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Author website must-haves

Interestingly enough, I “met” today’s guest blogger, Pauline Wiles, when she commented on one of the blog posts here. In her comment, Pauline included a link to an article on her own site that I found helpful, so I asked her to share some of her wisdom in a guest post for us. Pauline creates simple, stylish websites for writers and authors. Learn more and get your free website starter kit on her site at https://www.paulinewiles.com/ .

Author website must-haves

By Pauline Wiles

As a writer, you might presume that creating your website should be easy.

In fact, finding the perfect words for your online home can often be challenging. Moreover, design decisions and technology choices can be downright overwhelming.

It doesn’t have to be hard, though, especially if you start slowly. It’s all about knowing what you can and can’t live without in an author website.

author website

7 key elements

Here are seven author website essentials. 

1. Clean design

Modern websites are lean and clutter-free. I can generally spot an older site solely from extraneous information clamoring for my attention. Keep your words concise. Limit decorative elements, choosing “white space” instead.

If you’re sprucing up your current site, your sidebar and footer are prime areas for purging clutter.

With website traffic coming increasingly through mobile devices, clean design is vital. And don’t forget to make sure your site looks great on a phone.

2. Book information

As a rule of thumb, the more books you’ve published, the less information your website needs for each title.

For your debut release, you’ll be proud and excited. With only one book to showcase, you might feature:

  • A description
  • Reviews
  • Several “buy” links
  • ISBN number
  • Book club questions

However, if you have, say, eight books in the same genre, prune this to each book’s:

  • Title
  • Cover
  • Single purchase link
  • One-sentence teaser

Recommend a reading order for your books if appropriate, but don’t overload fans with details.

3. Clear calls to action

Don’t give your audience a dozen options. A highly effective website prioritizes the ideal single next step that you’d like your visitor to take. That’s your “call to action.”

In addition, research shows that visitors are more likely to see and click on buttons, versus underlined text links. So, pick a clear “call to action” for each page, and create a button in an eye-catching color.

Calls to action include buying your book or subscribing to email updates.

4. High-quality author photo

Unless you’re desperate to retain privacy, you’ll form a closer reader relationship if you show your face on your website.

Just as you wouldn’t attend a party without sprucing up, your author photo should reveal you at your best. Use one that’s recent and good quality. Don’t use a hasty selfie, or a poorly cropped picture.

A professional author photo truly is a worthwhile expense.

5. Recent content

If you care about your readers, demonstrate it by keeping the content on your website fresh. This doesn’t mean you must publish weekly articles (see below), but check that your copyright year is current and “news” is still applicable.

Remove dead social media links.

If I see a Google+ link on a website, I know it probably shelters other cobwebs, too.

6. Mailing list invitation

If you don’t yet have an author website, I encourage you to publish a few simple pages initially, without getting bogged down in extras. Setting up a mailing list should follow as soon as you’re able.

If you’re daunted by the idea of a newsletter, it’s fine to gather email addresses before you plan to send regular updates. At a minimum, you’ll have permission to notify readers of your next release.

Once you have a mechanism for collecting emails, you must also publish a privacy policy that states how you’ll handle that information.

You’ll need to offer something to encourage site visitors to provide their email address. This “lead magnet” can be a free sample of your work or another reader resource.

But don’t let a lack of this type of gift prevent you from setting up your list. If necessary, it can come later.

7. Contact information

Many authors favor a contact form, but a simple email address on your website is adequate.

Journalists typically prefer this more direct method, and if you hope to be interviewed on current topics, you should consider including your phone number, too.

If you do opt for a form, check it regularly to make sure it still works.

A few author website non-essentials

You have limited time and energy for your marketing efforts. Especially at first, you can get away without these:

  • Press/media kit: Unless you’re pitching to mainstream outlets, emailing relevant information will suffice.
  • Long bio: Today’s website visitors typically scan your content, so a few engaging sentences are better than reams of text.
  • Blog: Especially if your site is new, or if you’re not seeing results from blogging, focus instead on submitting guest articles to other sites with complementary audiences.

Aim for simplicity

The most effective author websites are constructed deliberately and thoughtfully.

Rather than treat your website as a repository of all your writerly interests, aim instead for strictly curated pages.

Whether you already have an author website or are starting from scratch, the best philosophy is less is more. By keeping it simple, your website is easier to construct, and to maintain. And, you’ll minimize typos and broken links while increasing the likelihood that your visitor will take action.

Not only will you make it easier on yourself, but clear, concise content is the ultimate compliment to your reader.

What’s your biggest frustration with your author website? Please tell us in a comment.

Like what you’re reading? Get it delivered to your inbox every week by subscribing to the free Build Book Buzz newsletter. You’ll also get my free “Top 5 Free Book Promotion Resources” cheat sheet immediately!


    1. If you don’t collect *any* visitor information from your website, you’re probably OK, but I’m not a legal expert so I’m afraid you’d need to verify this for your own situation. Keep in mind your website provider/underlying technology may be gathering more data than you realize… and at some point you probably do want to begin asking for user details (for a mailing list, for example). So, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on the requirements.

