Good morning and welcome to the final installment of our series on bulding a web presence. Today, Jeannie Ruesch of Will Design for Chocolate will share with us what published writers should include on their websites.
Hello again RU Crew & Readers!
Welcome back to the Websites 101 series. If you’re just checking in, we’ve been discussing websites at every stage of a writer’s career. We started with the Unpublished Author’s Website, continued with The About-to-be or Newly Published Author and now, our series wraps up this week with a final look at the Established Author’s Website.
What’s the next level you can take your website to once your author bookshelf has books stacked and your readership base is growing? You have a website that’s been focused on your author brand, you offer updates and new information often, but you want more interactivity, you want to reward your readers with a deeper connection to you and your work. How do you do that?
Now is the best time to truly shift the focus of your website. In other stages of your career, your website was a place to show yourself to other writers, agents, editors, reviewers and while some of that may still be true, your ultimate goal should be enhancing the reader’s experience: immersing them in your world(s) and offering more connection to you, the author.
The Basic Needs
Before the bells and whistles, you have to make sure you’ve got the basics in order. Basic needs for an established author’s website are mostly in line with everything else we’ve discussed – a solid design that enhances and evokes your brand, a clean navigation and easy-to-use site. As you gain a larger readership and write more books, there are a few added basics that every site should have:
A simple, printable book list.
This doesn’t need to be fancy, but it should list all the books you’ve written. If you’ve written series or connected books, they should be listed in order.
A coming soon page.
This is across the board for any author, but as an established author, it’s imperative. Your readers will come to your site looking to find out when your next book is out. As soon as you know, let them know. Provide details on release dates, blurbs, cover, and whenever possible, a sample of the first chapter.
An easy way to contact you.
An established author is going to have fans write to them or want to connect somehow. Have a contact page that gives all the options you offer. A contact form, an email address, a mailing address (PO Box, please), any and all social media connections you have. Everywhere you want a reader to contact you, list those options.
Bells & Whistles
You may ask why you need to enhance your reader’s experience through your website. Aren’t the books enough? Or your Facebook page or twitter, or your blog?
Yes and no. Some readers won’t ever visit your Facebook page, your twitter account, or your blog. But your website is the one place everyone will come when they want more: more of your books, more information, more connection to you.
We’re writers, but we’re also readers. If you’ve ever met one of your favorite authors, then you know that in some ways, to a reader, an author can be like a celebrity. Readers feel connected from your books, and just like we’re all curious about what our favorite celebs are up to, we like to know about our favorite authors. That connection helps to build a reader’s loyalty, their trust. And offering more for them on your website shows the reader that you value them – that you realize that your career wouldn’t be what it is without them.
So, what sorts of bells and whistles can you add to enhance their experience? We’ll study some examples of bestselling authors and what they share with their readers:
Epilogues, Deleted Scenes & Other Short Stories
Giving more of your stories is a great way to draw your readers to your site and keep them immersed in the world you created. One fabulous example of this is Julia Quinn’s 2nd Epilogues for her Bridgerton series. Her tagline for these is terrific: “Because happily ever after is a whole lot of fun.” The offer the “story after the story” for one of my most beloved series.
Another author who has done this is Susan Elizabeth Phillips, who offers an epilogue to Heaven, Texas.
You can also choose other routes, such as deleted scenes. Caridad Pineiro offers deleted scenes from a number of her books, as well as free reads.
Readers love more of their favorite stories. It’s why series, especially in romance, are so successful. When we fall in love with the characters, we want to keep reading about them. These are great options to give a little more to your readers.
A micro site is a glimpse into the world of your books. One example is Brenda Novak’s LAST STAND series. She has a micro site available from her website (it requires flash to see) that showcases this series – the lead heroines, cases, chapters, and all wrapped in the design idea of the “offices” of the Last Stand – which works with her series premise.
If you have connected books or long-standing series, a micro site dedicated to your book’s world and characters is a great way to get your readers that much more involved.
More Information About The Author
Readers love to get to know their favorite authors. There are a ton of different ways you can do this. One I think is particularly enjoyable is on Lisa Gardner’s website. She has a video called “A Day Living with Lisa Gardner.” The video is funny, in tone with her books, and a great way to make readers laugh.
Other options, outside of the traditional “About me” paragraphs can be quirky Q&A. Kristin Hannah does this on her website, and it’s different and fun. (And she apparently hates onion rings.)
Get Behind The Scenes
Readers love to delve into the world of how you created their favorite books. Look for ways to bring out special details that aren’t anywhere else – more than just settings, character bios. Look for unique tidbits.
One of my favorite authors, Karen Rose, offers trivia on how she created her books: http://www.karenrosebooks.com/krose-trivia.htm . It’s a great insight into how some of my favorite characters and stories came about. I love reading these, as a writer and reader – it’s fun to see where she gets her ideas and how my favorite books come to life.
One of the best workshops I attended at the National RWA Conference was on how a cover was created. It was run by the amazing Kate Duffy, and she walked us through the variations of a romance novel cover – we saw the different versions, the changes and why they were made. It was fascinating. While you may not be able to offer something like this to your reader, there are other details you can offer. Things that you changed along the way and why.
