Late last year I started a feature called Pay It Forward Friday where I feature a different author every week. As it says at the top of the post each week, it’s my way of thanking that author for something they’ve done that has made a difference to my life–either professionally or personally. It may be as simple a gesture as IMing or emailing me to check in on me because they know I’ve been struggling the past year. Or it may be they’ve given me some advice either online or in person. For others, they’ve taught a course I’ve taken part in or written a post on their own blog or on a group we both belong to so they may never know that I’ve read it or how they’ve helped me.
I don’t do it for thanks or to weasel my way into their life in expectation of special consideration later. It’s just my way of … well, paying it forward and letting those people know they’ve made a difference to my life.
I don’t tell them in advance because I worry that they will think I’m looking for something from them. And because sometimes people will try to take control and ask for a different format or want to write a special post and that, for me, takes away my gesture. It’s just something I prefer to do quietly in the background with hopes that when they discover my post it’ll make their day better too.
I’m still refining the format–a short comment from myself (I don’t always do that–usually those are the authors I haven’t met in person but they’ve posted something on a loop that I’ve found helpful), the author’s bio, their newest book, and a “coming soon” title if they have one. Which means I have to go find all that information. Which means I go to the authors’ own website for the bio, blurbs, covers, social media links, etc. Because that’s where I go as a reader–and all that information should be easily found in one place.
But that’s where things get difficult. Because what I’ve discovered is some of the authors I want to feature have let their websites languish. Sometimes for more than a year. They haven’t featured their latest books–there are no covers, no bios, maybe not even a mention of the title, for books that I KNOW have been out for months. Some sites have all the books jumbled together so I can’t tell what order to read them in.
If I can’t easily find that information, the reader can’t either. So I made a comment on Facebook — and a reviewer commented that she found the same issue:
…the problem with author blogs and facebook is this. If i want to know about a book a series or a author i am going to google them. I’m looking for your website because i want to know more about you and your books than i can find anywhere else. If i am already a fan i will probably follow you other places. Right now for the past hour i have been checking into a new to me author. I requested a book of hers from Netgalley but only after spending some time on her website. From there i clicked from there to Amazon and Goodreads to look at connecting books etc. I always start with the author website though. Maybe that’s not the norm but it is what i do. Leah even though i follow you here i still would go to your website for info.
So here’s my little nudge to authors everywhere. Keep your website up to date — check:
- Latest book release should be easily found–preferably on the front page or the side bar*.
- Coming Soon — it could be on its own page, or on the front page, but somewhere, easily found, should be a note about what books the readers should be looking for in the future. Especially if you have a series. It’s a way of creating buzz for that book.
- Your backlist — if you write series, please please please have an easily-found reading order list. My menu lists the books in the order they should be read, there’s a notation on each book page to indicate which number they are in the series, but I also have a reading order list for my series in my FAQ and on the series’ main page so readers can find it in multiple places.
- Covers/Blurbs: each book doesn’t have to have its own page, but you really need to include the cover art, the back-cover copy aka the blurb which explains in 100 or so words what the book is about–that’s what makes a reader decide whether or not they want to read it. Not to have a blurb, especially for a new release is … well, it kills my interest in looking further.
- Buy Links: If you have a book available for pre-order or that is already available, include links where they can buy the books. Readers are looking for the easiest way–the fewest number of clicks. Why make it difficult for them by making them have to leave your website and head to Amazon and search out your book…because the more hoops you make them jump through, the more likely they are going to get distracted and not actually get to your book on Amazon. Because you know, squirrel! Before I switched to managing my own website, my then web-mistress refused to include any buy links other than to my publisher. Whose brand new site was…well, shaky at best. On release day (this was prior to Amazon allowing pre-orders) I got emails from readers who were frustrated because they couldn’t find a link on my website to where they could find it on Barnes & Noble or Amazon. (Because it was erotic, it was not searchable from the front page on Amazon.) And the single link that she did post, was buried on the page so people couldn’t even find the link to my publisher. So yes, readers do use those links. Don’t piss them off.
