Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Websites and Writing: The Haves

There are some important details any author's website should include, even if you are unpublished. Let's jump right in, and talk about what an author's website should have.

Content, Content, Content (and Stuff)

Who's going to want to visit your website if you don't have anything good to say once they get there? Don't run on about unrelated subjects unless it's in your blog or a newsletter. Tell the reader the facts, quickly and clearly (layout for easy access is also important - we don't want to dig deep to get this info). Make it hard for your reader to get the facts, and you will confuse her into heading to Bored.com instead. And please, for goodness' sake, use proper spelling and grammar! You're an author - show me you know how to be a good one (especially if I am an editor/agent, and happen across your website). No excuses - spellcheck and hand-check every word you write. Fix typos ASAP. Here are the other major must-haves:

1. Who - This ought to be obvious, but sometimes, regrettably, isn't. Your reader wants to know your name, profession, and genre/subgenre of focus, if any. So tell us you're Susie Q. Author, Writer of Exciting Romantic Suspense. Right away. Or, if you don't want to pigeonhole yourself, just say Author (Bestselling Author, if you are one, but most authors realize that offhand by the time they become one, so moot point there). This should be on every page. Search engines like readily available topic info.

2. Bio - A little snippet of who you are and how you got that way. It doesn't have to be so extensive that you lead fanatic readers to your front door, but readers do like to know how you came to be an author, what you do in your free time, and maybe whether you have kids or dogs. It helps us to connect with you! (Sidebar: don't be so generic about your hobbies. It seems like all romance writers like gardening, so much that we might boilerplate that for our bios. What do you do that's unusual and memorable?)

3. Your Book List - What have you written? What's it about? Is it related (and in what order) to another book you wrote? Even if you haven't published, tell us your book title, and a little few-line blurb about the book. If you are published, tell us where to get your book, and include a picture of the cover. Savvy published authors will include a printable list that readers can take to their favorite bookstore. Include ISBNs and publication dates. And hey, plug yourself. If you won awards with that book, or have praise quotes from other authors or industry publications, say so! (Your mom's glowing review doesn't count, sorry.)

4. News and Events - What are you up to now? What's next? This freshens your website so that readers keep coming back to learn the latest dirt. You could start a blog to serve this purpose, but remember that this is an important obligation - keep it updated regularly (that goes for your whole site - keep it current)! Once a week updates or blog entries would be nice. We don't like our news to be stale. Funny how that is, but there you are.

5. Blogs, Message Boards, and Guestbooks - Speaking of blogs, let's talk about blogs. And message boards. And guestbooks. These provide some form of reader interactivity - we like to chitchat about our favorite authors/books with other fans. Remember, though, that you may need to monitor these to ensure the comments/entries are not offensive, abusive, or inflammatory, etc. I don't like censorship, either, but you don't want a 9-year-old to come across your website and find someone has posted links to X-rated material, for example, do you? Or you can add a disclaimer stating that you are not responsible for any content therein other than your own posts. Little butt-saving measure there, in case your forum gets rowdy.

6. Contact Information - Please, please, please, let readers, editors, agents, and newspeople know how to find you. Even if it's no more than a form to fill out and submit electronically, or your E-mail address, or your agent's name and contact info, at least we will feel like we can personally reach you to say, "Wow, your writing rocks!" And if you are worried about stalkers, your agent can filter those letters and handle them gracefully. If you don't have an agent, get that cast-iron stomach, and then block the scary E-mails. Don't ever post your home address (see earlier entry on WHOIS searches). Use a PO Box, or don't add a physical address at all.

7. Copyright - It is implicit that whatever you publish to the web is copyrighted to you as soon as it hits the page - no filing of copyright necessary. However, just for argument, at the bottom of your webpage, state that your site is "Copyright [year or range or years] Susie Q. Author, all rights reserved." That way, everyone knows this is yours, and to respect it as such. See intellectual property copyright laws for more info.

8. Extra Goodies - We like freebies and goodies. If you write to a soundtrack, tell us which songs you used. Post excerpts or teasers. Hold a contest for something we want. Add recipes. Include a press kit (these are nice for newspeople, and if you can provide a neat package for easy promotion, why wouldn't you?). The list goes on as far as your imagination.

Next time: What not to add to your website.

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