Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

The Importance of Easy Access Websites for Authors

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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.

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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.

Alison Kent‘s bookshelf link provides “Coming Soon“, “Available Now“, and “Backlist” all on one easy to find page.

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.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

62 Comments

  1. Angie
    Jan 01, 2008 @ 05:20:07

    I agree, and I say that as a writer with a sucky web site. [ducks and scribbles on Resolutions List] I think the new look here is kind of blah, but it works and that’s what matters. And I’ve been to more than one writer’s web site that made me squint, or made my eyes water. You think that watermark is bad? I’ll take that over text superimposed over a background photo any day. [facepalm]

    Angie

  2. December Quinn/Stacia Kane
    Jan 01, 2008 @ 05:26:28

    I think the new look is really nice.

  3. Elaine
    Jan 01, 2008 @ 06:19:48

    I hope a lot of writers take your advice to heart. A simple, non-moving, well-organized, up-to-date site without noise is much more effective than eighty per cent of the author’s sites I have seen.

  4. Jia
    Jan 01, 2008 @ 07:23:36

    I agree. I wish more authors would think about accessibility and functionality when designing their websites. True, it might be fun to throw that music, sound, and animation on your website, but that also adds to loading time. Chances are it won’t make a difference if you have a highspeed connection but if you have dial-up, you’re more or less screwed.

  5. bettie
    Jan 01, 2008 @ 07:34:53

    Oooh! I like this version of the layout. It loaded super fast, the top graphic is great, and it’s so soothing on the eyes.

    Back to the topic of authors and their websites: I’m in the process of redesigning my website. I chose a graphics-heavy design for one simple reason: Glaring Lack of Content.

    I have one novella coming out in January, one free ebook, a brief bio and a list of links. That’s it. Since everything people would come to my site to find out is pretty much right on the first page, I figured I’d ought to give them something pretty to look at. So I created a look that, I think, conveys the tone of my writing.

    I’ve noticed a lot of other new authors do the same thing. Authors with more books and more content have simpler sites. Newbies like me, we try to get by on looks. :o)

    P.S. I second Elaine’s comment about the noise. Auto-loading music scares my cats, and it’s my number one website pet peeve.

  6. Jayne
    Jan 01, 2008 @ 07:37:34

    Recently we had an author’s agent contact us about reviewing a book. Mention was made about the wonderful website connected to the book. I went to the wonderful website and it took FOREVAH to load even though I have DSL. Lots of bells and whistles. Music (that had to be activated, though), pictures, you name it. I can tell you that I was sitting at my desk impatiently tapping my fingers waiting for it to finally load and wondering if it would be worth my time at all.

    Who has time for this?

  7. ilona andrews
    Jan 01, 2008 @ 08:20:16

    Thank you for the informative article.

    Note to self: fix the website.

  8. M.
    Jan 01, 2008 @ 08:23:05

    Thanks for getting rid of the red borders. This new design is easy on the eyes, user friendly and loads super quick (though I use a broadband connection, you are absolutely right, some sites are so bogged down with bells and whistles, (not to mention the horrendously annoying sounds and moving cursors. that I go in once never to go back again. I have always been very outspoken regarding all those things that you mention. For a website, LESS is MORE. You can have a fun and informative website without all the clutter, busy backgrounds, etc.

  9. Anne Douglas
    Jan 01, 2008 @ 09:05:45

    I really don’t mind the new website – but then I’m a less is more kind of girl.

    I’ve wonder in this instance (websites/internet presence) this is where the eBook authors really have a chance to shine — after all it is our medium of choice. That’s not to say some eBooks authors don’t have some wallbanger websites, though :)

    With wordpress being what it is -free- and so many templates available -free- no author really has an excuse not to have a relatively ordered website.

  10. Keishon
    Jan 01, 2008 @ 09:07:50

    Your right about “clicking away” because I do just that for sites that have music, glaring, clashing colors, and slow loading and I have DSL. Peace.

