I know that the change in look and feel here at Dear Author is the subject of some controversy. I can promise we will be addressing quite a few of the complaints (font size, glaring red color, lack of elegance), but much of the re-design is here to stay because of one important reason and that is the site loads about 3 times as fast as it did before. For some people, that is a meaningful change. As whey noted yesterday, a website’s content is the most important feature. If people are clicking away before the content loads, then the best content on the web won’t matter because those visitors will never have read it.
According to some sources, a site begins to lose visitors if it does not load within 7 seconds. Other surveys claim that after 8 seconds, 1/3 of visitors will click away. If the author is new, what is compelling to keep a reader waiting until the site loads?
In looking at other sites for inspiration, I noticed that many, many authors websites are inefficient. I know that I’ve written about this before as did a bookseller friend of mine. However, many authors seem to be either unaware of the un-useability of their sites or willfully tied to the bells and whistles to the detriment of the readers.
I remember trying to navigate Julie Garwood’s site in hot anticipation of Shadow Music. First, it took over 30 seconds to load her website. Second, the moving background actually made me seasick. Third, there were links that did not function correctly (i.e., the FAQ link took me to an excerpt of Shadow Music that was not scrollable even though it was clear that the content was abnormally truncated).
I’ve never understood the sites that contain noise. Looking at my own stats, most of the visitors come during working hours. I know that music playing on a site such as at Christina Dodd’s (warning link has music) prevents me from visiting her website during the day and at work because I cannot have sound at work, particularly the sound that plays on her website.
Rachel Caine’s website is interesting. I can’t figure out if I like the chaotic layout or not, but one thing I do know is that I find it hard to read the content because of the watermark in the background. I gave up reading the excerpt for her latest release because the watermark was distracting.
The biggest complaint I have with author’s sites is that so many sites contain little to no information about the next book. Most of the time I go out and seek an author’s website is because I’ve read their book and want to know what is next. Not being able to find exactly what the next book is and when the next book is being released and what it is about is frustrating and reduces my ability to stalk the author!
I know that Dear Author’s design isn’t what everyone would like it to be but it was re-designed with the idea of making it faster to load and easier to find the content (i.e., the tabs/menu bar across the top provide near instant access to a host of information). I wish that authors would think more about the readers’ needs and less about the cutesiness of their sites.
Oh, and I really, really wish Joanna Bourne would get a website in addition to her blog (that’s infrequently updated and contains virtually no information about the next book). I don’t think that a blog can supplant a website. From this reader’s point of view, I would much rather access a website (that is regularly updated with the author’s publishing schedule) than a regularly updated blog. It is too difficult for me to decipher, through the dozens of blog posts, what the next book is; what the backlist is; where the books can be purchased and so forth.
Karen Rose has a website I love. She has a picture of herself on the first page and I really like that. She has easy to navigate left hand menus with normal and easily understandable labels. I know that the tab “Karen’s Books” must contain information about her books. And it does! She has “New Releases“, “Coming Soon“, “Books in Print“, “Printable Booklist“, and, one of my favorite features “Book Relationships” that provides a visual diagram of the what books are related to each other and then a textual explanation of the characters interrelationships to those books.
Connie Brockway‘s site has an easy to follow left hand menu containing quick links to her latest books and my favorite “work in progress.” While this is not updated right now (since the “Latest Release” is Skinny Dipping and not Hot Dish), it does feature a really neat interactive feature of the cover of Skinny Dipping.
Two sites that I think combine beautiful design with functionality would be Kathryn Smith’s site and Elizabeth Hoyt’s. Smith’s site is one of the most beautiful author websites that I have visited. The design is lovely and fits her books well. I wish she had a “work in progress” link but otherwise, Smith’s site is one of my favorite because of the look and feel.
In today’s web oriented world, it makes sense for the website of an author to be the best marketing tool possible. I suppose that authors view themselves as artists and therefore readers should be willing to wait for the vision of the author to load. I am more practical. The art is the book and you have to sell me on buying the book first. A good website can help do that. A slow loading, confusing website will have me clicking away.