Authors on the Web

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.

Amen, sister!

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.

 

Examples? Sure!

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.

…the hell?

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.

*sigh*

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?

Comments are Closed

  1. 1

    I’m always looking for the optimum author web site to crib for set up and organization, so thanks for all the examples!

    Making a good website is hard, even if you want to spend a lot of money on it.

  2. 2
    hollygee says:

    Sycophant that I am, I like the ease of navigation and the simplicity of style of jennycrusie.com and crusiemayer.com. I like barbaraferrer.com for those reasons as well as how easy it is to switch to her caridadferrer.com alter ego and how the two sites differ in style for their respective audiences.

  3. 3
    MelissaB says:

    I’ve actually always been intrigued by JK Rowling’s site, although I agree that it doesn’t work well from a reader interface standpoint.  I think she must have been going for something that would engage the reader in another world visually and, in a way, duplicate the Harry Potter reading experience.  (I don’t happen to read Harry Potter, but I do check out a lot of author websites and was curious to see what a heapload of money would buy.)  A similar attempt to engage the reader visually is Libba Bray’s website, which is very fun in concept, but again quite dysfunctional to use and seems very incongruous with her books (YA historical).

    http://www.libbabray.com/

    I think Susan Scott’s website does a fantastic job of visually recreating her “voice.”  Candice Hern and Elizabeth Hoyt’s websites are similarly effective this way:

    http://www.candicehern.com/

    http://www.elizabethhoyt.com/

    These websites are laid out along more traditional lines in terms of site organization, though.  I’d be curious to know if anyone has come across an author website that employs a visual interface but is also effective from a reader perspective.

  4. 4
    Lani says:

    You know, an author website is tough to do. I still haven’t gotten mine quite right, although it’s better than it used to be. Of course, I do it for myself, so there you go.

    I agree with Holly on all her suggestions of good sites. I think the problem is that we’ve all got so much information we want out there and it’s hard to organize. For all authors who can afford it, I highly recommend Wax Creative, or Electric Webs (OMG gorgeous work, try bethkendrick.com and rllafevers.com, I’m in lurrrrrve) if you can afford them. If you’re broke like me, remember that simple is best, and use a template for blog software, like WordPress or Movable Type. WordPress I think is the best for creating a site with flexibility re: static pages and dynamic content, but that could just be me.

    Anyway, hallelujah sister on this post. But I also sympathize with the authors. It’s very hard; watch the good sites and take cues from that. Then save your pennies and hire someone who knows what they’re doing – it’ll be worth it. Trust me.

  5. 5

    One author website I came across recently is Ami Mckay’s (The Birth House) http://www.amimckay.com/

    She has a calendar of where to find her in person, info on her book, contact info and a novelty section. (Some might enjoy the “Am I Hysterical?” Quiz http://www.thebirthhouse.com/hysteriaquiz.htm , to find out how often to use a vibrator ;) )

    I thought it was one of the best I’ve seen.

    I hate a slow page and too much Flash.

  6. 6
    Kerry Allen says:

    See, the Ami McKay site lost me at the splash page. I don’t want to click to enter. Just take me straight to the damn site.

  7. 7
    Lani says:

    Hallelujah on splash pages. I hate them.

  8. 8
    Kiwi says:

    I also hate a site that never, never updates.  Sigh.  I have some favorite authors out there from whom I’d love to get some news, but their websites are ages behind their publications.  WTF, people?  Why bother to have the site at all if you aren’t going to maintain it?

  9. 9
    KellyMaher says:

    Because I’m one of those authors who is broke, and therefore does the whole kit and caboodle for her website, I’m limited by my poor graphic design skills.  I take a point of pride, though, in being fairly clear with my organization.  My question/comment is for those of us who write erotic romance/erotica.  I’ve always been told we need a “splash”/click through page for legal reasons (acknowledgement someone is at least claiming to be of legal age) as we may have adult content on our website, like in excerpts.  What are the general populace’s thought on that?