  11. Jenyfer Matthews
    Jan 01, 2008 @ 09:12:53

    Thanks – I feel a bit better about my no-frills site now!!

  12. Katie
    Jan 01, 2008 @ 09:13:15

    Well, I for my part love the new website. I never had any problems with the old one, DSL-blessed girl that I am. Many MANY thanks for removing the red background, that one was a wee bit challenging on the eyes *g*. What I am missing is that on the old side, filed under ebooks, all your useful posts with informations about ebook vendors/publishers, devices, how to convert etc… aren’t on the first page anymore (or I have gone blind). They were quite useful when I went on a hunting spree for the cheapest ebook out there :-)

  13. Angela James
    Jan 01, 2008 @ 10:07:26

    For what it’s worth I’m traveling in the car today, using my mobile wireless card for the laptop to work and the site loaded very nicely, which is really saying something.

    As for author websites, I can think of a few that are included on my list of “things that make you go hmmm” including one where the author has just about all of her content on one long page it seems, including a close-up shot of her cleavage. Hmm.

    The others that top my list of bad websites are those that have too much random content, flash intros that can’t be skipped (extra bonus points if they have sound), and those that have really busy backgrounds with the writing over top (not even a nod to an attempt at a white box or plain background for the content).

    We talk about this on the Samhain editor loop from time to time, if we have a new author who submits, if a bad website influences us. The answer is: yes, it can. And sometimes we go to the website just to gawk because we’ve seen some really baaaad ones.

  14. Taekduu
    Jan 01, 2008 @ 10:17:33

    Not an author but wasn’t sure about the new design initially. I definitely agree it loads faster than the old one and the design as I am getting used to it is more streamlined. There isn’t as much distraction and I don’t have to adjust the size of the page to accomodate any interesting links you have off to the side. The red isn’t that bad, it seems more like occasional accents.

    On author website’s when they don’t have a site or they do not update for months to years it really irritates me. There are authors who have new books out but they haven’t updated their websites and you have no idea what is going on. I am unlikely to purchase the book if I don’t have a summary and lately as I try to curb the book spending, if I don’t get some kind of excerpt. It bothers me with authors who are primarily print but I don’t understand how a primarily ebook author goes about without ever updating their website. I don’t know if you have a new book and I am much less likely to purchase anything from you in the future.

    I wish authors would choose less graphics heavy sites though. I have had broadband and DSL and even with that some sites are nearly impossible to load. I don’t want cool creative graphics. If you don’t have a lot of content then admit to it and put in things that matter. Bettie, I am okay with a free ebook and updates on current WIP or upcoming releases. I don’t need to be entertained at all times. I have no desire to spend 10-15 minutes at a site. As a reader I want a few things: what is your newest book, gimme a description or an excerpt, what have you written before and where can I get it, what are you working on. End of story.

    And for the love, do not put music on your site. It gets annoying after it replays itself.

  15. Jill Myles
    Jan 01, 2008 @ 10:32:20

    See, I agree with just about everything you said…except a huge author photo on the front page. I actually find those irritating. I don’t plan on putting mine anywhere except the ‘Bio’ page.

    I think it would be different if all authors were stunningly lovely. Me, I’m afraid that if I’m not, my big snaggletooth, one-eyed freckled face (just kidding about all that, btw) would drive book sales away, not bring them closer.

    The author photo is a slippery slope.

  16. Erastes
    Jan 01, 2008 @ 10:46:44

    I like your new look much better than the old red thing, that’s for sure and hear hear for the accessibility thing. One thing you didn’t mention is the Disability Laws – not that an author is subject to the law, per se, but it’s always worth reading their guidelines for disability access – size of font etc etc.

    The EAA has a great article on the Dos and Don’ts of website design here

    http://www.eroticauthorsassociation.com/articles/web-as.htm

  17. lisabea
    Jan 01, 2008 @ 11:07:11

    Much better without the red, thanks.

