There are two major types of author sites. The first is a clean, basic site with a little bio, a list of books, and some contact information. This kind of page is generally static and only gets updated to add pages about new releases. The second is an author blog, a site where you post blog entries and book updates frequently to encourage return visitors.
You can have both. You can have only one. You can have an author blog, a Tumblr, and a basic site if you so choose. Whichever you decide to go with, here are some ideas of things you should include.
If you have a social media account, it should be linked on your site. It’s best to have iconic buttons for these things in ever-present areas of your site, whether that be the sidebar, header, or a floating panel. You want your readers to engage with you on as many platforms as possible. Make it easy for them to find their platform of choice.
Many social media sites have widgets that you can grab code snippets for and embed in your site. I, personally, prefer a unified icon theme. You can find social media icons at findicons.com and selecting commercial-free on the refine search sidebar. Either way you do it, make sure they are easy to find so that you can engage your audience wherever you are on the web.
Linking to your Twitter also has the added bonus of serving as a method of contact.
I said it in Part I, and I’ll say it again. Your site must have a way for people to contact you. This can be a social media link, an email form, or just posting your email right on the site. If you are an indie author, this is a double must. Bloggers, journalists, and fans alike need a way to contact you. Withholding that information will only hurt you.
Don’t hide your contact information away at the very bottom of an obscure page. Make it easy to find. Yes, you will get the occasional South Asian business contacting you to try and sell you eBook conversions, but you may also get interview requests and fan mail, and that’s really cool!
I’m always tickled when I hear indie authors complain about having to write a bio or a book description. Still, I can commiserate. It’s hard. It’s a very specific art form, and the limited space is less forgiving. You just have to suffer through it and get it done. Think of it as the elevator pitch for you as a brand. What are the highlights?
If you really dread it because you just don’t like writing about yourself, perhaps you can do a bio exchange with another author. Jot down some highlights in a list and trade bios. Where were you born? Where do you live? What degrees do you have? What books do you write? Any particular bragging rights?
Write two versions. Your simple bio should only be a few lines in present tense, while your longer bio (the kind that would go on Amazon Author Central) should include more of the bragging rights and tell a brief story about your life. You can choose which one you like better for your site. I, personally, keep the brief bio on my site and the longer bio on Author Central.
A high-resolution, professional image is a great investment that you will not regret. Depending on your persona, you might be able to get away with quirky cosplay photos, and pictures from literary events will be okay (did someone snap a picture of you on a panel at a con?) but a professional portrait is a must.
My professional portrait is on my site, has been used in con brochures, and is currently on a poster for a signing I’m doing after Christmas in Massachusetts. If you get a high-resolution image taken by a professional (or a semi-professional college photography student) it can serve many purposes in your writing career.
If you are going to post a frequently updated author site, you need to provide valuable content. This was discussed briefly in Part I. Is your site something that provides value to its reader (are they getting something from it?) or is it just a megaphone from which you scream advertisements from your book.
Great content can serve as a testimonial to your personal brand. You don’t need to hide it behind paywalls. Put the content out there and use it to drive search traffic to your site. Give readers a reason to come back by making them feel like they are getting something from their visits. Once you build an audience that trusts you as a thought leader, you will then have a platform from which to sell your books.
Just remember, once you get that platform, not to switch to a SPAM machine. Economize those self-promotional updates. Post them at crucial times, but don’t post them all the time. Too much self-promotion will drive your audience away.
Most importantly, what are your books and where can people buy them? Have a page for your books with high-quality covers (if you use 100 pixel thumbnails, make full-sized covers available with a click) and the back-of-jacket descriptions. Make sure to provide buy links. How can I buy your book on Kindle? Kobo? iBooks? Nook? Where can I get a physical copy?
There is a controversy in the indie community about selling paperbacks online. The two schools of thought on this.
Amazon makes nice widgets that you can easily embed in your site. It also has consumer trust (trust that their financial information is safe) and super-saver shipping. Indies who use createspace don’t have to keep a stock of their books because Amazon will dropship from Createspace to the consumer. You should use the widgets on Amazon’s Affiliate program to link your books.
Amazon is a monster that eats independent book stores. If possible, you should find an indie bookstore that will stock your book and fulfill orders online, and use their link or widget on your site. If you cannot find a store to work with you, keep a few of your own in stock and use Paypal to take and fulfill orders yourself.
Whichever you choose, remember that the more clicks required to make the purchase, the more likely readers are to back out before the transaction is finalized. Put a buy link (either a widget or a link straight to the Amazon page) and don’t make your reader go looking for it.
This article comes in 5 parts. You can start from the beginning at Part I: Principle. This has been Part II: What to Include, Part III will cover what NOT to include, and Part IV will go over some indie indicators that will turn book snobs away from your site. Finally, Part V will discuss different ways for inexperienced authors to build their own site and publish it for a reasonable price.