Saturday, 15 November 2014

Tangled in the World Wide Web

In the last post I set out a list of things I found I needed to do in the process of getting Inner Fire out to market. However, there's one thing I left out.

The major thing I'd left off my Get-your-book-to-market list is your website.

The reason for this brain fade is that Inner Fire is actually my second novel - my first to be self-published, though - so I had already organised a site at the time my first novel, A Necklace of Souls, was published. This post contains some of the many Things I Wish I'd Known about websites. This is pretty basic information and you can find out a lot more technical material on the web. If you're a designer or someone who works in IT you won't need all the information below. But since I'm neither of these things, I thought other folk as ignorant as I may find all this interesting.

Do I Need a Website?

Of course you don't. You're writing books, not selling furniture. Stories are art, not commodities, and  a website is not required to write a book. Time, persistence and talent maybe, but not a website.

But. Here's the thing. If you want to sell your books, well then, a website is a wise idea. Again, it's not mandatory; some writers I love do not have a web presence. Which is immensely frustrating, because I would really like to know what else they've written and what they're working on now. The hallmark of these writers is that they're pre-world wide web and/or they're all immensely famous so they don't really need the presence. Fair play to them.

But for me, a website has been a great investment. Why? Because a website isn't only about having your photo on the internet. A website offers you:
  • Discoverability
  • Analytics
  • Communication
  • Income
Set out below are my main learnings from my web building experience.

from Dilbert

What do I Need?

You need to have a thought about what you want in a site. Do you want one page or multiple page? Do you want a 'contact me' form? An FAQ section? Here's a link to a couple of sites with quite diverse looks and feels to give you ideas:
  1. Mary Winston Photography
  2. Rachael Craw 
  3. T K Roxburgh

Websites are not cheap. You can build one yourself, but if you're not a website person (and lots of writers aren't) chances are it will look and feel horrible. So personally, I suggest get a web designer to do it for you. Who? Look at websites of other creatives you like and see who their designer is. There will be a link somewhere in the footer of the page. Make contact with the designer and ask for a quote. You'll find they'll vary a lot and it will be dependant on what your requirements are. Here's the link to my web designer.

Don't forget that the website needs a domain name. is my domain name. Your domain name could be the title of your book, or your name or something totally random. Popular domain names trade hands for thousands; a domain name has a value. If you think you've got a best seller on your hands, register its title as a domain name before anyone else does!

Your website will need to be hosted. Hosting is where the software for your site sits.  Your designer can help you find hosting, or you can sort it yourself. Hosting isn't something we need to get too worried about as authors, but large companies do need to consider these hosting arrangements carefully, as they cannot afford for their hosting company to go out of business, or to be damaged in a fire or earthquake and take their data with them.

So the cost of your site will probably be development + hosting + domain name. I say 'probably' as the web world is always changing, so who knows what technology will bring. Currently, the usual process seems to be domain name and hosting is an annual fee; development is usually a one off cost, often a per hour charge. You may need additional development services if you want to modify your site.

Benefits of a Website


Search engine optimization (SEO) means how easily a site is found by search engines. Most people, if they're looking for me, will type 'Rachel Stedman' or 'A Necklace of Souls' or 'RLStedman' into their Google browser. Usually, my website is the first option on the list presented by Google. The idea of SEO means that people can find me easily. When you get your site, search yourself on Google, and check your site comes up. If it doesn't, the keywords may need to be changed.

Apart from SEO, your website needs to be kept current. Google can tell if the website's old, and if it's old it's not presented as a first choice to the searcher.  Therefore, to keep your website fresh, it's wise to tweak your content probably every 3 months. Some people have a blog attached to their site (I don't), which acts the same way.

If you're not particularly technical you can get your web designer to make regular tweaks to your site,  but then you'll probably have to pay them, so for me, I've learnt to do it myself. On a wordpress platform it's no harder than writing this blog. (Actually, it's easier, the blogspot software is very clunky).


Ask your designer to set you up with analytics to your site.  Analytics measure who is clicking on your site, where they're based and even, if they're linked up to google +, their demographics - age, sex and so on.  I can drill down into time periods, or country or referral patterns. This is useful because it helps me tell if say a campaign of Facebook ad has lead to any extra activity.

Analytics are the most valuable part of a website. They're the reason I wouldn't use a low cost alternative, like a tumblr page. I love knowing that readers in China and Russia and Brazil are interested in me. It's also encouraging; writing is a long term plan and I can tell, just from my analytics, that my presence and interest in my writing is slowly, slowly increasing. 

I find the analytics more useful than sales figures. Why? Because most people discover a book by reading it for free. Someone lends it to them, or they get it from the library, or they get a free download.  (Probably, this is why Scott Adams allows his awesome Dilbert cartoons to be used on blogs like mine).

Therefore, it's highly reasonable to assume that sales will lag significantly behind website analytics. It's the trend, though that interests me, and for me the trend is looking good. Not great, not amazing, but in the right direction.

Website Analytics: Number of hits per month


If I'm giving a talk about my book, often the convener will introduce me with the blurb from my website. 'Hello,' I think, 'I've heard that before.' Last year, when A Necklace of Souls was shortlisted in the New Zealand Post Book Awards, school children were looking at my site. Teachers also are interested. As are media outlets - if someone's doing an interview with you they'll definitely check out your site first. I have a page that's just for readers/media/teachers, and people can contact me through my site. You can add newsletter sign-ups to your site.


This is something I've only just realised - your blog or website can generate income for you. Not a lot, but still. You can put google adsense on your site (personally, i haven't because I think it looks tacky), but I have here on my blog. Look to the right, under the 'about me' section. You'll see an advert for something, probably self-publishing. Dear reader, if you click on that advertisement, I receive a small payment. Something like a dollar. Thus far, I have made TWO DOLLARS. So not retirement material. 

Also on my website is a link to a 'buy now' for Inner Fire. This will take you to the amazon entry for the book. This is an affiliate link - if someone clicks on this link and purchases something from amazon over the next several hours (I forget the timeframe), a receive a small renumeration. Thus far, I have made ZERO DOLLARS.  However, large book buying sites such as BookBub, can receive serious money from their affiliate links.  

And of course, you can attach a paypal to your site, and people can purchase your work online. Do put this in. True story: I heard a wonderful singer/songwriter on the radio, an audience of probably 50,000. When asked 'Where can people buy your music?' she said, 'Oh they can send me a letter.' A letter! Don't make it hard for people to find your work. I've only just added the paypal function and I haven't used it yet, but it seems crazy that I didn't have it up earlier. It isn't hard and doesn't cost you anything unless you make a sale.

From Dilbert


When A Necklace of Souls was published in 2013 I was nervous about having an online presence. I thought people would stalk me or something. I was so wrong. A website allows people who are interested in you to contact you (I love getting emails through my site) but also, and I really had not anticipated this, a website allows you to be creative. 

You can have a website page for a character, or a page for a story, or a page for the pictures you've drawn for your story. Some writers have whole websites devoted to their worlds (check out Ben Aaronvitch's site). In a very strange way your site reflects your personality; the colours, the layout, the images. A well designed website feels, rather weirdly, like an extension of yourself.

No comments:

Post a Comment