You’ve heard that an author’s website is a vital part of your book marketing platform (and it is), but you’re not sure how best to leverage it to sell more books. Or, you set up your website several years ago but you’ve neglected it… and you don’t know if that matters. Or, instinct tells you that your website isn’t helping you get taken seriously. Could you be missing out on opportunities to build your writing career?
Here, I’ve gathered my author website tips with a focus on selling books.
Here are some likely ways your website is undermining your book sales
1) Your first impression is poor
There’s no escaping this truth: if your website is badly designed, cluttered, or outdated, or looks bad on a mobile phone, visitors will assume your books are rubbish too.
Does that seem harsh? Both a book and a website communicate your message visually. Even though writing and website design feel like different skills to you and me, your potential reader will judge your book by your web page.
And, if you’re hoping to sell your book to a publisher, they’re keen to know you have a basic understanding of book marketing.
What can ruin your website’s first impression?
It looks old-fashioned. Generally, that means a boxed layout (not full-screen width), often crammed with text. What to do instead? See this modern, full-width design for author Colleen Sehy.
Photos and images, in general, are small, dated, or not of professional quality. They might also be poorly spaced alongside the text, and look like afterthoughts.
Your blog (still) forms the Home Page of your website. That’s no longer a current practice. Even if you showcase a few article snippets there, don’t show the entire blog post on your main page.
You have a sidebar on your Home Page and it’s jammed with “stuff”. Again, that shows your design is outdated.
You clearly don’t keep the website up to date. For example, there’s an obvious date, like a book release, blog post, or copyright year, showing you haven’t made edits in a long time.
2) It’s not obvious what you write and how to buy it easily
2a) Make your genre clear on your home page
When a visitor lands on your website, they might have come looking for you specifically, and already know what you write. Or, they might have come through another route and not know anything about you. Help them to see immediately your area of writing or what genre of books you’ve published. This will help them decide whether to stick around.
Your colors, images, branding, and overall vibe are big factors in communicating your genre. But, unless your Home Page design shouts thriller or romance or whatever, it doesn’t hurt to spell it out. See this example for author Hank Ellis.
2b) Show clearly how to buy
If selling books is the primary aim of your website (and, spoiler alert, it might not be!) then you need to make it super clear to the visitor how to purchase:
Make your book covers large, clear, and attractive. If you offer physical books as well as digital, show your books in 3D using a tool like this.
Next to every book: show clear, consistent buttons with buying links. Typically, you’ll use one of your more eye-catching brand colors for buttons. You’ll get more clicks with buttons than basic text links: they are easier to see and much easier to select, especially on a mobile phone.
Link up the book covers too so that clicking leads to your favorite buying source.
3) You assume Google will sell your books
SEO and fiction authors
Do you write fiction? If so, I’m sorry, but Google is unlikely to play a huge role in helping to sell your books. This study from Penguin Random House is a few years old, but it shows that readers are not using search engines to pick their next read.
So, instead of trying to attract Google’s attention, spend your time on other ways to get your website in front of new readers. For example, write a guest article, get reviewed by a book blog, or attend an online book club.
SEO and nonfiction authors
If you’re a nonfiction author, the situation is more nuanced. Impressing Google (also known as SEO, or Search Engine Optimization) is likely to be more important for you, but to get traction you’ll do best if:
You have a niche so that you get found for your specialism. (Too many people are blogging with “writing advice,” “nutrition tips,” or “yoga routines,” for example.)
You are willing to create blog posts, articles, or other useful, relevant content. Do not simply use your blog as a personal lifestyle journal: it must give helpful, meaningful guidance to those interested in your topic.
You are able to settle in and be consistent. SEO experts tell us that ranking on Google could take several months, or longer.
You then need a way to convert a casual website visitor either into a book buyer, or an email subscriber (see below).
4) You’re seeing your website as a silver bullet, not a stepping stone
Few book marketing services or articles containing author website tips remember to point out a big misconception: your site is not a solo, magical tool, where you build it and visitors flock to your door. Instead, start seeing your website as a vital team player in your efforts to show professionalism, credibility, and commitment to your writing. It underpins your other marketing activities, but it probably won’t generate massive book royalties all on its own.
Here’s how your website can be “most valuable player”, setting you up for a subsequent book sale:
4a) Build your author email list
Your website may be more helpful in boosting sales of your next book, not your current book. Many authors I speak with want their website’s primary purpose to be “sell the book,” but it can be more realistic to set your goal as email list sign-ups, instead. Here’s why:
A potential reader may find your website, like the look of what you offer, but not be ready to buy just yet.
Someone who’s already read a book will come to your website to learn more about you, and they’d like to be notified of your next new release.
An industry professional, such as a literary agent, will be checking your website to confirm you have a level of business savvy and marketing awareness. Showing that you’re building your email list to support your long-term writing career reflects well on you.
Good news: starting your author email list isn’t complicated.
If you don’t already have an email list provider, sign up for an account that will manage the people joining your list and, just as importantly, allow them to unsubscribe (this is a legal requirement). Mailchimp is a reasonable choice for getting started, but for ease of use, I now use and recommend ConvertKit.
Ideally, you’ll embed your email sign-up form in your website, and if you hire me to create your author website for you, I will take care of this for you. See this example on Zakiya Fatin’s author website.
(But, if you’re working on your own and can’t figure out how to do it, it’s not the end of the world. Just send people to the separate sign-up page, that your email provider creates for you.)
Don’t get hung up, either, on the notion that you must then send frequent author “newsletters”.
It’s fine to start building your list even if you’re not at the point where you have the bandwidth, or enough news, to write often. When your next book comes out, you’ll have permission to contact these folks directly. There’s an excellent chance that some of them will buy it as soon as it’s released.
4b) Show how to book you for events
Your website demonstrates not only your professionalism but your willingness to connect with readers in other ways. If you offer speaking events, bookstore talks, or book club visits, be sure that your website has a section for this and gives clear guidance on how to book you. This way, it serves as a stepping stone for scheduling events at which you’ll then sell books directly.
In-person events also raise your author profile in general. Having a fresh, professional website is a key part of showing you will be a useful, interesting guest.
Remember, your website might be performing just fine!
A website is a vital part of your professionalism, author platform, and online brand, but it can be hard to track how many book sales it’s actually driving. Someone might come to your website, check you out, and follow a link to buy a book, but you would never know that had happened.
If you offer other services (like writing coaching, or editing) alongside your books for sale, new clients will almost certainly visit your website before getting in touch with you, but they may not mention it, when you ask them how they heard about you.
Tracking your analytics over time is well worth it, but don’t get obsessive. If you’re blogging, take note of article views, and if you’ve decided to be intentional about SEO, track your results for that, too. But, it’s likely more meaningful for you to compare performance over time than to get hung up on absolute numbers. It’s better to have a small, passionate following, than a large number of people who don’t really care.
Summary of author website tips to sell more books:
You won’t be taken seriously without a modern, well-designed website that shows you’re committed to furthering your writing career.
Put yourself in your website visitor’s shoes. The best author websites focus on what the visitor will find useful and engaging, and what would you like them to do next.
Your website is a key tool in your marketing kit, but not usually a silver bullet on its own.
Would you like me to design and build your Squarespace author website?
As a professional specializing in author website design, I take care of all of the above, and more, when I design and build your website for you. If you’d like technical expertise, book marketing advice, and to have all of the implementation taken care of, consider hiring me.