Originally written in 2008, reblogged due to a recent social media discussion regarding websites/blogs for authors. I don’t think any of this is out of date, and if any of my readers have something to add, feel free to do so in the comments!
Every so often I’m in a position to give advice to writers who are either newer to the game than myself or who simply don’t have as much web experience as I do. I gave an exhaustive crash course to a fellow Arctic Wolf author yesterday via instant messenger so I figured now is as good a time as any to put down what I know in an easily accessible format that I can link people to.
Disclaimer: This is what I do. It works for me. It might not be your Gospel truth, but take what you need and forget about the rest. I do know what I’m talking about, though; I’ve been an IT professional since 2000 and an amateur web designer since 1997. My site will never be the flashiest or most cutting-edge; I don’t have any use for that stuff. It is, however, an effective marketing tool. These lessons have been learned through trial and error; my writing site alone has undergone 4-5 revisions since 2006.
- Get Thee a Domain Name and Webhost. Or if you’re really not tech-savvy, at least get the domain name and redirect it to that free website you have. What sounds better, looks better on your biography, etc.? http://lincolncrisler.freewebs.com or http://lincolncrisler.com? Your name is your brand. People could see my name somewhere online or in a bookstore and find my website by taking a guess. “I don’t have money for that,” you say. That’s ok; I’m the cheapest guy on the face of the earth. Just ask my wife.
I pay $35 a YEAR for my domain name and webhost at TinyHosts.Com. That’s for the URL, webspace and email.If you can’t afford that, you should be reading this instead.
- Consolidate Thy Site. My first author site had three pages; one each for biography, news and links to stories. My second had five; I added two pages of stuff I can’t I can’t remember but sounded good at the time. My latest page has one, for all intents and purposes; yeah, there’s links to excerpts from my books and a little note to readers of my blog, but you don’t need to read any of that to know about my work. Links to my books, interviews I’ve done, what I’m reading/watching now, biography… all of it’s available in the sidebar of my site. I used to have a webpage AND a blog. My blog got almost no hits, for reasons I’ll get into further in a minute, but the biggest reason is: Who the Hell wants to weed through five pages of website AND a blog belonging to a relatively unknown small-press author? Once I had that revelation, it was simple; my blog is now my site, and everything else anyone needs to know about me is right there on the side of the page.
- Make Thy Website/Blog Interesting. The dude I was helping the other day had nothing on his blog but posts about reviews of his book and interviews he’s done. The links on his sidebar consisted almost solely of places to buy his book. All that stuff is important, yeah, but no one is going to find your site on a search engine if all your content is about YOU. Unless they already know you; but you’re trying to reach new readers, right? Blog about your life. Show thumbnails of funny webcomics you like. Review books and/or movies of interest to people who might read your work. Have links to stuff like that in your sidebar. The most-read ten posts on my site include reviews of work by Brian Keene and Cormac McCarthy, a political rant, a funny IM prank script and a recipe for some chicken. Also in that top ten are my Dear Reader note, the excerpts from both of my books and an essay I wrote on the virtues of paying markets vs. 4TheLuv markets. What does that mean? The additional content brings in readers, and they do stick around to learn more about your work.
- Optimize Thy Site. Use categories on your blog. Use tags on your posts. They help search engines direct people to your site. Honestly. I had the opportunity to guest-blog at A Bunch of Wordz a few months back, and since it’s a more widely-read site than my own and it’s run on WordPress like my own, I took the opportunity to analyze their statistics to see how they get so many hits a day. I spent an hour a day for almost a week adding tags to my entire backlog of posts and now I make sure to add them to every new post I make. My statistics also look as filled-out as A Bunch of Wordz’ these days.
- The Bottom Line. I revamped my site in April of this year. That is, I scrapped my five-page website, switched over to just using my blog, installed WordPress on my webhost (and WordPress’ll even do that for you for FREE if you’re not tech-savvy) and went wild. That month I netted 173 hits for the month, and I called that good. In May I had 323 hits, and 572 in June. It’s nine days into July and I already have 175 hits; that’s more than the whole month of April landed me. Do the math.
Hope this helps. Drop me a line in the comments section with any additional advice, hate mail, etc.