News & Views

7 Common Mistakes of an Author Website

Your author website is the cornerstone of your media platform, and it's the one piece of real estate that you can (mostly) control. Your author website is the thing that:

1. Validates you as a professional writer with a knowledge of the marketplace (even before you publish)
2. Substantiates your ability to draw in an audience - which is what agents and editors and publishers really care about

The cold, hard marketing fact is that, upon reading your name on a query or cover letter or discovering it on a free first chapter or article anywhere else, all of the people below WILL Google you. Your author website will determine whether or not:

• Agents consider your query seriously
• Editors bring your manuscript into an editorial board meeting
• Journalists and periodical editors take your work seriously enough to review
• PR folks consider you an authority enough to tap you for insights or quotes about your genre or the writing process
And, most importantly of all . . .
• Readers consider investing (yes, investing) their precious resources of time and money and energy on something that you wrote.

The less well-known you are, the less you can afford to risk doing anything to turn off these important audiences, the less you can afford to make these . . .

Common Author Website Mistakes
1. You don't have a website.
If you even aspire to finish a novel, you need a website. Start modestly, but start. You need to set up your author persona and brand, and chops as an author, well before you start approaching those agents and editors and others mentioned above.

No website? If you're an MWA member, please get cracking on it! The earlier the better, but I recommend at least a year before you plan on publishing as part of your pre-publication marketing plan.

And it doesn't have to be complicated. The most important factors to start with are: readability, easy navigation, and appropriate genre branding.

2. You rely on Facebook to be your author "website."
YIKES! Facebook is useful, but not as a website substitute. There is much danger to relying on a platform that you have no ownership of, no design control. Think about the efforts of all those Vine stars who had the video ripped out from under them before they made it big. All that effort, gone, because they had no control over their main platform.

3. Your author website looks like it was built in 1995.
Some authors seem to put a lot of resources into promoting their books, but have websites that looks like they were created at the dawn of the Internet by a moderately HTML-savvy high school friend. This immediately brands you as someone who does not know how the world actually works. For pity's (and PR's) sake, get yourself a decent website!

4. Your author website is not mobile responsive.
There are plenty of attractive sites created just a couple of years ago that are not mobile responsive (user friendly on phones, tablets, etc.). Today the majority of people are searching on their phones or tablets and you must keep up with the audience that you're trying to engage.

I personally like StudioPress templates for WordPress because the blog/content management system is organic and the support is responsive and timely. Plus, they don't seem like a start-up that's about to go out of business. But there are others, so do your research.

5. Your "social proof" is not smack dab on your home page.
Again, I've seen a number of author sites where they try to draw readers in with just book jackets or lengthy synopses of their plots. WRONG! Readers are more effectively won over — and will click further — if you give them "social proof," i.e., third-party corroboration. This is hugely important because agents, editors, and readers all want to know you and your books are worth their time and, quite frankly, as this is the Internet, they have no reason to believe you. Examples of social proof include:

• Awards, prizes, bestseller list stats
• Review excerpts from accredited publications and reviewers. I personally hate "pay for play" reviews, but if you've got nothing else, use 'em.
• Quotes from established authors (the more name recognition, the better) and booksellers.

6. You have too long of an "About Me"/Bio section.
Most pros really don't care that you wanted to be a writer forever and got an award for your story in first grade — unless there was a dead body in it. Focus on biographical information that positions you as:

• A competent writer — i.e., publications and all the stuff from your social proof
• A specialist who is uniquely qualified to write about your topic – e.g., career and hobby experience relevant to your book's topic
• An author who is building an audience in relevant communities — through social media, regular publications, and associations like MWA.

7. Your author website highlights Amazon.com.
Bookselling today is a very competitive business — and for Barnes & Noble and the independent bookselling community, Amazon is Public Enemy #1.

The reality is, Amazon sells a lot of books for most authors and any book sold is a good thing for us. So the trick is not to show favoritism — or you risk never getting asked to sign in your local indie. You can link to B&N and indie bookseller buy buttons, as well as Amazon and at least show your broad support for all booksellers so that when the time comes, they'll support you.
Valerie Peterson

— Valerie Peterson

Valerie Peterson is a proud member of MWA-NY, a semi-finalist for a 2016-2017 Writers Guild of America East Made in New York Writers Room Fellowship, and a 2015 Finalist for the CBS TV Writers Mentorship Program. She is currently finishing her first novel, which involves several intertwining mysteries and at least two dead bodies. Peterson is also a content strategist and book publishing consultant who ran major book marketing departments and campaigns (including for James Lee Burke and Robert Crais) and for six years ran the Book Publishing site for About.com/The Balance.

6 Responses

  1. Triss Stein says:

    Very helpful and great timing as I think about how to update mine. Thank you

  2. Marla Colby says:

    Thank you so much for posting this. I have debated getting a website for ages, and this has made up my mind. No more depending on word of mouth and my circle of Facebook friends to make me a best-selling author!

    • Valerie Peterson Valerie Peterson says:

      Yes, Maria – it’s hugely important. Glad the article was helpful! There are more coming… 😉

  3. Gerald Lenaz says:

    Wonderful article. As an indie mystery bookseller, I would suggest adding link to your nearby indie bookshop (s) besides the behemoths. Shop Local does sell books.

  4. Valerie Peterson Valerie Peterson says:

    Thanks much Gerald and thanks for the additional info, Gerald! I link to IndieBound in addition to the others. I believe in books! Cheers!