12 Things To Discuss with Your Website Designer If You Are Going To Build An Author Website

(This article will be helpful to an author that doesn’t know much about the online space, but understands that he/she needs a website and is therefore planning to hire a website designer.)

1) Use a blogging platform such as Blogger (Blogspot), Tumblr, Typepad, or WordPress as the content management system for your site. Using a blogging platform will make it so that you can easily update your own site. A designer can create a unique look for any of these platforms, but the underlying content management system will allow you to easily post your own writing, photos, links, videos and more. Note that the terms “website” and “blog” can be used interchangeably, but that a blog implies more frequent updates.

2) You should look at existing sites that use these systems, and experiment with the platforms on your own before you decide which one to go with. This research and experimentation will help you have a more focused and effective conversation with your potential designer. You may also determine that you don’t even need to hire a designer, as the platform you like is easy enough for you to handle on your own. Note that these blogging platforms are free (Tumblr, Blogger), charge a reasonable monthly or annual fee (Typepad), or simply require you to pay for webhosting (WordPress). Note that if your site needs to be hosted, make sure you discuss any hosting server specifications with your designer before purchasing a hosting plan. WordPress, for example, requires a server that supports PHP and MySQL.

3) You should have a clear understanding of how your site will work in terms of updates and site changes — what will require the help of the designer and how much such help might cost, and what you will easily be able to do on your own. The more you can do on your own, the better.

4) Publishing simple updates, such as posts, news, links, reviews, photos, videos, event information, etc., should be very easy and not require the help of the designer at all.

5) Your site should easily be able to accommodate your future books, or whatever else becomes your primary focus. Obviously you want your current book to be front and center, but you DON’T want to build the site around the look and feel of that book’s cover. Such a look and feel will obviously not work once you’ve moved on to promote your next project.

6) Your site should have RSS capability. This allows users to subscribe to your updates via their readers (such as the Google Reader). This functionality is built-in to the above mentioned blogging platforms. Feedburner is also a good option here.

7) Your site should include “share” links. These allow readers to easily share links to your content in their social networks, such as Twitter, Facebook, Digg, Delicious.com and more. The above mentioned blogging platforms all have various “share” link options and implementations.

8) Your site should feature prominently any social network feeds/links you are a part of – especially your Facebook fan page and twitter acct, should you have them. Other popular social networks you may have profiles on that you might want to feed into/link to on your site: Flickr, Goodreads, Delicious.com, last.fm. In 2010, the web is less about blogging on personal websites, and more about social networks. It’s about making connections (following, friending, fanning, retweeting, commenting), easily sharing information, and participating in online conversation. It goes without saying that you should be participating in some or all of the above — if you are not participating and engaging, you will have very little success online.

9) Your site should feature a mailing list sign-up, so that readers interested in your books and your public goings-on (readings, conferences you are attending, etc) can sign up to your mailing list. Good mailing list services include Google Groups, Godaddy, MailChimp, Campaign Monitor, and Constant Contact.

10) Make sure to put “Buy the Book” links where your book(s) is featured on your site.

11) At the bare minimum, your site should include information about your book, a bio, backlist info, a links section, buy links, and feeds/links to the above mentioned social networks, and the homepage of your site should feature the content that updates most frequently (blog posts, most likely, as well as your twitter feed, if you have a twitter acct). It should be noted that a static site that is infrequently updated, while not totally worthless, is not going to do much for you. Sites need to be active. The more work you put into it, in terms of posting new and interesting content and being active in social networks, the more you will get out of it in terms of reaching and connecting with readers.

12) Your designer should make sure your site is search engine optimized (SEO), so that at the very least, when someone searches for you or your books, your site comes up. The blogging platforms such as WordPress, Tumblr, Typepad and Blogger all have basic SEO elements (such as tagging, categories, title tags, etc) built into their structure, but your designer should have additional strategies to make sure your site is search engine optimized.

Special thanks to Lorissa Shepstone at Being Wicked, Gordon, and Justin for their input on this article.

