Friday, 24 February 2012

10 Things Every Author’s Website Should Include

1. Who You Are

Okay, this might seem obvious. But most people who arrive at your website won’t know much about who you are or what you do. Some of them will have followed a link, others will have come via a search engine. They might not even know you’re a writer. And they might arrive at any random page on your website.

Your name and what you write on the top of every page (

Make it very clear on the top of every page who you are and what you write. Your name and either a tagline or a (very) brief intro are ideal.

2. What You’re Selling

Most authors don’t like selling. We think we’re being pushy and that we’re going to come off as arrogant. But our visitors want to know what we’re selling. They want to know about our books or stories. They’re not going to appreciate having to dig into the depths of our websites to discover them.

Let your visitors see what you’ve written and let them see what it’s about. If they’re not interested, they’ll move on, and they won’t be offended.

Highlight what you're selling (

If you’ve got another book coming out soon, make sure you promote that too.

Highlight your next book too (

3. An Excerpt

Not everyone goes to bookstores anymore, and not every bookstore will carry your book. If you’ve followed step 2, you’ve already got your cover and a brief description on the front page of your website, and on a page specifically about your book. Now you need to give your potential reader the chance to decide if they are actually going to like it.

Almost every publisher is happy to let you post a portion of your novel on your website (and your contract probably explicitly lets you do this). Try to post the first three chapters, but certainly put up the first chapter. Make sure you check with your publisher first, though.

Let your visitors read excerpts (

Make sure the chapters are real web pages, not just PDFs or ebooks to download. It’s okay to have downloadable versions too, but most readers will want to get a taste straight away, just as they would flick through a book in the store.

4. Calls-to-Action

Eventually, you are going to want your visitors to do something, other than just leave your website. It might be as simple as giving them the chance to leave a comment or tweet a link to the book. Or it might be to buy your book. To throw in a bit of jargon, you want to offer them a ‘call-to-action’.

A ‘call to action’ can just be a link, but it’s better if you can make it really prominent so that it pops out of the page.

Clear calls-to-action (

Every page on your website should have some kind of call-to-action, so that your visitors don’t hit a dead end at the end of the page, and every major section of a page would benefit from one too.

5. Your Next Book

Once someone has read your book and loved it, they may visit your website to find out when your next book is due, particularly if you are writing a series. Tell them! If you don’t know the exact date, or even if you don’t yet have a cover or title, make sure you let them know there’s another book coming and roughly when.

Readers want to know what you're publishing next (

6. A Complete, Up-to-Date List of Your Books

Number six in any list is where the author shares a vague, personal anecdote (I just made that up), so here goes. Some years ago, I was a big fan of a certain author. I read every one of his books I could find. But then no new books appeared. I checked the bookstores and the libraries, but nothing.

I looked on his website. Zilch. I was disappointed, but not surprised; these books were quirky, and they certainly weren’t bestsellers. I figured the publisher had dropped the author.

Fast-forward a few years, and I’m looking through Amazon, and I suddenly think to check up this author. I find out that not only is there a new book by this author, but the author has been publishing steadily, through a small press. I checked his website again, but still no mention of these books.

In fact, you’d probably be surprised at how many author websites are like this. It’s crazy. I would have been buying this author’s books all these years if he had listed them on his website.

Now, websites can be time-consuming. That’s why you need to be realistic when you’re building or commissioning your website about how much time you can put into it. If you commit yourself to a blog, and a news section, and videos and a vast selection of extras and you don’t have time to do it, your website will quickly become out of date.

But! At the very least, you need a page that lists your works and which is always up-to-date. If you mention publication dates and books in several places, make sure you keep a list of the locations, so that you can update everything at once. And schedule a complete review of your site a couple of times a year where you read through every page and fix what needs fixing.

7. An ‘About Me’ page

Unless you have a very good reason for needing privacy, you should always have an ‘about me’ page on your website, with a photo. If readers love a book, they want to feel like they have a connection with the author. They want to know about the author.

About the author (

Remember, though, that you need to tailor your biography to your audience. If you’re writing funny books for eight-year-olds, don’t go on about your jobs and degrees. Author Barry Eisler has an excellent article on writing your biography.

8. Cross-Linking

If you’ve got a large website, particularly if you’ve got a blog, you should make sure you cross-link to your books or stories. For example, a visitor may well have arrived at your website to read a blog post.

Your blog posts will, of course, be enough to make them interested in you and your work. So make it easy for them. Feature books and stories on every page, and cross-link from each book or story to another one. Give your readers the chance to discover all your work.

Cross-linking so readers can easily find your books (

9. Clear, Easy-to-Read Text

If there’s one thing that writers’ website fall down on more than anything else, it is the typesetting on the page. The chances are, your website is going to have quite a bit of text on it, particularly if you’re posting extracts from your novels. That text needs to be easy to read.

This means, in almost all cases, you should have a white (or nearly white) background with dark (not pure black) text. Dark backgrounds or backgrounds with significant amounts of texture make reading text much more difficult.

There should be a reasonable amount of space between lines (for web techies among you, that usually means a line-height of 1.5 - 1.6 em), and you should use a clear, simple font (nothing too elaborate).

If your website was built more than two or three years ago, the chances are that your text is too small. Back then, most people were still using fairly low-resolution screens that sat on their desks.

But screens are changing fast. They are becoming much higher resolution, and tablets (e.g., iPads) and smart phones are becoming far more common. This means that the text on many websites is now painfully small. Sadly, even some newer websites are still being built with tiny text. Make sure yours isn’t one of them. (Again for web techies, a font-size of at least 13 or 14px is the minimum you should be aiming for with most fonts.)

