The rules have changed.
It used to be that to break into the publishing business you not only needed talent, but you also had to know the right people, make the right connections, or sometimes, just be in the right place at the right time.
With the advent of blogging and social media, more and more authors are finding their way past the gatekeepers and finding their audiences—with or without publishers. With a bit of web savvy, moxie, and talent, today’s author has more power than ever to get their words into the hands of eager readers.
Yet, too many authors seem to be ignoring this relatively new path to publication.
Or worse, they are scaring away potential readers with awful websites.
You know that saying about not judging a book by its cover? While people may give some leeway to a book with a bad cover, not nearly as many people are as forgiving of a poor website.
Hideous wallpaper backgrounds, clashing colors, and frames with visible borders (ugh!) look about as contemporary as the fade in Kid ‘N Play’s hair styles. Whether the design is gaudy and stuck in the 90’s, its content impossible to navigate, or it is simply a static page (which is nothing but a glorified business card), too many writers are scaring away readers and relegating themselves to relative obscurity in today‘s digital world.
Considering how easy it is these days to publish content to a blog with a clean theme and a simple layout, there is no excuse for a bad website.
The Lessons We Can Learn From Good Author Sites
There are plenty of well-known authors with crisp, clean, and even gorgeous websites. Dennis Lehane and Stephen King both come to mind. However, many of the well known authors have websites designed by the best designers for publishers with deep pockets.
Yet you don’t need a fat advance to have a great website. Here are four examples of authors with sites, all with blogs attached, that are economical, while doing all the things an author’s site’s supposed to.
1. Give Your Readers What They Want
Seth Harwood was one of the early adopters of the novel in podcast form. Along with fellow author Scott Sigler, Seth found early success through Podiobooks, by dividing his book and delivering it through a series of free podcasts.
This tactic eventually led Seth to a book deal for his crime novel Jack Wakes Up. Seth’s website is a great example of a layout that features everything a reader could want in an easy-to-find format.
Want to learn more about the author? Click.
Want to see details on any of his books? Click.
Want to listen to a choice of free audio downloads from any one of his books? Click and Save.
Want to buy the book in physical form?
Yup, a number of links to help a reader quickly purchase the book.
Something else I like about Seth’s site – he has photographs of his readers on the front page, using a simple widget linking to his Flickr account. Seth understands that being a successful author requires building a robust community. In addition to a clean layout and easily accessible information, Seth has built forums for his community, as well as a space devoted to fan art.
In short, Seth’s website is about as close to perfect in function as I’ve seen.
2. Engage Your Audience
Scott Sigler IS the modern author. Sigler has helped to reinvigorate, if not reinvent, the world of publishing with the success of his first book, Earthcore, the world’s first podcast only novel. Much like our own Available Darkness, Scott released his book in serialized format, dividing the book into twenty episodes, then releasing it for free on podcast through Podiobooks and iTunes. He also has developed an active community with his forums and interacting with readers via social media.
Many authors have since followed the model, but Sigler’s early pioneering placed him at the vanguard of modern publishing.
His site is intuitive, with all his social media and podcast subscribe buttons located in the top right hand corner. They are neat and easy to read, with the tongue in cheek caption, Subscribe or die!
Like Seth, Scott understands that community is fundamental to an author’s growth and his site reflects that in every way.
3. Know Your Audience
Artist, cartoonist, and writer Raina Telgemeier knows her audience well.
The artist of The Babysitter’s Club graphic novels has a website which is not only a big bag of eye candy, it succeeds in showcasing her impressive illustration talents, while also appealing directly to her target audience.
Raina regularly showcases her upcoming projects via blog posts. One of those projects is her soon-to-be published book, Smile.
The page devoted to Smile is a study in what makes a perfect landing page for a book. It’s warm and inviting, has published reviews along with all the relevant information, and links to help guide the reader on their way to a purchase. The use of color on this page, along with the beautiful book cover, makes me want to buy about four or five copies before I leave the page.
Raina’s site has style, personality and community with a clean, impressive layout.
4. Give it Away, Give it Away, Give it Away Now
Three of the four authors we’re posting are notable in that they give their content away.
I’m sensing a theme.
Craphound.com is the home to Sci-fi writer, activist, journalist and blogger and Boing-Boing co-editor Cory Doctorow, who is practically synonymous with the model of giving your product away.
Doctorow believes the constraints of copyright belong firmly fixed in the previous century. And while many in the publishing industry balk at the idea of giving your product away and argue that there is no way to monetize “free,” Doctorow is proving them wrong. Time and time again.
Cory compares modern authors to the forerunners of rock n’ roll, saying that “the Internet makes the cheap, dirty and experimental possible.”
With several titles and legions of fans, Doctorow is the premier example of a modern author making full use of the “freemium” model.
Follow Cory on Twitter
By using WordPress and a premium theme such as Thesis or Frugal, an author can have their own website up and running for less than a hundred dollars. Of course, you could spend a bit more and have a professional layout that appropriately reflects the quality of your writing (hint hint – we do that).
The key to getting read is to build a community around you and your work.
Start a blog, get involved with social media, and get your book (or eBook or audio book) in front of as many eyes (and ears) as possible. Never has the world of publishing been so open to you.
So, what are some of your favorite authors’ websites?
What lessons have you learned from the good ones?
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