trick is to OFFER something. It doesn't have to be expensive or even physical. It should be entertaining, easy to find and constantly updated. You want people to come back. That's the bottom line.
So can you think of other interesting elements you've seen on websites?
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