Deciding what to put on your author website can seem daunting, especially if you publish it before your first book. But your author bio and writing samples can go on your site, and you can start blogging at any time. I’ll suggest site content, and give tips on carefully selecting your theme in this post. I’ll also recommend plugins for WordPress (sorry, I don’t do Wix or Squarespace, though I hear good things). Ultimately, I’ll share what I’ve learnt tweaking my site and blog over the past ten months (yes, as an unpublished author 😉), to help you hit the ground running with yours.
What Should I Put On My Site?
Your bio ought to be written in third person, so other people can copy and paste it into author interviews you give. You might like to include things like places you’ve lived, your education, life events etc, but I’d also try and inject some personality and personal interests too, as your bio may be the place where potential readers, writer colleagues or potential agents and publishers get their first feel for who you are. For an example of showing personality and humour, I offer my bio. (I’ll use the short ‘about me’ paragraph on my home page for interviews, as my About page bio is too long).
I suggest accompanying your bio with your standard author profile photo (the one you use for social media and sites like Goodreads), so you’re instantly recognisable to anyone who’s interacted with you online. If your bio is on a separate page, you may like to share other photos too and give more details for people to get to know you better.
This could be book adds, descriptions of your works in progress, sample chapters, your poetry or short stories. You may want a Works in Progress page, and or a page for each short story, and or a page for poetry. In choosing writing samples, I’d consider how well each showcases your writing, your main genre and themes, and your writing style to potential readers. I’d also consider: are you displaying shorts which are prequels to your novels, aimed at building a readership? Are your book teasers from works in progress, aiming to generate reader interest, or upcoming release blurbs aiming to entice potential readers to preorder? (Strong, polished book pitches being more crucial for the latter, though I recommend seeking critical feedback for both, to overcome any author bias blind spots which may trip up potential readers).
What if I have multiple writing styles, genres and or audience ages?
That’s when you might want to consider a pen name for some books, and a separate author site for your pen name. Theoretically, I could mention my picture books, my MG Fantasy and YA Fantasies on one site. But my YA crosses over with Adult, and is overall serious in tone, like this site. Whereas my MG Fantasy is a high-octane, wacky, fun fuelled adventure, similar to the playful style of my picture books, hence they got a pen name and their own site.
Images are a great way to capture people’s imaginations, and a unique way to indicate the atmosphere and mood of your writing. You may like to commission a portrait of your MC to generate interest about your book and to illustrate the book blurb section on your site (and share on social media or in your newsletter), and yes, that’s what I did on my works in progress page.
Alternately, you can find high quality photos on unsplash.com and some great public domain artwork on canva.com, to format into a mood board or graphic to illustrate your book blurb. I prefer Unsplash, because it lets you credit photographers for their work. Remember to use alt text, so vision impaired visitors know what images show (more on this in Image Accessibility below).
Newsletter Sign Up
I highly recommend a newsletter, especially if you plan to self publish. My next post will focus on newsletters, so all I’ll say here is make your sign up form is prominent on your site and tell people what they get for signing up, eg. a short story.
A blog is a great way to attract potential readers to your website. Whether you blog monthly, fortnightly, weekly or are a super-human who blogs more often, every post is an opportunity to drive traffic to your site. Writing a number of quality blogs encourages people to spend time exploring your site, and to revisit it. If you’re lucky, that may lead them to sign up to your newsletter, to get your content in their inbox.
To get your website showing up in Google search results, complete this (free) Attracta site map form. This alone created a steady increase in the number of visits my site and blog posts received.
Yes analytics can help with SEO, but as a layperson I find Google Analytics has far too many options and too much information, which I lack the time and intuition to utilise. I just read its monthly reports. So shop around! Dotstore Plugins (my page counter), told me 3/4 of my website visits are via Twitter. It also displays a graph of daily page and blog visits, for a week at a time. It suggested that (as I rarely tweet my blog), most people visit via links on my Twitter profile page, or in my Twitter bio. So put your site link in your Twitter bio!
Choosing A Theme
I suggest experimenting with different themes to see what appeals to you, but also consider…
Display & Visual Accessibility
Does my theme display page menus and social media clearly, in an easy to see space? Is site navigation easy?
