When is the right time to build your author website?

Here at Authorclicks, we turn down design jobs with some frequency. Sometimes we're just too busy to meet a new client's deadline. But we will also turn down a job if the author just isn't ready.

Today we heard from an unpublished author who was querying agents with her first manuscript. "I've been told I need a simple website," she said. 

At the risk of showing our age, we've had a hand in the publishing biz for a long time. And even though it's always scary to be a newbie, we can assure you that no agent has ever said, "I would have offered to represent this author if only she had an expensive new website." 

Agents and publishers know that everyone starts somewhere. And here at Authorclicks we really don't want to waste your money. So let's prioritize.

The Right Moment

The best moment to debut your professionally designed author website is the moment you receive your first book's cover art. Why? Two reasons.

1. The point of an author's website is to sell books. And until you have cover art, you don't have a product. We know people like to use phrases like "building buzz" and "getting my name out there." But you are not the product. To misquote Shakespeare, the book is the thing.

2. Your book's cover art shalt not clash with thy website design. We at Authorclicks never marry web designs too closely with cover art. But since the cover and the site must live in harmony, designing one without the other is a bad idea. 

Do you really want to redesign your website when the cover art shows up? We didn't think so.

If you feel naked without a corner of the web to call your own, head over to Google's Blogger platform and make yourself an introductory page. And then buy a domain somewhere like GoDaddy and point it at your website. Boom. Problem solved.

Publishing is a slow-moving industry. There's a lot of waiting. I understand why authors are impatient to make progress. But spend your pennies wisely, and only when it's time.

Where eBook Sales Happen


You know how much I love data! I'm constantly trying to understand the mechanisms by which my books reach the hands of buyers.

Today I was peering at my January affiliate earnings when I noticed something useful. There were just shy of 2000 transactions on my US Amazon.com affiliate account this month. If you have an affiliate account, you know that you get paid not just for ebook sales but for other things that people buy within a 24 hour period. So I have sales for my books, other people's books, and crystal champagne glasses, software and the dust filter for someone's vacuum cleaner.

One of the data items provided in my report is the "Device Type" where the purchase was made: Mobile or Desktop.

Data alert! I've already written about how often my website is visited by mobile users. But I didn't know if mobile buying was catching on, too. Browsing and buying are quite different activities. (If they weren't, we'd all be rich, since data suggests that the conversion rate of an online shopper is something like 4%.)

Well. I broke my purchasers' data into ebooks and other. And the results were pretty interesting! 68% of ebook sales made on my affiliate account were done on a mobile device, vs. 32% desktop. However. All the other stuff people bought (vitamins, movie rentals, audiobooks, song downloads, software, toys. Everything!) looked differently. Those percentages were flipped: 64% desktop and 36% mobile. 

The data on ebooks is the most convincing, of course, since that's what my buyers clicked in the first place. But if we wanted to know: are ebooks usually purchased on mobile devices? The answer is HECK YEAH! 

What to do with that information? Make sure you have links to the rest of your catalog in the backs of your books, for starters. Hopefully that tablet or phone reader will click through to your next book and keep on reading. 

And when you're contemplating website changes, never stop thinking mobile. Mobile mobile mobile. It's what's for dinner. And breakfast. And lunch.

Don't Make this Rookie Mistake on your Author Website

This cat is happy because his photo was obtained legally on a stock photo site.

This cat is happy because his photo was obtained legally on a stock photo site.

Can we talk about imagery? Websites need lots of it. A blog post looks naked without a photo, right? Without the dancing cat, this post is just a wall of text.

But there's one kind of image that's always the wrong choice--the one you don't own.

I know it's all kinds of fun to use a Ryan Gosling meme on your site. But it's a bad idea, even if you've seen others do it. You could easily get tripped up by either a legitimate copyright claim, or a scammer trying to scare you into paying a legal fee to make him go away.

If you think it couldn't happen to you, read this woman's experience.

Using only images to which you have rights is also just the right thing to do! Authors who would be dismayed to find their own ebooks pirated on a sketchy website should respect the work of photographers, too.

