6 reasons why everyone is totally wrong about author websites (and it’s killing your book sales!)

If you are publishing a book and thinking about getting an author website designed, you probably having something fancy in mind – something glossy and sleek and professional, fully customized to match your brand and genre and book. Something totally amazing. Because that’s what all the bestselling authors with big platforms have.

And so author website making companies usually offer something similar.

If that’s what you want, I’d check out AuthorBytes or OutboxOnline; they both have excellent samples.

But first let me try and convince you that it’s absolutely not what you want, and it will probably kill your book sales.

 

1. Much harder to pull off

Those kinds of websites are very hard to do, they need a lot of well done Photoshop work. If you can find someone awesome, you can get one for between $1500 and $3500 (rough estimates). They will probably take a month or two to make. Interestingly, although they are the standard for author website design, there are extremely few of them – search around for examples of high quality author websites and you’ll find that there are really only a handful of examples out of tens of thousands of author websites.

Most author websites are really bad. Most people offering author websites aren’t good enough to pull this kind of website off, so you’ll get something ugly.

What you need to do instead: find a nice, minimal WordPress theme. Put a great picture of your book cover and a professional author photo. Keep things simple and clean and organized.

2. Non-intuitive

Most authors think their website can be an extension of their own personality. So they can move stuff wherever they like because visitors will have fun exploring something “unique” and “new.” So they don’t have an obvious menu, and buttons are in weird places.

Check out for example, JK Rowling’s website, which is so hard to use there’s a pre-viewing overlay that teaches new visitors how to use the website!

author website rowling

I love Rowling, but I’m not going to spend even 3 seconds learning how to use her website; I’ll just follow her on Facebook or go to some other website for Rowling news.

What you need to do instead: Use universal design standards that browsers are used to. Have a clear menu linking to your important pages. Make everything super easy to find.

3. Not built to sell

Classic author websites are about style and branding – they are not designed to sell books. They are built for authors with huge platforms who are already searching for the author. People buy the books on Amazon. The website is just somewhere fun authors can connect with their fans or post news. It doesn’t really have to do anything. It exists because famous writers need to have some online real estate.

They could have an optin offer or contest or prize or purchase links, but they’ll be very careful about selling too hard. Because, really, they don’t need more fans. Their success is made on the back of their books. The website is just a personal hobby project.

What you need to do instead: Your website isn’t a hobby project. It’s the basis of your author platform. Screw it up and you’ll sabotage your writing career. Your website needs to be designed to get readers to take action, either by buying your book, sharing your content or signing up to your news letter. If it doesn’t, it’s a waste of time and money.

4. Too much freedom

Classic author website design gives authors too much freedom, which is bad for a number of reasons. First of all, they aren’t designers, and may think things look great when they’re really ugly. Secondly, they won’t be intuitive or focus on sales if improperly built. Thirdly, authors love being creative and can really enjoy the process – wasting months playing with things that totally don’t matter, driving their designers crazy, and ending up with a crappy website anyway (this happens at least 90% of the time, because 90% of author websites are ugly, amateurish, and unprofessional).

What you need to do instead: pick a simple, nice WordPress theme, change the header, fonts or logo, and keep everything else exactly the same. Premium WordPress themes look pretty good already. Just get out of the way and let them do their job. Don’t waste a bunch of time on little things that don’t matter. Put up a website that WORKS, and do it quickly, so you can start posting content.

5. Too expensive

As I mentioned, these kinds of authors websites are expensive, because they are hard to do. Unfortunately, that means authors on a budget usually hire cheaper designers and try to produce the same kind of site – which never ends well. Or they use simple or free tools and still try to match the stereotype of the perfect author website… often ending up with something laughably, inexcusably hideous.

If you pay for cheap web design, or try to make it yourself according to your design whims, it will be worse than not having a website at all. And getting a nicer, prettier author website isn’t worth it when you’re just starting out. You can buy one after you hit 10,000 sales or something. Right now you just need something temporary, cheap, and fast, that actually helps you sell books.

What you need to do instead: Get a WordPress theme for under $50. Hire someone on Fiverr.com to make a header or logo, and someone else to install your WordPress theme. It’s really not that hard. You’ll have to learn how to use WordPress, but it will cost you under $100. Or you can use a free theme (and WordPress is free) so you just have to pay for your hosting, which can be as little as $3 a month.

6. Wasting your most precious asset

Why get an author website, anyway? The thing you have to realize is that websites for bestselling authors and websites for indie authors have completely different agendas.

For traditional authors, media, interviews, advertising and gossip create demand that all points back to the author website.

The author website is just a place to catch all those people searching for the author or book by name.

But if you’re just starting out, nobody is searching for you.

