Thursday, February 24, 2011

Does Your Website Suck? Fix It!



I spend a lot of time looking at author websites. I must say, I am constantly amazed by how many are lacking even the basic necessities--can you say BOOK heading? So, here without further ado, are Penelope's suggestions for putting together a rockin' website. And what to do if your site sucks. Fix it, baby!


1.) If you are an author, there is really only ONE heading that matters. That would be BOOKS. If you don't have the heading BOOKS on your website, for the love of God, put one up. I don't care if you write paranormal, historical and contemporary series and have sub-headings for all of your different lines. You still need ONE HEADING THAT SAYS BOOKS! A master bibliography with all your titles, all LINKED to other pages on your site.

2.) If you write sweet, rated-G Amish romances, don't put pictures of naked guys on your homepage. If you write dark romantic suspense, don't put unicorns and sparkly rainbows on your homepage. And, no matter what you write, please don't put naked pictures of yourself on your homepage. Please. I'm begging you.

3.) Take it easy with the bells and whistles. No music. No hearts floating down the screen. No pop-ups. Keep it clean, simple and easy to navigate. All that fancy stuff takes too long to load and most people get impatient.

4.) If your website looks amateurish and tacky and unprofessional, YOU look amateurish and tacky and unprofessional. Your website IS YOU ONLINE. Make it count. If it looks polished and professional, so do you. Word.

5.) Too much text is bad. People get turned off when they see 10,000 words of text on your homepage. Too many graphics are bad. It's over-stimulating and too crowded and messy. Have a nice balance of text and visuals. Keep it simple. Draw people in with cool graphics.

6.) Next to BOOKS, most important heading is BIO. Tell us something cool about you. Were you an opera singer? A penguin trainer? Do you like knitting, gardening, traveling to Costa Rica? Be sure to include hobbies that establish commonality with your readers (Hey, Nora likes knitting! So do I!), as well as quirky or eccentric tidbits that make you pop (Hey, JR Ward was a contortionist at the circus!). Stuff like that. There is nothing wrong with branding yourself as the "Opera Singer/Romance Writer"--that would be Mia Marlowe, by the way. Makes you unforgettable, and totally cool in my opinion.

7.) Think about the language you use to describe yourself and your work. "Filth" and "smut" sound like  pornography. "Sexy," "edgy," "erotic" sound better. Be thoughtful of your word choice. You want to be respectful of your genre and your readers.

8.) Here's what you need to include about your books. Book Cover--need to establish cover recognition. Book Blurb--so we can decide if this book is our cup of tea. An Excerpt--this is super important if you are a debut author. I won't even consider buying a book from a new writer unless I can see a sample of her writing. Reviews--snippets and links. Did someone I respect read your book and like it? Purchase Link--everywhere it's available for purchase.

9.) Go ahead and include other stuff...just don't overdo it. If you write historicals, include facts about Regency England. If you write steampunk, include fun photos of make-believe steampunk inventions. There's nothing wrong with making your website entertaining, just don't forget that the main focus needs to be on BOOKS.

10.) A website is basically a static on-line reference (as opposed to a blog, which is a high maintenance interactive, dynamic site)...but you still need to keep it updated. Make sure your website has the most up-to-date info about your book releases, purchase links, appearances, etc. A website that has cobwebs growing on it looks neglected, and reflects poorly on you. Don't do it.


Some bitchin' author websites and some less than stellar sites....

Mia Marlowe-- It's gorgeous! Beautiful lay-out, color and design. Easy to navigate. First heading is BOOKS--Yay! Cool extra: Mia's opera singer photo. Just doesn't get any better than this.

Julie Garwood-- Weird gimmicky thing with the office--gives me motion sickness. And I hate the creepy noises, too.  But I love the master list of books.

Kresley Cole -- Nice clean design, easy to navigate.

Christine Feehan-- Way too busy. Totally overwhelming design. No single book heading. Gives me a migraine just looking at it.

Amanda Quick-- A little too busy, but she does have a master bibliography, which is critical for this prolific writer.

Gail Carriger-- Does not have a "book" heading...it's on the side bar, but still! Should be first thing on the top of the homepage. Bonus: the steampunk page kicks ass.

Cara McKenna-- I love the graphics, I love the tagline (Red-Hot Romance, Smart Erotica), it's simple and clean, and very modern and fresh-looking.


Book bloggers...other suggestions? Things that drive you nuts? That you love? Any author websites you think are spot-on or totally missing the mark? Let me know!