  18. Patrice Michelle
    Jan 01, 2008 @ 11:19:21

    I like this design much better! :)

    I think part of learning what works and what doesn’t is trial and error. I’ve been through four website designs before I finally came up with a design what I thought readers would get the most out of.

  19. Chantal
    Jan 01, 2008 @ 11:20:22

    I think that Sabrina Jeffries has the best author site of any site I have gone to.

  20. Michelle Cary
    Jan 01, 2008 @ 11:24:37

    Since I’m a new author trying to build a following AND I’m not all that tech smart when it comes to websites, I do my best to keep it simple yet interesting. I like the layout you have here and the large print makes it easy for people to read. Thanks for sharing your opinion on this subject. It’s one a lot of us newbies just don’t think about until somebody with more experience on the subject brings it up.

  21. sherry thomas
    Jan 01, 2008 @ 11:24:54

    Thankfully the red is gone. But I don’t know if my eyes are just aging before their time, I find the white too white on this site. I have to turn the brightness of my display way down–and then when I clicked throught the Kathryn Smith’s site, I had to turn the brightness back to appreciate the color scheme. Could you perhaps make it a little greyer?

    And I totally agree with everything you say about websites–except the bit about the picture on the first page (I don’t like my face being everywhere). Give release dates, excerpts, ISBN, and give them right off the bat. No music. Simple graphics–less is more when it comes to web design. And nothing to distract from the content.

  22. Charlene Teglia
    Jan 01, 2008 @ 11:32:47

    I like the new design! It loads sooo much faster.

    Usability is terribly important, and nothing is more annoying than, say, the experience I had yesterday. I heard of a new release by an author I’m not familiar with. I went to her site. And found…no information about the book. No cover, no buy link, no ISBN, not even who published it so I could track it down. Title and excerpt is a nice start, but please tell me where to buy it if the excerpt hooks me! And a cover is nice, so I can recognize it if I see it. Also, if I like that book I want to know where I can buy more.

  23. cecilia
    Jan 01, 2008 @ 12:07:55

    I like the newest look (the red was somewhat …). I don’t know if it’s just a fluke of my computer, because no one has mentioned it, but at the top left of the banner, it starts with “erviews, and Commentary” with the e cut off. Apart from the puzzlement that causes, thought, it looks good!

  24. cecilia
    Jan 01, 2008 @ 12:25:31

    OK, now it’s gone. Either I was just suffering lingering effects of holiday cheer, or you’re very fast.

  25. Robin
    Jan 01, 2008 @ 12:38:24

    Smith and Hoyt’s sites look like they were designed by the same person.

    To anyone reading who knows Joanna Bourne: SHE NEEDS A WEBSITE! Please, please stage an electronic intervention on her behalf, because I have had several people express absolute bafflement over not being able to go to a central internet location to find out about her and her books (one that’s not her current blog . . .).

    My biggest pet peeve about author websites is all the energy that seems to go into creating a cool site that NEVER GETS UPDATED. Sure I like the pretty, but mostly I go there for the content, to find out about an upcoming release, or to read an excerpt (often of the upcoming release) and the prettiest website in the world is ‘pretty much’ useless to me if I can’t get the info there I’m seeking.

  26. Jill Myles
    Jan 01, 2008 @ 12:38:27

    I do like Sabrina Jefferies ‘s site…and Eloisa James’s too. I think those are all done by the same website design company? They specialize in author pages, I think.

  27. Jessica Inclan
    Jan 01, 2008 @ 13:07:19

    I like the site redesign here. Bigger font for my fading eyes.

    I’ve thought a lot about what Jane has said re author web sites, and my web maven and I have worked on making it clear the order of books, which books are in which trilogy, the links. I also try to change things up to make it interesting. I don’t have a huge amount of traffic (I have a counter), but I think it definitely can help. I also use mine for my students, which is likely not smart, but I’ve appreciated the reader ideas, the viewer ideas.

