Many novelists don’t know what to put on their author websites. What are readers actually looking for? In this episode, we tell you what will thrill them and make them want to come back.
The only reason why anyone would visit an author website is that it is the most interesting website in the entire world – for that person at that time.
So, why would someone visit your fiction website?
Here are ten answers that will not only draw readers to your author website, but will get them to bring their friends as well.
The DVD Approach for Novel Websites
Thomas: So in this episode we’re going to be talking about how to make a website that’s actually interesting for your readers to visit. And this is something a lot of authors really struggle with, because they’re like, “I write novels, what do I talk about on my website other than posting the book covers to my novels?”
We’re going to tell you exactly how to do that, but first we want to talk a little bit about philosophically how to approach that. And the most important way I feel to think of your website is like the special features on a DVD. So think of your website as that companion to the story that helps accentuate it. Jim, what kind of special features do you like on a DVD when you’re watching one?
Jim: Well, I immediately go to the Bloopers. The bloopers are fun, they make me laugh, you get a little bit of the behind-the-scenes look and feel for who the actors are. The other thing I love is the continuity things, right, where “why did this continuity break here, and why didn’t it break there” and the other thing I love hearing about is how did this story come together?
In other words, it started off as a screenplay or possibly started off as a novel, and then a group of people came together to make this thing into a movie. So I really like the story behind the story.
#1 Deleted Scenes & Alternate Endings
Thomas: Yeah. Exactly, which leads us straight into our first thing, which is Deleted Scenes and alternate endings. This is one of my favorite things to see on a DVD. It’s like, I want to know the other ways that it could have gone or the other scenes that could have been there. Because if you really fall in love with the story, you want more of it when you’re done, right?
I remember being so sad when Lord of The Rings ended, like “I want to read more” and there was no more, and Tolkien was dead, and oh it was the worst. It started me on my track of reading other people’s fantasy books, because I was like “well I’m not going to find more from Tolkien so I have to start exploring other writers” and so this is something you can put on your website– deleted scenes and alternate endings from your book.
Something that makes people curious and also interested. It’s the sort of thing, especially if you mention it, “Deleted Scenes available on book title.com”, now suddenly I’m curious to go visit your website and find out more about you.
Jim: Yeah I love that idea, Thomas, because for example, [with] The Five Times I Met Myself, I’ve had a number of readers write to me and say, “Oh gosh, I was just hoping it could have ended this way, that could have been great” and I’ve written back and say “well it did actually end that way, that’s the way it originally ended” and then we decided to change it up. So you’ve kind of inspired me right now to go back and put that on my website for people that want to see how the story originally ended.
#2 Integrated Blog
Thomas: Another thing that authors are looking for, the 2nd thing people are looking for on your website, is a blog. And they want the blog integrated into your website. And I will say, authors have gotten much better about this nowadays. Years ago people used to have their blog on one website and their website on a separate website. So they had a blogspot over here and their website, their name.com. You want that all together.
Your readers don’t want to leave to go read your blog. And also your blog is a great place to share a lot of the things we’re going to be talking about on this episode. So you could post your deleted scenes as a blog post, if you wanted to. That’s one place you could put this on your website. And if you’re curious, we actually did a whole episode on bloging for Authors, episode 31, What Should Novelists Blog About.
#3 Fan Art
Jim: The 3rd thing you can do is you can put fan art [on your website]. If you have readers that are really into your books, they will sometimes send you art that they have created that’s original art that you can put on your website. And they will love that! I had a reader once send me an original sketch that was really well done, it was one of my books and there was this hand reaching out from the inside of the book and grabbing the reader around the throat. Basically, she was saying “oh my gosh Jim, your novels grab the reader by the throat and don’t let go.”
So it’s not going to be a lot of your readers, but every now and then you’ll have a reader do that. What if they’re not doing it? Well, you can ask them on your blog, you can say, “I would love if you’ve ever created anything, if one of my novels inspired you to create something, I would love to see it,” and you’d be surprised at the response you’re going to get from that.
Thomas: And once you post one, you’re going to get others. Because there’s a certain kind of reader who just doodles the books they’re reading naturally. And if they see, “oh so and so doodled, and their doodle’s now on the author’s website, maybe I should take a photo of mine and send it in.” It’s a lot easier now than it used to be; you used to have to scan it and it was this huge hassle.
