What Works on an Author Website?

December 19th, 2007

I’m currently in the process of reworking my Infoquake website to conform with the new cover design, and creating a MultiReal website to match. I feel like the Infoquake website design hasn’t held up particularly well as I’ve made changes and additions to it. The new one will be much snazzier, I promise you.

But at the moment, I’m more concerned about the content of the sites than their visual presentation. And so I’m evaluating lots of author websites to see just what works and what doesn’t.

Today I was poking around the website for Brandon Sanderson, author of Elantris and Mistborn. Careers in the science fiction and fantasy world don’t start much better than Brandon’s. You may have heard recently that he’s been hired to finish off Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, which is kind of the fantasy novelist equivalent of being asked to pinch hit for Mickey Mantle in the bottom of the ninth. I started digging through Brandon’s website and discovered a massive amount of chapter annotations for his debut novel Elantris. Go ahead, poke around yourself — these annotations are detailed. Obviously a lot of thought went into this.

So my question today is this: what do you find useful on an author’s website? I think we can all agree that excerpts help, and at the very least, having a blog doesn’t hurt. But what about the rest? Do you read additional material like chapter annotations, deleted scenes, and first drafts? Do you actually refer to online glossaries and the like? Does this stuff make you more likely to buy the author’s work? (And when you do buy her work, do you appreciate having lots of links to bookstores that carry it?)

If possible, name an author website that’s directly influenced you to buy that author’s work, and why.

34 Responses to “What Works on an Author Website?”

  1. Ellenon 19 Dec 2007 at 2:52 pm

    What influences me to buy a book and what I find useful on an author website are two different questions, I think — I’m already aware of you, reading your blog, and planning to read your book, so I’ve been pretty thoroughly influenced.

    The things that are most likely to make me buy an unknown author’s work are blogs, excerpts, and essays about the subject of the books. I’m not even sure I could name the number of people whose books I’ve bought because I enjoyed their blogs, but here’s a start: John Scalzi, Maureen Johnson, Justine Larbalestier, Naomi Kritzer, Suzette Haden Elgin, Michelle Sagara West. I’m pretty sure I bought Cherie Priest’s Four and Twenty Blackbirds based on an excerpt, but I can’t seem to find it online now, so I’m not sure whether it was on her website or somewhere else. I bought Kit Whitfield’s Benighted pretty much entirely based on the FAQ section of her website. Generally, what makes me buy a book based on an unknown author is a sample of that author’s writing, whether fiction or non-.

    On the other hand, once I know about an author and am familiar with his or her work, I probably no longer read excerpts, and am going to his or her website either to get information or to engage personally with the author. Information is stuff like release and tour dates, cover pictures, etc. that I’m not necessarily keeping track of on my own. But I’m also, at that point, interested in the author as a person, which is why I think personal blogs are good marketing tools — I want to know what the author’s hobbies are, what he or she does in between writing, and what goes into the writing.

    In other words, I go to an author’s website for different reasons as a fan and as a potential book buyer. Hope that helps!

  2. Lisaon 19 Dec 2007 at 3:10 pm

    To add one point to what Ellen has already said, for authors that I already plan to buy, I often visit their sites to find information to tide me over until he next book.

    That might be a teaser excerpt from the next release, or background information on the characters, or some kind of research that went into the book’s writing.

  3. SMDon 19 Dec 2007 at 4:05 pm

    I like to see discussions of the genre and writing and also insight into how a particular author goes about writing–habits, problems, etc. I like to learn a little about them because I’ve found that sometimes I learn a great deal on how to improve my own writing when they divulge a bit about themselves. But that’s me. I rarely read novel excerpts online. I read from a book :P.

  4. Al at 7Pon 19 Dec 2007 at 6:23 pm

    David – let me start by saying that I bought Infoquake because of your blog. I got to know about the person behind the book first, which then engaged me to later buy the book.

    I forgot how I found your blog, but there was one catchy post that I randomly came across which was unrelated to Infoquake. I think the post was something about technology in general.

