Ask Tania: What makes a great author website?

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Dear Tania
I am keen to create my author website but want to know--what should I include? What makes a great author website?

Hi, Toni,

A website is vital for all authors and illustrators. It's a global, easily-accessed, inexpensive platform that takes minimal effort once set up--and serves as your Virtual Headquarters, not to mention your virtual marketing professional and sales rep!

I'm consistently looking at the work of other authors and illustrators, not only for Kids' Book Review, but because I have a strong interest in supporting emerging talent. One thing that consistently surprises me is the lack of strong web presence. In fact, I've lost count of the times I've looked someone up--or the title of their book--and literally found nothing.

And this lack of web presence is so hugely detrimental to any creator. If we can't find you, how can we find your books?

So, first and foremost, you simply must must must have a website. A website is a standalone 'centre'. Think of it as your home. Then, you have several satellite sites that link to your website, such as a blog, a bookstore, a Facebook page, an online gallery or illustration portfolio, book or character websites, etc.

With me, I have my central website then I link to my blog and my social networking sites (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Youtube). I also link to Kids' Book Review and the 52-Week Illustration Challenge, because both are directly associated with my work as an author illustrator.

It would be tempting to link to your travel blog or your cooking blog or other interests, but unless you're a travel or food writer, it can become confusing to pack too much into one website.

This brings me to my first website tip.

1. Keep it Simple
This is vital. Your website should be clean, uncluttered and easy to navigate. Have the front page relatively clutter-free, with clearly displayed 'chapters' or 'tabs'. Essentially, you want to have a direct, clear link to EVERYTHING on your website, on that very front page.

You can see with my website, below, I have very little on the front page. You'll find my website here (you are currently on my blog).

I have my header, then a large picture of my latest book. Then either side of that, I have my tabs to sections like ABOUT BOOKS MEDIA NEWS EVENTS. You'll notice these are very clear and concise and only relate to my work as an author/illustrator.

The only other things I have on the opening page is a moving gif showing some internals from my latest book (bottom left), and an Instagram widget and a 'latest post' widget for my blog (bottom right). This lets visitors see, at a glance, what my latest blog post is. They can then click this and go visit my blog.

Normally, I have nothing else on the opening page, but I'm about to launch Australia Illustrated, so I have the launch invitations on the opening page, too, along with an early review quote. These will be removed soon.

Sometimes, people have an opening page that's even more simple--and I LOVE this idea. Anna Walker is a great example of this: When you enter the site, you have only a small handful of pop-up options to view more, including WORK PROFILE SHOP PRINTS PROJECTS. This makes the site a joy to navigate and a visual delight.

Another great website font page is Gus Gordon's creation... You simply click on each veggie and will be transported to such pages as ABOUT NEWS BOOKS ILLUSTRATIONS FAQs. Visually beautiful, simple, and covering all bases. Which brings me to my next point.

2. What to Cover
There are several 'musts' to include on an author or illustrator website. As mentioned above, these are best covered on separate pages of your website, not the opening page (though I strongly believe in having your latest book or artwork on the opening page).

Tell your readers about you but keep it succinct. Like a book introduction that's longer than one or two pages, readers will quickly lose interest. Introduce yourself and then if you must, link to 'more' (such as FAQs, literary CV, awards and achievements, etc).

Show your books! If you have none, have a section called WORKS IN PROGRESS. Preferably, show your books on the Opening Page. They are your focus. You want them prominently featured.

For each book, you should be including the following: Title, creator names, publisher, publication date, ISBN, format, price, reader age, a link to buy, blurb, a handful of review quotes, and perhaps links to any teaching notes or reviews. You will make it exponentially easier on reviewers and the media if you all this information with your book, and will also make it easier for viewers to purchase it.

Below is my page featuring Australia Illustrated. You can see that beneath the book, there is the title, pub date, publisher, price, format, ISBN and a link to buy. I then have the price for various countries, the blurb and a mention about teaching notes coming soon. Once review start coming in, I'll add a link to my MEDIA page, where people can scroll through and find reviews on all my titles. I find keeping review links in one spot so much easier to manage.

When you click on BOOKS on my website, you're taken to an opening page with ALL my book covers on it. You can then click on each cover to view more about each book (as per the screenshot, above). I find this a lot easier for readers to navigate, and also--they can see all my books in one hit.

List your upcoming events--either where you will be featured directly (like book launches or festival appearances) or where you will partake in some way (book stalls at markets).

I have a section here where I add any exciting news that's come in. You could post achievements or book releases or upcoming bits and bobs.

This is where I link to online and in-print articles and reviews, etc. If you don't have a weblink to an article, you can scan a picture of the article and write a short blog post. Then link to that blog post in your MEDIA list. You can also have a link to your online portfolio or resume, and provide a contact email if media want to get in touch with you. Here is my media list.

If you are doing school visits or if you are an editor or are looking for illustration work, you can list your services here. I've set up an author visits and speaking page here where people can learn about what I do at a glance. It also links to my popular school presentations so schools can check them out and see if they're a good fit for their needs.

You can create little widgets (images that link to other sites or pages on your website) that people can click to visit your SM sites and blog, youtube, etc. Here are the little widgets or 'buttons' that I created, and each links to the sites mentioned below them. If you're not graphic-design-savvy, you can buy these little widgets on sites like etsy.!/TaniaMcCartney

{ i n s t a g r a m    t w i t t e r    b l o g
f a c e b o o k   p i n t e r e s t   y o u t u b e }

I have a BUY BOOKS link on my opening page that leads directly to ALL my titles on Booktopia. If you are selling directly, you could link to your online store. I have a small BigCartel store but have pretty much stopped selling my own book copies. If you're self-publishing, it's priceless, and it's free for five items or under.

