website design

How to Set Up Your Author Website so Readers See the Best Stuff First

How to organize your calls to action.

How to organize your calls to action.

“I Want Everything At the Top”

Life is all about choices, and choices are hard. So many authors get stuck on their website designs because they can’t figure out which information is the most important. Or they forget that website visitors aren’t patient people who will read every word and patiently scroll through material to find what they need.

“So What Do I Do?”

Readers don’t just stumble onto your website. They visit for two reasons: 1) they’re responding to an invitation (a link in your newsletter or the back matter of your book) or 2) because they have a question that needs answering. IE “What’s the next book in the series” or “When does the new one come out?”

If you have a tight and sensible navigation, these questions should be answerable within one or two clicks. Easy peasy.

But there’s a difference between satisfying the visitor and getting her to do what we want. What we want, of course, is another sale. Once you realize that we have goals and an agenda, too, it gets easier to figure out how your website should prioritize its content.

The Hierarchy of Author Websites

This is what we want visitors to do, roughly in order:

  1. Click a buy link and purchase (or preorder) the book.

  2. Sign up for our newsletter, thereby granting us more chances in the future of grabbing this reader’s attention.

  3. Read about our backlist books (and then ultimately buy them.)

  4. Enjoy bonus content like blog posts and extras, thereby forming a tighter bond with our author brand. Bonus points for you if there are buy links in all these places, too.

  5. Follow us on social media.

Note the location of that last thing. Authors often ask me to put the social media links higher up on the page. But please remember that real estate on your website is valuable. If those links are front and center, your cover art will sink down the page.

And—really—if someone takes the trouble to visit you on your home turf, do you really want to bounce them to that distraction pit known as Facebook? Social media “follows” aren’t valueless. But I’d argue that they’re a little less valuable each year. So use your visitors’ eyeballs wisely. Keep them on your site or bounce them to a vendor site for their next purchase.

Once you’ve established your website’s goals, it becomes easier to know which content to promote first. Good luck out there!

How to Build an Author Website for Free

This might seem like a strange topic coming from us. After all, we make money when someone pays us to build a website.

But not every author is ready to pay for a site. Maybe your book isn’t out yet, or you simply don’t have the cash to pay for a site. Or maybe your book hasn’t yet found a home with a publisher. If you don’t have a product to sell (and some cover art) then it isn’t the right time to pay for a design.

So what to do? Maybe you did some Googling already about free websites, and you haven’t made up your mind.

Weebly vs. Wix?

Nope. Neither one! Why? The free versions look tacky, and the paid versions aren’t much better. Successful authors seeing good web traffic aren’t using the paid versions of these sites, so that is a big clue right there. So that means the real choice is…

An Authors’ Guild website or Blogger / Blogspot?

In our opinion, the two best options are either Google’s free blogging product or the Authors’ Guild’s free websites. The Guild isn’t entirely free—you have to pay an annual membership fee. But it’s the best deal in town. The AG will review your publishing contracts if you ask them to. They have a message board of sage wisdom, and they advocate for authors everywhere.

Furthermore, you can get an AG website for free once you’re a member. This is, hands down, the easiest way to have a presence on the web.

Google’s Blogger platform is also a perfectly good option. You can make a page that’s static and put that as your home page. So it isn’t really a blog unless you want it to be.

Bottom line: if authorship is your business, you’ll eventually need a professionally designed site. Until that day arrives, free options will suffice.

Don’t forget to use the Eight Things Every Author Website Needs post for reference!

Eight Things Every Author Website Needs

Consider this a cheat sheet for constructing your author website:

One: A Home Page with your latest title on it.

Your cover art should be the first thing a reader sees. You can put other things on the home page, below your main image. But don’t use a sidebar. Those have gone extinct, for a very good reason. There’s no such thing as a sidebar on a mobile phone.

Two: A Contact page

This is probably the most important page on your site, and the one that far too many authors skip. Far too many. If you’re afraid of spam, don’t list your email address. Use a contact form instead. But you must give readers and reviewers a means of contact. And you can’t just send them to your social media accounts. Let those who wish to reach you have a professional way of doing so.

Three: A Bio or “About” Page

Preferably your photo is on this page, to humanize your author presence. Please feel free to keep the bio very short. And leave out this sentence: “I’ve been writing since the third grade when I produced my first book about a lion who ate a dragon.” It’s cute, but it’s done too often.

Four: A page for each book

If you have a 40 title backlist, you can stack these onto series pages instead. Your book pages should link from the main navigation! Don’t make your readers follow you through a rabbit warren to read about your books.

Five: Buy Links to Multiple Vendors

Immediately after your book’s description you should have bright, tidy links to purchase the book at several vendors. You do not want to live in a world with only one bookstore. So take the time to do this right.

Six: A Newsletter sign-up

Your author newsletter is your bread and butter. Yes, your first ten subscribers will all be blood relatives. Starting is hard. But it’s so important to your career

Seven: News/Events/Blog

You don’t have to blog regularly. But you need a spot to post updates. If you don’t like the word “Blog” call it News or Events.