They aren’t going to accidentally stumble on your site looking for something else.

Which means, you will need to drive 100% of the traffic to your website.

But not only is that a ton of work, you’ll be losing people as you send them through your sales funnel, depending on how efficient and well designed your author website is.

For example, if you advertise and get 1000 paid clicks, sending 1000 people to your website, only 1/4 of those might click over to Amazon, and only 1/4 of those might actually buy (about 62). Whereas, you probably could have sent them directly to Amazon and converted 1/4 for 250 book sales.

Which means, not only is your website worthless, it’s actually losing you money!

Which is why, you don’t want a pretty website that doesn’t do anything, because your marketing funnel is totally different from that of a famous author.

Instead, you want to be attracting natural traffic to your website by blogging about things that appeal to your target readers.

You could review other books or movies in your genre, discuss topics that interest your readers, interview other authors or bloggers in that field/genre, or even do things totally unrelated that your target readers might enjoy. (If you don’t know what your target readers will enjoy, because you’ve never thought about who you’re writing for or what kind of person would read your book, you’ve been living in a narcissistic, self-adoring bubble for too long, and you need to burst it).

If you put all this content up on your blog – and you need a lot of it – you will start getting natural traffic from Google and other search engines. For example, this site gets over 500 visitors a day, or about 15,000 a month. I don’t sell my books here (I give a lot of them away for free) but people can nevertheless find out about me and the things I do (like cover design and book marketing). But if I really wanted to promote a new book, I’d put it on the sidebar and make sure it was obvious and enticing to everyone (I’ll probably do that next month with a couple books I’m working on).

Out of 15,000, it shouldn’t be hard to sell a few hundreds copies of a book each month (and if you build up an email list – the other point of having your own website – you can sell a few hundred copies in a day!) It takes work, and I post a few times a week, and I’ve been doing it for a couple years.

It’s not fast, and quick, and easy. But as long as you’re going to build an author website, don’t waste time and money building the wrong kind.

You’re not traditionally published – your business model is absolutely different from traditionally published authors. So don’t copy design tactics that work for them.

You’re indie: which means you don’t have to put on a big show and present a luxuriously designed, expensive exterior to the world. Why try if you may fail in the attempt?

What you need to do instead: Get something cheap, lean and mobile, and start putting content on it! It takes time to build up, so start right away – you can even hire other people to write blog content for you.

 

“Can’t I just, like, not do all of that and write good books instead?”

I hear variations of this question all the time, usually followed by arguments that ‘so-and-so’ (some famous author) started writing before the internet, before social media, and now they’re world famous. And my answer is usually this: “Sure, if you’re too lazy or too cheap to do things that work and want to get successful on hope and luck, of course you can. And it MIGHT work. But there’s always much more advantage to doing it than not doing it. Even if your books are excellent, you’re going to be crushed by 100 other authors whose books aren’t nearly as good as yours, but they have a website and post content and get traffic and sell books.”

You aren’t only in competition with other books in your genres – your author platform is in competition with the author platforms other writers are developing. You can’t say “I’m not going to play this game because I like how the rules were 30 years ago, and I don’t like the internet, so I’m going to stick with how I learned to do things.”

At least, not if you want to be a successful author.

(OK – I’ll admit, maybe I’m totally wrong. There are plenty of cases where authors have succeeded recently, from their books alone, starting with very little platform. The BIG stories are always like that. It’s possible. If you think I’m being too negative, ignore me and keep eating that positive self-help stuff. But in those cases, all the authors wrote about 10 books before things heated up. So if you just want to write 10 books and see what happens without a website or trying to build your platform, be my guest. I think it’s an extremely poor business decision and you’re being obstinate, and I’m trying to help you. There are many more cases, of authors who didn’t make it huge, who built their platforms and published more and more books, until they started making a very comfortable living online.)

Having your own website that gets its own traffic is extremely powerful.

You don’t need permission. You don’t need help. You don’t have to ask for favors. You built it all by yourself, you control it, and you can now get your message in front of thousands of people, easily and for free. Why wouldn’t you want that?

PS) Author websites, and what to write about on them is a pain point I constantly hear indie authors griping about. So I’m building a team of writers and designers who’ll be able to offer web design, content marketing and social media management. I encourage you to do it yourself, and do it for free. But if you aren’t comfortable doing that, it’s better to hire someone to do it for you than have a website that doesn’t get any traffic or sell any books.

 

About Derek Murphy

I help authors and artists turn their passions into full-time businesses, make a bigger impact, and blaze a luminous trail of creative independence. Right now I'm in Taiwan finishing a PHD in Literature, writing several books, and managing a handful of online businesses. Find me

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