Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Developing an Author Website – A Marketing and Communication Checklist Study

What is the goal of your website? What is going to be the title of your website? How will people find your site? How do you make it easy to find your books and buy them? What are some of the topics you should include in your site? These are all questions that authors have when they create a website to sell their books..

I have spent the last several years studying, interviewing and writing about authors (250+). One of the first things I do is review the writer’s website. You can tell a lot about the author from their site. Some are complex. Some are simple. Some communicate their message. Some barely qualify as a website.

It is time to share a study I just completed using the HBSAuthor Spotlight Authors and their websites. This is a group of outstanding authors with bestselling credentials and a great net presence.


In many ways the title is the most important part of a website. It’s like the title of your novel. The visitor immediately knows who the site is for.

The title should identify the author and the type of novels that are featured. A well-constructed title helps in any search the reader does on the Internet. Here is a sample of authors who use their name and genre as part of their title.

Several in the study use their credits to sell themselves in the website title. Here are a couple of samples.

Many authors in the study put a subtitle after their name with a catchy phrase. Here are a few example of some of the HBS Spotlight Authors with extensions in their websites title.

A few of the websites used a meaningful title other than their name. Something related to their novels or series in most cases.

The thing to remember here is when people start looking for you, the author; they may have a problem matching you to their search if you try to get to fancy.

In my case, if I use my book title ‘Game of Fire’ (my latest novel) or the Johnathon Stone Mysteries (my mystery series), I probably would miss much of the traffic that I get today. Plus when I write my next novel, the title of my site won’t match with the new book title.


I think it is important to know a little bit about Metadata. What is Metadata, you ask? Metadata helps people searching the Internet for information about you, to find it more easily. (This type of information is used in the card catalogs of libraries.)

Metadata is inserted into an Internet Homepage as the page is developed. It is expressed as a set of keywords or tags. Descriptions and keywords in meta tags are commonly used to describe the Web page's content.

So the bottom line here is when your home page is constructed you should include your name, genre, title of your series, publisher, and protagonist in your metadata so readers, visitors and prospects can find your website.

Main Menu

The next important thing in a website is the main menu. It is the key to communicating to the reader. With a quick glance, the reader should be able to move to an important area of your website. Therefore the menu should be simple and easy to follow. The main menu appears at the top of every page of your site.

Here is a list of items the study found most common in the standard main menu.

Home – This is the first or front page of your website. A visitor should be able to click this option anywhere on your site and return to the front page.

About – This option is used for your Bio or Profile. It usually includes your picture and your background description. Profile control is a topic for another time but you are required to furnish a profile for your marketing effort including retail outlets (Amazon, etc.), organizations (Goodreads, etc.) and social media. You should try to keep your site profile consistent with the other profiles.

Books – If you’re an author, a list of your books is one of the main reasons for having a website. The site visitor should be able to click on this option and move to information about a particular book.

Blog/Newsletter – This is a link to your direct communications to your readers. I recommend doing both a blog and newsletter but there is a time factor in making this decision.. Besides broadcasting new releases and specials, they can help you develop a reader list.

Contact – This is another important option for your website. Your readers need a way to interact with you through social media and email (sometimes a form). This option makes it easy for them to click and communicate.

Extras (called many things) – This option can be a variety of things important to your audience. Some use it to broadcast services they provide. Others provide pictures or lists, etc. This option should be important enough to make the top rung of the menu system.

The following is a sample of some of the Spotlight Crew’s Main Menus. Like I mentioned before, there are more than 250 crew members, all with outstanding websites. Room would only permit to have a few examples.

Sparkle Abbey

Bestselling Mystery Authors Mary Lee Woods and Anita Carter write under the name Sparkle Abbey @sparkleabbey. They have written the bestselling Pet Mystery Series. Their main menu is a basic, simple presentation allowing the visitor to easily move through their site.


