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

Five more things an author’s website must do

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Aspiring author websites

Last week, we started to look at four things an aspiring author’s website must do, kind of a corollary to my guest post on Nathan Bransford’s blog, seven things an aspiring author’s website must have. We looked at the “get ready” and “get set” phases—gearing up for submitting your work for publication.

This week, we have a few things that all authors—aspiring or not—should be doing with their websites, as well as just a little advice for soon-to-be published authors (like my ‘twin,’ Kiersten White, who was just signed to a three-book deal in a pre-empt! Congrats!). There are volumes more to say on what an author’s website should do and have and be, but we’ll stick to these few today.

The 1-2-3 phase: attract interest for your book

After your book has been accepted for publication, your website is an even more powerful tool. If you’re still solely on a blog on a free domain (i.e.,, it’s time to buy your own domain, preferably And along with a new domain, this is a good time to upgrade to a “real” website—keeping your blog, of course, but also hosting a stable website. Ideally, the blog and the website design will be integrated seamlessly.

In this phase, it’s time to focus on that book to attract as much prelaunch interest as you can.

How can you do this? There are a few things you’ll want on your site before the book launches to help drum up interest:

  • An awesome, engaging description of the book
  • The cover (so people will recognize it in a bookstore)
  • An excerpt, preferably from that incredibly intriguing beginning (with permission from your publisher)
  • A link to your book on Amazon—hello, pre-order! (Also, you can use an affiliate linkhow to sign up as an Amazon affiliate] to make a few extra pennies off any sales).
  • Your book trailer, if you’re doing one.
  • Anything else that will make people want to run to the bookstore on launch day!
  • Send author friends (especially ones with newsletters) a short paragraph about your book, with links.

You can also look at the terms people are advertising and searching on in search engines, to see if any of those people might be interested in your site—then use those terms (“keywords”) on your site, in page titles and content, in natural language. (You’re a writer, right? So write!)

The Go! phase: sell your book

As with the 1-2-3 phase, your website can be a major vehicle for selling your book (and your backlist, if you have one). Candace E. Salima gave a great presentation on this subject at a conference I attended in April.

How can I do this? Well, along with the above ideas, it’s also a good idea to spread the word on other websites through advertisements, reviews, releases, contests, and other publicity.

But that’s not on your website. On your website, always, always, ALWAYS have a purchase link. Have “bonus features” to your books on the website—recipes, play lists, deleted scenes—anything you think will interest your readers.

Also, make your website somewhere that people will want to come back to—do something for them, reach out to them (see building a community), be accessible. Even if they’ve already bought your book, they’re still your customers, your readers, your fans, and striving to build a relationship with them (individually and collectively) can help sustain you, both emotionally and financially.

Always: sell YOU

Your website is also a great way to sell you—and I don’t mean prostitution. I mean building a brand that will lead to agents, editors, fans, loyal readers, subscribers, fame* and glory* (*results not typical). If you have something to say, some kind of message, that’s part of your brand. If you write in a specific genre, that’s part of your brand.

How can I do this? Make your site professional and consistent—use the same layout, color scheme, graphics, etc. on each page. If you have a theme running in your published books (especially their covers or color schemes), go with it on your website.

On your site (perhaps the about page), talk about what draws you to your genre or your message. Encourage your visitors to share their stories of why they’re interested in the same topics.

Also, talk about or at least hint at future projects to keep your readers—your potential customers—interested. If it’s feasible, think about running a regular newsletter (monthly, bimonthly, quarterly). You can keep your most loyal, interested fans updated on your progress, offer special contests, and interact with them.

Have photographs of yourself (for visitors and high quality ones for media contacts). Feature other peoples’ interviews with you (or interview yourself). Allow people to get to know you (somewhat—we all need our privacy, and we don’t all need to know if you’re wearing clean underwear right now!). This goes hand in hand with the next point, something you should always strive for with your author website:

Always: build a community

A community based around a blog, forum or website means that people feel welcome. People can participate and interact with you. People come back.

How can I do this? Building a community around your blog or website can be as simple as encouraging discussion, responding to comments and writing on requested topics. Whatever you do with your website, interact with your visitors. Even if you don’t have a blog, you can interact with your website visitors—host a forum or weekly chats to connect personally with them. Use your email newsletter to appeal to them.

Always: build your platform

If you’re lucky enough to have a unique selling proposition just by virtue of who you are and/or what you do, bank on that. If you’re a computer engineer writing about high-tech computer hacking, tout those qualifications on your site. Once you’re published, you can also use that platform to launch yourself into public speaking opportunities on related topics—building your brand and your platform in the real world.

How can I do that? Feature your qualifications on your about page—maybe even write a “sub” page to your about page, just devoted to that. Include it in your FAQ (if you have one). Create an FAQ around that industry. List your speaking engagements on related topics, and make it clear you’re available for such gigs. (What would you speak on? Something related to your platform and your writing or research—if you’re writing fiction on high-tech computer hacking, you could speak about how to protect yourself from hackers, for example.)

Always remember: your website will be the major way you’ll interact with most of your readers and potential business associates. Use it wisely!

Next week, we’ll take a look at an easy way to set up a website!

What do you think? How else could you do these things on your website? What else should an author’s website do?

Photo credits: excited reader—Chris Johnson; bookseller—Herman Brinkman; bricklayer—Jovike

How to set up an aspiring author website

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Aspiring author websites

If you’ve been following our website review series, you’ve learned some great things to do (and not to do) when setting up your website. Maybe you’re ready for a “real” website, but not sure how to get it. It’s okay; I’ve worked with websites and Internet marketing for the better part of my life and I still didn’t know exactly how to set up a website until I did my own. And it’s easy.