    And yes, once I can afford a real graphic designer, I am so purchasing a cool template for my site.  I do like getting my hands dirty with HTML and CSS, though.

  10. 10
    Angela James says:

    Is a bad website better than no website at all?

    It’s frustrating to me as a reader to not be able to access a website and get information about books, backlists and upcoming books. Maybe it’s because I practically live on the internet, but I think that every career-minded author should have a website. This is the age of technology, after all, and after the initial investment of setup/design, it’s a minimal upkeep, to keep it updated. But it provides a central resource for fans and new readers to get the information they need to buy more books. What’s not to love about that?

  11. 11
    Najida says:

    I live on the web too, and ALL my author info I get via web pages…..either review sites or the authors own sites.

    And I agree, the simpler the better.  Nothing worse than a confusing site when you just want a little bit of information.

    Oh yeah, and if there are books that need to be read in order, it’s nice to have a list of the order (for some reason, that is very hard to find with certain authors)….or at least “This book has characters from THAT book.”

  12. 12
    Najida says:

    I have a ‘splash’ page on my dance website….really, I have two….but they are very simple and quick (at least I think they are).  I did it mostly to frustrate the pervs trolling for ‘sexy goyls’ pictures. 

    I don’t mind clicking to enter.

    I do have a passion for dancing balogna, so I usually put it on pages that are way, way, WAY in the back of everything.

  13. 13
    azteclady says:

    Regarding adult content and the click through page for legal reasons…

    I wonder if authors could put some minimum, “safe” content in the splash page along with the age requirement warning or whatever?

    As far as “bad” better than “none” goes… I’m not sure how a new reader of that author would react, but I’ve been disconcerted by obviously out of date websites of authors I already read.

    It’s good to have the book order (even for a loosely connected series), but when I’ve gleaned more about the current news, upcoming release, whatever, from amazon than I can get from their website..? Well, I am not inclined to keep going back month after month to see the same old news. After a couple of tries, I stop checking that website, even if I’m still reading that author. Makes sense?

  14. 14
    sara says:

    When I used to fact-check for a movie magazine, the splash pages and Flash on movie official websites would drive me effing bananas. Here I was trying to get a simple plot summary or the correct spellings of character names and the site wanted to DANCE. Such a waste of time.

    I really like Elizabeth Lowell’s site because she has a complete book list and a guide to sequels (and I can never keep the “Only” series straight in my head). The quote section is also endlessly amusing. The whole site is very straightforward, and I appreciate that, even on a high-speed connection.

  15. 15
    Kris Eton says:

    What really turns me off? When an author’s picture is front and center on that first page…and it’s not very flattering.

    We aren’t all Cindy Crawford, but nothing turns me off more than to see a really bad author photo next to some beautiful cover art (usually with perfect models on them). Why do you want yourself compared to the people on your covers?

    I say, put the author photo on the ‘about’ page. And don’t make it frickin’ huge. Your picture does not sell your book…in fact, sometimes it can turn people off.

    Sounds terrible, but it is true. Not everyone photographs well.

  16. 16

    To be fair to Rowling’s site, I think it’s probably aimed more at kids than at adults, and kids tend to have different priorities: see for example http://www.useit.com/alertbox/children.html

    Aside from that I agree 100%. I am somewhat usability-crazy and I really prefer sites that make it easy to find what I’m looking for. In the case of an author site, that’s primarily info on each book, including upcoming releases. Biographical information is nice, and any extras (in which I include blogs) are good too. But I need to know it’s there.

    I like Crusie’s site very much—clean navigation, everything easy to find, some nice extras—but I disagree with her choice to spawn new websites for practically every book. I sort of see the point when it’s a collaboration, but in general I think it makes for too much content to police and keep up to date. But hey, her choice.

  17. 17
    Ciar Cullen says:

    I agree about author photos, and kind that makes me howl in horror are the writer-as-sex-symbol photos. I really don’t want to see anyone’s big ol boobies on their site. A sexy drawing is fine for erotic romance writers, but the cleavage shots—not good.

