Thursday, February 5, 2009

What Makes a Great Author Website

I’ve been thinking about redesigning my website. When I first put it up I was in a hurry, needing a web presence ASAP to support various promotional activities I had going. A graphic artist/friend designed the pages—and I liked the look—but I didn’t know what I really needed or wanted at that point. So for the last few weeks I’ve been asking about people’s favorite author sites and looking at dozens of websites to see what design elements they have in common (and what they have that I don’t). Here’s my findings.

For crime authors, most sites have a black or dark grey background with white text and red accents. So in that regard, my designer knew exactly what she was doing. Good examples:
Michelle Gagnon
Alafair Burke

Most of the popular sites also have very little text on the opening page (or top half of the opening page). Instead they have vivid pictures (often changing) and book covers. About half of favorite author pages have their photo on the opening and half don’t. Examples:
Alexandra Sokoloff
John Sandford
Nora Roberts

Many of the informal-survey favorites have a blog built into their site and others have page that is distinctive to their site—Sticky Notes, photographs, Fan of the Day, character bios. Examples:
Thomas Holland
JA Konrath
Chris Grabenstein
JC Hutchins

Almost every popular site I looked at had a row of clickable navigational links across the top of the design and often down the side as well. Many also had pull down menus from those tabs.

What they don’t have:
I was surprised to see that many author websites don’t have obvious BUY buttons. They may be buried somewhere but you have to search for them. And many do not have links to the home page on every other page. On some of the sites, I found it impossible to get back to the home page at all.

Overall, my favorite for design is Karen Olson’s. She hit all the right elements—clean gorgeous opening page, easy clickable navigation, black/white/red color scheme, access to the home page on every page, and big buy buttons. The only element she lacked that some others had was the unique page.
Karen Olson

And J.A. Konrath gets honorable mention for having the most usable content and an easy to navigate structure.
JA Konrath


15 comments:

Phyllis Zimbler Miller said...

What's missing in this examination of effective book websites is evaluating what isn't visible to the naked eye -- namely, the back-end applications that, for example, help search engines find the site. That's why a person has to be careful when evaluating the effectiveness of a book site from only a design point of view.

bluedance said...

As a web designer (I may only be 22, but I've been doing this for 5 1/2 years now), this is what I'd say.
Most of the pages still smell a bit of amateur to me - not necessarily the writing but the design. It's still dirty, hard to read, and visually not stimulating. Of all the pages, I only sort of liked Michelle Gagnon's (it was still too dark to be easily readable for long, and body font should not be bold). As for overall design I actually like John Sanford's once you get past the splash page (which is bunk by the way - not the idea of the splash page, just his design, it's totally incongruous to the rest of the site).
My 2 cents, take it or leave it.

Robert G. Male said...

Bright text on dark backgrounds is a nightmare for some people. If I have to read more than a couple lines of a site page like that I see bright lines everywhere I look for some time afterward, almost like looking straight at a light bulb. I can only imagine it is much worse for people with visual difficulties, people who get migraines, etc.

As you mentioned, links leading back to previous pages are important even if they are in pull downs, though I prefer to design sites with obvious navigation until you reach the point that you have sub-navigation menus. Then you hide some of the options.

These are common design issues for all sites. Author sites need to address other elements. A biography is always good, there is a reason they are included in or on books. Some kind of page that leads off to where the visitor can buy the author's books are good at saving the visitor time, something they all appreciate. Everything is moving toward interaction. Blogs are a common way to do that with the ability to leave comments and start conversations but there are other ways, especially if it makes the visitor feel like they are contributing. Speaking of blogs, they come with privacy rules under which the blogger and the visitor fall. Other places on the author's site that involve the visitor passing along information (even just their email address) should have a link to a privacy statement. A Terms of Use page and links to it isn't a bad idea either, both for legal safety and as a mark of professionalism for the site.

joandelahaye said...

Those are all really great sites, but I must admit, if it takes too long to download I'm outta there and I also won't be back. I prefer websites that get straight to the point and give me the relevant info that I need quickly. I don't want to have to look for it. Pretty pictures are all fine, but then don't use up all my bandwidth for just that site.

Joan De La Haye
http://joandelahaye.wordpress.com/

Lee Lofland said...

Your post comes with perfect timing. Just yesterday my web host and I began discussing much-needed changes for my website and blog. Thanks for the suggestions.

I know my blog may be slow-loading for some people due to all the photos, but they're a necessary part of my message. They'll have to stay. Sorry.

L.J. Sellers said...

No apologies necessary, Lee. You have a great site and your blog comes up as a favorite all the time.

http://www.leelofland.com/wordpress

J.C. Hutchins said...

Hey L.J.! Thanks for including my website in your post. I appreciate the kind words, and the exposure!

--J.C.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Good article, LJ. I'm one of those that like simple, clean, imaginative, and easy to use. I don't like black backgrounds with little white or very bright print or transparent print. Too hard to read. If I have to work too hard to get to your information, forget it, click and I'm gone.

I also like the sites with clickable navigational links which open links without leaving the site, and drop down menus.

Keep it simple. Keep the complexities for your books...

~Sia McKye~ said...

Oh, and I love your tag line, Write First, Clean Later, lolol! Ah, a woman after my own heart. Somehow, it all gets done...eventually, lolol!

Jean Henry Mead said...

Thanks for the great post, LJ. I'm also in need of a website change. I love Karen's site. She's so adorable that you can't help but be drawn into her appealing and well-designed webpage.

Jean
http://mysteriouspeople.blogspot.com/

Kathie Leung said...

I'm going to respond on one element that seems to keep getting overlooked, coming from my years of web development experience and the plethora of classes I took and books I read (great book to read and live by is Jakob Nielsen's "Designing Web Usability." He's done some incredible research and is someone who the big guns pay six figures as a consultant on their highly successful sites he helps design - Here's the B&N link: http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Designing-Web-Usability/Jakob-Nielsen/e/9781562058104/?itm=59)on the subject. Color blindness affects a large percentage of the adult population, primarily in males, upwards of 60%, I believe. One of the hardest colors for them to see is: red. You'd be well advised to stay away from using that color for any text.

Yes, that appears to be an informal survey one based upon, I'm assuming, your own personal likes/dislikes. That was the biggest problem I found in my clients way of thinking. What strikes me here is are you considering whether any of these sites are serving a purpose and at the best of their potential?

Functionality is key. Anyone who is looking to use their site as a vehicle for sales or even connecting with their fan base would be well advised to read, and then insist their web developer has read, Nielsen's book.

L.J. Sellers said...

Thanks for your input, Kathie. Actually, almost all of the sites I mentioned were other people's favorites that were suggested to me. I simply tried to see if there were commonalities. It's been an interesting process and discussion.

Karen Olson said...

Thanks for mentioning my site, LJ! All the credit goes to my wonderful web designer Mike Jones at www.webkazoo.com.

Helen Ginger said...

I've been wanting to re-do my site, too. It'll have to wait until I have time though. I've never used Xuni.com, but I go there sometimes to look at the sites. I like some of the sites she does, others not so much. But it's fun to scroll down her list of clients. She does a ton of author sites. You can see she has a definite style - http://xuni.com/clients.html

I hate it when I'm clicking through a site and can't go back or find my way back. And there are some sites (I'm researching for a book I'm working on) where you cannot find the information that you know should be there.

Helen Ginger
http://straightfromhel.blogspot.com

Thad McIlroy, The Future of Publishing said...

Please see my analysis of this same challenge:

http://thefutureofpublishing.com/blog/2009/09/what-makes-a-great-author-website/