Kerry Allen left a most excellent comment in our discussion of promotional items:
Sometimes the thing you want people to see is buried away from the front page of the web site
If the thing you want people to see is buried away from the front page of the web site, you need to move it. Immediately.
Everything necessary to convince a reader she must have your most recent release should be on your home page. Cover, back cover copy, pub date, retail price, ISBN, review snippets, author blurbs, obvious READ THIS ENORMOUS EXCERPT link. Hell, make it easy to buy by providing links directly to its page at Amazon, B&N, Borders, and anyone else who sells the thing online in paper or e form. (Double hell, become affiliates with those sites and make an extra five cents or whatever off sales made through those links.)
Bury the “extras” away from the front page. Put the product front and center.
One topic I’ve been stalking from the perimeter is author web sites. In the age of WYSIWYG site building tools and templates galore, it’s relatively easy and therefore a requirement to have a web site. But what about the content and organization thereof?
Sadly, there are some sites that are just confusing, poorly organized, and are all bang with no buck. If I go to the site looking for something, I can’t find it, and either I’m navigating a pile of links that seem to have been added with no organizational thought, or I’m trying to figure out why the designer chose non sequitur images instead of words to represent topics for web content.
Now, before I get the hellfire of the internet brought down on my wee little head, let me state: I used to run a business designing websites for not-for-profits, some of which were in both Hebrew and English. So I know a small amount whereof I speak when it comes to making content easy to find and quick to access. Hell hath no fury like a parent of a camper who is told that the health form is not on file, and who can’t find it easily for download on the camp website. Trust me. You ain’t seen fury like camper parent fury.
So when I browse the wild wooly internet looking at author sites, I’m so befuddled: either the sites are an organizational hodgepodge of text on top of more text with graphics thrown in willy-nilly, or they’re overproduced monsters of Flashtastic presentation that kill a dialup connection in 2 seconds and leave those of us on high speed connections confused because we can’t find anything.
If you go to JK Rowling’s site, you get a choice of languages, and your choice of a text site or graphic-heavy site.
The graphic-intense one is the one I do not get: the English version shows a desktop littered with stuff, and butterflies and bugs flying all over the place. There’s a news section – ok then – and behind that a tabloid filled with “rumors,” and a diary – last updated July 18.
Understandably, the woman is busy but look, I can post-date entries on this site to go live when I’m nowhere near a computer, and I do so regularly. Come on now. She’s had the biggest book launch in the history of the universe; surely she or a staff person can post main page content that’s current. Especially since today, July 31, is Harry Potter’s (and my Hubby’s) and Rowling’s birthday.
Then, I just get confused: hairbrush = extras? Paperclips = FAQ? Eraser = ?
Rowling had a huge lag between books as she wrote those big mammoth editions, and her site was certainly useful in prolonging reader interest between issues. But if I were looking for a piece of specific information about her? I can’t find it here. I’d leave the site and go find what I’m looking for on Wikipedia.
And Christ on a cracker, there’s sound effects on the site. Fine. Bust me, why don’t you? The cell phone ringing doesn’t add to the site. It’s not like I can click on the phone and get some secret easter egg feature.
And herein is a monster truck full of money spent on a website that, should I be looking for something specific, is largely useless, and bizarrely out of date by web standards. If I were looking merely to be entertained, this might be a fun way to pass a few minutes, but even then the lack of clear path or organization is bothersome to me. Ergo, I’m leaving.
After one page.
Clearly, this is not what a website was meant to do, drive the person away. In fact, Rowling’s site comes close to the bar set by the Most Bizarre Display of Opulent Disorganization On a Website: Melanie Griffith’s official site.
Not being able to use a website easily is frustrating for me, and a real shame since I know a lot of people probably put a lot of time and forgot the basic tenets that Kerry listed so easily. If the site is to promote an author, product product product front and center.
And some sites do this marvelously, along with information about the author (aka, the “bio” section), and news and interactive portions that are updated more frequently.
Examples? But of course!
Patricia Gaffney has a gorgeous site, with the main page offering the big author trifecta of web content: book & book excerpt, biographical info, and interactive info (aka a “Q&A blog”).
From the same design team, a completely different type of author site that nails the trifecta as well: Susan Holloway Scott‘s site evokes the time period of her books, and offers visitors book information, author info, and news.
What about when you have to organize a HUGE amount of information? James Patterson’s site, while very commercial-looking, makes it easy to navigate his backlist, his bio, his other projects, and STILL the newest book is front and center. Of course, Hachette runs that puppy so I’m sure it’s a major, major point of his publicity machine.
Author sites like Julia Quinn’s (Designed by Wax Creative) and Niki Burham’s (also a WxC site) both organize book/author/promo/blog data into menus that are eye catching, and, thank you thank you, easy to navigate.
In my never humble opinion, good web design is an intersection of visual simplicity and content organization. It doesn’t have to be an extravaganza of Flash and animation, and it shouldn’t throw every word in the English language at the viewer on the first page, either.
It’s certainly an art form, and it’s not easy in the slightest. One of the areas of promotion I wish authors paid more attention to is the content and style of their websites, because more than any paper bookmark, the website is where readers like me go to learn more about who the author is, and to look for upcoming releases and the order of a series.
What websites work for you, and, more to the point, what are you looking for when you visit an author’s site?