Ten Author Websites That Really do the Business

Simon Appleby

Posted filed under Opinion.
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Simon Appleby, director of digital agency Bookswarm, highlights ten websites that do their authors justice on the web.

Hopefully there’s not a writer alive who doesn’t believe they need a website – there are so many good reasons for having one that even if you don’t agree with all of them, you ought to agree with one or two. Whether you’re raising your profile, interacting directly with readers or providing a behind-the-scenes look at the creative process, you really do need a decent home on the web.
Of course, some author websites are better than others. Here are ten that we think really do their authors proud.


John le Carré

Why we like it:
The design is really appropriate for the subject matter of the books: espionage, subterfuge and murky dealings. The way that Twitter is presented (tweets from le Carré’s feed are ‘transmitted’ and tweets from others are ‘intercepted’) is very clever and in keeping with the genre too. Beyond the home page there’s loads of content, and the site recognises both the global nature of the publishing, and the interest in films based on the author’s books.

Black marks:
The author photo in the bottom corner of the home page is squashed and distorted – a basic error that needlessly lets down a lovely looking site.

www.johnlecarre.com


E.L. James

Why we like it:
The woman who made BDSM a socially-acceptable topic of conversation has a slick website that nicely defines her work as ‘provocative romance’. The Gallery section contains wine lists and play lists that collate all the gastronomic and cultural references of the books, which is a neat touch for fans who really want to immerse themselves in the author’s world, and the Fan Sites section offers a lovely acknowledgement of fan sites from around the world. Few big name authors would be so generous.

Black marks:
Dare we say it, we were expecting more handcuffs!

www.eljamesauthor.com


Joe Abercombie

Why we like it:
Joe is a writer with lots to say – not just about his books – and he uses his website to say it (he blogged seven times in January 2013). Judging by the level of interaction in the comments, his many fans appreciate this kind of access and the opportunity to interact that it presents. Not all writers will feel that they can sustain this level of interaction and still focus on their writing, but if you are someone who can, this is a good example of how to do it well.

Black marks:
The design is perhaps a little dated, but with content this good that’s a minor point indeed. Remember, content is king!

www.joeabercrombie.com


J.K. Rowling

Why we like it:
Admittedly few authors will ever have the resources to create and run a site that are available to the author of Harry Potter. It’s one thing to have those resources, though, and another to use them well – which this site does. The central timeline idea is a clever one – news stories are laid out horizontally and the user can scroll sideways to go back in time. News segues in to brief biographical posts about key events in the author’s life before she was published, going all the way back to 1965. There’s even a special mobile version.

Black marks:
The design is perhaps a little sterile for our taste – though you can see why they would steer clear of an overtly Potteresque look and feel.

www.jkrowling.co.uk


Anthony Horowitz

Why we like it:
Horowitz writes for young adults and grown-ups too – and striking a balance of tone and look for different audiences is often tricky. In this case, his YA series Alex Rider and The Power of Five have their own branded sections with a strong call to action, with plenty of downloadable goodies. The Messageboard shows that discussion forums can still be a valid idea, if you have enough engaged fans and the time to manage them.

Black marks:
At the screen size we were using, much of the text is too small, a definite accessibility black mark. We know that the youth have better eyesight, but still…

www.anthonyhorowitz.com


Bernard Cornwell

Why we like it:
When you’ve written as many books as Bernard Cornwell, you need to give your fans a hand to keep everything straight – and this organises all the titles by series, as well as giving a brief word from the author on each (many sites just repeat the book blurb that can be found on every book retailer’s site). The ‘Your Questions’ page is well-used and current, and the alternating masthead images lend an appropriate historical atmosphere to everything.

Black marks:
This is a very difficult site to fault – we wish we’d done it.

www.bernardcornwell.net


Anthony Beevor

Why we like it:
Non-fiction authors need websites too, and this is a good one. The site has a ‘skin’ that reflects the design of the author’s latest tome, but that will surely change when there is a new book to promote. The events feed is prominent (and nice and full) and the blog a good insight in to the writer’s activities. The bibliography from The Second World War will be appreciated by students and researchers.