Penelope

35 comments:

Jordan K Rose said...

Hi. Thanks for the tips on the website. I clicked on Jayne Ann Krentz's link, Julie Garwood's, and Christine Feehan's to take a look and consider your comments. I guess it's a matter of taste because none of them bothered me. I think I might like the "busier" web page. Although Julie's took a while to load, which is a definite turn off for me, I thought it was pretty cool. Certainly the basic website, like Meg's is very nice also- is to navigate. Mia's is beautiful, easy to navigate and classy. I think it's the style to shoot for. Jordan

Penelope said...

Hi Jordan! You are absolutely correct...it is a matter of personal taste. I personally gravitate toward simple and clean above gimmicks and overly-busy (IMO). But the most important factor is still ease of finding the BOOKS....and too many big authors make it difficult on these sites. Drives me bonkers!

Mia Marlowe said...

Penelope--Thanks for singling out my new website. The credit goes to my fabulous design team at Waxcreative, but you've hit on some of the things they impressed me with.

First was putting the BOOKS link first. My inclination was for HOME to be in the top slot, but my designer explained that it's all about the books. That's the meat of the site. The rest is gravy.

Next, no gimmicky bells and whistles. A quick load is better than all the cool flash in the world.

And you're so right about limiting the text on the HOME page. I blog 5 days a week so I wanted the blog front and center. It is, but only a paragraph of the latest entry. If a reader isn't interested in that topic, she can move right on to What's New.

KB/KT Grant said...

Naked men on an author's g-rated Amish romance website would give me a good laugh. Man titty buggy rippers?

I hate the flash pictures or graphics that pop up. I want to go right in, look around and then peace out without my computer freezing.

Patti (Book Addict) said...

Keep it current! I recently did a review and went to the author's site to get the blurb and guess what? The latest book wasn't up yet - no blurb, no excerpt, just the cover shot.

I always ask that if they have more than one series to let us know which books go with which series.

Penelope said...

Hi Mia! I have total website-envy when I go to your page....it's just lovely! The colors, the fontstyle, the design. Not too much stuff, not too little.....just right! Beautiful! :^)

Penelope said...

Hey KB! Yes, a website needs to reflect the kind of books a writer creates....or it's misleading to the readers. (Although I have seen some erotic Amish books, too...hee hee!).

If my computer freezes when I attempt to visit an author site, I won't return. Ever.

Penelope said...

Hi Patti! That has happened to me, too. Needs to be on a writer's to-do list for launch week....Update Website! Especially when the purchase link can go up!

For writers w/ multiple series, it can get really confusing. I like one master book list with all the titles. And then sub-headings for the different series.

Carolyn Crane said...

Penelope: Nice post! I've been needing a site revamp and it's nice to read your thoughts.

Penelope said...

Hi Carolyn! Your site has a great "vibe" to it...I love the images on the header, I love the lay-out, I love that the first heading is "books"....yay! And the cover for Ghost Romance is wicked gorgeous...nice. The only thing I would change on your homepage is the font style of your text...make it a bit more interesting/unusual since you have a lot of text on that page.

Lori said...

Yes, yes, and yes!

Also, when your header takes up half the page, it pushes your content down below the fold. If I have to scroll just to see text, then I'm outta there.

And naked men period. I view a lot of sites at work. Naked men on your site? They're going to get me fired.

Oh, and please, stop with the pink text on black background. Not only does it make it hard to read for my poor old eyes, it barely shows up on my phone. Which brings me to another thing: Please do not do your site in Flash! Anyone with an iPhone can't view it. You lose me right there.

Penelope said...

Hi Lori....agree about headers that are too large. Also agree about the naked dudes. My kids share my office w/ me and if I click on a website (or link from Twitter) w/ naked dudes, it's not okay. Agree about black backgrounds....tough on the eyes. Light-colored backgrounds with darker font is much easier to read.

Julia Rachel Barrett said...

Penny, I've read other posts saying the same thing, I've even said the same thing. My pet peeves - bells and whistles and way too much stuff.
Never updating and never posting. I will stop stopping by after a while.
My biggest pet peeve? Ignoring people who are kind enough to stop by and comment. It takes time and effort to read a blog and write an intelligent, articulate comment, one that indicates you actually read the blog. You feel really disrespected when an author - big or small - only acknowledges the comments of other authors he or she knows, or the comments of those people who matter (in his or her opinion). All one has to say is, thanks for stopping by!

Penelope said...

