How much does your author website even matter?

Woman writing down her ideas

Today I’m stalking authors. I want to get my giveaway for YA authors shared more widely. So I’m chasing hashtags on Twitter and finding YA author lists and communities and direct messaging people.

Normally, I wouldn’t do that: but I’m sharing a contest that will benefit YA writers, rather than promoting my own books, so I feel like it’s OK.

HOWEVER: here’s the thing I’m realizing.

95% of authors have shitty, homemade websites, mostly on wix or weebly or some drag and drop free theme. Most have really ugly colors and fonts, and it’s confusing.

I’m checking page rank (even though it’s retired) because it gives me a good indication of the sites age and backlinks. A lot of the authors I’m trolling also have few Twitter followers (less than 1000). It’s easy to discount them as amateurs.

But I know that would be a mistake.

Because author platform does not equal book sales.

In fact the inverse could be true: it’s possible that their books are selling like crazy, so they feel like, “Why do I need to improve my website?” or “Why should I bother with Twitter?”

And the people who spend $5000 on an author website and buy 50K Twitter followers may not be selling any books at all.

That’s the weird thing about self-publishing: most sales will not come from your website. You probably aren’t building enough content to get any real natural traffic from search engines, which means, your books either sink or swim on Amazon. There is a lot you can do to game the system (I’m having a webinar with a friend next week where we’ll be discussing some of those tricks) but there’s only so far you can go.

You can increase discoverability.

You can make it easy to find your books; and since few authors know how to do that, you can get found.

But you can’t increase likability.

You can’t make readers like a bad book. You can properly manage reader expectations so they aren’t too disappointed; there are ways to keep those negative reviews off your book. But Amazon and other online bookstores are basically an open market, and the readers decide what’s going to be successful.

Twitter, or blogging, are time-consuming alternatives to growing an author platform that don’t make a big difference in the overall picture.

What they can do, basically, is turn readers who liked the book into readers who like you.

That’s the difference between a rave review and none, the difference between a fanatic who shares your book launches and crickets.

Done well, every book launch should be easier and more successful because you’ve been building your list, followers and author platform (by the way – all those ugly author websites I was looking at? I didn’t see many optin forms, and the ones that did have one said something lame like “subscribe for updates).

So is it worth building an author platform at all? For many books – no.

If nobody wants or likes your book, a bigger platform isn’t going to help. Publish first, put it out there, make it free or cheap, see who likes it. As long as some readers like it, you’re in business: but then you’ve got to make sure you’re getting them to follow you, like you, get to know you. That’s your responsibility. Otherwise they’ll just read your book and move on to another one.

But if you do manage to offer a reader something to entice them and get you back to your website, and you have few Twitter followers and a homemade looking site, then you’re in trouble.

Which is why I always caution extreme minimalism on author website. Focus on getting them on the list so you can talk to them personally, without all that loud and ugly web design getting in the way. Focus on posting interesting and fun things on Twitter of Facebook so they enjoy hearing from you. Provide value: make their lives better with every interaction. Be personable; let them know you as a person.

When the time comes, they’ll share your next book launch, not because you ask them to, but because they like you.

And that’s the value of an author platform.

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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