July 12th, 2021

5 Reasons Why Authors Need a Website

by Lisa Norman

We've all heard that writers need a website, but why?

When I ask writers why they want a website, they say:

  • so I can look professional
  • so I can get a book deal
  • to sell more books
  • because my coach/agent/publisher said so.

When we don't know why we need a website, it is hard to use it effectively. A website isn't supposed to be something you put on a shelf and dust off occasionally. A website is a powerful sales tool that helps move an author toward success.

Let's start with an understanding of how marketing works. Most people show these stages as a funnel, but I'm thinking they work a lot better as a wheel.

Marketing Wheel for Authors

Discovery

Marketing starts with discovery. No one will buy your book or become your fan if they don't know you exist.

Websites are only a tiny piece of the discovery stage of marketing, but they still play a role.

A potential fan is thinking, "Hmm. What should I read today?" They're probably a little bored, looking for something distracting.

Maybe they find a blog post you wrote on a topic that interests them. Maybe a friend shares something on social media. Maybe they see your ads.

However they find you, they either go out and buy your book directly from a vendor or they come to your website to learn more about you and what you have to offer. Either path can generate sales and a following for you.

Consideration

Here is where your website starts to show its power.

At this stage, our fan is thinking, "I wonder if this writer is any good?"

They're looking for your style promise.

How will they find that on your website? Your writing style shows up in your blog posts, your About Me page, and even in your privacy policy! You may have a downloadable short story on your site that they can read and get intrigued. You may showcase fantastic covers that will catch their interest and drag them to your sales pages. You'll have awesome blurbs.

Your style promise is a key part of your author brand.

Something important: you want to show your style and your brand in all of your sparkling glory. If these folks aren't going to be your true fans, they should know it right away and leave. Don't waste their time or your marketing dollars on people who aren't going to be fans.

You don't need to appeal to everyone. You want your website to scream what you are about so that your people will be attracted and those that are not your people will be filtered out.

This consideration stage should lead them to your sales pages.

Conversion

Conversion is a marketing term that just means they buy the book. Bonus points if they read it.

Conversion can also be signing up for your mailing list.

In this stage, the potential fan is becoming an actual fan. They are interacting with your writing and deciding that you are someone they want to know more about.

They like what they see in your writing, and they want more.

Relationship

As a fan finishes your book and closes it, they are thinking, "Wow. That was really good. I wonder..." They will bring their questions to your website.

Hopefully, they'll find their answers!

Ideally, they'll find not only answers, but an invitation to connect and become a true fan.

You want to clearly invite these fans into a relationship.

Technologically, this means they sign up for your newsletter so they can be notified when your next book comes out. They may also follow you on social media, but don't forget to get them on your mailing list!

Your newsletter (also called your "list") is the most important sales tool you have.

Statistics show that more books are sold through direct emails than through any other channel. You want to fill that list with true fans. You want fans that will be so excited about your new book that they'll race to pre-order, tell their friends, and then eagerly leave reviews.

A side note about mailing lists: it isn't the size of the list that controls the power. A small mailing list with loud, true fans can outperform a huge list with bored people who aren't actually your fans. This is why giving away a Kindle or some other prize can build a list that then doesn't generate sales. You want true fans who love you on your list.

This is a relationship that you will honor and protect. Give gifts to your fans: short stories, drawings, sneak peeks. One of the most amazing gifts that you can give your fans is the connection to you. An email from a favorite author can make someone's day. If they reach out through comments or reply to an email, do your very best to respond.

Don't know what your fans want? With a relationship like this, you have the ability to ask them. Give them what they want.

Retention

Fans who feel respected and valued want to stay around.

Everyone is busy. If you send out a newsletter that doesn't have anything in it for a true fan, they'll unsubscribe and spend their time watching Netflix. Never bore your list!

Engage with these fans, build a following, and they'll want to interact with you and your books more. Better yet, they'll want to bring their friends to the party.

Want to find more fans? You want more people like the ones you have. You may not know those people, but your fans do!

Showcase fan fiction and fan art. Create polls to give your fans a sense of connection to your next book. Bring them into the process. Make them feel valued and cherished.

A fan at this stage is not just thinking, they're speaking. They're telling their friends, "Hey, I found this great author you should check out!"

And that is how retention leads back to discovery.

Get this wheel spinning and it will become self-sustaining.

Why your Coach / Agent / Publisher wants you to have a website

People who are invested in your career, especially those whose income is tied to yours, want to know that you understand marketing and are ready to become more than just a small part of the process. They want you to show them that your brand is going somewhere!

I was at a convention, sitting next to an agent who was drooling over the website samples I had on display. He said, "If I could convince my authors to do one thing, it would be to build a website like these."

Own Your Space

One last tip about websites. Only on an author's website do you have complete control over the content and your customer interactions.

