Do Authors Need Websites?
Someone actually put this to me this yesterday, and I was tempted to simply start laughing. It seems debatable on its face - do authors, purveyors of narrative not generally known for their tech savvy, need to have a website? My answer would be that you're asking the wrong question. Do authors need an online presence, where readers can easily access info on their books and get direct updates? A central location that each social media account leads back to? A repository for the author's articles? A malleable selling tool?
Yes, dear authors, you need a website. But you also need to know why. It's not enough to just go out there and set up a blog, for example, without having some pretty definite aims in mind for what you need it to do.
The Selling Tool
This is your website. YOUR selling tool. It is the only one that offers absolute control. It's the look and feel, the text, the placement of links, the flow of discussion; your online space is where everything is your choice alone. When running a marketing campaign, you know that no one is going to censor you or remove your links as a result of getting a complaint.
Amazon, for example, is geared towards selling all kinds of things, not just your book. Ditto for social networks; they're designed to sell TO you, if anything. When you're marketing a book, you need one selling tool that's geared only for you.
By not having a website, you make yourself harder to find. The first instinct of many Internet denizens, when they find something that piques their interest, is to go to Google and do a search on it. Your website - your main selling tool - should be at the top of that particular list, followed by stuff like Facebook and Amazon listings. It's very straightforward - your social media accounts have a certain amount of info on you. Amazon has a certain amount of info on your books. Only your website has ALL of it in one handy location.
There's a reason why businesses are told that they should have a website, and authors are no different. Both sell a product, and having easily available information on that product is worth a hell of a lot.
I think we can all agree that social networks are great tools, but there's something they don't give you - proper statistics. No, Facebook Insights don't count, as they're not in any way detailed enough.
A website under your control can give you all kinds of valuable statistics on how many people are interested in you. It'll tell you their general location, what site they came from, what pages they visited, how long they stayed there. I don't think I can really impress upon you how important this is, but let's go with an example.
You have a particular marketing campaign running on Twitter. The promo is listed as a post on your site, and you put the link on Twitter. Every time someone retweets it, they're entered into a draw for an Amazon gift card. So, what can something like Google Analytics tell you?
The volume of traffic going to your promo post.
How much of it came from Twitter.
The average time spent reading that post.
How many clicked on your Amazon link (if you're tech savvy enough).
All of this adds up to you knowing exactly how well that campaign is working. Go ahead and see if Facebook can tell you that.
I can't believe that I have to say this in the year 2012, but yes, you need a website. You need a whole online marketing strategy, in fact. I beg you, dear authors, to heed my advice here: writing a book makes you an author, but everything that comes after that - especially your website - makes you a professional.