Authors Websites - I could probably write a book on the subject. : ) But here’s a quick rundown on what I feel are the most important elements. I’m quoting from my own experience working with authors, so your mileage may vary. But as the author’s we have worked with have collectively sold approximately 80 million books (a conservative estimate) I think it’s a pretty good sampling.
Content. Content. Content.
That may sound unusual coming from a designer but that’s what the hardcore fans (and new readers) want from an author’s site. The most successful sites are those where the author devotes time into providing new and original content for the public. A prime example from our own client list is Darren Shan. His site has literally thousands of articles from news, to his long running (over 10 years now) monthly newsletter to his Writing Tips section that’s almost a book in itself. He has also meticulously catalogued almost every single foreign cover of his books which for an author published in 39 countries and in 31 languages is quite a feat.
The site design needs to appeal to your fan base and just as importantly be a reflection of your own personality as a writer and a human!!! The site we created for author Charlie Higson features a lot of humour (check out the odd questions on the contact form) which refer’s to Charlie’s work in TV and radio comedy and his own sometimes twisted sense of humour.
Interaction with Fans
Whether it’s through a message board, forum, comment system or via social media. Make sure that you devote some time to answering their questions about the plots and characters that they love. Run competitions, give away prizes, reward fans for their loyalty, don’t take them for granted. On the site we created for Anthony Horowitz there’s an active forum where we’ve run online treasure hunts to find such things as advance book chapters (sometimes before even the publisher has seen them!!). This has a massive impact on fan engagement.
Although this is probably covered in the point above about content, it’s worth restating. Keep the content fresh. If there’s a new book, mention it. If there’s a new movie deal, blog it. Make sure the author’s site is always the first (where possible) to publish any relevant news. If there are new reviews for the author’s work, make sure they are on the site as soon as they are on the NY Times site or wherever.
This book is published today. We’ll update the reviews on the page as soon as all of the press embargoes are lifted.
From a more technical point of view there’s a few other factors that I consider very important.
A Good CMS
All of the items mentioned above involve the author themselves creating and updating content on their site, none of it would be possible without a good content management system. This is a highly subjective matter that warrants a much longer post but again from experience we’ve found that Expression Engine is the best solution. I know most people are more familiar with Wordpress and that can be a good solution too but…….. : )
It may not be the most interesting aspect of creating your website but as the foundation on which all else is built it’s critically important. Again it’s a highly subjective matter but a good rule of thumb when shopping for hosting is ”cheap is cheap for a reason”. And that holds true for many things in life. The last thing you want is for your site to fail when an important announcement generates a traffic spike. So make sure if you are buying hosting that you know what you are looking for or alternatively leave the job to you friendly web designer! : )
One of our client’s sites survived an intense surge of incoming traffic recently because of the investment we made in quality hosting and some clever use of caching and CDN technology. And of course as we all know page loading speed is now one of the single most important factors in achieving a high ranking on Google.
That’s my 0.02. Hope it helps.