More Author Resources

Author Resource: The Five Basic Things Authors Should Do Online

Website – You should have an anchor on the web, and the way to do that is to establish a website that is not single-book-centric. Think of your website not as a billboard where you are promoting your most recent book, but as an ongoing project that allows you to connect with colleagues and readers. Use a registrar like GoDaddy to purchase a domain name that you will use for the long haul, most likely your name (and not the title of your current book). Then, use a blogging platform like Blogger (blogspot), Tumblr, Typepad or WordPress to create your website. You may or may not need a designer to help you make the most of these platforms — try them out and see which one works for you. Note that social networks come and go (first there was Friendster and Myspace, now there is Facebook and Twitter… something else will no doubt come along), but your website will remain to anchor your online presence and the various social networks you will engage over time.

Facebook – This is currently the preeminent social network. It’s so preeminent that you probably already have a Facebook profile. You probably do not want to use this to connect with readers — it’s too much of an open book. Your profile should only be open to friends and family, given that those friends and family members might be posting and tagging pictures of you that only friends and family should see. That said, you can create a Facebook fan page to connect with readers. How do you do that? If you don’t know, google it.

More Facebook Resource Articles:
Facebook Pages vs Facebook Groups: What’s the Difference?
5 Elements of a Successful Facebook Fan Page
Mashable’s Facebook Guide Book

Twitter – This is in many ways much more useful than Facebook, as it does not trigger the same public/private concerns. It’s simple to sign up and learn how to use, but be aware that in order for it to be truly effective for you, you need to really put time into it. You can’t just “tweet” out your thoughts, links and news — you’ve got to respond and react to what other people are tweeting. In short, you have to join the conversation. Twitter is not for everyone but it is a very good way to connect not just with readers, but bloggers, book reviewers, journalists, fellow authors, and bookstore owners/buyers/managers.

Twitter Resource Articles:
How To Use Twitter
How to Use Twitter Without Twitter Owning You
Mashable’s Twitter Guide Book

Mailing List – You should have a mailing list that readers can sign up for to updates from you from time to time. It’s a way to be able to connect with your readers to let them know about new books, events, or big news. And you shouldn’t always make it about you — include relevant info unrelated to you that would be of interest to those who have signed up for your mailing list. Good mailing list services include Google Groups, Godaddy, MailChip, Campaign Monitor, and Constant Contact.

Amazon’s Author Central – When people search for you or your book, your amazon book page(s) will show up in the first page of results. Amazon offers you the opportunity to post blog entries or feed your blog into your book pages, as well as update your bio, post videos and more. Full details at Amazon Central — sign up and take advantage of the real estate.

Note that these five things are just the basic foundation of your online presence, and in many ways, the easy part. In 2010, the web is less about blogging on personal websites, and more about social networks. It’s about making connections (following, friending, fanning, retweeting, commenting), easily sharing information, and participating in online conversation. It goes without saying that you should be participating in some or all of the above — if you are not participating and engaging, you will have very little success online.

Also note that establishing all of the above is easy. If your first instinct is to ask for a meeting with someone to get help, or hiring someone to do it for you, you are going about this the wrong way. The best way to begin is to simply try to figure it our yourself — that way, you can truly grasp how it works and more importantly, how it can work best for you. And if you have questions, the most effective way to get the answers you need is to “Google” it. Most likely, someone has written and posted a step-by-step tutorial to show you exactly what you need to know. Of course, there is no “one-source” for information about how best to handle your online presence. But if you understand and engage the basics, and keep working to grow your knowledge, the easier it will be for your to figure things out and take advantage of all the cool things going on in the online space. When you see something or hear about something you think you should be doing, do a search for it online — you will often find a quick tutorial explaining how it works, how to implement it, and how best to use it.

More Author Resources

This Should Go Do Down On Your Reading List

You better write a darn good YA novel if you are going to invoke — right in your title — a key line from one of the greatest teen anthems of all time. Susannah Felts has done just that in her novel This Will Go Down On Your Permanent Record. This is a great story that vividly captures that turning point in life when you are nowhere near being “grown-up” enough to handle or even fully understand all the big stuff going on around you, but there it is, in your face and under your skin, and you’ve just got to deal with it all in the best way you can. It’s a real treat experience this period through the eyes of the main character Vaughn, to see how she handles a difficult but deeply significant friendship, or how she embraces and explores the art of photography. Vaughn is a smart, self-aware young girl who isn’t yet comfortable in her own skin, but you know she will be at some point, sooner than most, but not any time soon. This is a real treasure of a novel. I hope you know that this should go down on your reading list, like, now. The good feeling you get will stay with you. Highly recommended.