    I am against noise and cheesey stuff and too much distraction, but it’s hard to know when you are distracting unless people pipe up.

    Jessica

  28. readerdiane
    Jan 01, 2008 @ 13:26:05

    The red was a little too much, but it would be nice to have some color on the site.

    I had my middle school students evaluate adolescent author’s websites, so they can become better communicators & evaluators of information . They looked at content and the design of the site. The students had some interesting comments. They had some of the same frustrations-not attractive & not enough information. I told my students that the point of websites should be to communicate, the rest is attracting you to the site.I chose Robin Owens to evaluate as my example, and I like her website.

    If I go to an author’s website, it is to look for information.It is most frustrating if I cannot find information about the books-is it part of a series, when is the next one due out, etc.

    I plan to look at the sites you have recommended later today. Thanks for the info.

  29. Meljean Brook
    Jan 01, 2008 @ 13:55:07

    Gah! Reminder to self: update site with character info and connections.

    I’m also not a fan of the author photo on the first page — or at least, not my own. Not because I need a mask, or anything, but because when someone comes to my site, I’m assuming they want the books up front (which means the covers) … and then if they want to know who’s writing them, they can head to the bio section.

    When the font of my name on the covers is bigger than the font of the title, I might put a photo up front (because then the author is just as much a brand as the series) but for a newbie like me, it seems a bit of a distraction.

    And I like the new design here — I was on DSL, and it still felt like a long loading time. I read through Google Reader, so I usually only noticed it when I tried to come over to read comments — I’d click, then go on reading other blogs because I knew it would take a few extra seconds to load. This is much, much quicker. I do miss the news links on the sidebar, though.

  30. LinM
    Jan 01, 2008 @ 14:06:58

    I like the updates to the DA site since yesterday although (like Sherry Thomas) I find the white a little overwhelming.

    I like the tab line – but I hope that it will be updated to be the same on every page. Once I opened an article to see the comments, the link to the “Industry News” disappeared. Since this was going to be my next stop, I was rather disconcerted. And I’m weird enough to want a “Home” button even on the home page.

    I agree with the comments on Joanna Bourne – she definitely needs a website. I pre-ordered her book based on the glowing reviews everywhere but after a week listening to Radio Canada (say this in French, not English), I changed my mind. In every excerpt I could find, the structure of Annique’s dialog sounds authentic but the rhythm is off. A website might have tipped the scale the other way.

  31. vanessa jaye
    Jan 01, 2008 @ 14:31:40

    I’m trying the new link but don’t see the green, just white (which is waaay better that the red.) The font when I hit the home page is way too large, but seems fine when I open comments. Then again looking at the address bar, it seems like I’m back on the old wordpress site when I’m in comments. The lack of color does seem bland, but almost anything is better than the red. Getting a (new) website is a big to-do thing for me this year.

  32. Maddie
    Jan 01, 2008 @ 14:52:46

    “”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 have to agree with you there I also find it annoying when you do find a book that in coming out that you want more info on and you go to the author website and not only does it not have the book but the site has not been updated in months.

    I know that authors are busy writing but please let your fans know what is in the works, as much as I love Linda Howard you only know the title to her upcoming book maybe a year in advance, but you haven’t a clue to what the book is about until maybe three months in advance.

    I also hate logging onto a website that has music too and I do love Tori C, but her website is not very attractive plus it has music too and way too many things on the page that it’s hard to look for things

  33. Sarah Frantz
    Jan 01, 2008 @ 15:12:59

    I LOVE the summaries at the bottom of the first page! Love them!

  34. Shiloh Walker
    Jan 01, 2008 @ 15:52:49

    This looks better than the red did.

