In 1913, when twenty-three years old Arthur Wynne created the first crossword puzzle to include in the Christmas edition of New York World he had no idea it was going to be so popular. His first puzzle was nothing like today’s crossword puzzles, but it was still very challenging and engrossing.
But the editors of the New York World didn’t like it. After a few months, when they tried to drop it, readers were so hostile that not only the newspaper had to stick with the puzzle but to make it a permanent feature.
For the next ten years, if you wanted to solve a crossword, you had to buy “The New York World” until one day Richard L. Simon’s aunt wanted a book of crossword puzzles for her daughter. Richard was a publisher. He knew no such book existed. But he saw the opportunity. He negotiated a deal with New York World and bought their best puzzles at $25 a pop and published them in a book form. The book sold 300,000 copies by end of the year.
Sometimes those in business can’t see the obvious just like the editors of the New York World. The publishers are advising the writers to create a website and writers are obliging by creating a static site. Both are failing to see the purpose and potential of an author’s website.
Authors need to have an online presence, full stop.
In today’s world, an author exists because he has a website. But an author’s website is not just a static page with his picture, bio, and the list of his books. An author’s website is a marketing machine. It is the engine room where all the action happens. It is his portfolio, a live resume, a bookstore, a signing venue, a classroom, a sketchbook, and an online diary all put together.
Writers have traditionally stayed away from the publishing and marketing side of things. Many writers are willing to collect hundreds of rejection slips from traditional publishers rather than learn the marketing skills and sell their work.
For some reason there, even in this age of self-publishing and online marketing, the thought of going indie is inconceivable for many. On the flip side, many marketers are writing books and successfully selling thousands of copies. They know something that writers don’t and traditional publishers are failing to see the potential.
Why traditional publishers are failing to see the potential of the author’s websites.
At first, the traditional publishers were too big to care. Their whole focus was to find a few best-sellers a year which gave them enough cashflow. They would take some risk on new writers but never invest enough time to build them into good writers. The new writers were left to their own devices to keep learning, trying, and if they were persistent enough to come up with something decent to be published.
Then came the internet and along with it the ability to self-publish.
Some authors took risks, learned the ropes, and became successful. But not in enough numbers to be a threat to traditional publishing. The printed books were still the main game and winning awards was the only way the writers got any recognition.
Amazon changed the game completely. Introduction of Kindle, followed by Apple’s iBooks (now called Apple Books) and later on Audiobooks set the stage for a complete change-over to happen within a few years.
In all this chaos publishers didn’t get a chance to understand what was happening around them.
Like the editors of New York World they couldn’t see the potential online marketing. They were still at a point where they were advising their authors to have a website while the self-publishers had a readership in thousands and were selling their books directly to them.
Then the publisher started demanding that authors got to have email lists.
The publishers figured out that if an author has a pre-existing mailing list, a percentage of them will buy the book. But they had no strategy in place on how to help or guide the thousands of writers who were still sending their manuscripts to them and had no websites or mailing lists.
A smart business move for the publisher would to work with the budding writers and help them build an online presence and readership. It takes years for a writer to get good at her craft, and it takes years to build a readership. Both can happen in parallel.
If publishers and writers figure out a way to work with each other, in the long run they both will be able to benefit from each other’s efforts.
An author will benefit from a publisher’s backing in creating an author’s website and know-how on how to build an email list.
And a publisher will benefit from having several writers as their protégés who are not only improving their manuscript but also building a readership.
Let’s figure out what is involved with an author’s website?
There is no shortage of advice on what an author’s website should and shouldn’t have. And if you go around looking at what other authors have got, you are bound to get more confused and likely to give up rather than feeling inspired. Starting from highly technical and interactive J K Rowling’s site to very professional sites of Deen Kontz, John Grisham, Gillian Flynn, and Nora Roberts there is so much to leave a new writer bewildered.
Rather than getting bamboozled by all these well-established writers, as a new writer, if you concentrate on three things, you should be able to self-create a site that is interesting, interactive, and professional enough to start your online presence and build your readership.
The three things you should concentrate on are:
1. Information about you
2. Showcasing your work
3. Interacting with your readers
People want to know you before they want to buy your book.
Even quite lately authors were being advised that people don’t come to your site to read about you, they come there to read about your book. That is absolutely wrong advise. Authors were being told, you are important but your books are more important. It is rubbish.
