Building a compelling writer/author web site

A quality website is your professional face to the world, and fortunately it takes relatively little money and effort to put on a good face.

You should consider developing a writer/author website from the very beginning of your writing career. A website highlighting your credentials and writings can prove invaluable in garnering writing assignments and selling book ideas to commercial publishers. And if you self-publish, it provides the foundation for your book and publishing company websites.

For example, I created my web site (which has since been redesigned) long before I began working on my book Explaining Research. And by including its URL in e-mailed pitches and proposals for the book, I gave publishers access to extensive material on the book, as well as evidence that I planned an active marketing effort.

You can make one website serve multiple audiences using "redirects," that is, having different URLs redirect users to different pages within your site. For example, on my web site, the URL ExplainingResearch.com takes users to the page for Explaining Research. Similarly, the URLs RainbowVirus.com, WormholesANovel.com, SolomonsFreedom.com, and CeruleansSecret.com redirect, respectively, to the pages for my novels The Rainbow Virus, Wormholes, Solomon's Freedom, and The Cerulean's Secret.

With the huge range of web development services available, you can easily create your own professional-looking website and manage it yourself — and at a reasonable cost. At the end of this article is a list of web hosting companies that offer both do-it-yourself sites and web design services. Here's a useful article on creating a website based on WordPress, which is a popular and easy option.

However, developing your website should not begin with a design. You should conduct a "discovery process," in which you analyze who will be using your site and what they will want to know. From this analysis, you can list the features your site will have and determine the architecture and navigation.

According to Guerilla Marketing for Writers, writer/author websites should contain such content as

  • Contact information
  • Bio
  • Sample chapters
  • Tables of contents
  • Answers to Frequently Asked Questions
  • A feedback form and message board for comments, advice, etc.
  • A signup form for audio and/or Skype visits with reading groups. For example, see this this signup page.
  • Photos of your book covers
  • Media kit, including news releases and photos
  • Video or audio of talks and interviews
  • Links to your past articles and to articles and reviews about your book(s)
  • News and updates on your topic
  • Links to other useful sites
  • Reading guide (Make money from this guide by joining the Amazon Associates program and selling books through Amazon.)
  • A link to purchase your book
  • A description of other products and services you offer

Here's an excellent article by Donna Talarico on what an author's website needs to succeed.

In designing your site, consider your home page as your "grabber." You have less than a second to persuade visitors that your site is worth exploring, so make the home page a showcase. Your writing should be tight and dynamic. Also, consider your site as a resource for your audiences and not simply a store where you can tout your book. People are more likely to buy your book if they see you as an expert who is committed to helping them, not simply to selling them a book.

Also, in designing your site, check out other author websites for ideas. Exemplary author sites I have found include those for Sean Carroll, Deborah Blum, Carl Zimmer, Timothy Ferris, Faye Flam,, Laurie Garrett, Stephen Hawking, Michio Kaku, Kathy Sawyer, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and the author Web sites of the commercial developer FSB Associates.

You should also obtain a memorable domain name. You can search any domain name registration service for names that include some version of your name or the title of your book. The web hosting companies all offer this search capability, or you can use such services as Register.com, Network Solutions, or pairNIC.

Importantly, your work on your website is by no means finished once it's up and running. You should constantly add new content, and you should actively market your site to other sites and ensure the site is included in search engines. Include keywords in your site that enable search engines to find your site, and submit your site to search engines, especially Google and Yahoo. Two good guides are Search Engine Optimization for Dummies and Web Marketing for Dummies.

Fortunately, designing a professional-looking site is easy, because web hosting companies offer design tools that do not require HTML coding experience; and there are many good web design companies that specialize in author sites. Here is a list of such hosting and web design companies (with the author-specific companies listed first):