Now people just take a photo of their drawing with their smartphone and then just send it to you really quickly. And readers, I will say, I love when I go to an author’s website, I love seeing fanart of their characters and their stories. Especially if it’s a fantasy world. And one real quick bonus here, if you’re writing fantasy, please please please have a high-resolution version of the map of your story world, especially if you have an audiobook! So many audiobooks where I really want to be able to see the map while I’m listening to the story, or be able to zoom in really close and see the world.
That is very exciting to me and fantasy readers want to see that map. So even if you don’t have the map in your book, consider putting it on your website.
#4 Short Stories
Thomas: The next thing to put on your website is short stories. Readers love to find short stories and these can be inside your story world, they can be with the characters from the books you’ve already written, or they can be stories about your own life. If you’re able to, write this interesting compelling story with the beginning, middle, and an end.
A classic example of this is you give away a short story that takes place in between Book 1 and Book 2, you post it to your website, only available on your website. You can also use this as a way of incentivizing people to join your email list if one of the short stories is only available through joining the email list. But readers really like to find this, especially if it’s with the characters they already know and love.
Jim: And think about your own favorite novels. And what happened if there was just a little adjunct, a little side story that happened to one of your characters? You can easily do this, in fact, I did it within a book, my book that came out, Soul’s Gate, there was a regular version and there was a Barnes and Noble special edition version. You could only get this version at Barnes & Noble. And the Barnes & Noble book buyer said: “I’d love to do this, can you come up with 3 additional chapters?”
Well, the challenge was, I was about to do the next book in the series, so how do you write chapters where it doesn’t influence what’s coming and yet satisfies the reader? So I had to push myself a little bit to do it but it’s not that hard to do once you dive in. So I would encourage you, create those little stories about some of your favorite characters in your novels. Or when readers say “oh my gosh I really wonder what happened to her” or “I wonder what happened to him,” try playing with that.
Thomas: Also this is the point if your editor says “you’ve really got to cut chapter 6, it just doesn’t work in the flow of the story,” you can cut chapter 6 and then maybe you can re-tool chapter 6 to be a short story. So some of the things that are left on the cutting room floor may be revivable as short stories to put on your website or deleted scenes.
#5 Answer Reader Questions on Your Blog
Thomas: All right, Thing number 5 is to answer reader questions on your blog. If you’ve been writing novels for any period of time I imagine you’re getting the same questions sent to you from readers over and over again. And for every one reader who works up the courage to ask you the question, there’s probably 10 more, a100 more who don’t. And so a great way, and again, what do you blog about?
This is one key thing– just answer readers! So Jim, you know, he’s getting all this questions about why his book ended a certain way. Well he could write a blog post that’s the definitive answer to why his book ended that way, and you don’t want to spoil why it ended that way, but if you’ve already read the book and you’re spoiler-ready, you can go and read that blog post and now you’ve been satisfied and you’re now happy that you’ve visited the website.
#6 Upcoming Book Status
Jim: Yeah, exactly. The 6th thing that we suggest is your upcoming book status. What’s going on, are you writing something new, when is it coming out, what’s the progress, how are you feeling about it. Readers love to feel like, as we just said at the start of the podcast, they like to feel like they’re behind the scenes. They know what’s going on.
Especially your super readers that love everything you’ve come out with, to have something like that on your website where they can go “oh, it’s this stage of development” or “ooh she’s struggling with this right now” or “oh my gosh she’s researching this, that’s going to come into the book”. Doesn’t have to be any kind of spoiler thing, you start to give that background where what’s going on with the book, that’s a huge attraction for readers.
Thomas: And as a reader this is totally true for me. This is one of the number one things I go on an author’s website to find is, what’s the status of your upcoming book? We’ve talked about this quite a bit, in fact it annoyed me so much that so many authors don’t talk about this that I actually paid my developers to make a plugin, MyBookProgress, that’s free! You can add it to your WordPress website for free and it easily adds a progress bar.
Maybe the way you write, it’s hard to do a progress bar. That’s fine! Every once in awhile, write a blog post saying “hey here’s where I’m at, and here are the challenges I’m facing, and here’s when I’m expecting the book to be done right now” and any time you have a major milestone, like “hey we just finished the first draft,” go ahead and write a blog post about that. It doesn’t have to be long, just let me know, “oh you’re still making progress.”
