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Author Websites – Necessary or Not?

Back in the spring of 2010, Gwen Hernandez and I teamed up to teach a WordPress.com workshop for the RWA PRO Community. During that three week period, seventy-five new author websites were built.

Since July, I have built two completely new websites. One for Oklahoma City RWA (http://okrwa.com/) and one for an author (not released yet.) OKRWA wanted to reduce costs for their web hosting while having a website that could be kept up-to-date without requiring someone with extensive programming knowledge. What they have now is very similar to their previous site except the cost is about $8.00 per year for the domain name and $13 per year for domain mapping. Compare that to $50+ for hosting per year + the cost of the domain name. There’s a savings for sure.

When one of their members hired me to build a site for her and then teach her how to keep it up, I started spending a lot of time looking at various authors’ sites. Some of them are quite “fancy” with buttons and do-dads that make the site sing. Others look nice, lots of links and pictures and you can tell a professional did the design. And then there are those sites that are sorely out of date (mine for example!)

I know all the buzzwords about driving readers to your site..the fresh information, the up-to-date blogs, the special insider knowledge for your fan club, but is it all worth it?

Most of us don’t make a lot of money with our writing. We don’t have that extra cash lying around to hire a professional PR firm to do our work. Most of us do it ourselves.

But I got to wondering…do readers really care about author websites? Do they use them? Would a “fancy site with all the bells and whistles” impress them to the point that they immediately ordered a book, or will a clean, easy-to-navigate site serve just as well?

And the biggest question of all…do readers even use these websites? Are we authors killing ourselves over something that doesn’t really drive readers and purchasing habits?

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13 thoughts on “Author Websites – Necessary or Not?

  1. I’ve thought a lot about this after noticing many authors choose either a blog OR a website. However, there are some readers who simply don’t read blogs. The most fan interaction I have is through the contact page on my website after book signings. Also, having my personalized domain has made networking a breeze on the street. “Oh, you want to know about my book? My website is…” So much easier than something-something blogspot.

    1. I agree Sandi that a lot of readers don’t read blogs. Most of my non-writer friends don’t have a clue what a blog is, much less want to read it…mine included.

      Yes, I agree that having a domain name to refer people to is easy but does it really need to be doing tap dances? Or is neat and simple enough?

  2. When I want a book list for an author I go directly to their website. I get agitated when there are too many bells and whistles that make it hard for me to find what I’m looking for. Yes, I like and hope to one day need (though I already have) an author website, but simplicity is the key.

    1. The problem is that we aren’t the normal reading public! Of course we (as writers) know to go to the website to get our list of books but what about the everyday, normal (aka non-writing) readers…Do they do the same? And if the book list is what is important, then why are we spending time and money on the development and upkeep of fancy sites that have everything from games to writing tips when what readers want is book information?

      Just thinking out loud today

  3. I have an author blogsite which I treat like a website. It is through Blogger and I can maintain it myself. Costs nothing. I did have the header professionally done. That’s it.

    1. That’s what I’m sort of talking about Vicki. Using WP.com to develop a full-blown website. I’ve seen it done with Blogger. I think I could save close to $50/year.

  4. Cynthia-A valid and GOOD question to pose. To me, the blogging works for certain professions, but I’m not convinced that it works for authors except to communicate with other writers. True, writers are big readers so they do get the word to potential buyers, but aren’t we sort of preaching to the choir at that point. They take time for upkeep, time that might better be spent on writing. If an author is self-publishing through her own website, perhaps it’s different and she needs a virtual storefront, but personally I don’t go to websites that often-only a very few even of my favorite bestselling authors get a visit from me. I’m just looking for books on the never-ending TBR pile/list. I guess I’d side with those that say put your energy/money into the things that pay off, writing the next story etc.

    1. I agree completely about the blogging thing, and preaching to the choir. At some point, it’s a lot of authors reading each other’s blogs about writing, and usually the same people we already connect with on yahoo groups. If someone has something non-writing related that pertains to their books–like that their fiction is always about dogs–maybe a dog blog would work. Then it would attract a certain segment of readers to the work. I can see value there.

      I think websites are awesome though. I check my favorite author’s websites often to see if they have new releases out, especially if I’m gagging for the sequel to a book I adored. IMO, an author should definitely fork out the small amount for their personalized domain name. If I hear or read an author interview that interests me, the first thing I’d do after is google them, and if their name doesn’t show up right away, and in the url–I might give up fairly quickly. (I tend to trust a personalized url to be a legit page.) Simple and clean is fine, just give people a place to see what you’ve written, awards, an about page, a news page maybe, and a home page to land on with the newest release on it (I hate landing on the blog page). A fun stuff section with playlists, bookmarks and etc. is great, but definitely not necessary. Make sure the site works on mobile devices and different browsers. I think the ballgame changes once you are a famous, and the world wants to know when you’ve shat, but until then…simple is good.

      We hear over and over about the evils of a static website, but really as long as it’s up to date with new releases–that is enough to give a new reader your basic info, or a return reader the news that their long awaited sequel is out. These are my thoughts on it, although I’m very interested to hear what others think. Does new content bring in new readers? And if so, how and what kind of content?

  5. Long ago, Bob Mayer said the Internet is for Information, not entertainment (although I suppose YouTube would beg to differ.) I want an easy-to-navigate site, no bells and whistles. And, my personal pet peeves: music (thank goodness that fad has died down) an “entry page” (unless it’s justified because it’s got adult content, but otherwise it’s just another thing to click) and, the biggest reason I’ll immediately click away … Black (or dark) background with white (or light) text. Can’t read it.

  6. For fiction authors, all I ever want is their booklist, preferably in order of release, maybe by series. Beyond that, maybe when their next book is coming out. Of course, my website has so much more than that, and my audience is different now than my original intention, but when I have fiction out someday, I plan to keep it simple and make that booklist easy to find. =)

    1. I like to see the latest news on the landing page. But I’m really questioning paying for a hosted website when I know I can make a pretty good one with WP.com for free.

      Thanks Gwen!

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