Eight: Privacy Disclosure

This can be linked in the footer, but it should appear somewhere. There are rules about collecting email addresses and using cookies. Your privacy page is where you disclose how you intend to use your newsletter list, and whether or not you have affiliate links on your site.

And…that’s it! Those are the basic ingredients. Go forth and link your books to the world!

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: Where is your 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) 

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 latest 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 Author Website Looks bad on Mobile Devices.

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?

Should I use jpg or png images on my site?

Crisp images without sacrificing loading speed? You're living the dream.

Crisp images without sacrificing loading speed? You're living the dream.

Two of the most common file types for images on websites are .png and .jpg. So which one should you use?

The quick answer is: .jpg, unless you have a website background color that's not white.

Okay, but why?

In general, jpg images have a smaller file size. I just made two 3D book cover images for a client's site. They're identically sized at 841x1190. The jpg is 276k and the png is 904k. In other words, the png is three times larger.

We want your site to load lickety-split. So The smaller file size is crucial.

So, then, why do pngs even exist, you might ask? Two reasons. First, a png can handle a transparent background. If you float a png over a colored background, it will look great. If you want to try to match an irregularly bordered jpg to a website background, it's tricky and it will probably look poor when you're done.

The second reason is clarity. Png is the crisper file type. You know when you're scrolling through Facebook and you see hazy parts of an image? That's poor jpg compression. 

I used to use png files all the time because I was overly worried about that. But if you're exporting jpgs from a good piece of software (like Photoshop or even PicMonkey) you can control the quality of your jpg. The highest quality jpg file will look great and will always be smaller than a png.

You have a need for speed, trust me. There's nothing that looks more amateurish than a website which makes its readers wait. Don't be that author. There is data to show that slow-loading websites have higher bounce rates. We don't want that.

How low can we go?

If you're worried about loading time, you can use a sneaky tool called JPGmini. It's a piece of software that, through voodoo I can't explain to you because I don't know how it works, makes the file size of a high quality jpg even smaller. Give it a try! And keep those loading times fast.

EDIT TO ADD: Now there’s a tool called Squoosh! It also makes photos smaller, and it’s free at the time of this writing. Squoosh offers even more control over quality factors than JPGmini. It’s quite amazing.

How to Give Away a File in Exchange for an Email Signup


Hi friends! It's fairly standard practice these days to reward readers who sign up for our newsletters with bonus content. This post will cover a couple of technical details on how to do that.

Note: this tutorial assumes that you already have a signup form which begins the process of sending the reader's name to your Email Service Provider (like Mailchimp.)

Know Your Audience, Choose Your Format

If you're giving away a full length book to an audience that's technologically savvy (like, say, romance readers) you might wish to give out an epub or mobi (Kindle) file. So your first step would be to prepare those files.

If you're giving away a shorter document, a pdf should work just fine. Format your document in preparation for sharing it.

Host the File

Whether you wish to make that file available on your Squarespace website or via your email service provider (like Mailchimp or Mailerlite) you will need to host it somewhere. Why? Because email service providers (ESPs) do not like attachments

Since all ESPs are a little different, I'll show you how to host the file on your own site. Go to a private page that you manage and add a link to the text somewhere. Instead of pasting in an external link, choose the "files" option instead. You will be offered the chance to upload your file. 

Save your changes to the edited page.

NOTE: Here is the Squarespace Tutorial for Uploading and Managing Files.

Grab Your Link

Now you're ready to link to your hosted file. Hover over the link you made and right click to copy that link. If you should paste this copied link into a browser window, you will immediately be offered your own file as a download. See how that works? The link will be a squarespace link, and it will be long and ugly. But we don't care! That's our file's new home address.

Here's my example! I just created this link and uploaded a photograph to it.

The link is ugly when I right-click-save-link it. It looks like this:

There's an even uglier version if I paste it into a browser window. Then it's: So try to grab the first version with a right click!

Add the Link to Your ESP (Mailchimp Example)

Since all ESPs are a little different, you will have to decide where the file link goes. In Mailchimp there are two good spots, and using both of them is a viable option. You probably want to hand over your bonus content after the reader clicks to confirm their subscription, right? Therefore: 

1. Go to Lists > (your list) > Signup Forms > General Forms and choose Confirmation Thank You Page from the dropdown menu. You will see the thank you page, and you can add your link in the body of text you find there. (Click here to download my story, etc!)

2. Go to Lists > (your list) > Signup Forms > General Forms and choose Final Welcome Email from the dropdown menu. Add a sentence about your freebie and the link here as well.

Note: Mailchimp will actually host your file for you if you wish. When you're editing the content, add a link. When you're editing your form/confirmation email, highlight some text. Choose the link icon from the style editor and when the link-adding popup appears, change the dropdown menu from "web address" to file and upload right there. 

Other ESPs

I'm using Mailerlite these days, and it allows me to shut off the double opt-in. So my bonus content goes into an automation that begins immediately upon signup. 

If you get a lot of newsletter signups and readers are having trouble opening your files on their own devices, you can use a service like Instafreebie or Book Funnel to handle the delivery. Both are pay services.