Clear, easy-to-read text is absolutely essential (

10. Contact Info

At some point, people are going to need to contact you, maybe to chat, maybe for business, maybe just to tell you how great you are. Ideally, you should have a contact form on your website, rather than an email address.

Make it easy to contact you, your agent or your publisher (

If you do have a contact form, don’t include a ‘captcha’ (one of those annoying things where you have to figure out a horribly distorted word and type it in a box). Don’t make people jump through frustrating hoops just to contact you. If you have to deal with a bit of spam, that’s a price worth paying, and there are other ways to stop spammers. (Ask your web developer how...)

If for some reason you don’t want to allow visitors to contact you, make sure you include contact details for your agent or publisher.

And a Bonus...

If you want to keep your readers simmering nicely until your next book is out, think about an ‘extras’ or bonus material section on your website. Extra chapters, background material, additional short stories, ‘making of’, games, newsletters, competitions, seasonal specials, and whatever else you can think of. You might also consider making this a members section with exclusive content, to reward people who sign up to be contacted by you. Eloisa James does this as well as any author I’ve come across.

Extras keep your fans excited between books (

The End, at Last...

What do you look for when you visit an author's website? What particularly good (or bad!) sites have you visited recently?

I'd love to hear your thoughts and ideas on this!

Thursday, 16 February 2012


A few weeks ago, I blogged about learning lessons from screenwriting for writing fiction. Then, a couple of days ago, someone pointed me to J.K. Rowling’s wonderful (if enigmatic) handwritten plot spreadsheets for The Order of the Phoenix.

I’ve been thinking for a while that I should start outlining my stories more. Maybe not short stories, but novels, certainly.

I’ve always told myself that I don’t work well with outlining, that my best stuff comes when I writing blind and in the moment. And to a degree that’s true. But I’m also more prone to hitting brick walls or having to backtrack, or just sitting there wondering where the hell the story should go next.

I think part of my reluctance is because I can get caught up in being a little too mechanistic, sometimes, in forcing my story in directions it shouldn’t go in order to fit a preconceived idea, and then having to do a lot of work to unpick it. I worry that outlining will make that worse.

But I don’t think it has to. Not if the outline has room for shift. And maybe if I do outline properly, I’ll solve those issues before I even come to them.

So, I’m going to try it, but I need your help! Or your recommendations at least. If you outline, do you have a particular method? What kind of things do you include or leave out? Can you recommend any particular books on outlining (screenwriting or novel writing, I don’t mind)?

I’d really appreciate any suggestions. Otherwise my whiteboard will remain empty for a very long time. ;)

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Today's journal entry...

... is not happening today, due to various family illnesses (flu, tonsillitis, etc.; nothing majorly serious). Sorry.

Hopefully later in the week.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Popular fiction

You know that thing that authors do from time-to-time? Where they take a short story they've written and expand it into a novel? And it never turns out to be a good idea? It just doesn't. Because the idea that can make a brilliant short story rarely can be stretched into a whole novel. Sometimes short stories (or novellas) are just the right length, and anything else is padding.

Take Flowers for Algernon, for instance, by Daniel Keyes. This is a quite brilliant short story. (If you haven't read it, you must.) The novel, however, isn't. It's not bad, by any means, but it comes nowhere near the brilliance and impact of the short story. Daniel Keyes might have been better advised to leave it as a short story and write something else for his novel.

Which brings me to this blog entry. Actually, this blog entry isn't about short stories or novels, nor the adapting of one into the other. In fact, it's about something else entirely.

But it is the blogging equivalent of turning a short story into a novel. I'm writing a blog entry that is based on a couple of tweets I twitted yesterday. The fact that I summed up my thoughts succinctly in a couple of tweets isn't going to stop me turning it into a blog entry.

A couple of days ago, a pompous fool desperate for publicity was quoted in the Guardian laying into the current poet laureate, Carol Ann Duffy. Now I don't really care whether he's right or wrong about her being a bad poet. I'm not qualified to judge as I rarely read poetry.

What really bugged me was the 'defense' in one of the comments, which basically said that we shouldn't worry too much about people reading Duffy because they would probably go on to read other stuff.

This is a really old, and really condescending, 'defense'. It's the 'literature as a gateway drug' argument. I see it used over and over again, for fantasy and science fiction, for romance, for children's books, for thrillers, in fact, for anything popular. Don't worry about them reading J.K. Rowling or Stephanie Meyer or Stephen King or any of a thousand other popular authors, because after that they might go on to read something 'better'.

Better, in this case, always seems to mean something more literary, about big, intellectual, philosophical issues. Something inaccessible and difficult.

The only value of popular fiction, the argument goes, is to hook readers onto the hard stuff.

Well, it doesn't work like that.

Popular fiction is worthwhile by and for itself. Fiction doesn't exist only to interrogate intellectual problems. There is nothing wrong at all--in fact there is enormous value--in writing for entertainment (and that much-derided word 'escapism'), rather than dry, intellectual stimulation. There's nothing wrong at all (and much to recommend) being accessible and easy to read. Being inaccessible is not a merit in and of itself.

Storytelling has always included a high degree of entertainment, right from the very earliest recorded stories. The lessons in those stories, the models for living lives, were delivered through the medium of entertainment, and that is what popular fiction does. And even if it only entertains, there's nothing at all wrong with that.

So, please, don't defend popular fiction as a gateway drug. Don't say 'at least they're reading something, and they'll eventually go on to read something better', because it's not true. Popular fiction is worth reading. It's not there to lead you to something else. It's there for itself, whether the pompous fools like it or not.