Sometimes authors give up on their books and they never write book 2. There are books where I read a book 1 of the series and books 2 and 3 were never written. And if I don’t see updates about your book, I may start to assume that that’s YOU and now I’m not checking your website again, and I may not ever find out that book 2 is out, and I would have bought it had I known it was still in progress.
#7 Email Newsletter Signup
Jim: Tip #7 is, email newsletters signup. When I used to work in radio we had what we called P1, P2, and P3 listeners. The P1 listeners were the ones that—oh my gosh they listened to us every day, they could not wait to turn on the radio and hear our radio station. You have P1 readers, where they want to know everything about you and they want to know the update. And we as authors, I get this, I get intimidated because it’s like, “oh my gosh if I send out a newsletter, what happens if people unsubscribe? They don’t want to get the newsletter anymore.”
Well, it’s okay, you don’t want them anyway, they’re not going to buy your books anyway. So let them go. But the people who ARE your core readers, who REALLY do want to get that newsletter, they want to know what’s going on with you. And so we would encourage you on your website. On my website, on every page you have the ability to sign up for my newsletter. Your publisher can’t tell your fans when your next book is coming out as powerfully or as intimately as you can. So even if you’re like “Look Jim, I do not want to do a bunch of newsletters” –great, just send one out when your new book comes out. Maybe that’s the only one you send out, but those P1 readers will want to know when your book is coming out.
Thomas: And for more on author newsletters you can listen to episode 57, and we have a whole bunch of episodes on author newsletters, email newsletters, but 57 is a good place to start, it’s what to include in author newsletters.
#8 Sell Autographed Copies
Thomas: All right, the next thing for your website that people are often looking for is autographed copies of your book. So this is optional. We should say, all of these things are optional. These are things that people are coming and looking for on your website. That doesn’t mean that you have to deliver. But those could be a way to make a little bit of extra money, especially if you are selling it at a premium.
So I would not sell the autographed copy at the same price you’re selling your normal book for. I would sell it at a premium and a pretty significant premium. That way when you’re at an event and you’re signing books, and you’re not charging extra for it, it feels special. But there’s a certain kind of person who’s willing to pay extra, 40 or 50 dollars for a signed copy of your book. And offer an opportunity for people to buy that from you on your website.
Jim: Yeah that’s interesting, Thomas. Some people probably would pay 40 or 50 bucks but I’m just thinking through, how much would I charge? Because I have a lot of people and I have not done this on my website so I’m just thinking about this in my own mind right now.
I have people who will actually pay postage both ways and they’ll have bought a copy of my book, and they’ll say, “I want you to autograph it.” They’ll pay postage to get it to me and they’ll pay the postage to send it back. So I definitely agree with you that there are people who want that autographed copy and I’m just not sure how much to charge, that’s a good question.
Thomas: So my approach to it is, you want to price it in such a way where it’s aspirational and where it’s rare. You want an autographed copy to be something special. Because you don’t want to be spending your time signing copies. So if it’s an extra 5 bucks, gosh, why wouldn’t I do that? And suddenly you’re autographing 4-5 books a week. It would be much better for you to just do it a couple times a month, maybe, but you’re making 40 dollars extra every copy from that. And then it becomes very special and when you hand someone a book and you sign it, it’s like you’re giving them a 50 dollar thing, like you’re putting this premium on that autograph. It makes that gift more valuable.
Jim: Okay so they realize, not a lot of people have an actual signed copy of the book.
#9 Author Commentary
Thomas: The next thing is author commentary. So, back to the DVD metaphor, we talked about at the beginning, One of the things that’s popular as a special feature on a DVD is the director’s commentary. In fact, when I’ll be watching a movie with my wife, there are certain movies that she just loves. She’s watched them half a dozen times, maybe more. And one of the times she watched it is with the director’s commentary, or she’s googled a lot of trivia about the movie, and so when we watch it together, it’s kind of fun.
She’s giving me live director’s commentary and it’s like “oh this actor so-and-so, did you know that the oldest daughter in The Sound of Music had a crush on the father, which is pretty awkward in these scenes because you kind of see it in her eyes” and I had no idea! That’s the sort of thing you can add to your website. You can bring that kind of behind-the-scenes commentary or you can tell people where to find Easter eggs. And Jim I know you do a lot of hiding of Easter eggs in your books.