There are three basic things you need for a functioning website:

  1. a domain (you get this from a domain registrar, like GoDaddy)
  2. a host to store your website’s pages and files (from a hosting company)
  3. (technically, you don’t need this, but unless you’re going to be doing all your coding by hand, you’ll want it) software to work the back end—and hopefully generate the HTML code (usually provided by the hosting company, too)

blogger logoSometimes you can get these things together. Blogger, for example, will give you everything—your domain is, Blogger stores your pages and files, and Blogger software generates your HTML code and provides the software that lets you maintain your site.

In fact, you can make Blogger into your “real” website, which can be especially useful if you’re going to be the one maintaining it. You can also use Blogger Custom Domain to put your Blogger blog at, and Camy Tang has a useful guide on how to make a a basic free blog more like a website. UPDATE: Blogger has now added a feature to make official “pages” instead of making posts look and act like static pages of your blog. It’s even more flexible and professional-looking now!

Getting more advanced

If you feel like you’re ready for a more “real” website, but still apprehensive about setting one up, here’s my advice: use WordPress. This is especially great if you’re already comfortable with blogging software, because you get the ease of blogging software and the features of a “real” website.

wplogoYou can use (and you can get a blog to show up at, too, but it’s not free like it is on Blogger)—or you can use It’s the same software, but with you can customize your blog however you want.

However, for, you also have to get hosting—space on a server to store your website’s files for others to access them. I’ve been with BlueHost for over two years, and they’ve done really well for me. I chose them because they were inexpensive ($7/month), and one of WordPress’s recommended hosts.

WordPress has some advantages over Blogger that make it more like a “real” website. Camy Tang’s guide above will help you create static pages like an about page or a contact page on Blogger. That’s great—but they’re still going to look and act like posts on your blog.

With WordPress, however, you can keep blog posts and pages separate. Don’t want a blog? That’s okay—you can do that with WordPress, too, and just use the page features to easily create a static website instead. Check out the menu bar at the top of my site. See how it says “About” and “Projects,” etc.? Those link to WordPress pages—timeless, static webpages that aren’t posts on the blog.

Also neat: WordPress made that menu bar all by itself. I didn’t have to do a thing. It updates the menu bar whenever I update a page. WordPress is highly customizable, in both the site design and software—and for free.

If you want to create a WordPress website on BlueHost, sign up for BlueHost using my affiliate link and I’ll send you a free PDF guide to setting up WordPress with BlueHost*—with info on installation, set up, importing blogs, add-ons and more! (If you’re planning to import another blog, also check out my search-engine friendly guide to migrating from Blogger to WordPress to make your switch safe and easy.)

What do you think? Are you ready for a real website?

* To get the guide, be sure to email me at guide at once you’ve completed the sign up.

How many websites do you need?

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Aspiring author websites

A few reminders today: we’re almost done with our website review series—just two reviews left. Several people have asked about getting on the list. We took volunteers back in July—but Kathleen and I are both surprised at how well-received this series has been. We’re planning to do this again, but it probably won’t be for a couple months. (So subscribe to make sure you don’t miss this call for volunteers!)

Another reminder: don’t forget to vote for the writing craft book club book. Don’t make me just choose one!

How many websites should you have?

frustrateA writing blog. An in-world children’s picture book website. A website for your steamy romance ebooks. A site for your nonfiction aspirations. A personal blog. How many websites can one person have?

The answer, of course, is as personal as your websites should be—you can have as many websites as you can handle (and please, no more! A neglected website is sometimes worse than no site at all.). But how many do you really need?

I’m of the opinion that you should try for as few sites as possible. At its simplest, this would be one website, with a blog as part of that website (if you truly feel you can maintain a blog).

However, in some situations, you will need separate or nearly separate sites. These situations might include:

  • Genres that are completely incompatible—where writing in one genre could permanently alienate readers in another genre (like the above example of picture books and hot romance).
  • Writing under different names—especially in conjunction with the above example.

Note that I also said “nearly separate” sites—rather than completely separate sites, you could try doing “minisites.” For example, if you’re writing in very different genres but under the same name, you could have and . The sites would have at least one or two links to one another, and to your main site, but would remain mostly separate.

a-novel-characterAnd then there’s the question of personal stuff: does it have a place on your professional site(s)? That also depends on your genre, the tone of your personal stuff, and your audience. If you have a “lifestyle” blog before you get published, then it’s fine to keep that and maintain the personal tone and the insights into your personal life.

However, if that’s not the kind of site and community you’ve already built, be cautious about sharing personal stuff. Introducing too much information, unprofessional presentation, or flat-out boring content can hurt your brand.

On the other hand, sharing some information about yourself—on a limited, interesting, professional basis—can help to make your website more personable and appealing. It’s a fine balance—and sometimes it takes some practice.

What do you think? How have you shared personal information in a way that appealed to your visitors? How many sites do you want/need?

Image credits: frustrated—John De Boer; character—Svilen Mushkatov

Free guide for aspiring author websites

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

Is it just me, or did Saturday totally sneak up on you?

Sorry about the delay, folks. As promised, I’ve compiled the articles and advice from our aspiring author website series and website reviews into a free PDF guide.

free website guideThe free Guide to Aspiring Author Websites was a bit of a challenge. Rather than including the full reviews, which are most useful to the person who received them, I’ve assembled all the advice that Kathleen and I gave into a little more general format, to apply to anyone who reads it.

The series was more popular than we’d anticipated, so we’ll be doing it again sometime soon. That’s right, we’ll be reviewing more websites. Don’t forget to subscribe to the blog to so you don’t miss the call for volunteers! Thanks to all of our brave and gracious volunteers, and thanks to everyone who commented and enjoyed our series.

Next week, we’re going to start looking at plotting methods.

Cover photo by Ben Lancaster