New RU columnist Oliver Rhodes returns today, addressing an issue that plagues a lot of writers: Do I really need a website?
Author websites are commonly accepted today as a useful book marketing tool – helping to build ‘platforms’ to reach readers. And creating an author website is now quicker and easier than ever before.
But what does all that actually mean? Why can’t you just stick to Facebook? Or even writing books? And what the hell would you even put on a website anyway?
Now you’ve probably read at least a couple of articles on author websites before. I’ve read a lot myself. But I hope this post will offer a slightly different perspective.
Firstly, you don’t have to have an author website. There are plenty of authors who have become very successful without ever having their own website.
Breaking the ‘rules’ and concentrating your time and effort on writing a truly remarkable novel or on creating a huge, engaged twitter following might work better for you in reaching readers.
But. (and this is quite a big but).
A website can genuinely help in connecting you with readers. It’s not easy, it takes a long time and a lot of commitment, but all that can be a very worthwhile investment. After all, readers are what this business is all about.
If you‘re considering the self-published route, where you don’t have the support of a publisher to help with marketing and publicity, then having an effective website becomes even more important.
And what’s that author platform thingy?
Essentially, all the talk about ‘author platforms’ is about establishing a group of people that you can talk to about your books.
That could be via Twitter, Goodreads, a blog on your website or an e-mail newsletter (and many other ways too). Suffice to say that if you have a network of 100,000 followers then you’ve got a pretty good head-start in getting people to go out an buy your books.
An author website is not in itself a ‘platform’ – the platform is people that are willing to listen to your message and is founded on what you have to say. But a website can be a key part of getting your message out to the world and helping readers to access it.
So, in terms of ‘building a platform’ a website is a pretty useful thing to have – and here are some of the reasons why:
What can an author website do for me?
Right. Let’s stop there. First lesson – your website is not for you.
A better mindset from the outset is: how can a website help my supporters, readers and potential readers? Taking this approach could save you a lot of wasted time and effort.
So here are some things that a website could help your readers with:
Finding answers to questions about you.
What do you do if you want to find the answer to a question? Most people use Google. So if someone types in your name – you want them to be able to find you.
A website give you a place where people who are looking for more information can find answers. That’s not just readers – it could be bloggers, other authors or even publishers.
So have a think about what readers want to know about you – and make sure your website gives them the answers they are looking for.
Finding the answer to a question related to your writing.
Having people find you when they’re already searching for you is great. But it doesn’t pull in new readers. And you can bet that there are plenty more people searching for other, related terms (find out how many using Google Adword’s keyword tool).
What if a page from your website showed up in the results when readers searched for the best books in your genre? Or when they searched for an alternative to one of their current favourite authors?
You can both help readers answer their questions and promote your own work.
This is a bit more difficult to achieve (as there’s more competition than there is for just your name) but getting it right can help more readers to discover your books. The name of the game here is great content combined with Search Engine Optimisation – which is a topic for a whole other blog post.
Discovering cool stuff (be it entertaining, interesting, educational or inspirational)
To build an audience, you need to have something interesting and relevant to talk to people about – and you need to deliver it regularly to keep them coming back.
This is hard – you’re competing with every other single page on the internet (including a million pictures of really cute kittens).
The good news is that you’ve got a really interesting ‘job’ to talk about; you’re the only one who can provide insight into your writing; and your stories can provide lots of additional content.
Think about who your audience is, and what will add real value to them. Is it exclusive previews? Free short stories? Or updates on your author journey? Check out this great infographic from Copyblogger for some more ideas.
Blogging regularly (and it does need to be regular) can be hard work but – if you get it right – you can create real value for your readers. And guess what? Those people who follow you are incredibly valuable to you. They’ll not only be some of the first people to buy your books, but they’ll share the news with others.
Of course you should share each new post with anyone following you on social media – but your website is the hub of all this content – allowing people to discover your posts long after they were written.
Connecting to you.
One great thing about the advent of the internet and social media is that readers have access to authors in a way they never did before. So make yourself accessible.
Remember, a website doesn’t have to be a one-way conversation. Encourage readers to comment on your posts. Ask for their opinions. Run contests. Give the option of signing up to e-mail updates.
Also, if you’re on Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, Pinterest, or Goodreads (phew, there are a lot of social networks) your website is a great place for readers to find out about those and connect to you. Make sure your site has links to those networks prominently displayed and you’ll make it easy for readers and increase your following.
Linking to other cool stuff
One fantastic thing about the romance genre is the incredible, very supportive online community of authors and bloggers. Why not help your supporters and readers discover other great stuff by linking to other authors and blogs when you find something that you love?
Perhaps others will return the favour and share your message too.
This post could have been a list of reasons you NEED to have a website and things that you HAVE to include on it (which is what a lot of posts that I have read do). But in my view there are very few absolute rules.
Instead, what I hope that you’ll take away is that, if you’re going to commit to setting up your own website, you’ll do it for your supporters. You’ll consider what would be awesome for them – and in doing so you’ll create a site that works for you too.
What’s your experience with author websites? If you’ve got one, what works best for you? I’d love to hear from you via the comments section.
Join us Friday when New York Times and USA Today Best Selling Author BRENDA NOVAK shares her time management tips.
Oliver Rhodes is the Founder of Bookouture – a digital publisher of romance and women’s fiction. Recently picked by The Bookseller as one of their ‘Rising Stars’ of 2012, he’s passionate about building global author brands.
Formerly Marketing Controller at Harlequin UK, Oliver has worked in publishing for over 12 years. Some of his highlights from his time at Harlequin include launching Mills & Boon’s New Voices online writing competition and rapidly growing it’s MIRA imprint – establishing authors such Debbie Macomber, Diane Chamberlain, Susan Wiggs and Alex Kava in the UK market.
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