    I actually tell people that I enjoyed your book, so now I transformed from being a customer to being one of your sales rep. No, I’m not looking for compensation (I won’t turn it down though). What I’m saying is that people that read your blog are people who haven’t yet read your book, and also people that are fans of your work. You kinda need to address them both.

    Here’s a list of useful stuff off the top of my head, and as someone who was a non-reader who became a reader, I’ll list what I think whether it’s for a reader or non-reader:

    * topical posts that would interest your general reader demographics (non-reader) – clearly, tech stuff is apropros
    * a catchy “about” page about you as a person (non-reader)
    * pages that have press clippings and book excerpts (non-reader)
    * notes and annotations that you might have during the writing process (reader)
    * teasers for the next book (reader) – but no big spoilers for the first book (non-reader)
    * interactive communication with your fans (reader) – you actually do a great job responding in your comments section in your blog

  5. Blue Tysonon 19 Dec 2007 at 7:35 pm

    It needs to have what each book or story is about – not via lazy linking to amazon.com publisher fluff, though.

  6. Shara Saunsaucieon 19 Dec 2007 at 9:48 pm

    When I go to an author’s website, I’m usually looking for a list of their other works, and if they write a series (or two or three), I want a suggested reading list, preferably in chronological order. Links to buy the books directly from Amazon or wherever is great.

    When it comes to short stories, it’s tricky. I don’t want just the name of the short story, but the name, where it was published, which issue, when, and if possible, where I can buy said issue.

  7. Stephanie M.on 20 Dec 2007 at 1:03 am

    I use author sites for the following reasons:

    * to check for the latest news about upcoming releases (the more often it’s updated, the better — even just to say “still working on it”)
    * to look at a complete list of all releases by that author
    * to read annotations, deleted stuff, and just listen to the author babble about the book. I love this stuff, cannot get enough of it.

    I never read excerpts, though they’re a good thing to have.

    For a specific example, I got Doppelganger by Marie Brennan after visiting her website. The thing that convinced me to buy her book was reading her list of recommended reading. There were so many books on there that I loved, I figured she must have tastes similar to mine, and that therefore she’d probably write books I’d like.

    For another example, I came upon Holly Lisle’s site looking for something, I think it was about building languages. Her site is chock full of advice on the art of writing, and since it was good, sound advice, I decided to give her fiction a try.

  8. Laurieon 20 Dec 2007 at 3:04 am

    Jim Butcher’s website is one of my favorites. It’s simple and easy to navigate, and I like that he has his podcasts on there, too. I check back for new headlines all the time.

    I went to his site after seeing the Harry Dresden series on the Sci Fi channel, and I wanted to know more. He has a brief short story there about Harry trying to save a little girl from a troll. I read the story and thought it was great, so I grabbed all of the Dresden books the next day from Barnes and Noble.

    One thing that I think is kind of iffy is the message board. On one hand, Jim Butcher’s forums are great! It’s a nice community, and he posts stuff all the time. He comes off as a cool guy who enjoys chatting about games and stuff. On the other hand, Melanie Rawn’s boards turned me off of her for pretty much ever. There were a few nasty posts about how she does not permit her character names to be used in games as characters (Rohan? Sioned? Yeah, came up with those yourself, did ya?) No, she’s not writing that third book of Exiles, so stop *bleeping* asking. And the community has that sort of clique-ish attitude to it that just grates on me. Yuck. On the third hand, if one had three hands, Sara Douglass had a really nice, very populous community on her message boards that she just one day turned off. That was bizarre.

    On a side note, I ran across Brandon Sanderson on a webcomic message board a couple weeks ago and he seems to be quite a good egg. He had his info in his board sig and it looked good and he was cool so I bought Elantris to check it out (then I immediately went on vacation and forgot to pack it, darn it). I’m excited about the whole Wheel of Time thing, I think it will be great for him and for the readers.

