Writer How To: the writer’s website

Dear Internet,

This is a bit of a chicken and the egg conundrum: Do I write a bit on the launch my new writers’ site and then talk about what went into it or do I write about the influences and decision making  first?

I decided to go with the egg first.

One thing I wanted to get done immediately on this new career of mine, even if it was damned near empty, was my writer site. TheHusband suggested, and I agreed, that having a site dedicated to my work would make my life easier in the long run rather than trying to shove everything under the EPBaB banner or tossing it over in my librarian profesh site.

While I’ve always mentally noted what I’ve liked or didn’t like when I came across an writer’s site, I wanted to see what others thought. A couple of weeks ago, I started asking around the Internet what people liked / didn’t like / expected on their favorite writer’s websites. Do writers need one and if so, what should they include on it?

A couple of days later, Katie Dunneback asked the same thing with the intent to write a piece on the results. She and I more or less got the same responses which could best be summed up as:

Short answer: Yes. Everything but the kitchen sink.

Long answer:

(Italicized is Katie’s round up, non-italicized is my addendums)

  • Information about upcoming releases
    • Synopsis, book trailers, ways to get ARCs
  • Excerpts from past, current, and upcoming releases
  • Publication history about previously published works whether they are currently in print or not* – double points for printable (we librarians have patrons who still really prefer getting a piece of paper from us)
    • Sorted by format: Short stories, novels, novellas, and so forth. Also break out non-fiction work from your fiction work. If your work has been published online, links to to the work.
  • Reading order information for series* (this includes “you don’t have to read these in order!”) – again, printable
    • If you write under multiple names for multiple works, make sure the sites connect or list everything in one site
    • Also, book club information would be grand
  • Contact information* – Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, other social media du jour, email (maybe I’d like to book you for a program if I were to book programs for my library), newsletter sign up link/form
    • At the very, VERY least, a newsletter and email form for contact. Many of my friends said they mainly follow people on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr but like Katie points out, having email form for contact is great.
    • Newsletter is fantastic if you don’t plan on writing a blog or have a news page
  • Biography – @surlyspice suggests two: 1 brief and 1 expanded
  • Every cover that your book has ever had
  • Direct links to where to buy your books
    • Not just to your publisher, but also any retailer (online or brick and mortar) that sells them and or you want supported
  • Events /Appearances (online and off)
  • Influences or “you may like me because”
  • News page. Example: “I just sold the rights to Three Blind Mice to Germany — here is the new cover.” “I have a new story coming out in Fairytales Unlimited, you can read it here.” “I’ve been nominated for a Locas, Hugo, and Wednesday awards. Please go vote for me.”
  • Blog. If not integrated into your site, at least a link from your site to the blog, and a link on your blog back to your site.
  • Awards won and reviews
  • Periodically updated
  • Press kit (bio, selected list of works, professional grade headshot)
  • FAQ page
  • Easy to navigate, content is easy to read

The very bare bones site should contain: about (this site), bio (brief/extended), list of works, sorted by format; contact info. If you’re on social media, make sure to link to those sites. Same with a blog. Readers build relationships with the writers just as much as they do with characters of the stories they are reading. Some have said that the less they know about writer, the less likely they would be read more of their works.

With that in mind, I decided to poll the last 20 writers I have or am currently reading from my GoodReads account to see what I could find on their online presences. The genre classifications comes directly from GoodReads and I wanted to see if it had any bearing on site design or content. (Hint: It doesn’t.)

(If the embed isn’t working for you, you can view the spreadsheet in full.)

[iframe src=”https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1TXSjg2dqvbImUJ8MLo7Z3HVp6t6sXcMzwudrYP6EROA/pubhtml?widget=true&headers=false”]

  • 18 had websites
  • 18 had some sort of bibliography available, but five of those were only partial lists
  • 17 are on social media but only 10 actually linked to their social media accounts
  • 16 had an about page
  • 15 direct linked to buying their works online
  • 11 were built on WordPress
  • 11 had a contact page (not social media links)
  • 11 had a news or a blog
  • 6 had a FAQ page
  • 6 had newsletters
  • 2 had a link to donate / tip jars

A million years ago, Kristin and I started a research project on the online presence of public libraries in Michigan and the stats were kind of along the same vein. Libraries bitching no one is using their online services, but libraries aren’t putting the work into building their virtual front door.

I haven’t even dug more into SEO, branding, marketing, and maintenance of the sites either which by looking at what stats I have available now, would be a complete nightmare to untangle.

Some of you are looking at the list at the very beginning and are thinking, “Fuck. That is a lot of work.” And you’re right, it is. But being a writer these days is a lot more than sitting down and spinning stories. My pal Saladin Ahmed recently quipped that he felt like he did more administrative work for his writing than actual writing work — and he’s a 100% right. I’ve been writing for years, but as I start unraveling the pandorica of submission, editing, publishing, and more, my todo lists now have todo lists. Now I have to schedule time when admin work is done versus writing time is done.

Look, I get it. A lot of people think the Internet is a fad, some don’t give a fuck, and even more think it’s a waste of time to have a new fangled website. Or they don’t want to spend the money, the energy, or the time. But as a reader, a writer, and a librarian (not in any preferential order), I can tell you with surety if I can’t find your work, if  I can’t get a list of your books without looking at the back mater of a printed copy, or you don’t have a Wikipedia page, how in the fuck do you expect the people you’re writing for to find you?

If you want your work to be read and you want to build a community around your work, you need to have an online presence and you need to keep it updated. You can’t fuck around anymore thinking having only a Facebook fan page (like Helen Fielding) is enough or that your sparsely, outdated website is sufficient. As a reader, I want to know more of what you wrote. As a librarian, I want to get printed lists of your works to my patron. As a writer, I’m looking at your practices as to whether or not model my own after yours.

Anyone with any level of technology can create a website these days. You can knock out a pretty professionaly looking site with Tumblr or WordPress.com in a few hours if you don’t want the pains of going tits to the wall and buying a domain and hosting plans. And then spend a few hours a month making sure it’s updated with all of your current work and news.

If you’re not willing to put the time in to get your work out there, how do you expect your readers to do the same?

xoxo,
Lisa

This Day in Lisa-Universe: 2013, 1999

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