Hi Julia...that's one of the reasons a blog is high maintenance, a website easier. A blog needs a lot more attention, including responding to comments. I totally agree about that one! For folks who don't have a lot of time, putting together a website should be first priority. A blog is for folks who are willing to put more time and energy into their "online presence".....

Julia Rachel Barrett said...

Yes, Penny - big distinction, sort of. I love a nice, clean, simple website that's easy to navigate and is regularly updated - and I love an author who blogs - like to hear their thoughts on all kinds of things!

Penelope said...

Hi Julia! It's great when authors have a blog link on their website. It makes readers feel good to be able to communicate with their favorite authors. For folks who don't have enough time for this, joining a group blog is a nice idea, too!

Juju at Tales of Whimsy.com said...

Great advice. I'm not a writer but you have me thinking about my blog now :0)

Penelope said...

Juju....I love your blog! It's perfect!

Julie said...

Great Post! You're right...there's nothing more annoying than going to an author's website to find info on their books and end up having to go to Goodreads because their info is better @-@
And you no2 had me laughing out loud!

Penelope said...

Hi Julie! I didn't believe #2 existed until a couple of months ago...I visited an erotica author site and she had a naughty photo of herself on the homepage. AHHH!!!!!!!

Keira of LoveRomancePassion said...

Generic bios are annoying. If I'm working on an author interview, I want to be able to ask interesting questions. That's harder to do with boring bios.

Lilly Gayle said...

Wow! I so needed this info as I'm going to have to redesign my website and run it myself. My brother designed my original website but he's gotten too busy to maintain it and it's way to complicated for me. So, this is timely info. Now, if I can only figure out what I'm doing.
BTW, #2 cracked me up!

Penelope said...

Hi Keira! A lot of authors have very generic bios...live somewhere, love to read. I like bios that have something quirky that really pops...and I also love ones that have a great sense of humor...you can tell the author's work will be funny! :^)

Penelope said...

Hi Lilly! A good place to start is at a stock image photography site....look at images that reflect your "style"...use those images as inspiration!

Karen Michelle Nutt said...

You asked for it...(remember this is only my opinion and what I like. Others may love what I don't care for.)

I'm not fond of sites with music or floating anything. I click out of those sites without looking at them.

I tend not to stay long at sites that are too dark. Black with white writing is a killer on the eyes.

If the site takes too long to load, I don't bother.

You have some great advice here. You're right. If I want to see what the author has to offer, I want an easy to see book icon to click into. I don't want to hunt all over the site for it.

Informative post and I liked the sample websites you posted as well.

Penelope said...

Hi Karen! Thanks for stopping by! I like the look created with a dark background, but sometimes it does cause eye strain. That's a tough one, especially if you are going for a dark and edgy look for your site. Jeaniene Frost has a dark edge around her page, but the text is on white....

http://jeanienefrost.com/

That's one way to do it!

Karen Michelle Nutt said...

I love the dark edgy look, too. But my eyes can't take it. lol

Thanks for sharing Jeaniene Frost's website. Still edgy, but I'm able read what she has to offer. Nice!

Leah St. James said...

Thanks for the list, Penelope! I know what I like when I see it, but so far I haven't been able to figure out HOW to make it happen for my site. Your tips are a big help!
Leah

Penelope said...

Hi Leah! Thanks for stopping by...good luck! :^)

Stephanie_C said...

Thanks - you inspired me to add a 'books' page even though I've only got one so far. Hopefully some others will be joining it soon!

Penelope said...

Hi Stephanie! It's fine to have a book page even if you only have 1 book. I did! You could also add a WIP section (Works in Progress) or Coming Soon section to beef it up.

Good luck!

Jude Mason said...

Hi Penelope,

What wonderful suggestions. I don't know how often I've advised authors to keep their sites simple, easy to read and navigate. I figure if a reader happens by, you don't want to have the poor soul lost in some crazy search for your books.

I also think keeping it all up to date is huge. Why bother having a site if it's not helping promote you?

Thanks so much!

Lynne Connolly said...

You're absolutely right. I write in several genres for several publishers, so my website is the only place where someone can see the collected works.
I'd add a printable booklist. People seem to love those.

Penelope said...

Hi Jude! I noticed since I wrote this post that Julie Garwood simplified her site and got rid of the weird gimmicky thing. Simple is always better in my opinion!

Penelope said...

Lynne....Another good tip! Printable book lists. The key to having one website w/ lots of different genres, publishers is to make it cohesive. Even if you wear lots of different writing hats. Thanks for stopping by!