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Friday, March 16, 2012

Reader-Focused Author Websites

Photo Courtesy of David Castillo Dominici

I've just spent a confusing couple of days reading expert advice and varying opinions on author websites.  This all started while reading a blog post on Rachelle Gardner's website (she is an agent with Books & Such Literary--if you're looking for an agent blog to follow, hers is a good one.  Nearly all the posts are well worth the time investment).

The post in question was written by guest blogger, Thomas Umstattd, Jr, CEO of Author Media.  You can read his post, "The Five Most Common Author Website Mistakes" here:

The confusion for me came in "Website Mistake #2 – Focusing on the Author over the Reader."

Confusion because the post didn't really define what constitutes reader focused material.

For the last six months I've been taking some classes that cover the technical aspects of web design (HTML/XHTML/CSS).  And that has been confusing on its own.  But content of a website?  THAT is hard.  Here's why.

In preparation for laying the groundwork for my own future website, I've looked at a lot of author websites.  They are all pretty much the same.  They have:

1) Home page w/a brief blurb about the writer and what they write

2) A page w/a list of their books

3) A page with some writing tips/favorite books on writing

4) Maybe a page with some favorite links

5) A contact page

I don't know how that strikes you, but all of that seems pretty AUTHOR focused, not READER focused.

My confusion was further enhanced by the fact that I have informally surveyed 20-25 people in recent weeks, and all but TWO of them said they don't even visit author websites.

So I'm supposed to invest in something that readers don't visit, and I'm supposed to have reader focused content that I'm not seeing on most author websites, so I have nothing to learn from.  No wonder I'm confused!

The two people who DID visit author websites are people I happened to query today.  And their response surprised me.  Those 2 readers visit an author's website to read the author bio.

Go figure.  That's the last thing I would've thought a reader would go to an author site for.  After all, an author's bio is usually on the back cover or inside the front or back cover of a book, or you can get more information on them at Amazon and such.

I would've thought readers would want a little something more than routine author info.

So tonight, I discovered Mr. Umstattd posted a link to another of his articles on what readers want from your website.  You can read that post here:

Again, I was surprised by the low key answers for what readers are looking for--ie. your speaking schedule, etc.

But there was one thing on that list of what readers are looking for that I don't often see on author websites:  exclusive content.  Content that is offered free to readers that they won't find anywhere else.  This could be free downloads, like short stories, for example.

Exclusive content makes sense to me--takes some of the mystification out of the 'reader focused content'.  Because rather than an author bio, I would've thought a reader would be hunting for something else.  Say for example, you're an author of suspense fiction.  Maybe you have an article that explains what clues the M.E. looks for to determine how long that person has been dead.  Or if you are a historical fiction author, maybe telling a unique story or sharing information on a specific region or time period.

That's what I, as a reader, would consider reader take-away value.

But at least I'm not as confused as I was.  Still have a lot of work to do.  But less confused. 8-)

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