Which buy links? None of my books are Amazon exclusive, so I include links to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo, Scribd, and my publisher–Samhain, Carina or Smashwords too. Occasionally I’ll also include links to the various international sites to make it easier for my international readers. (And full disclosure, I am an Amazon affiliate, so I add my affiliate links to my Amazon links and make a little extra money that way.) Do I have to do all that? No, but you should have at least one or two of the big sites because we all know that a lot of books are impulse buys. I’ve bought a fair share of books at 3 a.m. from my phone thanks to links on authors’ websites or FB or wherever the book has been mentioned. One click buying is far too tempting at 3 a.m. (or 3 p.m. for that matter.) Make it even more tempting. 😉
- Delete outdated information — one site I went to this week had a big red graphic at the top of her landing page announcing how the author was planning on attending a conference in the spring of 2014. Seriously? She hadn’t looked at her website in that long and thought, “hey, I need to get that updated”? Yes, you can keep that information if you want — I have a news archive, not that I think anyone looks at it anymore, but you certainly don’t need to keep outdated information front page attention. It makes you look unprofessional.
- Add new information–like your appearances. If you’re going to a conference like RT or RAGT, those conferences costs a lot of money to attend, and you’re going primarily to connect with readers, so why not let your readers know you’re going to be there so they can put you on their “I want to meet” list? You could also include information and links to any Facebook parties you’re attending, or blog hops or contests that are running. But don’t forget to remove them when the date is past
Make sure you have these too, but they should be something you can set up once and basically forget about.
- Bio/About — your bio doesn’t have to be long, and it’s not being used on a curriculum vitae so don’t make it all formal. It can be short and funny and personal. But tell us something about yourself. You don’t have to include a professional head shot (though if you do include a photo, it should be one that’s in focus and has good lighting.) You don’t have to have a photo at all–heaven knows I cringe at the idea of having my photograph taken, and there are some authors who have to keep their identity private to protect their family or their day jobs. But there should be something about you for the reader to discover and connect with.
- Social Media Links — where can readers find you on Facebook or Twitter? Do you have Instagram, Pinterest or Tumblr accounts they might want to follow? Are you on Goodreads? (These are simple because once they’re set up on your website, you can pretty much forget about them.)
- Mailing List — make it easy to find. Like the bio and social media links, once it’s set up on your website, you shouldn’t need to touch it again for years.
- Make sure your website is mobile-friendly*. So many of us surf on our phones and tablets these days, that you need to make sure people can access or read your site from various platforms. There was one (non-author) site I went to whose coding was entirely done in Flash, which was completely unreadable on my iPhone. Considering the number of iOS devices out there, their web designer should have been shot. Naturally they lost the sale I had been intending to make. I have a WordPress website but the template I use puts the sidebar at the bottom of the page so it loses something when it switches to a mobile device. To get around that, I use a plug-in that recognizes that the reader is using a mobile device and changes it so they can access it properly..
Now I can hear you rolling your eyes and complaining about how much time that’s going to take away from your writing. Yes, it can. But if you’ve set up your website properly, it shouldn’t take much time or energy to copy the blurb and buy link information to an email for your web mistress — you probably have all that information set up for those Facebook parties you attend, and for the posts you’re doing for the blog hops. So, once a month, or less often depending upon your release schedule, simply cut and paste the information into an email to your webmistress. If you don’t have a webmistress? Set up a day a month to update your website yourself.
Yes, readers can look on Amazon or Barnes & Noble’s sites for your books but a) most times it’s exceedingly difficult to find the reading order of a series on Amazon; b) your newest book may not be at the top of the list; c) if you write erotic romances, your book may not be searchable from Amazon’s front page search engine. So that link becomes ever so important.
And while we’re talking about Amazon — if you haven’t already, set up an Amazon Author page for yourself. That way the reader can find all your books in one place, and find a little bit about you — and don’t forget they can click on that all-important “follow” button for updates on newest releases. But please, don’t rely on only that page instead of having a website.
And for those who say “but I have it on my blog”, especially for those whose blogs are not attached to their website? I’m not jumping around to multiple sites to find the most up-to-date information and most readers won’t either. I go directly to your website. And if it’s not up-to-date, I’m not going to waste hours of my writing time searching for your information to give you free publicity.
It’s not rocket science, people. Writing is a business–so be professional and let your website reflect that professionalism.