Social media companies can change the rules and interfere with your interactions with your fans. Sales behemoths can control your access and ability to advertise.

But on your website, you are building a home for your fans, a gathering place. You can lock out the trolls. You make the rules because this is your home on the internet.

Make it welcoming. Make it entertaining.  Make it yours.

Do you have an author website? What do you like and dislike about it? Do you have any questions for Lisa? Please ask them down in the comments! (And we hope you're as excited as we are that Lisa is one of our new regular contributors!)

*  *  *  *  *  *

About Lisa

Lisa Norman's passion has been writing since she could hold a pencil. While that is a cliché, she is unique in that her first novel was written on gum wrappers. As a young woman, she learned to program and discovered she has a talent for helping people and computers learn to work together and play nice. When she's not playing with her daughter, writing, or designing for the web, she can be found wandering the local beaches.

Lisa writes as Deleyna Marr and is the owner of Deleyna's Dynamic Designs, a web development company focused on helping writers, and Heart Ally Books, an indie publishing firm. She teaches for Lawson Writer's Academy.

Upcoming Classes

Top Photo by Marcel Friedrich on Unsplash

33 responses to “5 Reasons Why Authors Need a Website”

  1. KS Jones says:

    Great post, Lisa! I see that you have classes on websites and social media for authors coming up soon, but do you have a recommendation or two that you can share today for an easy-to-use website builder, and maybe a link to some of your favorite (easily built) author websites?

    • Lisa Norman says:

      Hi, KS!

      Great question. I recommend avoiding the common "builders" because many of them are a one-way trap and as your website and your presence grows and evolves, you could wind up needing to scrap the whole thing and start over because it won't do what you need. At that point - where you are on a growth trend - you don't want to disrupt the trend.

      I recommend WordPress. Use a solid free theme like Astra or Bard if you want simple. Kadence is my current favorite if you want something a bit nicer looking without all of the headaches. Treat the Appearance->Customizer section for any theme like a set of interview questions you might answer for a developer. If you don't know the answer - just leave it set to the default. That'll get you something solid.

      Use WordPress's Gutenberg editor (the built in one) to design your content. You'd be surprised what beautiful things you can do with it.

      Don't try to get fancy when you are first starting out.

      I hate picking favorites for examples, but here's one I was just working with the author on that came out nice. We replaced her old theme with Kadence in under 2 hours.
      https://sylviekurtz.com/

      Not one of mine, but showcasing a clean theme and built with WordPress: https://www.deankoontz.com/

      Here's another one that my company built: https://danajsummers.com/ <- that's Kadence, too.

      With WordPress, as your site grows, you can add new functionality and redesign the look without losing your valuable ranking factors and having to start over.

      A lot of people make a living making WordPress seem difficult. Developers like to encourage elaborate designs that are confusing to work with, but that's not what WordPress is supposed to be about. As an author, you need to be able to update your own site, and WordPress was designed originally to be a blogging platform. Once you have it set up simply and cleanly, you should be able to update it without any hassles.

  2. Great post, Lisa. I love my website; it's growing my email list--which has stayed steady at about 300 for several years--that is my challenge! I'm a memoirist without a book (or a book deal) yet, and my brand is recovering people-pleaser. My website focuses equally on my writing and on people-pleasing. Do you have any specific recommendations for someone in my shoes? Thanks!

    • Lisa Norman says:

      Thanks, Karen! I do have some suggestions.

      First - check and make sure that the relentless technological change of the last few years hasn't caused something to go wrong. Test your email signup forms, make sure you have an SSL certificate and that your site works well on phones. If all of that is true, THEN...

      I'd guess something is going on with your discovery phase. You've collected all of the people in your immediate circle and the existing fans aren't driving your discovery. So think about two different areas:
      1) are you connecting well with those 300 people so that they feel like bringing new people in? Are you giving them what they want in your blogs?
      2) how can you reach new people?

      I'd do some research on what brings people to your website. Listen to your existing fans about what they'd like to see. Remember: this is all about what they want. (Hm. Thinking you may need to be cautious here with the people pleasing aspect!) One site that you could use to see your statistics is Neil Patel's Ubersuggest: https://neilpatel.com/ubersuggest/ or if you have Google Analytics, look and see what is going on there.

      Then look at where people go to talk about recovering as a people pleaser. You might find an audience on Medium, for example. Take your best posts and update them to make them more powerful. Consider sharing a few for free on Medium with a link back to your website.

      Focus on creating content that people will share around. If you are stuck for ideas, find a forum somewhere that people are talking about this topic. Look for a question someone has asked that gets lots of feedback. Write a blog post with that question as the title.

      Think about what your fans will share with their friends...and then give them that.

      • Jenny Hansen says:

        I love everything about this answer, Lisa. Thank you!

