With so many social media channels, do writers still need a website? Simon Whaley chats to two writers about how their websites meet their needs.
Twenty-seven years ago, on 13th October 1994, Netscape Communications Corporation launched the Netscape Internet browser. This gave us easier access to the World Wide Web, and savvy businesses knew they needed an online presence.
Since then, social media sites like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter have blossomed, giving writers and readers a plethora of ways to interact with each other online. So, with all these social media options, do writers need a website at all, these days? What’s the business case for having one?
While social media sites are great places to connect with people, we don’t own or control that space. If a social media company wants to change the way their site looks or how we interact with it, they can do so. They can also close accounts. Therefore, it’s risky using one social media platform as our only online presence.
Whereas, if we have our own website, we are in complete control over what we display and how we display it on our website.
‘I feel that in today’s world, even if one is not very keen on social media and such like, that it’s important to have some kind of an internet presence,’ he explains. ‘People buying one’s books or seeing them advertised may wish to find out more about the author, who this person is, what they look like, how old, and, most importantly, what else one has written.’
‘Many poets and writers for children do events in schools, libraries, festivals and bookshops. This is partly for reasons of self-publicity and, significantly for some, as a boost to their income. A poster or notice that a certain author is coming to give a talk or performance can be well backed up by a good website. For me it’s a very effective way of showcasing my backlist and of flagging up new works coming out.’
Louise Rose-Innes (https://louiseroseinnes.com) writes romantic suspense and cosy mysteries and uses her website as marketing portal. ‘My website acts as a hub for all my marketing material,’ she says. ‘It’s got my latest releases, my books and a bit about me on it, as well as any sales, discounts or freebies that I’ve got going at the moment.’
And while social media platforms are great for attracting friends and followers, communicating with them can be a bit hit-and-miss, depending upon what else is happening on their timelines. Whereas, if we encourage readers to visit our website, we can persuade them to sign up to our own newsletters, as Louise does.
‘I also use my website as a gateway to my newsletter,’ she explains, ‘so that any reader who comes to my site from a link in one of my books or from any of my social media pages can sign up to receive updates. My mailing list is a very important marketing tool for me. I have a large number of subscribers who like my books and are usually the first to buy a new one when it comes out. I reward them with special discounts and previews, as well as giveaways.’
However, it’s not just readers of our work who might want to get in touch with us. Other marketing opportunities can arise from having a website.
‘There’s a contact form on my website so anyone who wants to get hold of me can do so,’ says Louise. ‘Readers, bloggers, reviewers and media professionals have all used it.’
As someone who regularly approaches writers to interview for my articles, I’m surprised by the lack of contact opportunities on many writers’ websites. While some respond to direct messages on social media channels, not all do. Both Tony and Louise have contact forms on their website, which made it so easy for me to get in touch with them.
DIY or Commission
If you’re confident with computers, it’s possible to create a website yourself, and many website hosting companies offer simple do-it-yourself templates. Alternatively, consider asking an expert to do it for you. That’s what Tony did.
‘My web designer, Kate MacRae (wildlifekate.co.uk), recently told me that my website was becoming less well adapted to tablets and smartphones. She suggested we do a revamp.’
‘So I gave her free rein to move across, consulting me along the way about design, content, what to cut, what to keep, what to adapt, and so forth. We had already adjusted my old site across its life, as my own situation changed. Due to ageing and health issues I had had to cut back and eventually phase out doing events, for instance, so that had needed to be made clear. As one’s life changes, so must one’s website.’
Louise was confident enough to design and maintain her own. ‘Use a software package that’s easy for you to learn and to update yourself. It saves having to email a consultant every time you want to make a change. There are lots of very easy packages out there, and most of them are fairly self-explanatory. You don’t need a complicated website if you’re an author. The only pages you really need are your books, about you, a newsletter sign-up, a contact page and possibly a blog or news section. Most packages enable you to do these things with minimal effort.’
Author websites don’t need to be flashy or high tech, so even if you have the skill, it’s the content that’s important, not how it is delivered on the screen, as Louise explains.
‘I’ve always done my own websites. I used to build websites for a living, so it was easy for me. I used to use WordPress, but I realised that I didn’t need such a complex website builder and now even I use a simpler package that gives me a range of templates to choose from and allows me to type in what I want it to say. It’s really basic and easy to use.’
There’s nothing wrong with starting with a simple website, and then upgrading as your writing experience grows.
‘Wix and some others allow you to create a website for free, learning as you go,’ explains Tony. ‘And then you can upgrade it to free your site from unwanted adverts and such. Note also, if you are a self-employed writer on Self-Assessment for Tax any money you spend on creating a website is an allowable expense under publicity and advertising costs.’
We must consider our target audience when designing our websites. As Tony suggests, ‘List some key questions. Who is this site aimed at? (Children, parents, teachers, book enthusiasts etc). What am I trying to achieve with my site? (Publicity, sales, popularity, fame, broadcasting your thoughts and ideas etc.) Come up with a list of what YOU want to achieve with YOUR site.’
He also recommends checking out our competition. ‘If you feel you come into a category of some sort (poet, children’s writer, crossover of Young Adult author, non-fiction writer etc). Search the internet for other people’s sites to find other writer’s solutions to creating websites for themselves. Note down tips on features to use and things to avoid for your own intended site.’
Writers operating across more than one genre may benefit from having a separate website dedicated to each readership. ‘I write in two genres, cozy mystery and romance,’ says Louise (whose cozy crime website can be found at https://authorlouiseinnes.com). ‘I have two different pen names, Louise Rose-Innes and Louise R. Innes, to differentiate between the genres. I have a separate website for each, as the readership is so different.’
Louise’s readers will find details of her latest cozy crime, Death at Holly Lodge, on her cozy crime website, not her romantic suspense website.
Thanks to copyright, our creative works will continue generating an income after we die, and so it’s worth considering who will manage our website, and how, when that time comes. Tony has reason to think about this.
‘The only reason I’m not using social media more now is that I have a very short life expectancy (due to illness) so that it’s too late in the day for me to be learning such new tricks. But note that even I, in my position, have still just invested money in having my site revamped. It’s a nice, new, device-friendly site which can be managed by my web designer and my wife for a few years after my death, particularly since my backlist continues to sell and I have new titles coming out over the next couple of years.’
If you don’t have a website yet, create one. Any website is better than no website. It doesn’t need to be a storefront where readers can buy examples of your work, but it should point readers to sites where they can buy your products.
Louise agrees. ‘I think every author should have a website, if for no other reason than to have a place where you can list your books. This is particularly true if you’re writing a series. Sometimes it’s hard to know what order they should be read in, and having them listed on your website helps uncertain readers. Also, if a reader doesn’t know the title of a book, but knows the author, they can search for them and their website should come up. The books should link through to their relevant online sales pages, and this way you’re getting extra sales that you wouldn’t otherwise have had.’
Once we’ve invested a little time in setting up our website, maintaining and updating them is straightforward. Done right, and they will work hard for our writing business for years to come.
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