Black marks:
A very minor quibble, but the line length of the body text is uncomfortably long – it pays to understand ways to make reading on the web as comfortable as possible.

www.antonybeevor.com


Will Self

Why we like it:
Because it proves, if any proof were needed, that if you have good content you don’t necessarily need fancy design. This site uses a very simple WordPress theme – but within seconds of arriving, you can be reading Self’s cutting restaurant reviews for the New Statesman or finding out more about his books.

Black marks:
The way information about the books is presented could confuse some users – the links on the left of the page and the links on the Books menu do two different things.

www.will-self.com


Gillian Flynn
Why we like it:
The site for the author of Gone Girl is just a lovely piece of design – it creates an atmosphere and a tone that’s in keeping with both the look and the subject matter of the books, through well-judged use of colour, texture, imagery and typography.

Black marks:
Hard to fault – a good example of uncluttered thinking and uncluttered design that works well for both the UK and US markets.

www.gillian-flynn.com


Marcel Theroux
Why we like it:
Well, partly because we made it! And because it proves that for a writer who does not want to flaunt themselves on the Internet, there are still ways you can put something of yourself in to your website. In this case, the hand-drawn illustrations that adorn the pages show views of Marcel’s study and objects in it that have meaning to him. They prevent a simple, direct site becoming sterile and impersonal.

Black marks:
We think this is small but perfectly formed (but we admit we’re biased!).

www.thisworldofdew.com


As the web continues to evolve, no doubt our ideas of ‘what good looks like’ will too – but remember, making a good author website is less about how it looks than it is about what you have to say, who you have to say it to and how often you expect to say it. Give that some serious thought, and the rest should fall in to place. Good luck!

Bookswarm is a nimble digital design agency that works exclusively for book publishers, authors, agents and others in the trade. They combine publishing experience and technical and creative expertise with an understanding of what writers, readers and publishers need in the digital era. They are trusted by Faber, Orion, Octopus, Gallic Books, the Book Marketing Society and authors Chris Cleave, Lesley Lokko and Raymond Khoury, among many others. Technical note: all sites were reviewed in Firefox 18.0.1 on a Windows 7 PC at a screen resolution of 1,920 x 1,080 

14 Responses to “Ten Author Websites That Really do the Business”

  1. Carrie Etter

    Are any of these sites done by the authors themselves? I noticed the simplest one, Will Self’s, isn’t. What about sites by authors who can’t afford to hire someone to design and run them?

    Reply
    • Sheena Bandy

      There’s no shame in hiring a professional to build your website, but Authors who can work with WordPress or some other CMS are certainly going to have more frequent and personal updates on their sites.

      But if you’re looking for authors who built their own, you should look at the self-published crowd. Anyone who doesn’t have the publisher’s resources at their disposal. Most will have a tumblr with a domain name attached to it.

      Reply
    • Ian McKay

      Back in April, 2013, Carrie Etter wrote the following post: “Are any of these sites done by the authors themselves? I noticed the simplest one, Will Self’s, isn’t. What about sites by authors who can’t afford to hire someone to design and run them?”

      Well, as I’ve only just joined this group in August 2014, my suggestion is a tad late: apologies for that Carrie! However, for what it’s worth, I would suggest that you could do a lot worse that to take a look at the following web site URL: http://www.fiverr.com

      I found lots of very talented, artistic and highly motivated graphic designers, formatters, programmers, web designers etc’ on this site, who actually offer their services for $5.00 a ‘gig’. My own, albeit modest, author web site, the URL of which you see below: http://Ian-McKay.com cost me the princely sum of $5.00, yes, I kid you not, $5.00! For those of us who are on a budget, a gift from heaven. I’m UK based and my site was built for me for the unbelievably cheap sum of £3.07: at the, then, prevailing echange rate. I now also have my ebook covers beautifully crafted, by a lady from Chicago, for the same amount. So I would think that there are a lot of people who will find this post very useful.