Jim: Yeah, I do. I do quite a bit. In every book, I’d say I do quite a bit of Easter eggs. I probably have 20 or 30 Easter eggs in every one of my books. It’s very fun to do and I have put together trivia sheets for people, but I’ve never gone to the point of doing commentary like you’re talking about and pointing out those Easter eggs. And I think that is a wonderful idea, Thomas.
I am like Margaret, where if I have a favorite movie, I love listening to the commentary of the director and sometimes it’ll be one of the lead actors commenting on it as well. “This is why we did this, this is why we didn’t do this, we didn’t have the budget to do this, we originally thought we were going to do this” — I love that idea. That’s really strong.
#10 Social Icons
Thomas: The next thing is not super exciting but it is important. 10 to 20 percent of people who come to your website are coming for just one thing. They want to follow you on social media. And they’re just looking for that blue Facebook button, or that whatever-color-the-Twitter-button-is, or Instagram, or whatever it is that you use.
You want the buttons for following you in those places. You want your social media to be easy to find on your website. It doesn’t have to be at the top, just somewhere obvious so that if I’m wanting to find you, I can do it very quickly. And it will help grow your social networks.
Jim: The 11th and final tip for things you can do to make your website attractive to readers is show them your inspiration. And what we mean by that is a lot of people listening to this podcast write historical, a lot of people write contemporary, a lot of people write fantasy, there’s a number of different genres represented in your listeners. What if you showed the pictures that inspired you to write that particular story?
What if you did a lot of the things you’re probably doing on Pinterest and brought that over to your website? For example with my first novel, Rooms, a lot of people know that setting, Cannon Beach. I used to vacation there with my family. Every year for 8 years in a row we went down there. So I’ve got all these photos of Cannon Beach that I can say, “see this point in the book? This is where it actually happened. See this point in the book? This is the actual spot where it happened.” The book becomes very intriguing for people when they actually see the inspiration behind your stories.
Thomas: This is also an opportunity to make a little bit of money off your website and other things. It’s hard to make money off of photos but if there were some songs that inspired you, you can link to those songs on Amazon or on Spotify and if you’re on the affiliate programs for those you can actually make a little bit of money when listeners go listen to the song or buy the song. Even better with movies and books! So did these 3 movies inspire your chapter 2? You can link to those on Amazon, with an affiliate link! This is a really great way to subsidize your book and then of course with books.
Like, “oh this book was my inspiration” or “these books were my inspiration.” So go ahead, write a blog post about what inspired you and put affiliate links there! You can make a little bit of extra money and it’s a great service to your readers because they’re wanting something to read while they’re waiting for your next book to come out, and they’re wanting to hear what you recommend. “I loved your book, what’s a book that’s similar to your book that I would love?”
You can be as totally transparent, in fact you probably should be, about the fact that these are affiliate links and people will buy just to support you. In fact, there have been times when I know I’m making a big Amazon purchase, I’ll go to an author’s website that I’m wanting to support, and I’ll click on an affiliate link on their website before making that Amazon purchase, just to support what they’re doing.
- Photos- show where things happened in the story
- Music- link to songs on Amazon or Spotify
- Movies- link to movies that inspired you
Thomas: This episode of the Novel Marketing Podcast has been brought to you by MyBookProgress. We’ve already been talking about it some in this episode but I was helping an author on her website a few days ago and I saw she was using MyBookProgress and using the free version. I was like “oh I see you’re using the free version, you know, why haven’t you upgraded” and she said “the free version does everything I need it to do.” And I was like “”yeah, we get that a lot.” So MyBookProgress– we put perhaps too many features in the free version.
The reason to upgrade is you get more styles, and you can make the progress bar look a bunch of different ways that might match your website better. But we have a lot of styles in the free version as well and you can get that at MyBookProgress.com. You can show the progress you’re making on your book, it encourages you to keep writing by giving you encouragement as you input your progress every day, and it helps you grow your email list so that people can know when your book is ready to buy.
One More Thing
One last thing, we now have a Novel Marketing newsletter! So if you come to our website, Novel Marketing, we’re finally practicing what we preach when it comes to email newsletters. We’ll talk more about this in future episodes. But we’re making upgrades to the website and I encourage you to check that out, novelmarketing.com, subscribe to the newsletter, it’s pretty exciting and we’ll have more on that soon.