17 Jul 2017
I’ve been exercising to The Author Biz podcasts, and heard about an author who I wanted to check out. I listened for her name, and her character, and when I was done I hit the Google. Forty-five minutes later, I had this column on author website mistakes for the Career Indie Author.Because this author’s website was the ideal case study of how an author can do everything right in setting up their online presence and still have so many things come out wrong.
Whether through accidents, poor planning, or bad decisions, these author website mistakes can make it harder for readers to find out about your books.
I’ve talked before about the minimum you need for an author’s first website. It should consist of pages showing your book and an excerpt from it, something about you personally, a way to get in contact with you (either through the website or an email address), and a blog where you can post news about new books (with blogging on other subjects optional).
Except for providing the book excerpts, the author did all this on their website. But the problems going on here and on their Amazon Author’s Page created a perfect storm of obstacles put in the way of potential readers.
Let’s start with one problem that many authors face:
A Too-Common Penname
This wasn’t the fault of the author. After all, it is her name? Why not use it?
But let’s say Mary Brown was just starting out, and you’re building a website for her. You search for her name on Google, and this appears on the front page:
Mary will have some competition. There’s a Canadian restaurant chain, and a Grammy-nominated songwriter, not to mention all the other Mary Browns.
But that’s not all. Let’s attach author to her name:
Whoops! Mary shares the name with a major fantasy novelist. True, she’s been dead for nearly two decades, but she’s got 56 books that are going to hang around for awhile, and your Mary will have to deal with that throughout her career.
Will readers looking for her look at every link on the page? Will they click to the second page? The third? Maybe. But I’ll bet a good percentage of people will not.
Is keeping your name worth making it hard for potential fans to find you?
The author in my case study didn’t have as common as name, but as in the first example, her site was masked by the presence of people with the same name.
What to do?
There are two solutions, one hard and the other easy.
1. Bull through and use Mary Brown. Use good SEO practices with her pages and posts to keep her website on the first page. This could be as simple as posting regularly, because search engines like updated sites. It also means using her author name consistently, something our case study author did not.
2. Use a penname. Find one that’s easy to remember, easy to spell, and doesn’t have competition. Before my wife chose Odessa Moon for her series of novels, she Googled it to make sure that when she started publishing, that name would be near the top of the search page.
Inconsistent Name Use
The real Mary Brown I encountered has many published books. They’re one-offs except for one series of a half-dozen books. The non-series books have one of two bylines: Mary Brown and M.E. Brown.
As for the books in the series, they’re all credited to Mary Brown, except one: the hardcover edition to one of the books is listed by Amazon as M.E. Brown. Let me make that clear: all of the books in the series have Mary Brown on the cover. Mary Brown also appears on the Amazon book page; except for the hardcover edition to one book.
It’s a minor slip, but it leads to funky consequences. Mary Brown has an Amazon Author’s Page (actually, she has two, which we’ll get to in a moment). M.E. Brown doesn’t. Clicking on M.E. Brown returns a search page for M.E. Brown that lists only three of Mary Brown’s books.
If a customer clicks on the book page with M.E. Brown, they’ll see the search page, conclude Mary doesn’t have much interest in promoting herself, and move on.
The solution, of course, is to email Amazon and get them to fix that one page. And while they’re at it, they can fix something much more serious.
Multiple Author Pages
I’m not sure how Mary Brown accomplished this, but she has two Author Pages under her name!
One of them has her picture and a detailed bio. She did a nice job on it. It also displays only four of books: three of them from her six-book series.
I’ll make my point by altering my Author Page:
Author Page #2, I’m guessing, was set up for her early in her career, probably by the vanity press that published her first novel. The book cover is up there instead of her author photo, and the rudimentary bio that says nothing about her.
Here’s my version of #2:
The result, however, is more confusion for readers who encounter the wrong author page. This is doubly troubling because searching for Mary Brown leads to her newer Author’s page, the one with only four books!