      Reply
  2. Stephen M. Miller

    One of the things marketing folks recommend to authors is that their websites have a “call to action” all over the joint. I didn’t see much of that going on in these sites.

    Marketing folks I’ve talked with (I’m in the process of planning a new website) say that what writers obsess over is that their sites look pretty. Marketers don’t seem to care as much about that as they care about the site generating action. Cha-ching.

    What do you make of that?

    Reply
    • Douglas

      I think CAT’s matter a huge deal, but aesthetics are also very important for the reader experience.

      Reply
  3. Darren Turpin

    Speaking as someone who builds and manages authors’ and publishers’ websites for a living (as it happens, I’m just finishing off a pretty major content overhaul of Joe Abercrombie’s site at the moment) I’d say the important thing is to have a website that achieves the following:

    1) Creates a good first impression – Read Malcolm Gladwell’s ‘Blink’ for more about just how important a split-second impression of something can be, and then think about how your website is going to look to a first-time visitor, which could mean the difference between a hasty back-click and converting a new reader.

    2a) Acts as an authoritative repository of relevant information – which will help to keep it at the top of core search engine results (your author name, your book titles, your series titles etc.) as well as making sure your site visitors actually find the info they’re looking for.

    2b) Acts as a hub for content creation and audience development – which is a fancy way of saying it gives you somewhere to put out blog posts and bonus material and allows you to engage with your readers and fans.

    3) Optimises usability – or: Works well and is easy and intuitive to use, both for front end visitors and to update as well.

    4) Provides a central point of reference for social activity elsewhere – in the sense that the website should be the core of your marketing operation, with various social media tendrils leading off it, rather than the other way around.

    Get those first four core principles right and I reckon you’re starting off on the right foot. After that it’s up to you to use the site regularly, make it work for you. Don’t ever assume that if you build it, they will come. Most likely if you don’t use it, they won’t even know it’s there…

    Reply
  4. FAUSGA

    These are excellent examples. If you don’t have the money, then start learning wordpress and how to install themes. In my opinion, the best option is to hire a professional. It will save you headaches!

    Reply
  5. Marcy Sheiner

    My favorite website here and possibly of all I have ever seen is Marcel Theroux’s. I totally adore it! (except I wish I could either comment or write to him, but when you have a site like that you’re obviously not into “reader interaction” a topic that many independent authors talk about a lot. I love the starkness of it, the efficiency; it’s just so classy, and it goes along with your description of the writer as disliking “flaunting” himself on the Internet.

    Of course, he must be a lot more successful than some of us if he can be so modest in his PR.

    Reply
  6. Rae Redmond

    Thanks for your blog post. I love how you included multiple styles because most websites I came across during my research for my own author website looked cookie cutter. Marcel Theroux’s website is my favorite on your list because of its simplicity. I despise J.K. Rowling’s website because you have to go through an entire maze to finally see some type of content. Choose a language, watch a long autograph while it loads, and just when you think you made it, the site hits you with instructions on how to use it! I closed it as soon as it finished loading.

    Reply
  7. Laura

    Thanks for putting this list together! There’s some great material, here. I’m about to release my second novel, and I’ve decided I need a website. Surprisingly, I’m a big fan of E. L. James site, though not so much her books. I agree with Rae. J.K. Rowling’s site is way too complicated and twisty, though I do love the signature intro.

    Reply
  8. Janet

    Great article. I liked a number of these sites. Thanks for sharing. I found an incredible new site called booklaunch.io. I had to request a beta invite but finally got one. I have been using wordpress for the last 2 years but Booklaunch is by far the easiest way I have found to build a really slick looking author site. These sites are single pages that offer everything an author needs. Super affordable too.

    Reply
  9. Derek Murphy

    These are decent examples, but I agree with some of the comments: big authors can have nicely designed websites that don’t hard sell because readers are already searching for them and they just need a professional face.
    Indie and self-publishing authors, however, need to use their website to attract new readers by writing the right kind of articles, and a pretty design is not as important as having the right content and a strong call to action.
    It has to be clean and professional, but it doesn’t have to be totally custom or personalized.

    Reply

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