    Off to update my site…

  18. 18

    Its such a tough call… bad website being better than no website? I think so but damn, I’ve seen some bad ones.

    Its a tool I couldn’t do without. The number of visitors my website gets each week/month is great and I do try to give them things they ask for. Like… separate genres, grouping books according to series, print book page, all books page. I’ve even started adding character details and extras. Its time consuming and I can’t get it all done right away… more of a work in progress but as it grows, so do the number of visitors.

  19. 19
    KristenMary says:

    I would say Nora Robert’s web page is quite good and well organized. You can see what she is working on, get her backlist, or click on over to her hubby’s bookstore to order books. Through her website I found Adwoff, her fan forum, and through that I found the Smart Bitches. Good things all around.

    I too hate websites that are confusing and have unorgainzed links. The point of a website is to bring the most current info into the light for your potential fan/consumer as Kerry and others have already stated.

  20. 20
    Emma says:

    The JK site is a great way to find little extra things—for example, punch ‘MAGIC’ into the phone and press the green button—but for info it’s totally useless. It’s more like Where’s Wally? than What’s JK Up To? But then I guess she isn’t exactly crying out for new readers…

  21. 21
    Kerry Allen says:

    Mandy, “work in progress” is good. It keeps them coming back to see what you’ve added since their last visit.

    Some readers aren’t interested in all that extra “stuff,” which is fine, but they always have the option not to look at said “stuff,” and it’s nice to have it available for readers who think it’s fun.

  22. 22
    Nina Armstrong says:

    Neil Gaiman’s site does and excellent job of presenting a lot of information well with some fun design elements,and a separate page for kids. Content is labeled well,you can find things,and it’s regularly updated.

  23. 23

    I don’t update my website unless I have news that makes it worth updating.  I have a blog where I do the day-to-day natter, and it links to my website and vice versa.  But I think part of the reason I don’t tweak my website more is that I’m not the webmaster, I’ve got someone who’s paid to design my site and update it when necessary.  If I felt more comfortable fooling with it, I’d do it myself, but I’d just as soon leave it to the pros.

    And for whatever it’s worth, nothing drives me away from a blog or website faster than music.  I cannot stand clicking on something and have noise start blaring at me.

  24. 24
    Teddy Pig says:

    “nothing drives me away from a blog or website faster than music”

    Can I hear an AMEN out there!

  25. 25
    Angela James says:

    Can I hear an AMEN out there!

    Figuratively hear, not literally, I’m assuming?

    Sorry, couldn’t resist.

  26. 26
    Teddy Pig says:

    Picture this…

    Two in the morning I am sleepless in San Francisco and at my eMac and I click the link to loveyoudivine main page and the volume just happened to be up high.

    You best believe me, my used to be sleeping other half was not happy at all.

  27. 27

    What I want to know is what Sarah was doing at Melanie Griffith’s site. :-)

    Is Mel usurping your dear Hoff?

    And…I love my site (which was redesigned in January) and have to pimp my Web designer too (AustinDesignWorks.com)—who is very reasonable, very quick, and very good. Take a look-see.

  28. 28

    My pet peeve about sites…is when they have a “gate keeper” page (that’s my term, I don’t know what else other people call it).  It may have only a graphic that you click on to go to the “real content.”  Now I understand if this is an adult only site that this is necessary, but really otherwise it’s just annoying.

  29. 29
    Claudia says:

    I hate when authors use a blog or blog like template for their author site. Few things send me running faster than screenfulls of non-book info or book info buried in posts.

    Even worse is the trend of creating one’s sole webpresence at membership sites like MySpace.  I stopped visiting one author’s blog when she moved it from Blogger to MyS. even though I have a MyS account. I don’t cache passwords at work and her blog wasn’t worth the extra typing to log in.

    I can understand wanting to be trendy, but why place any barriers between visitors and content?!?

  30. 30

    Music. Hate the music.

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