Dianne Harman  

Author Dianne Harman @DianneDHarman is an Award Winning Bestseller Romance author. Dianne has another simple presentation.


Diane Capri   

Amazon Bestselling Author Diane Capri @DianeCapri is the author of The Hunt for Reacher series. Her main menu is simple. She adds an important topic, ‘Get Involved.’

I have included her sub-menu, ‘Get Involved’ so you could get an idea. Communications is important to her.

Author Carmen DeSousa @Author_Carmen is the Author of the Southern Suspense Series. Carmen provides useful information to other writers so she includes an option for easy access.

Her ‘Writing, marketing, and life...’ section is a group of memo entries on giving advice on all sorts of things. Very interesting helpful tidbits.

Stacy Eaton   

Stacy Eaton @StacySEaton is the International Best Selling author of the popular My Blood Runs Blue series. Her main menu includes an option for her street team.

Her ‘Join My On The Beat Street Team’ selection says this:

Do you enjoy reading?

Are you a social butterfly who likes to share?

If you are, then you are going to want to join the On the Beat Street Team!
What you’ll receive:

·         Advanced review e-copies of upcoming novels
·         Promotional discount codes for your family and friends (applicable paperbacks)
·         Special street team giveaways, including personalized autographed paperbacks
·         If you host a book club or writers group, I’d be happy to schedule an online (or in-person, depending on location) discussion about my books, writing, or publishing

Melissa Foster   

Award-winning Author Melissa Foster @Melissa_Foster is the author of several International bestselling novels and the founder of the World Literary Café, Fostering Success and the social and support network for women, the Women’s Nest.

She has an option ‘FOR WRITERS’ so authors can go quickly to useful information. Also, she adds her social media and contact information as a second line which I like a lot.

Jan Romes 

Jan Romes @JanRomes is a Contemporary romance author. She is writer of the Texas Boys Falling Fast and the Twelve Brides of Christmas series. Jan also adds her social media links to her main menu.

Jake Needham   

Author Jake Needham @jakeneedham is a best-selling Mystery & Thrillers Author of the Jack Shepherd crime thriller series. Jake includes a link to his Audio Books.

Audio books are becoming a lead topic on websites as authors move their digital book versions to audio.

Chantel Rhondeau  

Chantel Rhondeau @ChantelRhondeau is a Romantic suspense author. Chantel writes the Agents in Love series. She adds a special cause to her main menu.

Chantel has '#DV Awareness' as one of their main topics on her site. Like many authors, she fights for something worthwhile and includes that on her site.

Domestic Violence Awareness : Readers of all my books know that somehow, someway the message that abuse is not okay makes it into my stories. I don't go in with the intention of this being there, but it sneaks in.

Multi-Line Menus

Many authors use multi-line menus. Remember to make this version simple enough that the visitor can easily travel around your site. Use multi-line menus cautiously.

Eden Baylee

Eden Baylee @edenbaylee is the author of a psychological mystery/thriller and three collections of erotic novellas and flash fiction. Her main menu has more options but it is easy to read and follow.

John W. Huffman   

Award winning Indie Author John W. Huffman @johnwhuffman writes Historical Fiction, Mystery & Thrillers. John’s main menu is more complex but the style of his menu makes it easy to read.

Joanna Penn   

Author Joanna Penn @thecreativepenn (J. F. Penn) is an Action-Adventure Thriller Author creating the ARKANE thriller series. Also, she is a leading consultant in the book industry. Joanna’s double line menu is another example of a simple design.

Vertical Main Menus

Some authors use a vertical menu. This version of menu allows more options but simple to follow is still the key.

Catherine Bybee   

Author Catherine Bybee @catherinebybee is a New York Times, USA Today and Wall Street Journal Bestselling Romance Author. Her main menu is simple but complete.


J.A. Jance   

J.A. Jance @JAJance is a New York Times bestselling author. Judith is the author of the Joanna Brady series and the J. P. Beaumont series. Her main menu is another example of vertical, easy to follow presentation.