    Being on broadband, the site’s always loaded easily for me, but I remember being on dialup… shudder…

    One of my big pet peeves about websites is when a dark website (like black) is used and then a vivid color, like red or blue fonts are used on that dark website. It’s a combo a lot of paranormal authors go for but those color combinations will give me a migraine. I see those colors and I don’t stay long enough to even look for what originally brought me to the site. Nothing is worth a migraine.

  35. Helen
    Jan 01, 2008 @ 16:35:49

    Taking away the red on the first page has imporoved things a lot, looks to me a lot more welcoming

  36. Angie
    Jan 01, 2008 @ 16:41:24

    Add another vote against author pics. Or at any rate, I really don’t care one way or the other about what another writer looks like, and being personally on the lower end of the one-to-ten scale (just an objective judgement — I’m not a terribly attractive person) it’d take a major intervention involving red ants and a shotgun to get me to put my own pic anywhere on my web site. Sorry, not going to happen. [wry smile]

    Angie

  37. K. Z. Snow
    Jan 01, 2008 @ 19:24:15

    My primary turn-off (loading time is secondary) is illegibility. I’ll immediately flee from sites that aren’t eye-friendly. Busy backgrounds and fancy fonts are a turnoff. Too many bells and whistles, book trailers included, are a turnoff. I agree totally with Shiloh about black backgrounds. Each one is the equivalent of a red flag for me, unless the font is large and pale enough to make it readable without being pupil-stabbing. Even then, it tires my eyes very quickly.

    Joanna Bourne, by the way, has won a permanent place in my heart for NOT buying into all the personal-website hoopla. I think I grinned from ear to ear when I came upon her humble blog. My reading preferences have never, ever been determined by the savviness of an author’s self-promotion. Far as I’m concerned, it’s all between the covers, baby.

  38. Robin
    Jan 01, 2008 @ 19:49:09

    My reading preferences have never, ever been determined by the savviness of an author's self-promotion. Far as I'm concerned, it's all between the covers, baby.

    To me it has nothing to do with savvy and everything to do with the ability to access book information easily and efficiently — from release dates to excerpts to upcoming books to contact information. And with SO MANY books competing for my book buying dollars, I often want a look at what I’d be buying before I do so, and IMO a website devoted to the book stuff (to the work of authorship, basically, not to branding and other stuff) can actually enhance rather than detract from focusing a reader on what is between the covers. I was really struck by LinM’s comment, and if I were an author without a definite internet presence, a reader comment like that would have me designing a website PDQ.

  39. Sarah McCarty
    Jan 01, 2008 @ 20:01:15

    When I finally settled on a design image for my website, I gave my web designer simple instructions. I wanted it above all else functional with a sensual feminine feel and clean easy to read lines. I think she delivered in spades.

    Interestingly enough, the thing that took the longest to figure out was how to lay out the content for the fastest retrieval of pertinent information no matter what a reader was looking for. My readers group was a great help with that. From Dear Author I got the idea for a font enlarger. I wanted a script that would enlarge or shrink the font to whatever degree the visitor wanted rather than a predetermined size. I think Dreamforge Media has since put it on most of their site designs. By far that’s been the best feature I installed because I get a lot of email from visually impaired readers thanking me for it. Such a simple thing but it makes life so much easier for some of us.

  40. Angelle
    Jan 01, 2008 @ 20:07:01

    I like the new site, Ja(y)ne. Very easy to read and fast-loading. Excellent! :)

  41. Lorelie
    Jan 01, 2008 @ 21:34:10

    Voting against the dark background w/bright text. Wears my eyes out. I don’t care either way if there’s an author pic on the front page as long as the books are there too. Excerpts are a must and it’s a bonus if they’re different from what’s on Amazon.com or B&N.

    I’ve noticed that the various websites I visit often fall into groups – the author sites, the mommy blogs, gossip sites. It seems like the websites I like the most in each field are often done by one design group/company. I’m not really sure if it’s about those being the best designers creatively or if they’re tapped into the pulse of what that segment of readers want, and there’s also exceptions from the norm. But I do know who I want to give me a redesign from my slap-dash efforts once I get the money.

