I have a real timeline for my new website! The lovely folks at Design for Writers, who have done all my self-pubbed book covers and interiors, have officially put me in their schedule for early October. My part of the job in September is to figure out all the fine details of what I’m asking for. They have a whole process with detailed client worksheets. Build Your Brand, Grow Your Audience. If websites actually still do those things, I’m sure they can make me one that will.
What flummoxes me at this point is, what do readers want from author websites?
If you have an answer, even if it’s only what you personally like or use when you visit them, please tell me in the comments.
Even though every serious author is expected to have a website, it seems to me that the functions you find on them have been more effectively parceled out to other ways of interacting online. If the standard categories are About, Books, News, Newsletter, and Contact, I see most authors doing all those things in a decentralized way. What do they get out of the website that they don’t get out of the third-party services and platforms many of them are also using?
The conventional wisdom of the moment suggests that readers mostly prefer to get authors’ blogs from multi-creator platforms like Patreon, from group blogs like Black Gate that are functionally magazines, or as emailed newsletters.
Most readers definitely prefer to buy books from Amazon over purchasing from authors’ sites. It’s great when readers make a point of buying directly from the author, so the author gets a bigger cut of the sale price, but most people prize convenience.
Having a contact webform at your own site should have benefits at a time when people keep talking about abandoning Facebook and Twitter for their various sins, but, as far as I can tell, DMs on either of those platforms get more use as ways to make contact.
My embarrassing confession: the thing I most often use authors’ websites for is to find out, when someone I don’t know follows me on Twitter and their bio says they’re a writer, whether they’re traditionally published. I check out the About page and the Books page, and then backtrack to Twitter. I usually click to follow them back no matter what, but I’m more likely to actually read their posts if they’re more successful than I am at the game I’m trying to break into. Part of me thinks this is snobby and wrong — I may yet end up resorting to self-publishing for novel-length projects, myself. Other parts of me think my time is finite and valuable, and that it would probably be better if I followed fewer people, or bailed on Twitter altogether. I might as well focus on learning from people playing the game I value more.
For a person who doesn’t yet meet Wikipedia’s standard of noteworthiness (::raises hand::), it would be would be good to have a website just so that people can look at the About and Bibliography pages to see if I’m legit, for whatever their definition of legit may be.
That said, I think the last time I made a return visit to any other author’s website was during the Obama administration. Am I an outlier?
My own first author website was very pretty, a gift from the small-press publisher first who published two of the Rugosa novellas. She thought like a book designer, not a web designer. It set the right tone and followed principles of graphic design…and took forever to load. I can’t imagine anyone stuck around long enough to see it in all its glory.
My husband built the second version when I was preparing to launch the Kickstarter for The Imlen Brat. He kept some of the old site’s look, then made it much faster to load. But he has a job and a life and these two kids we’re raising, so once the book was launched, site maintenance kept getting bumped down the priority list, by both of us. We really did have more urgent fires to put out. It became clear that I needed website people who were only in my life *as* website people, if I could ever scrape together enough to afford them.
I kept that website’s blog going until 2016. Nearly all the blog readers who commented on my posts were doing it on other platforms. I was cross-posting on Medium, GoodReads, my Amazon author page, and LiveJournal. All that cross-posting took a non-zero amount of time for every post.
Nearly all my regular readers were at LiveJournal, right up until its then-new-ish Russian owners declared that they would censor criticism of Putin, at which point there was a massive exodus. The whole long-form blogging ecosystem of the science fiction and fantasy community still hasn’t recovered from that exodus. I’m not the only one who keeps hoping something new will come along that functions as well as an industry-and-fandom shared water cooler as LiveJournal used to. We’re mostly making do with Twitter. Alas, Twitter’s unmoderated waves of targeted harassment keep picking people off, and if Elon Musk buys the place, we’ll find out what the digital equivalent is of the train station evacuation scene in Casablanca.
The one thing an author website gives its author, by definition, is control. No other platform’s collapse or crimes can bring you down with it.So I’m here imagining the author’s own website as a sort of Rick’s Café, a fragile refuge in the gritty Casablanca of the internet, a place to catch your breath after fleeing a fallen Paris, or a succession of fallen Parises. Not ideal, but worth having.