Developing an author web site is a very personal undertaking. Having had three in the past, this last incarnation wasn’t a good fit – for me as an author or the agency developing the site. Here are 12 tips to consider when building your author site and making it awesome for both you and your audience.

  1. Decide what you want the main message of your site to be. Is it name recognition as a valuable resource and voice for other writers? Are you extensively published and promoting your books? Or are you looking to accomplish both while also addressing issues of importance to you?
  2. Do your research. I reviewed dozens of author web sites for color schemes, theme, style, etc. Two things I discovered: (1) For authors who write in a specific genre, say romance or mystery, or specific type of books like children’s books, their author web sites reflected that. If you like what you see, find out who the web designer is and contact them.
  3. Be sure the person(s) you choose to design your site understands what an author site is and your goals.
  4. Your research should also provide you with a good idea of the cost. Have a budget in mind. With my previous designers, warning bells should have gone off much louder when a web site for a year cost in excess of $30,000. Unless you’re famous with huge number of books, that is on average three times the cost of an author web site.
  5. Are you inclined to use a designer based locally or nationally? I have done both with varying results. My first web designer was in another part of the country and an author as well. We communicated via e-mail and conference calls and I got exactly what I wanted. My previous web team was local, but the communication between team members and between the agency and me was a disaster. Local or national, being on the same page (sorry, couldn’t resist) is crucial.
  6. Get a referral. This ties in with number 2 and isn’t a guarantee. I thought because my previous web team was familiar with an organization I volunteer with, that was a good enough recommendation. It wasn’t, and I literally threw thousands of dollars away paying for things I didn’t want or need.
  7. Most web site designers provide a detailed proposal of what their services will get you. If you don’t understand how a service works, why it’s being recommended, or what you would be charged, ask questions until you’re provided a satisfactory answer. If the presentation is being made by the sales force, don’t be cowed by pushy associates wanting to close the deal. Make sure you’re comfortable with their terms.
  8. Don’t be overwhelmed by tech speak. There’s a lot of it – inbound marketing, off boarding, SEO, etc. and you can become completely lost. There are countless programs like HubSpot, HipChat, PandaDocs,Sprout Social, etc. they may als be throwing at you. Remember that you’re the customer and if you don’t understand how something will benefit you or works, the prespective web designers need to explain in easy to comprehend terms what they’re talking about until you do. If they don’t or won’t, go elsewhere.
  9. With that in mind, don’t let them sign you for services outside of the initial contract. I had never heard of HubSpot but the agency insisted I needed it.  The cost was an additional $3,600 (when it is also available for free) but unbeknownst to me, the agency was ‘HubSpot certified’ and I had to sign up in order to for them to host the site. This also goes back to building an author web site. The agency didn’t have a good feel promoting my blogs and writings, instead treating it like a small business. Granted some author site are a business (and not so small), but I have little actual product to sell currently.
  10. This really IS about YOU. While gorgeous, my previous web site said very little about me personally such as why I took up writing or love it. There was also a great deal of unused space and navigating the site was difficult.  I was considering a second year and the team had decided had some “really cool ideas for author videos” they wanted to make. Research told me YouTube can provide your author site with plenty of video content and usually for free. Making videos for an outrageous amount of money wasn’t even something I was interested in. If they’re not listening to YOU, go elsewhere.
  11. Read through the contract carefully before signing. It’s a good idea for your lawyer to review it as well. I failed to do that and wound up with a generic contract the agency used for all of their clients, while asking an enourmous amount of money. There was a lot of padding (client testimonials and staff bios don’t belong in a contract) which was confusing. When I chose to cancel, I made sure my attorney reviewed the cancellation clause. Make sure your web designer has a cancellation clause should things go south.
  12. Transparency needs to a number-one priority. This agency wasn’t up front aboot numerous things. For example, instead of charging via dollars and cents, they had devised a points system, whereby let’s say 1-point cost $100 dollars. If you spent $40,000 you had 400 points. However, if you went over the allotted number of points the cost would increase. Since this was a contract not tailored to me specifically, many things were ‘estimated’ to cost 3-8 points etc. That made it difficult to keep track of what I was being charged, especially since I was writing the majority of content.

My new web designer was chosen because this time I followed all twelve points and got a web site I truly am excited about. It was a hard and embarrassing lesson, but I won’t make the same mistake twice. Here’s hoping you don’t won’t either.

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