When choosing colours, try to be as conscious of making your site visually accessible as you are about designing it to your personal taste. Ensure there is enough contrast between text colour and background colour for text to be easy to read. Be wary of big slabs of text on a white background, with no images, colour or sub-headings to break it up, which could bore some visitors and be a visual impairment access issue to others. (If you’re curious, this site’s theme is Katha (on WordPress), which many people have said they find clean and easy to read.)
Style, Genre and Audience Age
If you’re writing a dark and haunting Horror, you’re probably after a theme with dark colours, and images which evoke the mood and feel of your stories. If you’re writing children’s fiction, you may gravitate towards bright colours and lots of pictures. I suggest neutral colours, as opposed to glaringly bright tones of each colour and not too many pictures, which may overstimulate neurodiverse visitors.
For any genre and audience age, consider whether the tone, atmosphere and mood of images on your Home and other pages evoke your books style. Creating a site which feels like an ‘experience’ is another way to generate interest, so if that interests you, I’d have fun experimenting with it. A good example author site where colour, art and font choices gave it a genre vibe is melissahawkes.com (a YA Fantasy author site).
Themes With Images
Themes with background images can be great for giving your site a genre-related feel, especially if the background image you choose displays off-world art for SFF. I suggest choosing a theme with side borders of that image/ art, and a single colour background for the middle, over which text is displayed clearly, so it has a genre vibe, but isn’t visual stimulation overload/ inaccessible.
Visitors with visual impairments may depend on digital readers, which cannot read print formatted onto images, eg. promo images you’ve overlaid with text on Canva. So I’d make text on images on your site accessible by putting text in alt text too. Also say what the image is in alt text (unless its purely decorative).
Whatever your colour, art and font choices: make them consistent across your pages and your blog. Try to have your own style of promo images, with similar colours and backgrounds. This also gives your site its own distinct feel, and will make it easier on people navigating across pages of your site, by not requiring them to adjust to different colour schemes before they can read and access each page. A great example of this is emmalombard.com (Historical Fiction author site).
Does my theme have a banner? + Site Icons & Logos
A banner is an easy way to put images of yourself (your brand) and your book covers on each page. It can help people visually associate your site’s content with you and says clearly, “I have books to sell!” NB: If you’ve got a series, give pride-of-visibility-place to book one’s cover in your banner (the gateway book 😉) and maybe a few others, but try not to overwhelm us with too many covers.
If, like me, you don’t have books out yet or coming soon, you may wish to make your site logo and browser icon (as displayed in the browser tab) your face. My goal there is enabling people to visually associate my site’s content with me. You could use an author logo, but I find them forgettable and faces memorable, so I prefer faces.
Social Media Links
Ideally, you want a theme which displays social media icons linking to your socials clearly, at the top and or bottom of your pages. As my theme displays them below comments, and the footer, I use Ultimate Social Media Icons to display ‘follow me’ buttons (the ones below) in my side bar menu, where they’re more likely to be seen.
Does my theme have a sidebar?
If your site has multiple pages and or you’re blogging, I’d pick a theme with a sidebar to display ‘Follow Me On Social Media’ buttons and a ‘Sign Up To My Newsletter’ form. I also recommend displaying a category menu for blog posts, and assigning your blogs to categories. That way, visitors can identify posts which interest them, as opposed to your latest posts, or archives listed by month and giving readers no clue what they’re about.
What Do I blog About?
Not everything under the sun. As with books, you’re trying to build a regular readership on your blog. Ideally, your blog readership and book readership will be the same. So when thinking what to blog, ask yourself, ‘what might readers of my books be interested in reading?’ (Side note, yes, this blog is writer advice and I write YA Fantasy, not non-fiction. For now, this blog is me sharing what I’ve learnt, not trying to appeal to potential readers of my books).
Which blog topics are relevant to your books audience? I write YA and I recently identified as non-binary, so you can bet I’ll blog about gender identity in future, something young people may question, relevant to the coming of age stories I write, and something I’d hope people who buy books for young people would want to support them with. If you’re unclear what your equivalent of this is, consider themes and ideas your books explore, and your experiences with those things, or thoughts you’re willing to share about them.
