Whether working with a major house or self publishing, an author today must maintain a website. Having a professional online presence is as standard as having a sales sheet and a business card. But the old (that is, more than two years ago) expectation that a website can be just a glorified billboard is obsolete thinking. What can or should an author-and-book website do for an author now?
First, the site does serve as a sales tool, but only if it is a dynamic tool where reviews and endorsements are added on the fly and news about you and your book is kept current.
Your site serves as a “landing page” for all other social media and web activity. Never lose sight of the directive that all the time you spend sending email blasts, tweeting, scanning relevant blogs, and ignoring virtual games on Facebook serves one purpose only: to direct readers to your website.
You can’t fit everything want to grab people with into posts and email, or even fliers and mailers. Send your potential fans to your site, where you can wow them with rich content. In other words, include your URL on everything. Then give people good reasons to come back.
There are no finished books, only deadlines. So what to do with that great extra chapter or the appendix that got cut? You site is where you give readers something more than the material in the book. If it’s fiction, you can tell side stories about the characters or explore your world. Any nonfiction work will have updates and additional resources to provide. Often the best way to sell something is to give it away. Your site visitors will gravitate toward free excerpts and sample chapters from upcoming titles.
You will be told your website is where you can engage your readers. That sounds good, but can it really be done? Yes. People are hungry for the author-reader connection. Readership loyalty is not a thing of the past; indeed, the interactive media you are using right now has ushered in an age of reader participation never imagined before. Integrate a blog on the themes of the book and write riffs on highlights from the book, keeping it fresh in context of current event and your life. (For example, see Grace and Tranquility.) Respond to comments. Join online discussions elsewhere on the Web. Review other relevant books. Be creative with it.
If you have published several books, your site evolves into the primary stage where you tie your work together, where you integrate and relate the arc of your writing to your larger vision. If your books are an actual series, make sure your site evenly represents the whole series and always highlights the latest. (See a new one set up for more in a series: The Wine Seeker’s Guides.)
No book is a print-only instrument anymore. You are not two-dimensional, and neither is your book. You site should carry podcasts, video interviews, and candid author images. Include links to videos and other multimedia sites. Keep vigilant for content that could augment your story, then find ways to draw new readers to you with it.
More than ever, readers want—and will soon expect—to feel like they know and are interacting with the author, or that they can in some manner participate in the book. So put a personal face on your author persona that reveals more than just the dust-jacket copy. Use this amazing interactive medium to let your readers feel like they are part of your story. That’s what good storytelling has always been.