  42. DS
    Jan 02, 2008 @ 07:17:31

    Yikes, where’s the search? I wanted to post a follow up on a older post and I don’t have time to go back page by page.

  43. Jayne
    Jan 02, 2008 @ 07:56:16

    It’s up at the top right of the screen on the home page.

  44. DS
    Jan 02, 2008 @ 08:05:28

    I’m missing the search link for some reason. Home page is http://dearauthor.com — correct? Then a blue banner with white lettering and then the posts start. To the right is RSS feed information.

    I’m using foxfire 2.0.0.11 with noscript and adblock plus turned on but I’m not getting any signs that you are running anything that these add-ons might block.

  45. Sarah McCarty
    Jan 02, 2008 @ 08:19:13

    Hmm, DS, I’m using Firefox too, and if I go to the home page I see the same thing you do. No search. Don’t know if that’s any help.

  46. Jane
    Jan 02, 2008 @ 08:26:30

    I made some changes last night and for some reason when I upload new files, it sometimes defaults to the “default” theme. I am going to have to change that. And the font in this comment box. Holy smallness.

  47. Gennita Low
    Jan 02, 2008 @ 09:13:07

    I’m can’t help laughing every time I visit. DearAuthor is giving me a fashion show ;-), from bright red to green to blue to monotone. The best outfit, IMO, was the one you had yesterday during the early afternoon, when the red was toned down, the width of the box widened, and some links on the right. There were red titles to each article. The addition of DearAuthor posts by author, name, and date at the bottom is pretty cool too.

    That said, Jane, you need some bubbly, for working extra hard this New Year vacation. Hee.

  48. Carolyn Jean
    Jan 02, 2008 @ 10:00:26

    I have really appreciated your thoughtful reviews and posts this year, and this one is no exception. I actually read it a few days ago, and I wasn’t going to post a comment, but I was just at a certain author’s site who uses tons of jumping moving cartoony gifs on every post, and I had to FLEE to keep my sanity. Please, authors, no.

    Oh, ps, I’m on Firefox and I do see the search. But I’m on a Mac. Or maybe you fixed it!

  49. Sonja Foust
    Jan 02, 2008 @ 10:22:42

    Wow, thanks for the GREAT links! I especially loved Kathryn Smith’s site, and I went and looked up her web designer so I can hire them eventually. ;) You make a lot of great points about website design, and I’m glad to see it out here to help authors work on our presentation.

  50. Chicklet
    Jan 02, 2008 @ 11:00:22

    Interestingly enough, the thing that took the longest to figure out was how to lay out the content for the fastest retrieval of pertinent information no matter what a reader was looking for.

    The structure of a website is of great importance, and one that’s developing its own discipline: information architecture. I have to access dozens of college/university websites every day for work, and I’m astounded at the seemingly-random organization on some of them. (The academic calendar is in the “Parents” section instead of the “Current Students” section? Why?)

    In terms of author sites, I need book information, either on the front page, or a clear link to the information on another page. A backlist is important, and the ability to see it by publication year *and* series is important, too. I have issues with the aesthetics and organization of Suzanne Brockmann’s site (no menu at the top; you need to scroll to the bottom and follow links in a reader’s letter from Brockmann), but when you do get to her backlist (one click), she has a full list of every book she’s published (in chronological order), then lists of the books by every series, and then lists of books by publisher.

    Having accessed countless websites over the years, I have a clear preference for simple-and-clean designs. No watermarks. Solid-color backgrounds. Simple fonts — I like Tahoma more than Helvetica, and Helvetica more than Times New Roman. White text on black backgrounds is too contrasty; try a brown background instead, or pale-yellow text. Black text on a white background works well for me, though I understand other readers might have problems.

