Thursdays with Amanda: Creating a Website as an Unpublished Author – What Content Do I Include?
Amanda Luedeke is a literary agent with MacGregor Literary. Every Thursday, she posts about growing your author platform. You can follow her on Twitter @amandaluedeke or join her Facebook group to stay current with her wheelings and dealings as an agent.
Last week we talked about why unpublished writers need author websites. The post built a case for the usefulness of maintaining an author site–not only to gather fans, but to entertain agents like myself who may wander over there after reading your query. (Yes, this happens.)
But we didn’t talk much about what sort of content to include. I mean, what is there to say when you don’t have a book? Well, there’s a lot to say…but we’ll get to that later.
When building a website as an unpublished author, you’ll probably have two goals. The first goal would be to provide editors, agents and the publishing world with a better picture of who you are and what you’re about. The second goal would be to utilize your website as a central hub for all of your social media ventures. That way, when you meet someone who is excited about your writing, you don’t have to give them your Twitter handle, Facebook link, blog URL and so on. You just give them your website url, and they’ll be able to navigate your social media channels however they prefer.
This week, let’s focus on Goal #1…
What you should include on your author website…
1. An awesome masthead. The masthead, or banner, is the chunk of pretty design that sits at the top of most websites. If you note Susan Sleeman’s masthead, she not only has her author name front and center, but she has a tagline and really awesome buttons that link to her social media. This is the type of masthead you want! One that pulls people in.
I realize most authors get hung up on taglines, so let’s talk a bit about them. First of all, they don’t need to be Mad Men-quality. They just need to communicate what you write so that visitors who like to read what you write will poke around a bit more. The problem that most face when developing their tagline, is they haven’t really identified WHAT it is they want to write. They may dabble in three separate genres at once. But what they don’t understand is that careers are started by focusing on ONE of those areas. So, my advice is to look at whatever series or project you’re currently working on and/or most excited about, and make that your ‘thing’.(You can always change your tagline after your career picks up and you move on to other themes within that specific genre).
So if you’re writing a romantic comedy set in Texas, your tagline could be like: Emma Cotes – Texas-Sized Romantic Comedies. Or if you write sword and sorcery fantasy, your tagline could be: Jason Fitzpatrick – Putting Dragons Back in Fantasy Since 2005. Or it could be as simple as Jason Fitzpatrick – Sword and Sorcery Fantasy. It doesn’t have to impress. It just needs to attract the right reader.
2. A great author picture. Believe it or not, but most authors are afraid to put their photos online. And it always boils down to one of two reasons: they either feel uncomfortable with the way they look or they’re the type that believe it’s self-serving to promote yourself instead of your work. Please, do yourself a favor…get over yourself and put some freaking photos up! And don’t put up photos that were taken 20 years ago when you were thin. We want the present day you. And we want it in high quality. Not some cropped shot that your niece took when you were at the park.
It probably sounds silly, but being able to see your face can be what an agent or editor needs to feel comfortable with working with you.
3. An informative “About” page. No, we don’t want your life story, but five or so paragraphs of your journey as a writer, mom, physical therapist and whatever else life has thrown you, is very valuable. But before you write, be sure to shed any journalistic qualities you may have picked up in college or in the workplace. Yes, the “about” section is a pure regurgitation of information. But you want it to be fun. You want it to be lively. And you want it to reflect your writer’s voice. Take a look at Ree Drummond’s “About” page for inspiration. It’s one of the best I’ve ever seen.
4. A “Contact” page. Time to drop your online privacy inhibitions! A ‘contact’ page just isn’t complete without contact information. So, you email address is a must.
Now, if you’re a nonfiction writer, then you really need to beef up this page. Include your postal address and even a phone number for booking speaking events.
5. A blog. Ok, so you have the crucial information covered. But where do you get to show your skills? Linking your blog to your website (or even having it live on your site) is a great way to allow industry professionals the chance to scope out your writing talent. I think it goes without saying that if you do this, your blog needs to be updated on a regular basis, it needs to hit your target readership, and it needs to be well-written.
For tips on blogging, check out my 3-part series:
6. A “Where to Find Me” Page (this is for the nonficiton authors). If you write nonfiction, then platform means everything. Speaking and doing radio appearances are great ways to get your name out there to establish yourself as an expert. On your website, keep an updated schedule of where you’ll be. This way, those who want to connect with you in person will get that chance. Plus, you never know when an agent or editor may stop by during your talk.
