Four things an aspiring author’s website must do

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Aspiring author websites

Guest blogging for literary agent Nathan Bransford a few weeks ago, I wrote about the seven things an aspiring author’s website must have. But in addition to having convenient features and good appearance, an aspiring author’s website must do certain things to fulfill its purpose, depending on what phase your career is in.

(Side note: I have a blog where I talk a lot about blogging, I reference some posts on my other blog here.)

The get ready phase: networking with other writers

When you’re in the “get ready” phase, you’re actively writing and seeking out other writers, but at present you’re not ready to submit to agents or editors. Since your career is just starting out, your website may just be starting out, too, though it won’t hurt if you already have a fairly well-developed site.

Before you’re ready for publication, your website can help you find critique partners, talk with other writers about writing, explore your genre with other writers, and make the connections that help smooth the path for your career—or at least make a solitary profession a lot less lonely. This is your time to start building a community of writers.

How can I do this? The easiest way to make your website into a networking tool is to make sure there are plenty of ways other writers can connect with you—and often the easiest way to do that is through engaging blog content and comments.

The get ready phase: find your niche

While you’re preparing for publication, it’s also a good time to get your web presence ready—especially to find the niche where you’ll fit in the blogging and publishing (and publogging?) worlds.

How do I do this? To find your blog/site niche, ask yourself why you’re blogging and what you’ll be blogging about. It needs to be more than just blogging about your book and your career—and at some point, it will probably need to transition to be more than just appealing to other writers, too.

This is almost like a market analysis—using a search engine, look for other sites of authors with similar books/niches. See what they’re blogging about (if anything). See what angle you can add to the discussion, especially if it relates to your books. If you can use your website to show how you and your books will fit on a bookshelf, your site is ready for the next phase.

The get set phase: show you’re professional and marketable

In the “get set” phase, you’re in the process of searching for an agent or editor. (You may also fall in the “get set” phase if you have an agent who’s currently shopping your manuscript.) In this phase, one of your big goals will be to show your target audience (agents and editors) that you’re serious about your writing and your career.

How can I do this? Professional appearance—which we’ll get to hear a lot about in our website critique series this month, with professional website designer Kathleen MacIver of KatieDid Design giving feedback on our volunteers’ sites.

Also important in professional appearance is the “demeanor” on your website. It’s fine to use casual, laid back text and images—but a website for your career might not be the best place to air out your dirty socks (or any of the rest of your dirty laundry!). Also, be sure to read over (and have others read over) your site for typos, misused words, broken links and images, or anything else that would detract from your appearance.

In this phase, you can still rely heavily on a blog, but it’s a good idea to at least set up a few pages (about, contact, works) with links in the sidebar or create a menu bar to help visitors learn more about you and your writing, and navigate your site.

The get set phase: show off your storytelling

Also in the “get set” phase, and more important in the long run, your website is a place to show off your storytelling abilities. In the end, that’s what’s going to get you an agent, get you sold to a publishing company, and get you sold on the bookshelves.

How can I do this? Showing off your storytelling doesn’t mean that every page and every blog post has to be written as if it were flash fiction. (Unless you want to . . . but that’d probably be weird.) It does mean making sure that you have at least an excerpt of your writing on your site—especially if you’re submitting to agents that don’t ask for or allow sample pages with their queries.

However, do not use your website as the only medium an agent can see your query or sample pages, especially not if they ask for any writing from you. An agent or editor will expect you to email them words (either in the body of the email or as an attachment)—not a link to their website. Never make an agent do more work for your writing when they’re interested. Odds are good that they won’t follow links.

(Side note: if you’re sitting there thinking, “But it’s just one click. Why can’t they do that?”, stop. It’s not just one click. It’s one click per person per item submitted. It’s dozens of clicks per day, minimum, if agents/editors are even interested enough to click on the link anyway. Also some email programs also strip out links.)

This week we’ll start with two website reviews—and our deep POV series will be available in a new format! Next week: four five more things your website must do.

What do you think? What must an aspiring author’s website do? What does your website do—and what do you want it to do?

Photo credits: bookshelf by Josh; handshake by ThinkPanama; Click by Jordan McCollum

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9 thoughts on “Four things an aspiring author’s website must do

  1. That’s a great point about transitioning at some point to appeal to nonwriters. That’s something that’s been in the back of my head. Although I do like my writing blog, so maybe I would just set up a separate website.

  2. My plan is to maintain separate blogs for separate projects but since I don’t blog that often I figure they would get lost.
    Most blog searches reward people who blog more often.
    I figure that I have enough on my plate than worrying about my blog right now.

    BTW, is there a “GO” phase? I got ready and got set, then got set again…

  3. @Livia—Yeah, I’m not sure exactly what direction I’ll go when I get to that point. Guess we’ll see!

    @Andrew—Yes, there will be a go phase. That’s what next week is for (plus the article was getting to be 1000 words and I was only 2/3 through my list—seemed best to break it up). I think you could probably keep all your projects on one blog, because as you say, they’re likely to “get lost”—or even abandoned—as you finish or leave projects.

  4. Very good article. You approach things from a very different (and enlightening) perspective. Excellent insights for the new and aspiring author. Thanks!

  5. This is definitely a must-read for aspiring authors trying to learn the right way to get themselves out there. The no frills explanations of how to get the ball rolling are certainly an inspiration to people such as myself. There are many things that someone can take away from this article. Thank you for your insight.

  6. I definitely agree with Jason it really is a wonderful beginning point. I’ve been wanting to get started for a number of years now, however I have never really had a good guide or anything to really kick into gear. Unfortunately, all of my ideas that I felt were terrific have just taken a back seat to other factors in my life. I’ve had to spend so much time working on being able to pay the bills that I couldn’t dedicate 100% of my time and effort to figuring out how in the world to get a project moving. I am so grateful that I stumbled upon this site and I’m very happy that I see that I can actually do this myself. I am making a concerted effort to begin my get ready phase this upcoming weekend and I am motivated by the fact that I will eventually move into the go phase. What a fantastic article, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

  7. The point you make about not making agents work more than they have to is a really critical one I think. Yes, even a click on a link can be a step too far – if you can avoid them having to do that, you should.

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