  9. Nikki Jewellon 20 Dec 2007 at 3:21 am

    An interesting question…

    Sometimes I go to an author’s website if I’ve heard of a him/her or a book, with the aim of finding out enough about it that I know if I want to buy it. Excerpts are good, but I hate reading three paragraphs from the middle of a book – I like beginning chapters. I like reading more than just the back cover stuff, too. And I enjoy links to reviews that are both good and bad.

    Mostly I go to an author’s website because I’ve read some of their books and want to find out more about the author and the books I’ve read – Guy Gavriel Kay’s being the biggest example of this. This is where bits of back story, deleted scenes, character problems, writing and publishing problems/achievements come into their own for me. I like knowing a bit about the writer too – Elizabeth Bear’s blog is a really good example of this.

    One author website that I’ve visited has been due to recommendations on blogs and communities, and that’s Holly Lisle’s page. Reading that website has created in me a sense of obligation (she has so much stuff for new writers), so that I wanted to somehow ‘pay back’ by buying some of her books.

  10. Seaboeon 20 Dec 2007 at 10:30 am

    I go to an author’s website the first time to check out the bibliography. If all they have is a naked bibliography (and an amazing number do), I won’t visit again.

    I like sites with updates, “forth coming” and work related stories. A blog is not a necessity, but something interesting is.

    Seaboe

  11. Yaronon 20 Dec 2007 at 1:58 pm

    By decreasing order of importance (to me, anyway) :

    1. Excerpts.
    For a writer I don’t know, an excerpt of a book can have a very large influence on whether I’d buy it.
    But the excerpt has to be:
    *. from the start of the book, not some random point in the middle. And sequential. I’m trying to decide if I like the book enough to commit to it, so without the exposition and buildup I’m just getting a world which is harder for me to relate to, and I even have to work harder to decide if I want to.
    *. It has to be long. Preferably even at least 1/3 of the book. I need to know I’m not reading the one single chapter the author did work well on (Unfortunately there are cases where the quality drops significantly after the first few chapters). And I need to know that, if there are several viewpoints, the author can do all of them well enough, and I won’t be intermittently reading up to half of the book just waiting for a chapter to end and switch POV. If I’m not going to like it, it’s better for everyone that I’d find it out before buying the book, than after.

    In cases of an author I’m familiar with, excerpts are less important. But I will still be interested in them if the author switches style, or genre, or even doing something new after a long sequential series.

    2. Blog.
    There are definitely some writers whose books I bought simply because they blog somewhat regularly, and manage to be interesting, and/or entertaining, for most of the time.
    To some point writing is writing, so the blog can also provide a general feel for how, or if, a writer can really write.

    And it’s a great way to show what the writer cares about, and how the writer sees the world, which can impact the books (hopefully the former significantly more than the latter).

    3. Overviews.
    The printer back-cover descriptions are… well… horrible.
    For many of them you can get the clear impression that the writer (of the back-cover) didn’t bother to read the book, read the book while being totally drunk/stoned, or just read the first chapter and decided they know what is going on.

    Heck, sometimes I saw back-covers which added major plot elements that simply didn’t exist in the book, or who got the names of characters wrong. These may be because it was written based on some early draft, but still, I imagine there is enough time between final draft and actual printing, so it should be quite possible to get someone to read the book at that point for the back-cover.

    Getting the same thing from the actual writer of the book would be significantly better. There’s hardly a better way to get a sense of what is the book about (or supposed to be about, anyway), and what should be happening in it.

    And it’s a good way to see if the author can take my interest in this specific story, in their own words. If yes, well, then it’s all the more likely I may like the book as well.

    Plus, well, having it online will certainly allow to correct for any possible last-minute changes (assuming names of the protagonist really do change between final draft and really really final draft, or whatever).

    4. Bibliography.
    What else did the writer publish before? When?

    Series information. This is *very* important, and there are way too many books which are not listed anywhere, except in the actual content or maybe the cover (if you’re lucky) as belonging to a series together with other books.
    I want to know which book belongs to which series. I want to know if there are several sub-series in the same “world”. I want to know how are the ordered, both by the writing/publication date, and by the in-story chronological date.
    If there are some shared elements between otherwise unrelated series, they should be mentioned here briefly as well.