The lesson here is to visit your Amazon Author Page. Click between the tabs showing all versions of your books, the trade paperbacks, and the kindles. If something’s missing, use the contact form on that page and ask about it.
But that’s not the end of the author’s problems. Let’s turn to her website.
No Book Pages
Mary Brown couldn’t get marybrown.com — unless she wanted to pay a squatter $24,800 for it — so she bought www.marybrownauthor.com instead. She also chose to have WordPress.com host the site for free.
Both are good decisions. People are used to going to .com sites, and the domain is easy to remember and spell. WordPress is a good piece of software to use, and you can’t beat free for hosting.
But Mary, or the person she chose to design her site, made some odd choices in the site’s design. The blog is on the front page. Mary posted a couple times on it, but the last one appears to be staying there permanently. It’s a long post, and consists of a list of her books with reviews underneath each of them.
This threw me. If Mary wanted to turn the front page of her site over to reviews, she could have turned it into a Page and moved the blog inside. That way, she could post her material and still have a blog to announce new books and public appearances.
People who visit websites are used to that setup. To turn a blog into a long review post might throw them, especially since — apart from the title — Mary did not explain “Here are all of the reviews of the books in my series.”
Oh yes, that’s the other problem: she posted only reviews of her series books. No book description, no excerpt, just the title, the cover, and the quotes.
And she only mentioned the series books. She just published a new book that’s not in her series, and it’s not mentioned on her site at all.
(There are also two minor errors on review post: one book cover is in the wrong place, and the latest book doesn’t have a link to Amazon.)
So, remember the list of things a website should have? Hers nearly meets the minimum necessary. It lists some of her books. It lists her upcoming events, although it hasn’t been updated in four months, also all of the “upcoming” events should be listed under “past events.” She has a bio page, an author photo, and a video.
Don’t get me wrong. Mary wants to focus on her writing, so she has done the minimum an author needs to tell potential readers about her books.
But there are numerous mistakes that need to be cleared up, and she should have included all of her books, each on their own page, with clear links to all of the online retailers.
Then there’s one big mistake with her website.
She’s Wasting A Great Blurb!
I have to get shouty about this: DON’T WASTE A GREAT BLURB.
Mary Brown is a really good genre writer. She deserves a wider audience. She has a number of very good Amazon reviews. And she has not just one, but two great blurbs.
One of them is about a particular novel, but the other one is … well, what would you think of an author if you saw this:
I can’t wait to buy her next book.
And it was signed by someone with the stature of, oh, let’s say
In the case of our author, she put it in the middle of the reviews post, with all the other reviews.
NO! NO! NO! This is thinking like a writer, not a marketer. And this is the gold standard of “social proof.”
“What’s social proof?” I hear you say. It’s testimony from someone you trust. I mean, take me for instance. You may know me only as a faceless voice on the internet. I could be making up everything you see in “The Career Indie Author.”
But if I had a quote from someone you trust, say Jane Friedman, David Gaughan, or Mark Dawson, you might trust what I say more, right?
That’s social proof. Mary Brown was struck by lightning with the gold standard of social proof, getting a rave quote from one of the best-known, top writers in her genre, and she buried it in the middle of the page.
Tell you what I would do. First, I’d stick that sucker in the banner of my website.
That quote would be on the cover of my every book, on all my product pages on every online book retailer, and on my Twitter and Facebook pages. I’d have that tattooed on my forehead when I do public appearances.
In short, I’d do everything I could to spread that blurb around, because it’s social proof that I was a writer to be taken seriously by fans of my genre.
Thanks to the internet, it’s easier than ever to set up a basic author website and Amazon author pages. Because most of us are unversed in the ways of marketing, it’s pretty easy to screw it up.
Fortunately, these problems are also easy to fix, but only if you or someone you ask nicely look at your online presence to see what’s missing or inconsistent.
Much like your writing, your web presence can benefit from a second look.