    And also: MENU. As in, please have one. On the left or at the top. Please label these with common-sense phrases like “Current Books” or “Backlist” or “Biography,” not cutesy code words (Dara Joy used to have things like “Tavern” and “Town Crier” and “The Library” with no explanation of what those terms meant. She’s since added explanatory captions). When it comes right down to it, your author website is mostly business, designed to drive sales. Yes, you can use it to forge connections between you and readers, but above all, it should be quick to load, easy on the eyes, and easy to navigate. If you’re a new author without a big backlist, etc., just have a clean, simple site listing what you have done. It’s much more honest than trying to distract me with clutter.

    Oh, and your website should be updated regularly. I cannot emphasize that enough. If you hire a designer to make your website, please be sure to have them make it easy for you to update.

  51. LinM
    Jan 02, 2008 @ 11:23:49

    My reading preferences have never, ever been determined by the savviness of an author's self-promotion. Far as I'm concerned, it's all between the covers, baby.

    I read this comment with a huge amount of nostalgia. 25 years ago, I lived within walking distance of 4 great independent bookstores and a central well-stocked library. There was time and place to browse through books picking and choosing from a wonderful selection.
    The lone survivor of those independent bookstores closed this fall and my current library branch is small – books have to be ordered through interlibrary loan. So I seldom linger in a physical bookstore or library now. I find book recommendations everywhere and bless authors with wonderful websites. Their websites replace the physical joy of flipping through a book. Once, I browsed through books reading excerpts, introductions, dedications, back-cover copy; now, I hope to find the same information online. I don’t want contests, message-boards, daily blog entries or discussion suggestions for bookclubs. I want a glimpse into old, current and upcoming books.
    I don’t have enough time to read the all of the books that say “yes, read me” and I have overflowing wishlists everywhere of books that said “maybe, maybe-not”. But I thank all of the authors that put time and thought into their websites because it can be the smallest comment or phrase that turns “maybe” into “yes, read me”.

  52. Lisa
    Jan 02, 2008 @ 11:39:48

    I’ve been designing web sites for 10 years now, and I can tell you that people don’t want to hear that less is more, but it’s true. Authors don’t have a huge budget to spend on a web site or its upkeep, and they want to have something tangible afterward that they’ve spent their money on. Sometimes I think splash pages, Flash animations and music provide that tangibility. It’s the designer’s job to demonstrate this pitfall, and it’s the client’s job to have an open mind. Luckily, my clients have been really sharp ladies, so I haven’t had to work too hard in this department. My personal pet peeves in addition to these three things are fancy font overusage, lack of contrast and negative space (which lends to illegibility), and just plain disorganization.

    Regarding web sites vs. blogs. I think it’s more consistent branding to have both the web site and the blog on the same URL, instead of existing as two separate entities. With free tools like WordPress you can easily use it to manage your whole site as well as run your blog. For the most part it enables a site owner to update her own site within her budget. Many people use blogs as a kind of diary, but I think for an author it works better if it functions as the site’s news section. With clearly defined categories and “stickie” posts, finding out what the next book is should be easy. There should also be pages (as opposed to blog posts) for books and, like others have said, it should be clearly labeled BOOKS. Don’t make readers try to translate esoteric section names.

    I was OK with the old DA site design, but load times are a valid consideration and the new layout is very clean, which is always a good thing. I’d like to see a way to browse reviews by author last name, even if it’s just categories set up for A-E, F-J etc. The search works well, though, which what I’ve been doing when looking for a specific author.

    Someone mentioned surfing sites on mobile devices. Certainly a site’s design should “degrade elegantly,” but if the intent is mobile viewing, you really need a separate design to load for those users.

  53. Lisa
    Jan 02, 2008 @ 11:46:15

    Chicklet said:

    Simple fonts -‘ I like Tahoma more than Helvetica, and Helvetica more than Times New Roman.

    Tahoma is a bit softer than Helvetica, which is why I like it too. Times New Roman is a serif font, which often doesn’t work as well as sans serif fonts (like Tahoma, Helvetic, Arial, Verdana) for screen reading. However, the opposite is true for print.

