Consider your website to be your first introduction to a reader. They may have heard your name, or maybe they’ve seen your book in the store, but they don’t really know you or your writing. With your website, you get to decide what their first impression of you will be. What does that look like for you?
Your website doesn’t need to have all the bells and whistles and look like an aesthetic masterpiece, but it should be professional and competitive. To a potential reader, the quality of your website may be indicative of the quality of your work. So if your website looks thrown together and unrefined, that may be what they expect from your book.
There are a few must-haves for any good website. Here is a list of what you’ll need to get started:
● Website Goals. First and foremost, you need to determine the goals for your homepage — not just your website. Yes, you want to sell books, but is that really all? Speaking events, media attention, online courses you’ve created, an upcoming second book are all things you might wish to promote on a website. Where do you begin? First off, be careful how much you cram onto your homepage. Consider the toothpaste aisle at your local grocery store. Lots of options, lots of different tubes of toothpaste and you know what? It’s overwhelming. The confused mind either doesn’t choose or goes for the familiar.
Now, let’s break this down by genre.
If you’ve written non-fiction that’s tethered to you or your business, then your primary goal for the homepage likely won’t be selling your book. The goal is probably to get people to use your company, sign up for your consulting, or book you for speaking.
If your book is fiction, then yes you want to have your book on the homepage, but selling your book from the homepage isn’t the top priority here either. Honestly, when was the last time you bought a book off an author website? Probably not recently unless you personally knew the author or are an extremely avid fan. For this reason, I’m going to suggest having a mailing list sign up front and center on your website.
● An Author Mailing List. Like I mentioned above, your mailing list should be front and center and clearly noticeable to readers. Don’t make them search for it — the easier it is for them to sign up, the more likely they are to do so. Ideally, your signup and your reader magnet would be up top on the right-hand side.
You may be asking: Do I even need a mailing list? Well, yes, you do. Because readers turn into fans and fans love hearing about your next release and — in some cases — fans can also help you spread the word about your book! Consider even giving them something in exchange for signing up to maximize potential here.
● Book Selling Strategy. How you decide to sell your book on your website is really about whether or not you want to ship copies of your book. You can have a bookstore on your site, but consider also sending folks to Amazon, or maybe (at most) two other places. Again, think about the toothpaste aisle — giving a reader too many places to buy your book will only cause them to do nothing and leave.
● Promote What You’re Proud Of. Maybe this sounds silly, I mean why would you promote something that doesn’t put you and your work in the best light, but it’s amazing how many times I see an author with social media icons for sites they haven’t updated in ages or a bio that’s outdated. Or a link to your author page on Amazon that’s missing an author photo or bio. Details matter. Remove those social media sites that you don’t update or that blog you haven’t written for in months because they’re doing more harm than good. It makes you look like you aren’t showing up for your own party.
● Monthly Website Review. On the heels of the bullet above, it’s best practice to review your site regularly. I’m always surprised at things I find, or don’t find, as the case may be. For example, if your website’s homepage is still announcing your upcoming release two months after it’s come out, it shows you don’t take yourself seriously, so why should readers? And you’re likely missing opportunities to update your readers on events or news if you’re not regularly updating your site.
● Uniqueness. The one thing you have that can set you apart from the competition is your brand. Small details can do big things for your likability! One author I know asks people to tell her the best place to get pizza in their hometown when they use her contact form. It also happens to tie into her brand (one of her books is set in an Italian restaurant). So try a similar approach — tie your brand into who you are and again, be memorable. At my firm, we’re big dog lovers — so you’ll see pictures of our dogs on the “About Penny” page as well as on our podcast page. If you haven’t seen the furry podcast team, you really should take a look.
● Segmentation. If you write across different genres, make the experience positive for each of those markets. For example, you’ll want to make a site welcoming for your cozy mystery fans, giving them a dedicated page, and then do the same for your romantic suspense fans. Don’t assume genre readers are willing to wade through books they have no interest in. A best practice here would be having a main website with separate pages for each of the genres you write for to promote your books.
A key tip to helping you get started with a new website or updating an existing one is to look at other authors in your genre or authors who have great branding. What are they doing on their websites that you can emulate (not copy)? What hooked you about your favorite writers? Think of how these ideas, or similar ones, can work for you and your brand!
Going back to my initial question: What does your ideal first impression for a potential reader look like? With the above in mind, how can you make it your own to create a one-of-a-kind experience? Welcome your new and existing readers with a website that is completely you.
Penny C. Sansevieri, Founder and CEO of Author Marketing Experts, Inc., is a bestselling author and internationally recognized book marketing and media relations expert. She is an Adjunct Professor teaching Self-Publishing for NYU. She was named one of the top influencers of 2019 by New York Metropolitan Magazine.
Her company is one of the leaders in the publishing industry and has developed some of the most innovative Amazon visibility campaigns as well offering national media pitching, online book marketing, author events, and other strategies designed to build the author/book visibility.
She is the author of 18 books, including How to Sell Your Books by the Truckload on Amazon, Revise and Re-Release Your Book, 5-Minute Book Marketing for Authors, and From Book to Bestseller. She also hosts the top ranking podcast Book Marketing Tips and Author Success.
AME has had dozens of books on top bestseller lists, including those of the New York Times, USA Today, and Wall Street Journal.