In the publishing world of today it has become imperative to have an online presence; most notably in the form of a professional website.
A website is your calling card for the industry: an online presence of how you want to be perceived in the world.
The content, and especially the layout, demonstrates the kind of writer that you are, and in some cases your unique personality:
Is this a website of an organised mind? If not, is its non-linear approach an intentional reflection of their writing style?
The URL address itself is not to be taken lightly either. Unfortunately, many give little thought to all three.
A website is so much more than a few pages linked together. Websites have now replaced business cards. Nobody asks for a card anymore. They ask for your link. So the link better be worth their visit, and like your book, it needs to hold their interest.
Literary agents and publishers can tell a great deal about a writer by the condition of their website. It can encapsulate the tone of your writing, and the kind of person they will be representing should you get to that stage. Put simply: a website is you, in pixels.
Although 2000 characters is the HTTP Protocol limit for nearly all browsers, and 2048 is the limit for those wishing to submit sitemaps, the ideal length for your homepage URL should be 40 characters. Certainly no longer than 72 characters. You may wonder why such a small number, when there is so much white space in a browser address bar? It is because it needs to be address which rolls off the tongue and is easy to remember; not for yourself, but for those that you network with. If you fleetingly meet a literary agent, or a publisher, you want to be in a position to give them a snappy website address which sticks in their memory.
Furthermore, use .com where possible. Many variations of the prefix have recently become available, but .com is not only a worldwide prefix, it is always the easiest for a person to remember.
The other essential part of this URL is always, always, always, use www. Some writers not au fait with web design, have their site inadvertently stored in a subdirectory. Consequently their address becomes http://sitename.com instead of being stored in the root directory, where their address would be http://www.sitename.com. This can of course be a preference for the writer, but for the person they are networking with, it is not.
The layout of your website is often used as a visual representation of your writing style, and genre. Just as a book jacket cover determines the genre of its writer, so should the first glimpse of their homepage. Invariably, WordPress is utilised by writers to automise their layout for them. But those themes are built to be customised, so that despite sharing the same code, their visualisation should vary from writer to writer.
Certain genres demand specific fonts, but always be wary of font variation in web design. Verdana; Arial; Courier; Georgia; Trebuchet; Helvetica; Times New Roman; and Sans Serif; are the predominant fonts, due to them being easy on the eye across a variety of screens.
The screens themselves are now a critical factor in web design. You need a website which is clear and readable on any size screen. So make sure to check every page across all platforms before making the site live. Also, try and keep to HTML design, and avoid Flash based websites. They are indeed visual treats but they cannot be viewed on the majority of mobile devices, such as the iPad. So if the literary agent or publisher you have just networked with takes a quick look at your site on their way to their next meeting, they will be faced with a blank screen. With such hectic schedules, they may not have the time, or the patience, to check your site again. Do not make the mistake of missing your only opportunity for your website to be perused by their eyes.
Content varies depending on experience, but three essential pages are common throughout:
- About / Bio - This section enables you to express your personality through a succinct one page introduction about why you write / and / or / your most notably achievements.
- CV / Resume - If you are a beginner writer and have a sparse resume, then enter writing competitions, and do some freelance writing for blogs, magazines, and local papers, anything to fill out your writing experience. Never include places where you have worked as a day job, unless it is relevant to the books you write. For example if you are working on a legal thriller, and you worked as a lawyer, then this elevates your experience in the eyes of the publishing community. Always step back with an objective eye and gaze at your online resume. Would it impress a literary agent? Would it demonstrate your lifelong passion for writing whenever, and wherever you can?
- Contact - A contact page can be designed in one of two ways. Firstly a simple box of text fields for the visitor to key in their name, e-mail, and message, without revealing your own e-mail address. These widgets are superb if you wish to hide your embarrassing free e-mail address which your whole family liaise with you on. But this leads to the second variation of contact: a website defined e-mail. All hosting packages include at least ten e-mail addresses with them. So you can specify an e-mail address for your life as a writer, and separate it from the one used to e-mail the family. A combination of both can also be used, so you can reply to widget e-mails with your user defined address, without publicising it to the spammers.
The care and attention paid to these three menu items is of paramount importance on any writer's website.
Social Networking Sites
Being active on any of the leading social networking sites will increase your web traffic exponentially. Facebook and Twitter will at minimum, triple the visitors who visit your website. Not joining Twitter is no longer an option for a beginning writer. With so many literary agents, publishers, and authors, on there, it offers you a free network of publishing professionals.
Never dismiss the importance of having a professional online presence to support your writing career. Throwing a quick site together which is hard to read is detrimental to your chances of landing a publishing deal, because while you are being unprofessional, the writers you are in competition with, are not.