        • Lisa Norman says:

          I love questions like this one, because the situation is fairly common. Lots of fun ideas to get things going again. I think one of my future posts will be more about this topic.

      • Thanks Lisa! I've done some of what you suggest, including posting on Medium, but I never looked for a people-pleaser community there - great idea! Also, I'm active in a FB group, and I love your suggestion about looking for an active thread and then using the title as a blog. I love these concrete steps- thanks again!

        • Lisa Norman says:

          Karen - great! Have fun! You might also look for other communities that share long-form content. You might find people on Reddit as well. Have fun and watch to see when you start connecting with new people again. The change could be slow, but once you start connecting, you should see your wheel start turning again.

  3. Kris says:

    Hi Lisa,

    Making a website can be a hairy, daunting, beast. I'm happy you added your upcoming classes to the post. Many authors would appreciate a helping hand with this! (I've had help from several savvy writers to make my website happen.)

    Thanks!
    Kris

    • Lisa Norman says:

      I'm a big believer in empowering authors to handle their websites on their own. I've worked with authors from 15-90 on their websites. Most of my students have some level of tech anxiety. It is always a joy to watch someone who is completely terrified move into a position of power and control. Then it's just step back and see what they do with their shiny new toy!

  4. Sherry Gomes says:

    I'm most concerned about my website. I am blind, and the person I hired to set up my site is also blind. That's great because I know the site is fully accessible. But it's not great because we can't see so uploading images, photos, covers and all is tricky. We can't see if they are formatted well or placed in a good spot and so forth. I know how crucial a site is. I've looked up many favorite authors on the web, but I need it to be both accessible and visually pleasing. It's such a frustrating dilemma! This article was interesting and helped me think more about my site. thank you.

    • Lisa Norman says:

      Hi, Sherry - I want to encourage you. While images are important, they can slow down a site, and that can affect your rankings with search engines. Search engines are also blind, by the way. From what I've heard, people who are blind design sites that rank extremely well. For a while, I worked with an associate who was blind - most powerful SEO guru I've ever worked with.

      You're focused on content, and that is a huge factor in a powerful website. Team up with a sighted friend to just glance over your website periodically and to let you know if anything is unappealing, then forget about the visual aspect and create content. Your website will be amazing!

      Here is an old article on a powerfully designed website (the article is one of my favorites for bloggers, but it is the style of the website that I'm referencing...):
      https://alistapart.com/article/writeliving/

      A List Apart is an online magazine for web developers and people who love the internet. If anything COULD be over-the-top, this one would be it. The design is simple and clean, elegant. The visual focus is on the words.

      Writers can get distracted by the visual elements of their websites and forget about the content. Content is the most important part of any website. I'd rather see a clean basic website that showcases a writer's style than a fancy one with poor content.

      You've got this.

      • Sherry Gomes says:

        Thank you so much, Lisa! I've been told so often as my release date nears, that it's all about visuals. It's been stressing me out, because it seems to me content and info should be most important. You've encouraged me greatly.

        • Lisa Norman says:

          Sherry - enjoy A List Apart. When you share on social media, the featured image is the one that gets attention in the ever-scrolling feed of doom. That may be what people are thinking of when they say it is about the visuals. But a really stellar catch line can work as well. A clean website will perform better. A List Apart uses one cartoon for each post. Teaming up with someone to help you get that perfect featured image MIGHT help, but isn't required. Learn more about the people who will love your book. Learn what they love and what attracts them. If you do need to team up with someone, don't sell yourself short. You'll "see" a website differently, and your suggestions on a sighted friend's website will be every bit as valuable (if not more so!) than their suggestion of an image here and there.

  5. Ellen says:

    Hi Lisa!

    I began my author website before I had any idea what I was doing. I am not technically inclined and am super good at breaking things. LOL

    Fortunately I've had some help along the way so the site doesn't took too kludgie. By sheer luck it looks good on cellphones.

    Your classes look promising and the post is full of helpful advice.

    Thanks!

    • Lisa Norman says:

      Hi, Ellen - people ask me all the time how I learned to fix things so well. My answer is: I break things...then I need to fix them! I'm REALLY good at breaking things, so I've had to get good at fixing them.

      If that site looks good on cellphones - celebrate! Enjoy your site!

  6. John Peragine says:

    Nice primer. I don't usually convert sales through my site. I use ads to do direct sales, because let's face it- most people buy through the big A. I don't like it, but I also don't like to reinvent the wheel. I go to where people buy books- rather than try to pull them to another site. I use Amazon Associate links to make a few more dollars from my adverts- so even if I don't convert them to a sale of my book- anything else they do on Amazon for the next day or two I make money on. At one time I thought author sites were important- and even hired two different companies to build a site- but I never made a ROI on those investments. So I just built my own. So while I have one, it has not really generated sales as I am merely a blip in an ocean of other people trying the same thing. Question- to anyone out there- where do you buy books? Do you usually look for an author's site to buy from or do you go to a bookstore or the big A?

