The voting is over and the results are in!
It was really interesting seeing what people thought were important promotional tools (click here for results). Over the next four weeks, I’ll be talking about websites, blogs, social networking and of course, freebies. (I might be also giving away a freebie, so stay tuned.)
Today, we’ll talk about websites.
IMHO, one of the most important promotional tools a published author can have is a website. When readers finish that novel and are eager for more, it’s critical that there’s a place they can go to find out more about you and your books. But what if you’re unpublished? Do you still need a website? Should you do it yourself or hire someone? What should your website contain?
Building a website can be overwhelming, so let’s break it down into more manageable pieces.
1) When should you set up a website?
There’s different schools of thought on this. It’s pretty obvious why a published author would want to have one. A website is a place where readers can go to learn more about you and your books and develop a sense of community.
But what about unpublished writers?
I used to believe that a website should be built once you sell that first novel. Not before. After all, if you have no readers, and nothing to promote, isn’t a website just a waste of money?
Not necessarily. At my first conference, I had an editor interview. At the interview, she asked if I had a website. At the time I was unpublished and didn’t think I needed one. She informed me that when she goes through the slush pile and reads something she likes, she’ll Google the name to find out more information about the author. I soon learned that she wasn’t the only one who did things like that. Both editors and agents like to see if they can find out more information about the writer they are considering. Now, will they reject you if you don’t have a website? No. But a well designed website may help influence an industry professional on the fence. It shows professionalism and a commitment to your writing. In addition, if you offer samples of your work on the site, it can attract readers before that first book sells. It also might be worth securing a domain name now to make sure it isn’t taken once you become published. (You can secure a domain name without setting up a site. Go to www.godaddy.com or a similar site for more information.)
I also had no idea what happened after the sale. I’m not going to get into it, because that would be an entire post in and of itself. Let’s just say you don’t sign the contract and then forget about the book. There’s a lot to do and think about and a website just adds more stress to the mix. I’ve heard many authors say that they wish they didn’t have to deal with setting up a website during deadlines and edits.
Still, this is a decision that only you can make. There is no right or wrong answer. Many people, myself included, never thought about web presence until after they made the first sale. A website takes commitment, and it’s up to the individual whether they want to put the time in now or later.
2) Okay, you convinced me. I want to build a website. Should I try to do it myself, or hire someone?
This is tricky and would depend on a couple of factors like how good you are with computers, what stage of your career you’re in, and whether you have time to devote to developing and maintaining a site. Only you can answer these questions. I can, however, give you options.
If you are thinking about hiring a professional, go to some of your favorite author websites and scroll down to the bottom. Often you will see a link to the designer. Click on it. Look at more examples and get a quote. Depending on the complexity of your site, I’ve heard of prices ranging from $500-$1000 and more.
Too much money? Consider having one of these companies do the design, but then you do the maintenance and hosting. Hosting is fairly cheap. Shop around. Yahoo, godaddy, and other places can do it for $10/month or less. Another advantage to this route is that the author can update their web content whenever they want, rather than waiting for someone else to do it. (and having to pay them for their time!)
With either option, be sure to read all of the fine print. Know what you are getting for your money and get at least three quotes before you sign anything. It’s always good to shop around.
If you are just starting out, the need for a professionally designed website may not be necessary. If you have time, software like dreamweaver and frontpage can help you design your site. Yahoo small business offers packages with templates that you can upload to take most of the hassle out of designing. There is a learning curve to this option, but in the long run it’ll be cheaper and you’ll have more control over updates.
Still too much money? Consider setting up a blog. It’s free on places like wordpress and Google Blogger, and the blog page can double as a website until you have the funds to set up something else. In this instance I would still recommend securing a domain name. It would be rather unfortunate if someone took your domain before you ever got a chance to use it.
3) What about design?
Whatever you choose for your design, make it simple, easy to read and navigate. Choose a color or image theme. Make the font and colors gentle on the eyes. Script may look pretty from a distance, but there is nothing easier to read than times roman or courier font. You don’t want to make your viewers work too hard. If you write dark stories, your website should reflect that. Same with light-hearted contemporaries.
Remember you are selling yourself as an author, not any particular book. Think about what you want people to get out of your web page. What’s your message? Don’t be afraid to think outside the box here. What makes your work (and you) stand out from the crowd? The page should reflect you as a writer and your work. Consider developing a slogan, or sound bite that encompasses who you are as an author. Be original. You don’t want to be boxed in by what you think your site “should” look like, or what other authors have already done.
Now I’m going to open up the discussion for all of you commenters. Do you have a website? When did you establish it? Did you do it yourself or hire someone? Who does your hosting? Do you have an author “message” or “brand”?
And if you don’t have your website, do you plan on starting one? What are some of your favorite authors’ websites? Is there something you have seen on some author websites that you don’t like?
I want to hear about it!
Administrative note: I’m taking part in the Night Owl Romance Web Hunt – starts today! Play for a chance to win a free copy of Spyder’s Web and other great books. Click here for details.