Why should an author have a website?
Short answer: It's your name and your work - who can better tell others about it?
There are several good reasons to have a website. Each author will have his or her own set of priorities:
Frankly, Amazon gets stuff wrong. Why should they be where readers go to find out what you've written, what the publication order is, to read an excerpt? You've worked hard to find an agent, an editor, a publisher -- and no one can talk about your work better than you can. So, invest what you can afford in being the place where readers (current or potential) learn about you and your work.
Readers expect to be able to go to www.yourname.com and learn more about you. Having a website address in the back of your book offers the reader a chance to learn more about you and your work. Using the e-mail address firstname.lastname@example.org is another way to promote that you have a site, and they should visit it.
Readers like to interact with authors whose books they liked. By having a website, you can establish your comfort level of reader interaction. Again, you control the flow of information.
Websites are almost as common as fax numbers and e-mail addresses. Having a site shows that you take your work seriously enough to have an online presence of your own.
Why should an author NOT have a website?
Short answer: There are better booksellers than you.
While there is often a mix of priorities for having a website, these are two of the least effective reasons to have a website:
- To sell books or make money
Websites for authors generally are not going to be money-makers. They aren't likely to sell enough books to offset the cost of the site. Link-exchanges and advertisements tend to only make money for high-traffic sites. There's nothing wrong with selling books off of your site, but you may be better off helping to promote a bookstore who has helped promote you. Link to a local bookstore which can call you if someone wants an autographed book. Link to the bookstores that have you come for signings. Your job is writing books -- their job is selling them. Invest what you're comfortable with on your site, but don't plan on seeing a direct monetary return from the site alone.
Frankly, readers want to know about you -- but not too much about you. Sites that are "love fests" about the author tend to turn off the readers. Show them some family photos if you're comfortable with that, list all of your awards, get on your soapbox about a cause -- but temper pride with facts.
Why should he or she have it professionally done?
Short answer: A better quality product set up to provide maximum results.
Your publisher has an artist work on your cover, someone who writes jacket copy, someone else who helps with blurbs and press releases -- online marketing is another tool to help you market yourself. Professional Web developers are concerned with things like different platforms (Mac, Windows, Unix, Linux), different browsers (Netscape, Internet Explorer, Jaguar, WebTV, Opera) and different screen resolutions (old monitors see things very differently than newer monitors, laptops, and so forth).
A professional knows how to maximize graphics so that download times are lessened. We know how to use certain tools to increase search engine placement. We can organize the site so that the reader can find what he or she wants in a click or two. We have connections with online sites which list author information, do book reviews, have contests or do other giveaways… We can help you understand site statistics, mailing list options and message board possibilities. A professional knows how to establish an online presence, which is more than just putting up a webpage and hoping people find it.
How long does it take to build a website?
Short answer: A couple of weeks or so.
That depends on how much content you already have assembled, how involved you want to be, if you already know of sites you like, and how fast you need it done. Plan on a minimum of 2 or 3 weeks -- if it needs to be done that fast to meet a drop date, for example. Larger sites or persons wanting a more leisurely pace can take a couple of months at the longest.
What should be on the website?
Short answer: Biographical information, listing of publications, a sample of your work, some extra "bonus" for the reader who's taken time to visit your site.
The basic content should include information about you, about your work, excerpts of your work, and how to contact you. A "media" page that offers information for journalists can be a valuable tool, as well.
Other related information is very good to have on a site -- do your books take place in a certain location? Do you have photos of that location that you took yourself? Can you recommend other sites about that place? Know of good places to eat? What readers want is to know more. More about you or your work or your hobbies or your characters… There should be some "readers' bonus" for coming to your site -- they should learn more about some aspect related to you or your books. You control how much to share, and we can help with these decisions.
How much does it cost?
Short answer: As much as you want to spend.
$150 annually for domain and hosting, plus what you determine your budget to be for design and maintenance. A reasonable bottom line start-up budget for an author without a large body of work for a basic site is $500.
There are 4 main components to a website:
- Domain name:
You purchase the right to use www.yourname.com on the web. The yourname.com is the domain name. Purchasing this costs roughly $30, give or take a few dollars. There are places to buy them cheaper, who may then charge for changes or transfers or give poor customer service. There are places to buy them for more money that don't offer any additional benefits. Your webmaster will have a relationship with a reliable place from which to purchase your domain name. Note: You can have several domain names all pointing to the same location, and this can be an inexpensive way to increase your website traffic and search engine placement. Your domain fee is an annual cost.
