By Kellie Larson Murphy
Somewhere along the line, every writer is told they need a platform. Along with that advice comes the knowledge that a platform includes social media and specifically, a website. The April Writers Show hosted a panel including an award-winning author, a publishing industry professional, and a web programmer (acting as moderator) to explain.
Justine Schofield is the development director of Pubslush, a pre-publication platform that offers crowdfunding and pre-order option to authors and publishers. A writer at heart, Justine received her MFA in Creative Writing from Lesley University. A prominent voice in the publishing industry and an advocate for educating authors and publishers about crowdfunding, she is a regular contributor to The Future of Ink, Business Banter, and more.
A.B. (Anne) Westrick is the author of Brotherhood (Viking 2013), winner of the 2014 Jefferson Cup Award, the Housatonic Book Award, the Jane Addams Honor Award, and the Notable Trade Book Award. Brotherhood also made the ALA’s 2014 list of Best Fiction for Young Adults. From 2006-2012, Anne was JRW’s Administrative Director. She lives near Richmond, VA, and blogs once a month about the craft of writing. www.abwestrick.com
Joshua Paul Cane is a web programmer living in Richmond, VA. For nearly 17 years, he has built, redesigned, and consulted on web applications for federal and state agencies, non-profits, businesses, and authors. Not only does he write code, but he writes fiction: humorous short stories and now an urban fantasy novel. He serves as a board member and membership committee chair of James River Writers.
Josh opened the show with the burning question, “Why does an author need a website?”
Justine described the author website as the author’s “calling card to the world.” She added that a good website can be so many things including a way to build your side businesses, editing, etc., calling it an easy way to bring together all you do. Anne added an author website is not just about selling your book, but a way to connect with your readers or other writers. She also pointed out that some of the best sites integrated the author’s passions or interests.
Justine emphasized the need to engage readers, provide them with something of value to create organic connections. The panelists outlined the basics (navigation tabs) recommended on every site:
- Home Page (Welcome and could include a short bio)
- About (A longer bio)
- Books (List all sites where books can be purchased)
- Other Services (if you offer editing, cover design, photography, etc.)
The panelists also suggested that links to other social media should be visible on each of the navigation pages. Additional ideas included a newsletter sign-up, tag clouds, and showing your twitter feed.
Josh asked Anne when she knew she needed a site. Anne admitted she began building her site in 2011 – only after she got a book contract (although Brotherhood would not be published until 2013). Using WordPress, she built her site in “baby steps”, assuming that in the very early stages, “no one is looking.” She took the time to learn how to use it and now only blogs once a month.
After her book was published, some of the focus on her site changed. She streamlined (eliminating busyness) and included content aimed at book and school libraries. She changed her menu to appeal to teachers and included lesson plans.
Building a website before a book is published means it can be tweaked even as publication nears. But Justine pointed out that “Author Branding” can and should start even before publication. She recommends creating a social media presence whether you are traditionally published or self-published. She believes it is helpful in both finding an agent, publisher, and readers. The goal is to create an engaging website and should show your interests. One budding author Pubslush is working with built a website based on her passions, jewelry design and teaching yoga (http://www.stormybarbara.com/). Her website is more about her than her book.
Anne remarked her site was originally text heavy. To create interest, she added visuals. When she struggled with HTML knowledge, she went to CodeAcademy.com and is now proudly creating live links!
Josh, Anne, and Justine screened several sites they liked to inspire the audience. Sites included:
http://isabelallende.com/en/home/16 (Clean and beautiful)
http://www.danbrown.com/#author-section (Intense and effective)
http://abedformyheart.com/ (includes quotes and highlights author as prominent voice for grieving parents)
Angela Miller of A Bed for My Heart worked with Pubslush. Justine explained that Pubslush is crowdfunding for books. It features a flexible funding model with campaigns that typically run from 15-48 days. Usually there are 5-7 reward levels with $1 as the recommended start. Many authors use Pubslush to fund self-publishing or to approach agents and/or publishers. She emphasized how important it is for the bio and Author Q&A to attract an audience on a personal level. The most successful campaigns tell the audience something about who the author is.
Rewards during a campaign can range from book copies (signed or unsigned, digital or print) to any fun idea you might have. One author baked macaroons! Other ideas include a character named for the donor, mugs, posters, or inclusion in a “Discovered By” section in your book. Campaigns typically include a video. This does not have to be professionally prepared and could be a slideshow.
Justine added that Pubslush also offers a premium service that includes but is not limited to brainstorming, personal one-on-one service, blog features, and shoutouts.
There are an assortment of free blog building sites (and some with premium costs under $100), but Josh asked when an author should “go professional”?
Justine believed there was no need until the author can’t do it alone. She recommended starting with the free version, tweaking, checking traffic, etc. She suggested that if an author decides to use a website designer to ask around and get recommendations.
Some website building sites mentioned by the panel and audience included WordPress, Weebly, and Wix.
The full panel was available for a Q&A session that covered questions on search engine optimization, google analytics, mobile-friendly design, copyright, and more. Whether an author already has a website or is just in the planning stages, the panel shared valuable and useful advice. Next month’s show, Writing Virginia into Non-Fiction, will feature Photographer John Henley and Agent Howard Yoon. Looking forward to it!