Before you launch your writer’s platform. Before you begin to build your website. Before you even start looking for hosting or themes or images, consider these few important questions.
Your website should be at the heart of your writer’s platform. It can be tempting to just throw something together so you can get it up there and check “build website” off your list. However, taking a little time to think it through is essential if you want your website to effectively support your goals as a writer. (This is true for all websites and any part of your platform!) It is common to be told to answer the question:
“Why are you building a website?”
I think phrasing it that way can be kind of intimidating. Somehow asking “why are you doing something” immediately puts people on the defensive. As if it is a challenge or you are being tested. Are your actions justified? Will you come up with the “right” answer?! I think it is better to ask…
“What will be the purpose of your site?”
Because this puts you in the driver’s seat. You can make it be any purpose you want. There isn’t one right answer. It can be directly to sell books. (And if you have books to sell, you definitely want to include options for how to buy them!) Or maybe you aren’t there yet, and your goal is to get published. Perhaps you want to increase attendance at your author events, or to present at a conference, or to build a community around the topic of your books. The only wrong answer is to not have defined any purpose at all. There are pages and features that I recommend for any author’s website. But how you use these features, and the extent to which you use them depends on your purpose. So take some time to clarify your goals. When you extend that goal to your website you will have a much clearer idea of what content you should or should not include. Here are a few common goals writers apply to their website:
- To get published
- To sell books
- To get speaking gigs
- To build a list of email subscribers
- To develop a community around a topic
These are, of course, high-level goals. You then employ specific strategies to support your goals. Goals change over time As you consider these questions it is helpful to remember that you can have primary and secondary website goals. And that they can change over time. Maybe your primary goal at the moment is to launch a platform that will inspire confidence from agents and publishers. Once you succeed and your books is in the works, your primary goal may shift to whatever is needed to help you prepare for that launch.
Who is your audience?
Now that you have defined your website goals, define your audience, as best you can. Describe who you will be creating the site for, their interests and motivations. For example, if your audience is event organizers, then be sure to include the kinds of content that will make it easy for them to know what you have to offer and to work with you. Describe your previous speaking experience, the specific topics you can speak on, testimonials from past attendees, etc. If your goal is to get published, consider how you will represent that you are fully committed to your book project. Be sure you know who it is you are creating content for and what they need. These first two questions lead to a third that is important to keep in mind as you develop your site’s content.
“What action does a visitor need to take for my purpose to succeed?”
This will help you identify important calls-to-action, (i.e. the action you want your audience to take.) You should make it as easy as possible for your visitors to take action. Calls-to-action include:
- Contact me
- Buy now
So you’ve considered your purpose and goals, you’ve defined who your audience is, and you know what action you need them to take. Great! There’s another question to consider…the one your visitors are asking.
What’s in it for me?
A common mistake, especially for new authors, is to plan a website for your fans. Imagining that everyone who comes to your site has read your book and is hungry to know more about you and your work. That they are eager to soak up whatever you are in the mood to share. Don’t create all your content for your fans before you actually have readers. What every visitor of every website in the world is asking is “what’s in it for me?” This is why defining your audience and their motivations is so important. So you can immediately reflect to them that they’ve come to the right place. When you prompt them to take an action, be sure to tell them why in terms of how they will benefit from taking that action.
What’s your proof?
You need to include content that serves to prove that what you write will be worth the investment of the reader or agent’s time. Book reviews are, of course, a common and highly valued social proof that a real person has read and liked your book or your work. But even unpublished writers can include content that demonstrates their talent, commitment, expertise or insight. Consider content that provides credibility and builds trust.
- Describe your expertise or experience
- Share feedback from talks or workshops
- Quantify: The number of books sold or a list of your publications
- List events you have participated in
- Provide free resources to benefit your visitors
Speaking of free resources, I’ve created a handy little one-sheet where you can work out the answers to these questions. Use it to capture your ideas as you get ready to create your author website and launch your writers platform. Download the worksheet. Once you have answered these questions you will be in a much better position to create website content that actually connects with your visitors and with your potential readers.