You pay a website host to keep your website online all the time. They place your graphics and text files on their server, and keep it running 24/7. They will log visits to your website, and run software that allows you to know how many people have come to your site, from where, what pages they visited, and so forth. They may also offer mailing lists, mail aliases (email@example.com e-mail which shows up in your AOL mailbox is a mail alias -- think call forwarding). Hosting can cost from nothing (usually ad-based, or as a freebie with your internet access) on up to hundreds of dollars a year. It depends on how much information you're going to have on your site, how many people will come to it, and the other available services provided along with the hosting. Again, your webmaster will have a relationship with a reliable host who provides good customer service, at an affordable price. Plan on spending $100-$150 a year for most hosts. Freebie hosting is usually a bad idea for a professional site.
This is where most of the start-up cost will come in. What level of graphics do you want -- highly developed, customized just for you? Or something more generic, from a template? How involved are you doing to be in writing the copy? Do you know how you want the pages set up? Do you need help gathering information about your books/cover images? What extras do you want on your site? Do you have permission to use the cover art from your books? Do you know your priorities for getting your site up and running? Do you need help with contests, or mailing lists, or screening e-mail? Your website manager will discuss all of these options with you, as part of the process of outlining your site and determining its proposed cost.
How often do you want it updated? Do you tour? Do you offer interactive pages on your site that need to be monitored? Do you put excerpts online? Reviews/blurbs/links? This is another area in which costs can be controlled to fit your budget. Some authors choose to update their own site once it's been built -- letting your webmaster know this upfront can help everyone do a better job. A professional can update an entire site in less time than it probably takes the average computer user to figure out how things are set up, where they are, and how to make changes and publish them. Maintenance costs are charged hourly, monthly, quarterly, or annually based on the webmaster.
How many visitors should I be getting to my site?
Short answer: More each month.
It will take a couple of months for traffic to build to your site. You will have to tell people about it, engage in some marketing, participate in online chats, publish an excerpt, or otherwise offer an incentive for readers to visit your site. Your website statistics will help you track how many people have been to your site. Traffic should be building each month, with peaks around publication time and appearances, and perhaps some slower times the further from publication date you get. Again, your webmaster will have ideas on how to increase traffic through targeted marketing and interactive site components.
What about a hit counter?
Short answer: not needed.
Many webmasters don't use "hit counters" because they can provide false data. More common is the site statistics analysis. Understand that "hit counters" are generally not very accurate. They will count repeat visits to a site on the same overall visit to a website (where you go to an inside page and come back to the front page counts twice). They can record how many "hits" the website host gets, which is very different than how many "visits" a site gets (ask your webmaster for an explanation). If you want to know how many people are visiting your site, and what pages are the most popular once they're there -- ask your webmaster for some site statistics. This is a service generally provided with your website hosting contract.
How can I attract traffic to my site?
Short answer: Tell people about it.
Tell them about it. Often. Make sure it's on your books, make sure it's in your signature on e-mails, make sure your publicist, agent, editor, etc. all know about it. Put the address on your business card. Send it to reviewers. Mention it at signings. Do a contest to give away some books. Announce it on related newsgroups. Have your website manager do some of these if your budget allows. You do have to promote your site once you've built it. This is where an intuitive, easy-to-remember domain name is very useful.
Should I pay for search engine placement?
Short answer: Sure, if you can afford it.
You don't need to pay for search engine placement to get results when people are searching for your books. Payment can speed up how long it takes to appear on the site, and might bring you visitors if placement is properly strategized. Your webmaster should have other ideas on helping your search engine placement, as well as other ways to increase visits to your site.
How do I pick a webmaster?
Short answer: CincinnatiMedia, of course!
Indicators of good webmasters:
- They agree with the information in this FAQ. (heehee)
- They are experienced in marketing authors online and marketing to readers within your particular genre. They have a relationship with existing online genre websites, or the ability to develop one.
- Their work is professional looking, fast to load, fits the personality of the author/business being promoted. You don't see a lot of typos, misspellings, and poor grammar on their sites. Textual accuracy is of course critical in professional literary sites such as yours.
- Their clients' sites tend not to be so out of date as to be useless. A good webmaster will help motivate a client to update their site, to keep it fresh.
- You can find what you're looking for in one or two clicks.
- There aren't any missing images or links that don't work.
- They ask about the content of your work, think creatively about how to help you market it, and ask about future plans for both your work and your website.
- They respect your budget, your taste and your ideas.
- They offer you options for designs, content, navigation and deadlines. You are as involved in building the site as you want to be.
- They understand the role of the publisher, the agent, the writer, the publicist, and can coordinate with them if needed.
- You like the sites in their portfolio.
- Their current clients recommend them.
- Your work style and theirs match up.
- They communicate well with you about basic website-related terms, technical information, and can answer your questions in a way that you understand.
- They meet their deadlines.
- They communicate clearly about what is and is not covered under the project cost estimate. They state their rates clearly and offer information about options beyond the original site launch.