Author Websites: Valuable or Waste of Time?

I have been having second thoughts about the “accepted wisdom” that I have been offering as advice to the authors I work with.

For example, do self-published authors benefit from having their own website? I don’t think so anymore. Here are my reasons:

  1. “Build it and they will come” only works in the movies! Building a website is simple, technically. Getting people to view it is immensely hard! So, then I’m told I should go on Facebook and Twitter and post and post to get people to go to my website. But, doesn’t it make more sense to post and post to get people to buy your books? I want them to ultimately end up on Amazon clicking the “Buy Now” button! Does the intermediary of my website add any value in that process? I maintain not. SEO is supposedly the magic bullet, but there are so many authors, so many websites, that it is very difficult to count on SEO to get you ranked high enough in Google or Yahoo to make a difference, especially if you are not adding interesting content continuously. If you are not up to being prolific on your website / blog, SEO will not help, despite what the SEO consultants tell you (I used to be one).
  2. I tell all my clients that an old website is worse than no website at all. Authors start out their website / blog with good intentions, solid plans, but inevitably life intervenes. The technical problems with posting can be frustrating. As easy as the software developers have tried to make it, it can still be tricky. The authors run out of content ideas – it’s hard to come up with interesting content weekly or more. The website becomes dated. Now the blog / website is a liability, not an asset. The well-read blogs add content daily, at least multiple times a week.
  3. Speaking of content, I consistently read that authors should talk about their lives, their interests, almost anything except their books. But, is that true? That seems to be the case for well-established authors. They have generated a following, through the sale of their books, and those followers are then interested in what they have to say, where they travel, and what they do. But, it’s a chicken and egg thing – before the sale of their books generated the following, did anyone care? I say probably not

So, where am I going with all this?

Self-published authors must be on the internet. Your Amazon author page could easily be your go-to page. Assuming all of your books are available on Amazon (and if they are not you have bigger problems than your website!), it provides readers with a bio / artist’s statement, your picture, all of your books with their cool looking covers in all available formats (paperback and Kindle), reviews and the reader can click and buy right there without having to click a link and go to a different site.

You also should have a presence on Goodreads! If you WANT to blog, you can blog at Goodreads and automatically feed that content to Amazon. The big advantage to Amazon and Goodreads is that is where readers are. People who frequent those sites are already looking for something to read. It only makes sense to put a lot of your effort there. I think it’s important to go where the readers are. As I said earlier, it’s very difficult to get people to like your Facebook page, follow you on Twitter, or go to your website. Authors have to go to the readers; you cannot expect readers who don’t already know about you to stumble across your website. Find groups in Goodreads where your readers might congregate. You have to reach more than your friend list, which means, once again, you will have to go to them. That means you know who your reader is, what they are interested in, and can find them online. Same thing with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google + or Pinterest. All of the social media sites have groups. I am on Google + and in a train-geek group, a black and white photography group and a couple of self-published author groups. If I wrote a book on train stuff, I know where I’d market it!

Here is an article I read on this very subject. It is dated 2013, but I think the controversy has only heightened since then.

From the article:

For some writers, the author website is a thing of pride of beauty. It’s an active well of new material, a place of engagement and connection, an extension of their books, even an invitation into their writing life. It gathers email addresses, expands audience, benefits SEO, and is their personal beachhead on the Web.

For others, the author website is an annoyance, an obligation, and a static reminder of all they hate about digital media’s encroachment on their writing life. The landing page is three books old, and the author photo three years outdated. The blog page whose latest post is dated 6 months ago makes them feel both guilt for not updating weekly as they’d promised, and resentment that anyone would expect them to.

While the two perspectives seem to be in contrast, they agree on one point: whether you think author websites are must-haves or time-sucks, if you’re going to have one, you better do it well. As overheard at DBWMP, “a bad website does more harm than a good website does good.”