    5. Publications and dates.
    When was the book published originally? When will it be published? When will the trade paperback, and the mass-market paperback will be published?

    Several different publications (US, Canada, UK) ? Dates for all, please.

    Less importantly (for me, but clearly not for everyone), when is the book translated, and what are the planned publication dates of the translated versions?

    If the writer is working on new book, or a sequel, what are the deadlines? I know these are ballpark, or extremely rough and optimistic ballparks, and the writer can feel free to emphasize it on the site, but I’d *really* like to know if I’m going to have to wait for the book a few weeks, a few months, a year, or a few years, please.

    6. Background.
    Yes, we should get that from the book. The writer should be capable of world-building inside the book, by various means. But sometimes it doesn’t quite work, or some things may be less clear.

    It can help to have a place (i.e. the site) that gives general info about the world in the books, politics, major events, major players which are not active in the book, etc.
    Basically, details about everything important to understand what is going on around the plot, and why.

    Preferably it should be done for everything major which invented to the book instead of borrowed from the real world or some well-known convention. (e.g. How does your freaky economy work? Why is trade so different? What special abilities do those aliens have? Anything unique in your FTL system? Why do you think that magic system can work?)

    If the writer have this in the book, as an appendix, maybe even just copy it verbatim. So it won’t help anyone who read the book and wants more, but may help someone who just heard a lot of reviews (or… hmm… watched the movie? ), and wants some more info.

    7. Bio
    Who the author is, and what the author does, is much less important (to me, at least) than how they write. But I can still care enough to be interested. And, well, interested readers (or potential readers) are good. Right?

    If I like a writer, I often try to find some information on them, just to have a better idea.

    When considering a new writer, I sometime check, but I suppose the impact here would depend on whether there’s something in the author’s background which is either interesting or relevant to the books. I think… skip the bio if your life is entirely boring and devoid of events, but add it otherwise. And preferably add it with more details than the “John doe is a farmer from wherever who lives with her husband and five cats in a two-story house, and likes to write fiction in her spare time.” which is usually added on the last page of some books.

    8. Quick reference.
    Not very critical, but should be easy enough to do that the benefits would justify the cost.

    True, I hardly look at those lists of items, words, people, etc, even when they’re actually printed in the book. Occasionally, though, it does become necessary or helpful. Maybe after a long break (very rare, but happens), or when getting a sequel. And heck, there are people who actually take time to read a book, so they may not even remember that unpronounceable-fancy-named gun from act one when they reach the end.

    So a place to find, even at a quick overview, who is everyone, and what are the special items/technologies/races/etc, can be useful.

    9. Behind the scenes.
    Only if there actually is something to write here.
    Did the ideas for the book come from someplace particularly interesting? Is something based on a real person, or real events? Inspired by something? What went through the author’s head when they did something particularly outrageous?

    ** And that’s about it, for me, I think.
    I don’t really care about annotations, and discarded parts of the book, unless there’s a story behind them (And if there is, well, it belongs in the above part). I don’t really care about the nitty-gritty details, the minor changes, or plot-lines that the writer (or agent/editor/publisher) decided aren’t really fit for public consumption anyway.

  12. lynDon 20 Dec 2007 at 3:55 pm

    John Scalzi, Cherie Priest, Lynn Viehl, Holly Lisle, and Elizabeth Bear were all on my Favorites list before they became favorites on my bookshelf. I enjoy them as bloggers, because they’re funny, smart, and pull back the curtain about their writing process. The free content that they posted, whether through their sites or through their publishers’ sites, left me eager for more.

  13. Stacyon 21 Dec 2007 at 12:27 pm

    Brandon Sanderson’s website is my favorite author website – I really really like the current projects trackers, even though I think I’d never have the guts to post that kind of information myself. What I’d like to see in a website is a page for each book/series, with a list of references used for that book, because I like knowing what happened “behind the scenes.” Not so much content related is the presentation – I hate busy backgrounds and bad graphics, and am impressed by the quality of the picture images on Patrick Rothfuss’s website – Authorsontheweb seems to put together a nice page. I suppose the ultimate goal is to have interesting and cogent content, simply and cleanly presented.