On another track, a blog is a much more extensive space than a bio for potential readers to get to know you, your books etc. If you’re unsure how to utilise it or if you’d enjoy jamming time to blog into your busy schedule, take a look at 100 Blog Ideas for Unpublished Authors by @mixtusmedia (which is excellent), then see how you feel.
Blog Links On Your Site
Every blog post can draw potential site visitors, and linking your blogs can encourage them to stick around. If your current post touches on topics you’ve already blogged about, mention and link your old posts where relevant, and or end your current blog with related links (yours or other people’s articles, which help with SEO).
Your theme may display other posts, but not make related posts visible. My WordPress theme links only to ‘previous’ and next ‘posts’ at the end of each blog, so I installed a plugin which generates the left image (Shareaholic), to display eight of my blogs below every post. (Adds NB: Shareaholic also lets you opt in (or out) of displaying adds in this panel. I like this option because it contains adds at the end of your posts, where they neither distract from nor impersonate paragraphs of your blog posts).
These do make a difference. I suggest choosing them by selecting key words from your blog posts, entering them in Google, and seeing which of the most popularly searched phrases in Google are most relevant to your blog, and using them as tags. Also, check if key words you associate with your post mostly turn up similar content before using them as tags. I considered ‘querying’, but on Google that turned up results for every type of human enquiry, so I experimented till my search terms turned up agent and publishing related results.
9 Tips for the First 5 Pages is one of my most popular blogs. I think that’s a combination of a topic many fiction writers want advice on, and a title which aligns with Google search terms. So when seeking popular search phrases for blog tags, consider using one as your blog title, if its relevant and specific enough. Also, keep your title short. I generally find anything longer than five words gets less hits for each word I add.
Install Social Media Sharing buttons
Social Warfare is my top pick. It’s style suits my theme (its the floating social bar) and the paid version lets me determine the text and images which display when people share my links on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest (no, I’m not an affiliate getting paid to say that). I also tried Shareaholic’s share buttons, which displayed photo credit text and some Google Analytics code before the first line of my blog posts on FB and looked awful. And Ultimate Social Media, whose floating share buttons had a time delay, obscuring paragraphs as I scrolled.
Social Warfare is linked to Twitcount, the only app which will display how often your blog is shared on Twitter. (I wish you better luck if you use it, as it updated my Twitter shares twice, then failed to update ever since. My emails about it went answered.) If you don’t get many shares, or have issues with persistent share count inaccuracies, you can set plugins to not display share counts too (which I’ve mostly done.)
Blogs and Pinterest
Images on my site cannot be pinned to Pinterest, which is popular with certain demographics. The easiest fix if you have this issue, is to create a pin for your blog on Pinterest (including a link to your blog in the pin), then use this Pinterest widget builder to create short code and paste the code into a short code block in your post. That displays the blog’s pin in the blog, so site visitors can pin it.
Share Links in Your Newsletter
Sharing your latest or popular blogs in your newsletter is a great way to recycle content you’ve invested time and effort in. It also gives people who appreciate your blog an easy means of staying in touch, at their leisure.
If you want like buttons, page counters, social media share buttons (and any other plugins I’ve mentioned above), on WordPress, you’ll have to be manually install them. (If you don’t know how, see this guide from WP beginner, or search for WordPress plugin instructions from your web host.) I suggest installing these plugins as soon as you publish your blog, so your like, visit and share counts (technical issues notwithstanding) accurately reflect your blog’s popularity.
Ultimate Social Media Icons to display ‘follow me’ buttons in my side bar menu (using their short code).
–LikeBTN as it’s like buttons match my theme and the free version displays one button per page/ blog post.
-Dotstore’s Page Visit Counter
–Shareaholic to display photos and titles of my blog below each post (I don’t use their social media buttons).
–Optin Forms for my sidebar Newsletter Sign Up Form.
–Pop Up CC was for my pop Newsletter Sign Up, but I’ve disabled it, as no one uses it.
And Complianz to scan my site to produce and display a relevant Cookie banner.
For getting started on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest, see my Social Media For Writers post.