Judith adds an interesting option: Sugarloaf Café.

The Sugarloaf Café section of her site has a wealth of good food recipes. Check out the Tuna Casserole recipe. In one of her books the lead character refers to her mother’s tuna casserole.

Connie Flynn  

Author Connie Flynn @ConnieFlynn is the bestselling award-winning author of many Mystery, Fantasy, Paranormal and Romance novels and short stories. Another example of a simple, vertical menu. Connie works in her Bootcamp link.


Something of value

Another main menu concept that I like is giving the reader something of value besides your books. It gives the visitor another reason to visit the site.

Terry Ambrose   

Terry Ambrose @suspense_writer is the author of the McKenna Mystery series and a member of Murder, We Wrote. Terry has a topic to help readers avoid scams and cons.

Scams & Cons topic

Book Pages

Here is your marketing opportunity.

Your site should have a page for each book. This is your opportunity to market your book. At a minimum it should include the title, cover, product description and a BUY LINK. The authors in this study are all over this important marketing item.

Some other items I found on the book page where:

Book trailers
Story backgrounds 
Access to author signed copies

Dropdown Menus

Of course, the main menu leads to drop-down menus. They in turn have links to your information pages. Simple, straight forward titles provide an easy path for you reader. The number of items in a dropdown has a limit for readable. Several sites in the study had so many items in the submenu; a laptop lost control of the menu because the reader had to scroll down to view an item or two.

If you are fortunate to have written a ton of books, you should create submenus and split them up my series or genre or fiction and non-fiction, something the reader can quickly navigate through to your information. Remember the reader may not have much patience if they have to struggle to find information.

The following is a list of popular items I found in the submenus.

Book Stores
Media Kit
News release
Work In Progress       

Side Bars

The side bar usually includes your current action items and links. Here is a checklist of some of items found in this area. Most of these are not found in the main menu or their sub menus.

Join Newsletter          
Latest News/next event
Recent comments       
Books –Thumbnails with excerpts/Buy links/Trailer/Sneak peek
Guest Book sign in
Subscribe to blog via email
Contact me
Follow me
Site search
Social media icons with links
Advertise services
Story progress

Here is a list of other item usually found in the side bar that adds credibility to the author.

Great sites to visit
Badges – Groups/Publishers/Goodreads/Book tours
Profile summary         
Tweet feed
Facebook list
Blog list/recent posts
Interview list

Bottom Menu

Usually this echoes the main menu although this is an opportunity to expand the information selections without getting in the way of the communications. Also, included in this area should be a copyright notice and the web developer credits. Don’t spring something new there if it relates directly to marketing your books. Many readers never go passed the second or third screen looking for information.


Whether you’re a current author or a new author, your website is your gateway to your novels and sales. The goal is to get visitors to your book buy links.

Most of the authors in this study have outstanding websites. That is why they were the best source for this study.

Hopefully this post will give you a direction in developing and maintaining your website. If you keep it up-to-date, it will change frequently. The sites I reviewed had two main purposes: Marketing and Communications. They all had links everywhere. And they provided useful information about the author, their novels and how to contact them. Please visit them by clicking the link connected to their name.

I’ll end with an old saying: “You can write great content but if you don’t market your book or communicate too your audience, it will be like writing in the sand.”

Follow me:

Or EMAIL at: james.moushon@gmail.com
View my website: James Moushon – Mystery Writer
Or visit my blog: The eBook Author Corner
Take a look at my Author’s blog: HBS Author’s Spotlight
Or my Mystery blog: HBS Mystery Reader’s Circle

Check out the Jonathon Stone Mystery Novel: Black Mountain Secrets
NEW RELEASE: Another Jonathon Stone Mystery: Game Of Fire


  1. James, great blog on author websites. I picked up a few tricks from your well researched article. It's an honor to be included in this study. Mucho thanks!

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