When you go to a library with an array of books to choose from, which one will you pick to borrow? Usually, the one by an author you already know about. Same way, when you are choosing a book to buy, what is the first thing you read after reading the blurb about the book. The author’s bio.
Of course, people are interested to know more about you. They are after all going to spend the next 2 – 4 weeks reading your book. They want to know who you are, what is your background, how did you come to write that book. They are interested as much in your story as they are in the story of your book.
I follow Elizabeth Gilbert, the writer of ‘Eat Pray and Love, on Instagram. Last week she surpassed one million fans. Every feed she puts on Instagram, and she puts 4 to 5 every week, she gets two to three thousand responses. Her fans are not only interested in whatever she shares about her life but engage with her actively.
Your biography doesn’t have to tell your whole life story. But it needs to tell the truth about you. Even if you write under a pen name, whatever you tell in your bio needs to be honest and true.
Another thing you need to be aware of is that your bio not really about you. It is about your readers. When your reader reads it they should be able to relate to it. My own bio which is just four paragraphs long talks about my struggles with becoming a good writer and how a change of mindset from a martyr to a trickster made writing fun for me. Something each struggling writer can relate to.
The purpose of your website is to showcase your work.
Of course, the first purpose of your website is to showcase your books. You got to give enough coverage to your book on your website. Whenever you publish a new book, you can make it the centerpiece of your website. David Sedaris does it well on his site.
You have a book to sell; you need to make sure people know where to buy it. If a reader visits your site and doesn’t realize immediately that you’re an author with a book to sell, you’re probably doing something wrong. The buttons like “Pre-order now” steer readers to order your book even before it is published.
But your website could also be a place to showcase your work. Austin Kleon the writer of the book ‘Show Your Work’ publishes a post each day on his blog where he showcases whatever art he did that day. All his learning, reading, and writing go on his blog first and then go into his books. He has thousands of fans who are hungry to consume whatever he puts on his website. His is a very simple blog-style site that is easy to maintain but full of great content.
Your blog provides the opportunity to stay in contact with your readers.
It is your interaction with the readers that will get your books sold. A blog is a great medium to be able to do that.
Imagine getting an email from J K Rowlings once a week telling you what she has been up to, how her new book is going, and bits and pieces about her writing process. Maybe she sends you a couple of chapters from her new book. Maybe she wants to enroll a few beta-readers. Wouldn’t you want to be on her mailing list? And when finally her book is ready to be published would you buy it or would you say, Umh…, aah…, I will think about it. Of course, you will buy it. You will even pre-order.
You get the point.
But the biggest problem an author has that they have no clue what to write in their blog each week. And publishers are no help. They are so far behind in this game.
Your blog is a letter you write to your fans each week. There is a number of things you can cover in this letter.
You can tell your readers what are you reading, what intrigued you and what have you learned from it.
You can write reviews and recommend books.
You can teach something. Most of the readers want to become writers themselves.
Weekly emails with bite-size learnings make very welcoming blog posts.
But most importantly you can share your process of creation. People have an insatiable desire to know how real authors work.
But I can’t create and maintain a website. I am not technical.
If you can learn to use a computer, learn to do research on the internet, you can also learn to create and maintain a website and a blog. It is just a piece of software, that is interactive and user friendly like any other. Besides, there is a lot of help available online.
YouTube has thousands of videos that can teach you how to build a website and start a blog. You just need to spend fifteen minutes a day and within a week you will be able to create a decent website using a free template.
Too much to absorb, let me explain it in short.
An author’s website is to an author what a printing press is to a publisher. You ought to have one. But you do not have to be bamboozled by the professional sites of established authors. You can start small. And if you can concentrate on three things initially, you can have a firm mechanism not only to sell your books but build a loyal readership while you are writing them. Those three things are:
1. Your bio
2. Your work
3. Your blog
You have a choice, you can either wait for a publisher to find you or you can make yourself findable.
Publishers are fast becoming a dying breed. Now it is up to each individual author to sell their work. And the starting point for that is a website. Don’t delay it any longer. Sooner you will start, the quicker you will get better.
Still have a lot of questions?
Should I have my name as the domain name or should I create a site based on my book title?
If I hire someone to create a website how much it will cost?
How long it will take me to attract the first 100 readers?
How much time I will need to spend each week to write the blog?
How many articles I need to write a week?
Send me your questions and I will create a Frequently Asked Questions guide for you.
Also, I am working on a step by step guide to build your website for yourself. Stay tuned for that.