This article appeared in the March/April 2008 issue of Writers’ Journal in the “Computer Business” column. It’s the second in a 6 part series. I’ve dominated that column since then and if there’s anything you’d like to know more about, Please feel free to comment or drop me a note.
Stacking the Deck
People are looking for you. No, really. All it takes is an internet connection and people can find information on just about anyone they want to. Your job is to make sure that they find what you want them to find. If you answered the questions asked in the last article, then you have a good grasp of what you want to accomplish with your web site. Now it’s time to refine things and come up with a site plan—the architecture.
Weather your focus is on a specific book or on yourself, minimally you are going to need the following pages:
- Author bio
- Contact information
Let’s start with the home page. In most cases, this the very first thing people will see when they come to your site. This page should immediately let the person know where they’ve come. Offer them a short welcome and orientation message.
The author bio is a very important piece of information. As an author, you are selling your vision and your expertise—yourself. In most cases, your readership wants to know more about you. For freelancers, your potential employers are going to want to know who they’re hiring and why you are the perfect person for the job. After that, they need to contact you somehow.
Those three pages are the absolute minimum you need. The information included will be the equivalent of an online brochure. If this is everything you want people to know, then it is possible to present it all on a single web page. Doing so will cut down on your development time and expenses considerably. If you’re short on funds, this is an economical way to establish your presence on the web and the beauty is that you can always add to it later.
To maximize the effectiveness of your web site as a marketing tool, you’ll want to include a few more tidbits of information. I’ll go into the importance of content on a web site in part 6: Search Engine Optimization. For now, let’s look at the other things you might want to include:
- Ability to purchase said book
- Information about your topic that did not appear in the book
- News and events
- Audio or video clips
- Press kit
- Other books by you
- Resources and links
- A way for you to contact people visiting your site
If your book is currently available for purchase, the number one additional piece of information you need on you site is how to buy it. That can be as simple as a direct link to your book on Amazon.com, or as complex as a shopping cart where they can buy from you. Don’t leave your visitors hanging. They’re at your site. You’ve hooked them. Don’t make them work to buy your book.
Free samples are a good way to give people a little taste and, hopefully, interest them in more of your work. A PDF (Portable Document Format) of an excerpt from your book is a good way to accomplish this. A PDF is a document format that is easily to download and will maintain its layout regardless of the software the person looking at it is using. It will print out legibly so people can take your stories away from the computer to read. The primary reason it’s useful to writers is because it is essentially a picture, so the text on it can’t just be pasted and used somewhere else. It functions like a digital photocopy.
Good things to post are short stories or anecdotes related to your book, but that didn’t make it into print. For example, an author friend of mine is creating a biography of a fascinating ninety-year-old man who was in military intelligence during World War II. Obviously, he has far more stories than can possibly appear in a single book. A good solution is to write up the extras as anecdotes and put those on the web. These shorts can also be recorded and uploaded as audio podcasts. We’ll go into podcasts and other media in part 5.
Distributing short stories or anecdotes on the web in either text or audio—or both—can help you build a following prior to the publication of a full-length book. A following—or platform—can interest a potential publisher in taking a chance on the first-time author. As writers, every word is potentially a paycheck and we tend to be protective of our work. Even so, there is an appropriate time to give things away in order to achieve a greater gain later.
Include any reviews you have, as well as information on where you are holding book talks, lectures, signings or anything else related to you and your book. If you have any audio or video clips of you doing these things or being interviewed about them, your web site is a very good place to include links or samples. All of this information can be compiled into a Press Kit, which can be included on your site as a downloadable PDF.
Be sure to include a list of other things you’re written. If any of your articles have appeared on or are archived on the web, put links to them. If you have other books in print (ideally, these will have sites of their own), list them and link to them.
Additionally, you will want a page where you can list links to other web sites, but you don’t want just any links. You want links that a visitor to your site will find useful or that are directly related to you or your book’s topic.
Beyond that, you need to start collecting names and email addresses from people who are interested in you. Offer a free newsletter or notifications of when and where you’ll be appearing. Keep this information confidential and don’t over-send to your list and you’ll build a loyal audience—a platform.
A Note On Privacy
Whatever you decide to put up on your web site, you need to keep firmly in mind that once it’s on the web, it’s there for good—even if you change or take your site down. When a search engine, like Google, crawls your site, it makes a copy of it and that is stored on the engine’s server—usually until the site is crawled again and it’s replaced by an update, but not always. However, there are web sites out there whose sole purpose is to archive web sites. I’ve found copies of my very first attempts at programming—things that I deleted off my local server and even my home computer years ago. Fifteen year old data and it’s still out there and available to anyone who knows where to look. Thankfully, it’s not too embarrassing.
What this means is that you need to think before you put something on the web. You need to find the balance between offering enough information to be personable and contactable, without giving away too much. That goes for any references you might want to include on your site. Ask them before you list them. Don’t put their home phone numbers or email addresses up there. I would recommend that you avoid putting up your street address and for goodness sake don’t put up your social security number or any personal information about your living family members.
Now that we know what to put up on the site, it’s time to look at how to present it. In my next article, “Graphics: Friend or Foe,” we’ll take a look at how to dress up your information in a way that is both attractive and navigable.
Angela Render is an author who has been editing and developing websites for over a decade. She teaches regular classes on Internet marketing. Her Internet marketing workbook, Marketing for Writers: A Practical Workbook, is available on her website at www.AngelaRender.com.