So where can you get cheap and free photos to use?

Deposit Photos has thousands of pictures, and some of the least expensive prices of any of the stock photo sites.

Wikimedia Commons collects photos for common use.

You can also use the advanced filter of Google Image Search to find photos which are "free to use, share or modify, even commercially." Look under usage rights to find this setting!

And be safe out there!

Noble Advice for that Mobile Device

How are visitors viewing my site, and why should I care?

In ye olden days, say, ten years ago, when we built a website we built a website. 'Tis no longer the case. This is a monthly graph of the percentage of visitors to my romance author site who arrive via a mobile device (tablet or phone.) Nearly half of them are viewing on a mobile device. I'll bet if I wrote YA the number would be even higher. But if I wrote women's fiction it would be somewhat lower.

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It's always going to be large, though. That's the world we're living in. You might say--so what? The first thing to know is that Google recently changed the behavior of its search algorithm to heavily favor sites that are mobile friendly. In other words, if your site is not mobile friendly, it won't turn up in search results. Disaster, right?

These days, when a client is sweating over the harmony of new home page content, I sometimes need to remind really her that she's seeing one out of a million different versions of the site. It's going to look completely different on a phone or tablet, and different again when the visitor rotates the screen.

The platform I use to build websites--Squarespace--will only build mobile friendly sites. (They are rated "Awesome" by Google on this front.) Even so, I test every site on a desktop, a laptop, an android tablet and an iPhone 5. The web platform makes different decisions about where to place content for each different screen.

There are trade-offs. I can't always fit everything into the website header that I'd like to put there. Once when we were renovating our tiny New York City kitchen, the contractor shook his head over a design element and said, "everyone is always trying to cram ten pounds of shit in a five pound bag." It wasn't an elegant expression, but I remember it often when I'm designing a website. 

Clean, crisp designs aren't just for hipsters anymore. They work! :)

The Three Biggest Trends in Author Websites

Like hem lengths and pop music, web design is trendy. And here's what we're seeing lately!

1. Landing pages

Everybody's talking about Landing Pages (aka Squeeze Pages) but not everyone agrees what they're for. Broadly speaking, a landing/squeeze page has only one action available on it. So the visitor who arrives there (usually by following a link) can either DO THE THING (sign up for a list or push a button) or leave.

If that sounds pushy, it is! The landing page cures visitor ADD. If your visitor doesn't have access to your main navigation, she can't suddenly say, "Ooh! a sparkly thing!" and dart away before you collect her email address. So a landing page is potentially useful. But I think it's bad manners to allow your main URL / domain to point to a landing page. It's like inviting a friend over for tea and then demanding they buy Girl Scout cookies before they step over the threshold. Besides--if you play your cards right, you might sell those Thin Mints, anyway.

2. Vertical, baby

It used to be that every site you visited had a navigation bar across the top, with predictable labels: About, Home, Contact.

Not anymore! The new trend is to require website visitors to scroll downward in a straight path through all your content. Like the landing page, it prevents user ADD by drawing your visitor down a long hallway by the hand.

I liken this trend to the way that wall cabinets fell out of favor in kitchen design. Trendy kitchens now look really sleek with all that tile showing on the walls. But suddenly there's nowhere to keep the coffee cups. And vertical websites look sort of corporate to me. It's a little chilly.

So when we design a site we try to have it both ways. It's nice to offer more content to the visitor who is willing to keep scrolling. However. I always put a handy main nav on every site I design. Because sometimes our readers arrive looking for something specific! And I don't want to frustrate my visitor. I'd rather she's able to find what she's looking for, and quickly.

3. The Pop Up. It's Back

It's deja vu all over again. The pop up is back. But the 2016 version of the pop up is sleeker and softer than the old kind. And it's (usually) not ads that spring up before our eyes like snowdrops in March. It's a newsletter sign-up.

Now, pop-ups are a little annoying. Or they can be if done poorly. But they're still something I'm willing to use. Why? They work. Studies have shown that conversion of visitors to newsletter subscribers is higher with a pop-up than without.

