Suggestions for Author Websites

Speaking as a reader, I'd like to make some gentle suggestions for author websites.

Have an Author Website

Image representing the "Home" buttonFirst things first: please have a website. I'm astonished when I run into living, still-active authors who don't have at least a simple page or blog site, but it happens. Bonus if the website is easy to navigate  so I can find your books. Amazon and the other retailers are dreadful at displaying the order of series books, even if they're numbered right in the titles, and most authors/publishers don't do that. (And let's not even get started on cases where proper reading order varies from published order.) Retailers have “series” designators, but they're not particularly helpful either. Therefore, I go to the author's website to find out the series, other related books, and reading order. I also go to get full descriptions and see your lovely cover art, and find out where I can buy your books. For non-fiction authors, I want to know what other books you have, and if you recommend reading, say, the introductory book before diving into the advanced book.

Envelop Newlsetter IconHave a Newsletter

I also go to the author's website for newsletters, since the retailers won't notify me when an author publishes something new I'm interested in. Yes, I know Amazon has that enticing little feature that says “notify me when this author has a new release,” but it doesn't work—I have received one, single notice for authors I know have newly published books, and it was about three weeks late.  I'm surprised at the number of authors who still don't have newsletters. Yes, I know, they take up time when you could be writing, but come on, I'm asking for information on what you're doing. If it helps to think of it this way, you aren't selling, you're answering my polite question. If you really hate, hate, HATE the idea of writing a newsletter, but you do have a blog, at least offer a way for readers to subscribe to your blog posts. If you're using WordPress, it's a simple feature to implement. You can point me to Facebook, and I'll go there if that's the only way to find out about your books, but given Facebook's constant tinkering with algorithms on displaying posts, it's a crap shoot as to whether or not I'll see your book release announcement.

About that List of Books

For the talented author who's been at this awhile, if you're going to list your paper-version of a book, I'd love to be able find out if you'll be releasing an electronic version anytime soon, and if you can tell me, when (or why not?). Especially if it's in a series. Is it contractual (e.g., rights haven't reverted)? You hate the book and you're rewriting it? You can't say because it's private/personal or litigious, but you're aware of the problem? If you're waiting for the rights to revert back to you, and want to be quiet about it because you think the publisher will give you trouble, don't tease me by mentioning the book on your website and leaving me to guess. 

What's Next?

I'm interested in what you're working on and what's next, if you know. Some authors have writing calendars slated out for the next two years, and some couldn't tell you what they're doing next week if their lives depended on it. I envy the prolific authors, because they always have something they can point to, but I'm happy to find out that even slow authors (like me) are working on something I'd be interested to read.

It's All About You

I like to know a bit about you, but I don't need a book  (hah!).  I'd rather read an occasional blog post that tells me what interests you instead of a long, dry bio about your educational background, professional history, etc. Exception 1: If your background informs your writing, e.g., you used to be a military sniper and now you write action-adventure stories, that's interesting. Exception 2: Your background involves extraordinary jobs (e.g., polishing the space shuttle mirror), seminal events (you were in Iceland when the volcano blew), unusual locations (you lived in an actual treehouse in Costa Rica for a year), etc. And a personal pet peeve, don't give me TMI — I'd rather read about the interesting characters and worlds of your novels, not the messy, painful, dramatic, reality-TV-worthy world of your personal life. Post that to your personal (not author!) blog or Facebook page if you must. 

Extras Are For Your Readers

On extras: I like excerpts, short stories, snippets, cut scenes, character interviews, etc., but I'll be honest, I don't read them much. They're often for books I read too long ago to remember clearly, have spoilers for books I haven't read yet, or were cut for good reason. Side note: For authors who think “extras” are logos, bookmarks, cover art, etc. for their books, you've put them in the wrong place. Those should go in the “Media” or “About” page. The “Extras” page should be for your readers. This, of course, is just my opinion; your mileage may vary.
If you have a forum, and it's active, let me know, because I might like to see who else is in your community and interact with them. If your forum is mostly dead, or you ignore it, I suggest putting it to rest and moving on. Moribund forums make it look like you haven't been to your website in quite awhile, even if you post to your blog regularly.

A Note About Design 

One last comment: I don't usually pay much attention to the site's graphic design, unless it's really beautiful or really bad. I'm much more inclined to pay attention to user interface, e.g., are the buttons obvious, I can easily find the correct reading order of your series, etc. As is patently obvious from my site, I favor minimalist web design. On the other hand, I really appreciate excellent, artistic work (as long as it doesn't make it impossible to find what I'm looking for). I don't often use my smartphone screen to troll author websites, mostly because the small screen is too annoying, but an increasing number of readers do, so I recommend your site be legible and usable on the small screen. If you have a web designer for your site, ask them about a responsive design, one that changes the display to suit the size and capabilities of the device used to view it. My site is designed this way — try resizing your browser window to a much smaller size and see what happens to the various elements as you change the size.
Of course, these are all my  personal opinions, and other, smarter people may disagree. Feel free to tell me about it in the comments.