  1. I looked over Pauline’s website and her fees are extremely reasonable for solid, professional work! Her service is clearly worth it! I am an author myself and I work in Internet marketing. In the last few years I have become increasingly frustrated with how many people think they can make their own site or have someone make one very cheaply with overhyped services like Wix, Weebly, or GoDaddy Site Builder. Not only do these sites end up not looking good, the underlying code is garbage and technical elements critical to a site’s indexing and search are almost always missing or incorrect. Don’t cut corners here!
    Solid work, Pauline!

    1. Thanks, Dagny! Your feedback is helpful. Website design is above my pay grade — even with DIY options — so I always hire a pro. I’m also impressed by Pauline!


    2. Thank you, Dagny. You make a good point that although it’s possible to build a great site using one of these services, it’s not as easy as it looks to combine effective design and appropriate tech.

    3. Thank you, Dagny. You’re quite right that although it’s possible to build a great site using services like these, the combination of effective design and functional tech isn’t as easy as it looks. I encourage folk to simplify their websites, so there are fewer corners to be cut!

  2. Excellent post. Thanks for your tips, Pauline! Your website is your calling card and a homemade website screams unprofessional! Not the message you want to give to readers, customers or the press.

    My greatest frustration is keeping my website current. The way it is set up makes it hard for me to make adjustments on my own. I’d like to have more control over the process.

    1. Yes, Sonia, for anyone embarking on a new website project, the ability to update it (fairly) easily is likely to be a key factor. Sorry to hear you’re not easily able to make tweaks on your own.

  3. May I expand on #7, contact information, my pet peeve?

    I’m astounded at the number of authors who don’t include a phone number, email address and mailing address. If you don’t want people calling you at 3 a.m., get a free Google Voice number. I have sold dozens of consulting sessions to people who call me to ask a simple question. Include your mailing address in case someone wants to mail you a check to buy a book. Not everyone is comfortable buying online. Include your email address, even if you have a form, so people can email you directly from their Outlook or Gmail. Some people wonder if there’s a human on the other end of those forms. Finally, don’t bury contact info under a Contact button. Put it in the header or footer so it appears on every page of your website.

    1. Great advice, Joan! Honestly, as a site visitor, I despise those forms because they’re black holes. I’m constantly forced to use them when contacting experts and other sources for article assignments, and I rarely get a response. After I was forced to cold call a retailer I wanted to interview a few years ago, the business owner actually said, “Oh. Yeah. We don’t check for messages from the form. Maybe we should.” If that’s the only way I can contact a source, I immediately look for someone else who’s more media friendly.


  4. Thank you, Pauline, for the clear and concise breakdown of what’s needed and why. Probably the best ‘author website’ piece I’ve seen. I just had to re-do mine due to host selling out to another host; and now I’m going straight back for more tweaking!

    I’m a DIY-er, mainly for the ability to change/update things frequently. But the ‘button’ issue baffles me still, as does the ‘book funnel’ dealy-bob. (I never feel ready to pay for that—waiting for a miracle.) So I’m not transporting browsers from a tease line to a sales page. But sending them off to Amazon feels like showing them the door.

    Another comment is that, despite how dynamic one’s site may be, attention-span is NO JOKE! Even in a global lock-down pandemic, everyone’s off to their next Zoom meeting. So, with your advise in mind, I’m going to minimize my info, and also make my contact data more visible. (Thx Joan, too!) But, Pauline, I’m not averse to paying someone to help me nail down the last critical steps to a more functional site.

    1. Hi Wendy, I don’t use Book Funnel myself but the cheapest plan is $20 per year, which isn’t too bad. That level doesn’t allow you to gather reader email addresses, but if you send them there *after* they sign up for your newsletter, you’ll have their address in any case. Alternatively, if you format your freebie as something like a pdf, you can use a (free) service like Mailchimp and deliver the freebie as part of a welcome message. So you have options to engage folks, if you’d like to.

      1. Thank you! I thought it was $20/mo! Quite a difference. But I don’t qualify since I’ll have 7 books by end 2020 and that plan only allows 5. Still, even the next level is cheaper than I thought, so thx so much for letting me know. : )

  5. Great advice, Pauline, in particular about simplicity.

    I have just built my third website and, although my site builder gives me all sorts of fancy design options, I always wonder if they do not clutter up my websites too much, in particular on a mobile. Sure, the book pages look good on my iMac, but what about a 4″ or 6″ mobile screen? Choosing between an awesome design and something that works, loads quickly and looks good on a small screen is the greatest challenge for me.

    1. I’m with you on this, Birgit! I’ve noticed that some site designers are more focused on aesthetics than usability — the site looks lovely, but it’s not as functional as it should and could be. As a site visitor, my biggest frustration is a small font in a light color that’s nearly impossible to read without enlarging the screen. Sure, it looks nice, but if people struggle to read your text, what’s the point of a website?


      1. Sandy, definitely, there’s been a trend recently to put beauty before function, and that’s just crazy. I admit, I love for my websites to look amazing, but legibility has to come first.

    2. Hi Birgit, absolutely, simple is almost always better, especially for authors, where we want the book cover to be the star of the show.

      A very helpful free tool that web developers use to preview many different screen sizes is Responsively, found at https://responsively.app/ You do need to download it, but it’s one of my must-have resources for checking how things behave on mobile.

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