    White text on black backgrounds is too contrasty; try a brown background instead, or pale-yellow text. Black text on a white background works well for me, though I understand other readers might have problems.

    A high contrast ratio makes for better legibility, and black text on a white background has the highest contrast. If you’re going the opposite with white text reversed on black, font choice is vital.

  54. Bev Stephans
    Jan 02, 2008 @ 11:48:24

    Okay, now I’m totally confused. Yesterday, I got the blue at the top of the screen. Today, it’s back to the red stamp. Could this be psycho website? Also, the comments aren’t numbered anymore…….or are they and they just aren’t showing up? Please enlighten me.

  55. Bev Stephans
    Jan 02, 2008 @ 11:50:31

    As soon as I posted my comment, the numbers popped up! As I said, “Psycho Website”!!!

  56. Jane
    Jan 02, 2008 @ 11:51:03

    Bev – sometimes when I make a change to the site, it defaults back to the blue theme and I am just not aware of it. It should have the red stamp, a cursive Dear Author, a page green border, and red lines around the sidebar header items.

    The numbers are on the left side, right by the names, but out of the grey box.

  57. Kathryn S
    Jan 02, 2008 @ 12:05:12

    I love the new look — very simple and posh. And it does load much faster.

    Thanks for the kudos on my site. I passed it on to my designer — Austin Design Works, along with the wish for a work in progress link to be made more accessible! I love my new site, so I’m tickled that others like it as well.

    Oh, and it wasn’t done by the same person who did E Hoyt’s. I think Dream Forge Media did hers.

  58. Jeaniene Frost
    Jan 02, 2008 @ 12:10:04

    You’re reminding me that I have to move “website redesign” to the top of my priority list.

    My website is guilty of many of your complaints. There were so many things I didn’t realize as a new author when I had my website set up, like how book titles in graphics don’t get picked up by search engines, and computers that have Flash disabled might not even be able to read half my website content (just to name a few). My graphics-heavy site *looked* cool on the mock-up, however, and that was enticing when I was site shopping.

    Ah, well. Live and learn – and spend more money on redesign :).

  59. Casee
    Jan 02, 2008 @ 12:12:00

    I think it’s great how fast the site loads now.

    I had the same problem when I went to Julie Garwood’s site. Broken links, taking forever to load, etc. Just make it functional so your readers can get the information that they’ve come to get. It shouldn’t be harder than that, right?

    My favorite author site is Nalini Singh. She has so much information, it’s easy to navigate, and it loads pretty quick.

  60. azteclady
    Jan 02, 2008 @ 14:35:17

    Jane said, Bev –

    sometimes when I make a change to the site, it defaults back to the blue theme and I am just not aware of it. It should have the red stamp, a cursive Dear Author, a page green border, and red lines around the sidebar header items.

    The numbers are on the left side, right by the names, but out of the grey box.

    Green border? huh… no. And I see “new post” instead of home…

    Is it my browser?

    As far as authors websites, I like… nacht, I adore the content in Suzanne Brockmann’s site–countdowns to each book release, short stories, all sorts of extras. But then I’m familiar with it, so I can find the stuff. It’s not what you’d call “new user” friendly.

  61. Chicklet
    Jan 02, 2008 @ 17:28:23

    Tahoma is a bit softer than Helvetica, which is why I like it too.

    Lisa, something tells me you’ve already seen the documentary Helvetica. *g*

    I've been designing web sites for 10 years now, and I can tell you that people don't want to hear that less is more, but it's true.

    Between work and play, I’m reading websites about four hours per day, so you’re preaching to the choir. But the “less is more” dictum is even truer for the internet than it is for architecture.

  62. Nadia Lee » Blog » Identifying Your Website Needs and Design Preferences a.k.a. Doing Your Homework
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 03:25:48

    […] The Importance of Easy Access Websites for Authors […]

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