    • Lisa Norman says:

      Ah - but where do you have your list? That all-important email list converts to sales of your next book without the ad spend. Your website can absolutely send people to A or anywhere else to BUY - but where are they going to connect with YOU? How are you building that connection? Do you own it? Or are you at the mercy of A or Facebook?

      I've worked with a number of authors who didn't own their list, didn't hold onto it. One bad situation at the platform they'd chosen and they were starting over from zero. Just a thought.

      In the end - what works for you is the BEST way.

      • John Peragine says:

        Yes I do have a list - I built it through ads and through Bookfunnel. I have lists on Goodreads and NetGalley as well. I'm converting at a 100-300% of my ad spend right now. I also go to live events (conventions) and bookstores to sell as well. My best sales are at the conventions as I can talk and talk right on the spot- I also can then add them to my mailing list. Even after those events- I see little traffic to my website but a large influx to my FB, Twitter and Insta. I can more directly interact with them there then I can off a website. What has been helpful as far as a website are people asking for ghostwriting and editing services. Although it is still smaller in comparison to connections to LinkedIn. Also I use digital download cards and sell those (or give them away)- a person has to give me there email and name to download my book- which of course is better than Kindle.

  7. Thanks, Lisa,
    I like the way you break this down. I have a blog and am in the process of moving to more of an author website. I like the marketing wheel- it makes a lot of sense to me! I have been on wordpress.com, but believe I need of merge to the .org to do any sales. The .com is looking to be a big expense if I upgrade it to anything more than a simple blog, like to add the ability to collect an email list. I very much appreciated the look at some of the themes you've worked with and how the sites turned out.

    • Lisa Norman says:

      Well...to be clear, I didn't do Dean Koontz's site! It is always hard to pick my favorite children to show off.

      You're right that staying with WordPress.com - which is more of a hosting platform - will be expensive. You'll find it cheaper to buy hosting somewhere else. The good news is that you can export all of your content from your WordPress.com blog and import it into wherever you put your WordPress.org site.

      If you're looking for a solid inexpensive option, check out A2Hosting. I'm *not* an affiliate with them, but like their pricing and their options. Many of the lower cost hosting companies have hidden feels like SSL and Email - A2Hosting's basic plan includes those things and has good support as well.

  8. Jenny Hansen says:

    As you know, I am a huge fan of a good website. I'm an even bigger fan of authors having control over their OWN website, so they aren't reliant on someone else for site updates, blog posting, etc. I too love how you've broken it down here and I'm delighted you will be posting with us whenever you have some time!

  9. dholcomb1 says:

    I have an empty blog space and a domain. I have yet to combine them because I'm not published widely.

    denise

    • Lisa Norman says:

      Denise - Do you intend to stay small? Then you're right - you may not need the power. But if you do decide to grow, you might want to consider starting before you need the strength. I've seen authors wait until they are ready to launch and then they find out they should have started their marketing journey about 3 years before the book comes out.

      Some people can carve out a strong niche audience and do quite well without the work of a website. It all depends on how widely you want to market your books.

      • dholcomb1 says:

        I hope I don't remain small, but I also have a finite amount of money to throw at it. I have a strong SM presence, so I hope that will bridge the gap when the time comes.

        • Lisa Norman says:

          Take a look at the stats on sales from social media vs sales from a writer's email list. The email list is much more powerful. There are ways that you can start your list without having a site - Mailchimp's free plan, for example.

          I'm curious about what you meant by an empty blog space. If you're paying for that spot, it shouldn't cost more to use it... And...there are ways to save money if you need to do it on a budget. But you may just mean that you've reserved the domain but not bought hosting. And if that is the case - WELL DONE. Saving that domain for when you are ready to use it is smart.

          I'll share my #1 tip for budget conscious authors. You can team up with a couple of other authors and share the cost of hosting. Most web hosting plans that will support more than 1 website can support a few authors together. For example, A2Hosting's "drive" plan costs $12.99/month regularly, with the sale price at $3.99. If 4 authors work together, you can get it for $1/month for 3 years. There's even a thing called WordPress multisite - where you set up 1 WordPress install and it runs many websites. I have about 30 on my own network right now. Everyone who can chips in, and we have a premium server at a reasonable price for all involved.

          There are ways - even on a tight budget.

          But having the time to set it up is often more of a constraint.

  10. Jeanne Kern says:

    I just finished Lisa's class and built a website--still somewhat under construction. I am the poster child for Someone Who Knows Nothing, and she was wonderful at explaining and beyond helpful with one-on-one help and guidance. Anyone thinking about one of her classes--stop thinking and sign up immediately. She is a goddess.

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