  14. tycho garenon 22 Dec 2007 at 8:54 pm

    I’ve often thought that project specific websites like a dedicated http://www.mylatestbooktitle.com rather than have that domain point to a corner of http://www.thisauthorsname.com, say.

    My thinking is that, while a book website might be productive and successful (at least partly) in promoting a book, it will ultimately (and perhaps sooner rather than later) fail as a website. Better to have something that will succeed as a website in it’s own right that might then succeed in its own right. And I wager from a marketing perspective this is probably a better bet, and from a time perspective doing a website like that would probably take less time. Cory Doctorow and John Scalzi do a pretty good job of this, I think, but there are other surely.

    And the truth is that there are a lot of really great content management systems that will produce websites like this that are pretty easy for non-adept folk to manage.

  15. Charleson 23 Dec 2007 at 2:54 pm

    Here’s what I look for on an author’s website:

    *Bibliography
    *Most recently released book
    *Book to be released next
    *Book Excerpt (I prefer opening chapter) – If the author is writing a series I don’t need an opening chapter for each book (though that would be nice), but I would prefer to have one for the first book and the most recent book.

    I also enjoy writing advice as well as hearing about the journey one of their novels took from idea to published manuscript.

    And while not necessary, I do enjoy some sort of posting – be it in blog form or a What’s New section.

    I guess the main thing I want to know as a reader is that the Author is actually writing something.

    Oh, and for those who have had to go the name change route due to the insanties of the ordering practices of bookstores, a Links page that includes their other names.

    As for which Author website lead directly to me purchasing that author’s books:

    George R. R. Martin. I had heard about him from friends but it was his website with all of the information (and an excellent excerpt) as well as his blog that was the deciding factor in me going out and buying “A Game Of Thrones”.

    Karen Miller. I stumbled across her website because I was reading the comments to Kate Elliott’s LJ page and came across Karen’s comment, which lead me to her webpage, which lead me to purchase her latest duology.

    Also, this website has lead directly to me purchasing some of the books written by the authors that provide us with this place. And the rest of you are sitting in my wish list waiting for their turn to come up in my reading list.

  16. King Raton 24 Dec 2007 at 12:46 am

    Things I like and look for:

    * Bibliography – complete if possible, including non-book work.
    * Bio – just a short bio is fine, but I like to see if the author has a background in the subject area
    * FAQ, background info – I love Peter Hamilton’s Q&A, and I used to like Card’s Q&A before he went wingnut and I stopped frequenting the site. This really should be done somewhat in response to user request, even if not in FAQ format. What the author finds interesting about their own work isn’t necessarily what the readers find interesting.
    * Blog – not just a promo/readings schedule. like getting to know characters, getting to know the author makes the writing more rich. i love when authors write not just about the writing process, but about what they like about their plots/characters/settings, etc. (Your commentary about the female character’s appearance on the new Infoquake cover is this sort of thing.)

    I can only think of one author web site that induced me to purchase a book. I check out a lot of author web sites after reading the books though. The one that I did buy was Infoquake, after reading your blog for a while. I think I actually found it through DeepGenre, though why I first came to DeepGenre I can’t remember.

  17. King Raton 24 Dec 2007 at 12:49 am

    I should add that I never read excerpts online. I have a really hard time reading fiction on a computer screen.

  18. Kate Elliotton 24 Dec 2007 at 2:17 am

    I gotta say, these are really useful comments. Thanks.

  19. John Bakeron 24 Dec 2007 at 5:58 am

    I go to an author’s site for the content. Mainly I don’t visit a static site unless I want a specific piece of info. But blogs I visit regularly because of the author’s voice, his or her opinions, or the way that particular author engages my mind.
    I don’t think it’s particularly useful to consider why people visit an author’s site. People visit an author’s site for exactly the same rerason that they visit anywhere else.
    We are here because we recognise the territory, more or less, and because we hope that we’ll find something to vindicate our choices.
    Great discussion, well hosted, and populated by intelligent and thinking people.
    I’ll be back.