And as someone who always watches the “How it was made” section on DVD movie releases, I love knowing what’s behind the scenes. I love seeing the special effects in movies, and readers love knowing what went into making a book.
Fan clubs can be a tricky thing. They can be called a number of things: fan club, registered readers group, etc, but it boils down to your loyal fans looking for a deeper connection with you.
On Eloisa James’ website, her “registered readers get: a whole level of eloisajames.com available only to registered readers. On these pages you will find short stories, extra chapters to Eloisa’s books, special bulletins from Eloisa, photos and other exclusive items.” As well as advance notice of news and books. Her website also has an “easter egg” hunt ongoing, and registered readers get hints on the game. Her fan club is a place to play and get the inside scoop.
This level of connection has to be unique, because these days, readers can connect with you in a variety of ways: facebook, twitter, other social media. What you offer in an exclusive group is essentially a bargain: I’ll give you, the reader, special access in exchange for your email address and agreement to send you updates. It’s the author’s way of remaining connected to the reader and rewarding loyal readers with ways to make them feel special.
One good way to get readers active on your website is a forum or message board. However, use caution with this because boards can take time to build, and if they aren’t kept up with fresh content, can quickly become stale.
I love the concept that Eloisa James & Julia Quinn joined their forums together into one. It’s a great way to connect with readers of the same genre and build a stronger base for activity on the board.
Taking Your World Into Theirs
The next step would be to provide options that bring your written world off your website and into the everyday world of your readers. There are a few ways to do that, from simple and inexpensive to luxurious and interactive.
Bling is always good for giving goodies to your readers. This can be a variety of things from buddy icons, wallpapers, to downloadable/printable bookmarks and more. Buddy icons can be used on message boards, forums. Wallpapers can grace your reader’s computer
Games & More
Or look at creating a game about your books. At the “Nora” level, taking the next step involved actually creating a game based on the world and characters in her Bride Quartet series, where you can “be” a character and truly interact with her world on your own time, away from her website.
Other options include apps for phones and more. These get expensive of course, so choose what fits within your budget and always, what enhances your brand.
It Has to Work.
There are no limits to how interactive you can get with your readers. But something to keep in mind with the addition of new perks, new games, new information, more details and more interactivity, is the most basic needs of a website: Keep it simple.
Your navigation needs to expand and grow with your new features, but overall you want to be sure your readers can find things without much effort. Brenda Novak says, “I think the key to having a good web site is making the information quick and easy to obtain, while making the site as interactive as possible, with content that constantly changes. As the site grows, so does the amount of content, and it’s imperative that it be organized in an intuitive way so that it doesn’t frustrate the visitor. Otherwise, it becomes a waste of time and effort.”
Frustrating the visitor can be easier than you might think, especially when your website is full of information. Your main navigation should have easy, recognizable headers such as “about”, “Books”, “extras”, “Contact”, “Links”, etc… Look across most author websites and you’ll see the same navigation titles. Don’t get cute here, don’t try to think up something original – this isn’t the place for it. The more content you offer, the simpler your navigation needs to be.
So load up on the added features, get interactive with your readers but remember to keep your website simple, focused and professional.
RU Crew, here’s your chance to ask a web designer about building a website. Go to it!
Special thanks to Jeannie for being here. Jeannie will be back with another post on August 19 , so mark your calendars. Join us tomorrow when Theresa Stevens, Publisher, STAR Guides Publishing, teaches us how to ground flying body parts.
Jeannie’s Bio: It was a Saturday afternoon when Jeannie Ruesch gave up her illustrious, hours-long ambition of becoming a Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader (after seeing the made for TV movie). That day, she sat to write her very first story and when she was finished, she knew that pen ..or rather, pencil and collegiate-lined paper was the path for her. She was six. She finished her first two books in 7th grade—handwritten on 150 legal size pages and complete with hearts dotting the I’s, of course.
As an adult, however, she discovered the need to…well, pay for things. In her words, she “paid a lot of money to go to school, get a degree and go beg for work.” She began her career in marketing and design and continues to this day, with her graphic design and marketing business, Will Design for Chocolate. She considers herself fortunate that her passion of writing and her other love go hand in hand so nicely.
In 2008, she sold her first completed novel (as an adult and written on a computer this time) to The Wild Rose Press– a historical romance that has been a labor of love from the start. She is also the creator of the WIP Notebook, a writer’s tool to help stay organized while you write.
Now with a few more tools in her author’s tool belt, her first published book, and a drawer full of emergency chocolate, she has a lot more stories to tell and websites to create. She lives in Northern California with her husband (who is likely tired of having his brain picked on the ‘male perspective’), their son and her brother, who she thanks every day (since he cooks and she hates to.)
- Websites 101: What the Newly Published Author Needs
- Handling Your Social Media: Facebook Fans or Friends?
- Do I Really Need a Website?
- Weekly Lecture Schedule for July 12-16: Writer’s Discipline, Men’s Fantasies, Jeannie Ruesch & Theresa Stevens
- Weekly Lecture Schedule for May 17-21: L.A. Banks, Brenda Novak, Jeannie Ruesch & Theresa Stevens