And you can program a pop-up to happen only as frequently as you set it. Instead of it appearing on every page, you can make it disappear forever once it's dismissed the first time.

Those are my three biggest trends. Do you notice others?

One Romance Author's Web Stats: Do You Know Who Your Visitors Are?

I got a marketing email from an app builder that I've worked with today, and the title was Do You Know Where Your Social Traffic Comes From?

To that question I can say, why yes I do! Squarespace has fabulous analytics. And while a girl can get a little too hung up on her web stats, I do like to think about how I'm spending my precious time. So let's take a peek.

Now, this is a slow week. I didn't publish anything, announce anything, post any teaser excerpts or reveal a cover. I sent out a newsletter, though. The lack of activity means the data is even more robust, because the people who are finding my website this week have sought me out or opened my newsletter.

"Direct" is the source for over 60% of my visits. Those visitors came to the site via clicking a link or typing the URL into their browser. Those links are found in the back of my books and in newsletter emails. There's not a lot to be learned there. And 17% came from Googling.

It's further down that I start to really learn something. Facebook is 12% and Twitter is 2%. (Note: I'm not running any FB ads or boosting any posts at the moment, either.) Lately I'd already been feeling that Facebook brought me much more meaningful interaction with readers than Twitter ever will. But it wasn't easy to quantify until I looked at these numbers. How much better is my time spent on FB than twitter? Six times more, apparently.

And Goodreads? Yeah. Not so much. Less than 1% of website visitors found me via Goodreads. And my set-up at Goodreads is fairly robust--with lots of links in my bio, and a blog that populates on my author page and into the news feeds of my friends.

So, while Facebook continues to frustrate us with its new algorithmic stiff-arm, it's still the best social media outlet for reaching readers. This month, anyway! 

And since Squarespace puts these trusty web stats at my fingertips, I'll be able to spot the trends.


Top 5 Biggest Mistakes on Author Websites

Visitors to your author website are precious. Whenever a reader takes time out of her day to seek us out, we want to make sure we're rewarding her with good content and few distractions.

Here is a short list of common sins and how to avoid them.

One: No Contact Information. When I take the time to make my way to an author's website, half the time it's because I'd like to say something nice. When I can't find any contact information, it makes me feel stabby. And maybe I'm old school, but when I say "contact information" I don't mean your Facebook page. A real email address is pretty important. If you're worried about the address being scraped for spam, you can write it like this: myname (at) gmail.com. 

Yeah, spam is awful. But frustrating your reader is worse! I promise. Make yourself available, so we can say nice things to you.

Two: Where's Your Newest Book? Another top reason I visit your site is to see what's new. And if the new thing isn't immediately visible on your home page, I'm probably going to assume that you don't have anything new! In the immortal words of Paul Simon, I "got a short little span of attention." So don't make me look too hard.

Three: Your Reader's Phone Makes a Mess of Your Site. About 50% of web traffic to author sites comes from mobile devices. If your site doesn't play nicely with mobile browsing, your visitors might not make a second visit. Make sure you test your site on a couple different devices to see how it looks. The days of building "a website" are over. Now a web designer builds a thousand possibilities at once, on every page. Also, Google promotes mobile-friendly sites to the top of its search ranks. Make sure your site isn't frustrating 50% of your viewers, just because they showed up on an iPad.

Four: Music and Animations. A sudden soundtrack might be the last thing a visitor needs if she's checking out your site while sitting on a bus or in a library. And gimmicky tracks and unnecessary video slow down web connections, making it tougher for your reader to find the content she wants. 

Five: Intellectual Property That's Not Yours. I know it's fun to use celebrity memes and droolworthy photos, but it's a bad idea. There are legitimate (and illegitimate) cases brought against authors and bloggers all the time for photo copyright infringement. At best it's a headache and at the worst it's an expensive headache. So make sure you use photos you own or which are licensed by the creator for free use. Trouble is no fun!

There are other sins of author websites, but these are at the top of my list. What's at the top of yours?