  20. Laurieon 24 Dec 2007 at 10:13 am

    I wanted to chime in about bibliography pages. They are a definite do! Over the weekend, some of my buddies were begging me for reading suggestions over the holidays and I just hopped on over to the various authors’ websites and linked the bibliography pages to my favorites. They can print a page out and take it to the book store or (in most cases) click the Amazon links and order away. Darn useful, and easy for passing on a well-loved author’s works to friends.

  21. Potlickuson 24 Dec 2007 at 11:21 am

    Most of the info these erudite folks want on your website probably ought to be on Wikipedia. Dude, you don’t have a Wikipedia entry as this is posted. On the Pyr entry, *all* the authors listed do, except you. Is there a reason? Perhaps to get more hits on your own site? Most Wikipedia entries link to the author’s site. FYI, your own site was found from your posts on Scalzi’s site.

  22. David Louis Edelmanon 24 Dec 2007 at 11:30 am

    Potlickus: There actually was a page up on Wikipedia for me, but Wikipedia took it down as a copyright violation because it cribbed the bio text straight from my website.

    I’d love to have a Wikipedia page, but it’s really bad form to create one yourself (or have your editor do it for you). I’ve tried to gently nudge a few fans to create one for me, but so far no dice. Perhaps I need to nudge harder or start promising sexual favors.

  23. King Raton 25 Dec 2007 at 5:33 am

    Yeah, a bibliography and bio can be on wikipedia. But because wikipedia can be edited by everyone, it can be incomplete or wrong. (Yes, I know it can be fixed by anyone too. I’m not criticizing Wikipedia. I love it for many reasons.) Each page really requires a semi-dedicated person to maintain it, and as DLE points out, it’s bad form for an author or his editor to do it themselves.

    Add all that up, and you want the control you can have by keeping it on your own web site. It’s nice to have it on wikipedia too, I’m sure.

  24. George Pedrosaon 26 Dec 2007 at 11:30 am

    The first chapters of the book should be on an author’s website, definitely. The reason I bought Infoquake in the first place was because I really liked the articles on your blog, then I read the first chapters of your book and decided to buy it.

  25. Sam Grahamon 27 Dec 2007 at 8:55 am

    Most important things, in order:

    1. Bibliography, absolutely the single most important aspect of an author’s site for me, if they have nothing else they should have this done right:

    - It should have each book.
    - It should have cover images of each edition in each country.
    - If different countries have different titles, it should say what the original title was so we don’t end up buying some expensive import thinking it’s new when we already have it under another name.
    - Likewise if there’s an omnibus it should clearly state what the original books were since so many don’t even on the covers.
    - It should be grouped by series and at the least have a description of the series as a whole at the head of each section.
    - Publication date is useful but not (to me) essential.
    - Links to somewhere to buy it seldom hurt, but I’m perfectly able to cut-n-paste the title into an Amazon search box, and if I’m looking to buy I probably already have it open in another window.

    2. News section – distinct from a general blog, there needs to be a news section relating to just professional stuff like new books coming out – I may not like your personal musings on life in your blog, but still be interested in your books, so having the two distinct is important.

    3. RSS feed – mandatory if you want me to read your news or blog. Sorry to bust your ego but, important as reading is to my life, no-one is important enough for me to visit their site every day on the off chance they’ve posted something new. And if I don’t do it daily I don’t remember. I do however have a whole bunch of RSS subscriptions to authors who have a feed, and then whenever they update I read it.

    4. Publication pipeline – partly news, partly bibliography, letting us know which parts of the world are getting which book in what format when… ie “The Randomly Titled Book” is being published in trade paperback in the UK by Almost As Random Publisher on 17th February 2008.

    5. Current project(s) info – I like to know what to expect next from my fave authors and some vague idea of how long I have to wait, sure it’s not a precise art and it can be out of the control of the author (and not entirely relevent if international publication dates are way out of sync) but “about six months” makes me a lot more excited than “about eighteen months”.

