Using your Website to Promote your Book
(Let’s get visible, Part II)
You do have a website, right?
An author website is essential to your promotional efforts. Even if you have a page on your publisher’s website, you should have one of your own as well. Remember that no one is more interested in the well being of you and your books than you are: not your agent, not your editor, not your publisher’s promotion department. They all have other horses in their stables. Their interest in you grows and wanes, depending on the season. Your interest in your career remains, by contrast, consistently high. You are the only one who will make it your priority to update your website with the latest news and the most recent publications.
It goes without saying that you should own the domain that is your name (for example in my case, marywwalters.com), and once you own it, you might as well use it.
A website is a static element of book promotion. This means, on the negative side, that it’s not going reach out and grab anyone: people who want to see it need to come to it intentionally. You can invite them, but they aren’t going to come unless they have a good reason to do so. Therefore, with a website, you are investing time and money in something that is just going to sit there like some 18th-century society hostess, waiting for visitors to come to her. This is a good reason not to break the bank when it comes to website construction.
On the other hand, a website serves many purposes once someone does land on it (as did the salons of the aforementioned hostesses, I’m sure). In addition, once you’ve created it, you don’t have to update it very often. The only changes I make semi-regularly to my website are the upcoming and recent events, although occasionally (when I’m procrastinating on something else I should be doing) I will add a new photo or a new quote from a particularly nice review.
What Does A Writer’s Website Need to Include?
Back in the day (i.e., when I was working as editor in chief at Lone Pine Publishing, and during the years when I was reviewing books), publishers used to create “media packages” to send out with the review copies of the books they published.
Books editors at magazines and newspapers (remember them?) would receive a copy of the newly published book (or an advance copy, if the author was well known) with photocopied pages tucked inside. These pages of promo and background materials might include:
- a bio of the author along with information on other books or stories or articles that person had published;
- a brief summary of the book itself (the kind of thing that was usually also found on the flaps of the book or the back cover);
- blurbs (a sentence or two each) about the book that had been solicited from other writers, or excerpts of reviews of the author’s previous books;
- contact information for the publisher, and the author’s agent or the author;
- upcoming author appearances on radio, tv, or in person; and
- (sometimes) an excerpt from the book
These are the same elements you should make available on your website to help promote your book. If you have more than one book, you can have a page for each.
When I reviewed books, I was very happy to receive a raft of print materials as the information contained in them allowed me to include background on the author and the book, and directed me to other resources I might want to check out before starting my review. This was in the days before online searches were available, s0 the more information I was given, the better.
Your website should fulfil a similar purpose for those writing reviews on blogs or in traditional media, and for readers who want to know what else you have written and done. It should also provide contact information for those who want to invite you to do a reading or a workshop.
A website should look professional, but that doesn’t mean that it needs to be created by a professional web designer: most of us can’t afford one. Fortunately, creating a website has become very easy – you don’t need to know html or any other technical language – and most web hosts (e.g., SquareSpace, BlueHost, GoDaddy, etc.), will walk you through the process of creating one, and help you by phone 24-7 if you get stuck. If you Google “Best web hosts for non-techies” or something like that, you’ll get lots of suggestions. If you really don’t want to do it yourself, ask friends and relatives to refer you to someone – perhaps a student – who can help.
While I think it is a good idea to pay for technical help if you need it, there’s no reason to purchase a Cadillac manufacturer. I once paid $2,500 for a website, and I hated it and I had endless problems trying to change the elements that I didn’t like. The sites I have now are very user friendly.
How Many Websites Do You Need?
I used to have a different website for each of my five books, one for my editing and grantwriting businesses, and one for me. That got to be expensive and time-consuming. Now I just have one website for my literary works. (I continue to maintain another one for my grantwriting initiatives, because that one speaks to a different audience, and there’s too much detailed information on it to be suited to my writer website.) On the other hand, for one of my clients whose book is a byproduct of his business rather than the core of it, we did create a website where the book itself was the main focus.
At my own website, where all of my books are listed, all of the information in the bulleted list above is available, no matter which book a reader/reviewer is interested in exploring.
How Much do You Need to Spend?
You need to invest in two components to create a website: a domain name, which is like the sign with your business name on it, and a web-hosting site, which is where you hang your sign.
You own your domain name as long as you maintain your ownership of it, and you can transfer it from web host to web host if you find the hosting unsatisfactory. You can also sell your domain name if someone wants to buy it down the road. A domain name should cost you no more than about $25 (it will probably cost much less), and you will need to renew it annually. Sometimes web hosts offer a free domain name if you purchase a hosting package, but this usually includes only the initial registration. You will need to continue to pay to own it annually.
The web host is where you hang your sign, or park your domain, and you will pay rent to the host for the use of that space for as long as you want to have it. Depending on how much you want to include on your website, you can spend from about $50 to $150 annually for website hosting. If you are not building the website yourself, you will also incur a one-time cost to build the website.
One of the first things people look for when they want to know more about you is your website. I hardly ever think about mine now that it is up, but when I occasionally get around to checking the traffic on it (which you can do through the web host – tracking visitors will be part of the package you purchase – or through a web-wide system like Google Analytics; I use both) I am always surprised to see how many new and returning visitors have been checking out my site each month.
The website is the first step in building your online presence. Next time we’ll talk about creating your Facebook author page, and then about other “static” components of your book promotion plan.
As always I encourage readers to share their experiences and knowledge about book promotion through the comments section below. If your comment isn’t posted immediately, be patient. I review them first, to avoid spammers, and (believe it or not) I’m not always online.
Thanks Mary! This is great advice. I would love to hear your thoughts about blogging.
It’s on my to-write-about list, but I’m not going to recommend it as a book-promo strategy unless you are writing some niche-specific non-fiction that you also write about in your book. I don’t think this blog helps my fiction sales at all. Which is fine, because I like blogging, but it’s not what I hoped when I started it!
Writers can also launch their own blog, which is a great avenue towards publication. They can post a variety of items, such as short stories to display their literary handiwork, or excerpts of their novel-in-waiting. My blog is through WordPress. A fellow writer converted her blog to a full-blown website, following the publication of her second book. There are a slew of tools for new writers these days, and – as I often tell people – the growing acceptance of self-publishing has placed the power of the printed word back into the hands of the writers.
I love this series, Mary, and I look forward to more similar posts!
Thanks, Alejandro. Your advice is especially worth noting since it comes from an interesting and literate blogger!