Part 4: Launching a book’s website

How do you search for a book on the Internet?

You might go directly to the website of a familiar online bookseller like Amazon or Barnes & Noble. If you’re not yet ready to buy, you could type the book’s title into a search engine hoping to find more information about the author and subject or a reliable review. The top-ranking search results for your query (assuming you recalled the book’s exact title) are likely to link to the major online retailers. A book’s own website is liable to appear on the first page of search results if the domain name and the book’s title are identical.

To make a book easy to find on the Web and attractive to customers, authors and publishers are launching thoughtfully designed websites for individual books. These sites can be very elaborate, interactive, and appealing to buyers. They’re not meant to replace the authors’ websites or blogs.

Of course, all of the author’s books should probably be pictured, not just listed, on the author’s own website. Ideally, the book’s, publisher’s, and author’s sites should all be connected with links that make it easy to locate the most authoritative sources as well as to purchase the book.

Planning ahead

It’s advantageous to launch a book’s website far in advance of the book’s publication. If the author or publisher waits until the book is in print, a domain name reseller can easily snap up the preferred web address, register it on spec, and then profit from selling the domain name to the book’s author at a premium.

Establishing a website for a book prior to its publication gives the author or publicist an opportunity to collect email addresses from people who visit the website and sign up to receive email notification of the book’s launch or an email newsletter. The accumulated mailing list can be used to send out information about scheduled book signings, panel discussions, or other kinds of author appearances. Imaginative contests are another way to engage the site’s visitors.

Selling online

Once a book is available for purchase, each page of the book’s website should include a “buy the book” link to its retail source(s).

A book’s website can have retail affiliate links that generate a little click revenue beyond the royalties the author receives. Examples are Amazon Associates and Barnes & Noble’s affiliate program.

Some authors who publish their own books also fill orders placed through their websites, although a purchaser is somewhat more likely to do business with a trusted online retailer that has already captured the person’s credit card number and mailing address. PayPal and Google Checkout are two viable payment processing options, but they’re not free. The seller pays for each sales transaction.

Examples of books’ websites

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier was well publicized. Its website was probably maintained at the expense of the publisher, Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

The interactive website for The Cat Who Wouldn’t Come Inside was created by Brian Azer, who explains:

It would be nice if more books had their own individual websites just like movies do. There are some amazing movie websites out there that take the movie to a new level. They also have bonus features which add insight to the movies. It would be wonderful if more books went in that direction. Like the Cat website, Cynthia von Buhler wanted to give more insight, a history behind the book, and even an online workshop where you can create a kitty out of clay, just like the book.

As far as fees and budgets of book websites go, it’s tough to give any specific numbers. Usually every project requires different budgets depending on how elaborate the website is… Something like the Kitty site can be in the $5,000-$10,000 range. On the Kitty website, Cynthia actually commissioned me to build the site, not the publisher. Usually publishers don’t pay for book sites, it’s something the authors may do on their own.

When I first met Cynthia back in 1998, I designed her Illustration/Painting website, cynthiavonbuhler.com, as a trade for two beautiful paintings of hers. We have had a great working relationship since then. We have worked on a number of projects over the years which she now pays me for instead of trading artwork. I’m now on retainer with her because there’s a lot of promotional work she has been doing such as updating her website, postcards, catalogs, and working on websites for her other projects.

The Dangerous Book for Boys and The Thirteenth Tale also have elaborately designed sites.

A site similar to Interaction Design: Beyond Human-Computer Interaction (2nd edition) could be built on a free blogging platform. Its exceptional value lies in the detailed description of the book’s contents and the lists of links to reliable free online resources relevant to the book’s topic.

Barbara Kingsolver’s website for Animal, Vegetable, Miracle was developed in the same informative style.

Four basic elements

A website consists of four essential components: domain name, hosting, design, and maintenance.

Domain name registration fees are nominal, approximately $10 to $25 annually. Some web hosting companies provide domain name registration free of charge with an inexpensive hosting package costing as little as $5 or $10 a month plus an initial setup fee.

A domain name must be registered annually, like a vehicle license tag. Site owners shouldn’t rely on their web hosting services to remind them when it’s time to renew.

Custom-designed websites are not cheap, and finding a designer whose style matches the author’s vision can be tricky. Some web hosting services offer self-serve build-it-yourself sites based on design templates at incredibly low prices. A reliability report from the Better Business Bureau can be obtained before making a purchase decision. A free blogging or social networking platform that permits advertising is a perfectly acceptable do-it-yourself alternative for authors with the patience and willingness to learn. Some, like AuthorTree [updated March 27, 2008], Ning and Google Blogger, include free hosting and let users customize a selection of design templates to some degree.

Too often websites are launched and then abandoned by individuals who didn’t consider the effort involved in keeping them up to date. A stale website with outdated event listings does nothing to generate buzz. It’s important to budget for website maintenance (which web design firms are usually happy to handle for a fee) or for the inclusion of content management tools when the site is created. Site owners can ask web designers to incorporate content management systems that allow authors to update their own websites. Blogs are designed to be maintained easily by bloggers who are not web programmers. It’s common to find blogs incorporated in standard websites, linked to books’ or publishers’ websites, or designed with fixed pages that resemble traditional web pages.

If you’ve recently launched a book’s website, feel free to leave a comment including a link and a little information about who designed the site.

Previously Posted
Part 1: Online social networking for authors
Part 2: Special online social networks for authors
Part 3: Managing your online identities

Next in the Series
Part 5: Starting an author’s blog
Part 6: Book reviewers on the Web
Part 7: Free publicity for book authors
Part 8: Book video trailers

2 thoughts on “Part 4: Launching a book’s website

  1. william E. Spear

    Jill-

    Insightful post; thanks.

    Lit Between the Ears – book and blog – were launched concurrently in 2006. The second book – due Oct 2009 – has been publicized on the blog since Jan of this year. We’ll see how how results compare.

    Best,

    William E. Spear
    # 30 #

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