That’s all I have when it comes to populating your author website. Any suggestions? Questions? Got a website you’d like to share? Or maybe you’d like some tips on your website? Post links, questions and thoughts below!
Hi! Thanks for the great information. I have a question – I am an unpublished children’s writer (MG & YA) and I happen to have the same name as a published YA author and she owns the .com domain. I’m seeing more .net out there but I’m thinking I shouldn’t use my full name as I have already been confused with her. Thoughts? Thanks so much!
Great advice! I’m
an unpublished, aspiring author. I’m working on a fantasy novel and some short
stories/novellas. The novellas seem to straddle two genres: erotic romance and
fantasy. I was toying with two different pen names, one for the erotic romance
novellas, and one for the fantasy novels. Having two different pen names would
probably mean two different websites. I was wondering what strategy you recommend
in this situation in terms of pen names and websites?
As usual, this is fabulous, Amanda.
Thanks for the notes! I’m in a weird spot where my website is owned by the gal who designed it [an old friend I’ve known for over 10 years, but don’t live anywhere near]. Her life went into insane limbo/distress [to the point I was worried for her safety at one point] and now I can’t get a hold of her on a regular basis. She’s fine, just without internet and reliable cell phone service.
I was finally able to get enough info to update the site [sort of] with the help of another [local!] webguru friend, but the ownership expires in a couple weeks and I haven’t been able to get it transferred to me. /sigh/ I’m almost hoping she lets it expire so I can buy it when it’s for sale again [after the spammers get done with it…]When I get it back or buy it new, I have some definite ideas for what to do with it differently. i’ll be showing this blog to my [local!] friend when he helps me redesign it.
And I’ll never not own the domain myself again either…
Thanks for the great advice! I tweaked my own blog/website a bit and already think it’s looking more professional. Love the points about a contact page and making sure the about me has adequate info. Still working on mine, but already better!
This looks really great! You may want to think about being more specific with what you write in your tagline. Also, your author photos fall below the break (people have to scroll down to see them). I’d think about moving them up so that viewers realize there’s some eye candy on that page off the bat.
Thanks for reading! So happy you found it helpful.
Excellent points, thank you! Moved the pics around, just need to figure out what I want my tagline to be. BTW, I look forward to your blog posts each week, always really relevant advice for new writers, much appreciated.
Amanda, this was very helpful. However, if an author writes fiction and nonfiction, should she have separate web sites?
My gut says “yes,” but it depends on what you write. If your fiction and nonfiction appeal to the same readership, then you could get away with having them on the same site.
Questions: How is this done for children’s picture books when you are unpublished and just stepping out into the social media? How much does one share about their work? The idea is there, critiques of manuscripts have been encouraging, and a major publishing house is interested except that there is no agent or platform (hindrance).
It’s really done the same way. If you do artwork, though, you may want to get involved in an online art community like deviantart.com. But other than that, you want a website to give the publisher a feel for who you are as an author…not necessarily to post your work.
If you want to provide content on your site, maybe develop some really short stories for the web only. Offer them as PDFs for people to download and print. Just an idea!
Whoa, I just checked out Susan Sleeman’s masthead. That’s awesome!!
One question I’ve thought a lot about is when it’s time to move toward paying someone to build a site. I’ve built my own until now and it’s worked fine for me, but I know there’s a limit to my html know-how. 🙂 So, I’ve wondered at what point a person should really invest financially and hire an expert…?
Thanks for the tips, Amanda!
I think if any author is serious about their career, they should consider hiring web help. Unless you’re capable of designing, building and maintaining your own site, it just makes sense to have someone else do it. You don’t have to spend a lot of money, either. College students, high school students and even some people who do design/web building on the side can be very inexpensive. I have a web master I could recommend. I don’t think she does design work, but you could ask. Email me if you’d like her info 🙂
This is great! …inspired me to make a couple of changes to my own site, hope it makes a difference!
These were great tips! I have also found the successful websites for persons of interest, author or not, have been along the lines of a self-updating resume. And if you aren’t tech savvy, there are some great website builders out there that have all of the elements mentioned in this post, ready to go, no coding needed.