    6. Extracts – if I don’t know you as an author then the opening chapter can be a big help – if I don’t know by the end of that if I like the style then I’m obviously not that fussed. If you’re an author I like though I won’t visit the extracts section since I’ll prefer to read it in the book rather than on screen – in that case a description is best for me. Preferably one with more relevence than the back-cover blurb usually has.

    Not so important stuff to me, least-interesting last:

    1. Blog – can be a great way to keep “in touch with the fanbase”, but honestly most authors I like for their stories, not their life. :) Writing interestingly about mundane life isn’t the same skillset as writing interestingly about sci-fi or fantasy; that said there’s a few I do read. CJ Cherryh’s blog is one of my regular reads (despite my earlier comments about not having RSS feeds.)

    2. Supporting materials – some people go wild over appendix style info on websites, I think a timeline for a series or the like can be good, but if your editor isn’t convinced it’s good enough to go in the book (or be a book on its own) then there’s probably a good reason. Also I prefer the books to stand and fall on their own merits, not the strength of “oh it said on the website that this little politcal fact was true, thus their mysterious motivations in the books make more sense now” type outside-book information.

    Er, I had more thoughts than that when I started I’m sure. Ah well, hope it’s useful anyway. :)

  26. Presque vu XXXVII - John Baker’s Blogon 30 Dec 2007 at 4:04 am

    [...] DeepGenre hosts an interesting discussion about what works on an author’s website: [...]

  27. Hatgirlon 30 Dec 2007 at 10:58 am

    *de-lurks*
    This is such an interesting topic, I had to put my 2cents in.

    What I look for in an author’s website:
    Up-to-date information - There are few things as irritating as going to an author’s website to find it hasn’t been updated in 3 years and has no mention of their latest 2 books.
    Excerpts – As others have said, from the start of a book and more than just one chapter. Even if I’m already a fan, I often find myself posting a link to an excerpt.
    Upcoming Books – If I like an author, and know everything there is to know about the books, it’s updates on the status of the next book that will keep me coming back to the website.
    BibliographySam Graham described what I look for in a bibliography perfectly.
    World Background – Maps! I love maps. Big huge jpegs you can zoom in on. Katharine Kerr’s List of Incarnations is another example of why I go back to an author’s website. Glossaries in the back of a book are nice, but so much nicer on a website when you can use CTRL+F. Ooh, family trees. I do love a good family tree.
    Promotional Fun – Desktop wallpapers of bookcovers, screensavers of the same, crests/coats of arms, icons, banners…. yes, I know, it’s not quite as “academic” as an essay on the practicalities of FTL travel, but I’ve got the Lirael bookjacket as my wallpaper right now. Lois McMaster Bujold’s quote generator is also addictive.

    Things that turn me off an author’s website:
    Rudeness – I have had similar reactions to Laurie’s to some author’s websites. While not verbally abusing your customers may seem obvious, I thought I’d better mention it.
    Bad Design – I love the content at George RR Martin’s website, but the layout drives me up the wall. Frames are the tool of the devil. Please bear in mind as well that your website could be being read by someone with a sight disability. Or on dial-up. Which should also count as a disability.
    Spoilers – Please try to avoid unmarked spoilers. If people are coming to your site to find out how many books are in the series, they don’t want to see an explanation of why you killed off the favourite supporting character plastered on the Home page. Again, sounds obvious, but it’s happened to me.
    Out-of-date information – Yes, I know I mentioned it before, but it’s really annoying.

    Blogs:
    Blogs are tricky. Neil Gaiman’s blog keeps me going back to his website every day, and Wil Wheaton’s has persuaded me to buy his books. But if it’s not updated, or is only updated with cat pictures and links to Amazon, I would prefer a link to this kind of communal blog. It’s a terribly clever idea. I found it through Katharine Kerr’s site and have found a lot of authors through it.

    Right, that’s more like $2 than 2cents, but I hope it helps.