Make this easy to find! Nothing worse than faffing around searching for an email address. Some authors have a form that readers fill in--personally, I don't like this as it's a little alienating. Make your contact details quick and easy to find and be sure to write your email address without the @ symbol so spambots can't find you.

For example, I write my email address booksATtaniamccartneyDOTcom and I just link it to make it live for users. For those who can't click to open a new email, they also have the address written out, so they can type it in manually, if they need to. See my contact page here. Keep it simple.

I have a PO Box that kids can send fan mail to. It's up to you if you want to include this. I highly recommend not having your phone number or home address online.

It's up to you what extras to include, but as an example, I also have:

ILLUSTRATIONS featuring links to my illustration work.

A PIC GALLERY with photos from events and also author photos that organisations or the media are welcome to use.

Much of my earlier writing and editing was done for magazines, so here I cover what else I've done in the writing vein.

This is Fun for Kids--colouring pages, spot-the-difference, paperdolls to print and cut out, word searches, pictures kids and have sent in, etc. I actually have to update this!

I have lots of resources for adults (mostly on my blog--you are reading one now--'Ask Tania'!) and on this page, I link to my sites such as Kids' Book Review and the 52-Week Illustration Challenge. I also give info on what events, etc, I can host for adults.

You might have other pages you want to create to reflect what you do.

On that note, for ideas and inspiration, simply check out the websites of other creators to see what they've done. Do what works for you. For a collection of over 80 inspirational author/illustrator sites, see my post on Favourite Author Illustrator Websites

3. Imagery
You want to keep your text to a minimum with a website. Onscreen text is hard to read. You may notice on news websites that they tend to keep paragraphs short, as tracking across a screen is a lot harder than on paper, and on top of that, we have become a 'scanning' culture when it comes to reading. You want to keep things succinct to keep reader interest.

Keep text tight and to the point. And use lots of imagery. On my website, you'll see it's mostly images. People are MUCH more like to click an image than a set of words. So use pictures whenever you can.

If you would love some original artwork for your site but are not an illustrator, consider asking illustrators to create something for you, or ask permission to use something they've already created (and hasn't been published before). Friends I know have asked established children's book creators for small images (if they are not too busy!) and there's always the 52-Week Illustration Challenge which has thousands of incredible artists. You could contact any of them to inquire about imagery. As for price, talk to them about your budget and ask what they could create for that set amount.

4. Make it Unique
Whatever you do, try to resist using existing 'templates' for your website when it comes to design. It's actually really easy to change a website header by uploading a banner of your own. You could create it yourself (that's what I did for mine) or have an artist friend create one.

Unless you're creating dark or spooky books that completely define your brand as a creator, steer clear of black as a background colour. White is the way to go. It's easier on the eye and is the most professional-looking background. Colours and patterns look dated and amateur, unless they've been done by a design pro.

When adding imagery and content, look for ways to sit outside the square. Make your site beautiful, interesting, clever and unique. And always, always remember your target audience when creating one. My website has childlike elements because, well, I write for kids. This doesn't mean, however, it can't look polished or even sophisticated.

5. Entertain Enlighten Educate
This is probably the most important point when making a great author website. Although your website essentially serves as a central pivot and is relatively static (you can have a lot more material and variety on your blog), you can still make it a lovely place to be for readers.

When I write books for kids, my aim is to first entertain, perhaps enlighten, then educate. The same should apply for your website. Offer something interesting and fun for your visitors. Think of ways you can offer things that tie in with the books you create. I link to my resources for authors and illustrators and this GIVES something to the reader. I also have my Fun for Kids page and other things that offer something more than just a place to view book covers and read a bio.

Think about ways you can do that.

6. Platforms
As for which platform to go with, I still use Blogger. Wordpress and Square Space are popular, as is Weebly and many others. You will need to investigate this for yourself--though I do strongly recommend you spend time learning how to operate a platform yourself. It will be well worth the investment, as using someone else to do it for you can be eye-watering in regard to price, and you have no control over when and how things are done. With my websites, I go in and change things in a flash, whenever I want. I wouldn't have it any other way. And it's free to do that.

Either that, or pay a 15-year old rellie or friend to do it for you!

Unlike a blog, which needs to be updated at least once a week or once a fortnight at a stretch, your website can remain relatively static. Just update it every now and then with news and events, and media exposure. Easy peasy!

7. Updating
It's vital that you keep your website updated, which is why I recommend having a platform that allows you to do it yourself (having someone else do it is time-consuming and costly). Update it with news and information but also think about changing it up to reflect where your career is. I update the look of my site (and a bit of content) every two years or so, according to what's happening with my career. Growing your site keeps it fresh and relevant.

Wishing you every success with your shiny new website, Toni!


PS: for even more, see my Fantastical Flying Creator ebook/workshop ... with over 20 years' worth of insider info and tips on taking your author/illustrator career to new heights. It includes comprehensive how-to website information, among many other things.  

See all the questions so far


Erica Spinks said...

I prefer to read black fonts because I find light ones difficult to read. Black on a white background always works better for me, which is why I read blogs through Feedly rather than go to the source.

Tania McCartney said...

I hear this a lot from people, Erica! And this applies to picture books, too. We really do need a good contrast between text and page. Happy reading!

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