  28. Anyaon 06 Jan 2008 at 2:22 pm

    Even though it’s all been said before I’d like to add that for me an excerpt, preferably the first chapter, is an absolute must. And please, not only of the latest book but all of them — especially if it is a series!

    Since I don’t live in an English-speaking country, I can’t just walk into a bookstore or library to browse (I get all my English books from amazon). I usually don’t buy books without having read an excerpt first, and on the few occasions that I did I was disappointed more often than not and swore to never again trust reviews.

    Reviews tell me nothing about the book. Only I can tell (from the first 5-10 pages) if I might enjoy the book.

    Even if it is one of my favorite authors, an excerpt can only help. A short while back, one of my favorite authors wrote a four-part series I couldn’t get into, so I was both overjoyed and skeptical when I saw she had a new book out. The excerpt along with the jacket blurb at amazon convinced me to buy it, and I am glad I did because it is the best fantasy novel I’ve read in a long while and I can’t wait for the second part. (Yes, I am talking about Flesh and Spirit, and Breath and Bone. ;o)

    I like to discover new authors by browsing first pages. It’s really the only thing that can persuade me to buy a book.

    Cheers,

    Anya

  29. Sam Grahamon 06 Jan 2008 at 4:02 pm

    I think the comments on this article have clearly shown that while different people have different reasons for visiting an author website there’s probably some broad categories:

    There’s people (like me) whose primary purpose is to, as quickly and efficiently as possible, keep up to date on new books and fill holes in their collection, any extraneous fluff that gets in their way is mostly an irritant, or a “spoiler” for the books themselves. These “impatient buyers” probably already know they want to buy from you, they just want to find out that there’s something for them to buy in the first place, and get on with it so they can start reading… NOW!

    There’s people who are “undecided buyers”, maybe they’ve read a book by you before and are looking to see if you’ve done “more of the same” or maybe they found out about you some other way: they don’t know what books you have, and they also don’t know if they want to buy something. Those people you need to convince that you’re the right author for them… the longer you take to do that then the more likely they are to give up. They want extracts, they want to be pointed at a “good starting point” if you’ve got 30 zillion books in print, they might find “extra materials” interesting or they might find it confusing (because they don’t know the source material.) These are the people who need the hard sell.

    Then there’s the “just can’t get enough” fans, these are the people who like the “impatient buyers” probably own everything you’ve ever written and will buy anything new you write, but they want MORE, they want photographs of your hand-written manuscript, they want spoilers, they want updates every 30 seconds on the new novel, they’ll hang out on your forums and give you a real sense of community, they’ll comiserate with you when you’re ill and can’t write for a few days, and so on. For these people, anything extra you can give is a reward for their loyalty and they’ll love you for having a rich website with as much background info as you can manage (while holding down your day-job of actually writing the next book…) For them, they’ll visit the site wanting to know if there’s anything new on the site as much as for news about your books.

    I think most people are probably some combination of these three types, but you can see, each has their own needs and purpose when they visit your website, and to serve each of them well you probably need to gently guide them in different directions from the moment they arrive at your website with clearly labelled sections targeted to their needs even if it’s just as simple as sections labelled “Latest Book News”, “New to my Books?” and “Community/Fan News”.

    Hope this is of some help. :)

  30. David Louis Edelmanon 06 Jan 2008 at 5:40 pm

    These comments have all been incredibly helpful. Thanks, and keep ‘em coming!

  31. [...] on Deep Genre, a group blog of fantasy authors, there’s a great discussion on what readers want on authors’ sites. We see the same discussion pop up pretty regularly elsewhere, but this group is unusually detailed [...]

  32. [...] I actually started soliciting feedback on the DeepGenre blog way back in December (see my piece “What Works on an Author Website?”). And now you can see the results here. You might also want to take the opportunity to poke around [...]

  33. [...] on DeepGenre, I’ve posted a little article asking for reader and book-buyer feedback on author websites, in particular SF author websites. Quick excerpt: So my question today is this: what do you find [...]

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