Should your book have a website?
Note: this is not the same question as “Should you have a website?” (The answer to that, by the way, is: yes.)
I have reviewed several books recently where I have either had to do a spot of research while reading, and/or I have been inspired to find out more about a novel’s subject when I’ve finished. This is not to say that the novels lacked anything, just that as a reader I wanted to know more. Authors, this is a Good Thing, as it means you have stirred my imagination and desire for knowledge. (If I need to look up stuff because I don't understand what is going on, that’s a Bad Thing and a whole other subject.)
Are you as the author of the novel obliged to provide that information? Of course not. But would it benefit you as a seller of books to give some added value to your purchasers? I would say most definitely.
Some authors like to add authenticity to their stories by using real streets or buildings from the novel's setting. That’s great if your reader lives in that town, but what if they live on the other side of the country, or even in another country? It can be irritating to be taken along on your character’s walkabout but have no mental picture of where you actually are. A simple map with the relevant streets and landmarks would help the reader picture it. Yes, your reader can do an internet search and find numerous street maps, but wouldn’t it be better if they could go straight to your own website to see it, and while there maybe click on another link or two, maybe even discover another book you’ve written, with a link to an online seller … Besides which, you’d have been a jolly good egg and won a few remembrance points for being so helpful.
Some authors, particularly of historical novels, have done huge amounts of research. I’m not suggesting you make all of it available to your readers, but you could pick out some of the most relevant bits and provide articles on them. For example, say you write a novel about a family living in Derry Hill, Wiltshire in the 1760s and 1770s and the father is a gardener at nearby Bowood House:
- Who has heard of Derry Hill? Precisely. So your website could have a map of Wiltshire, showing the village.
- The gardens at Bowood had been laid out to “Capability” Brown’s design in the early 1760s, so you could have an article on the designer and the garden.
- Charles Hamilton did further work on the gardens in 1766, and that might have affected your gardener, so you could have an article on Hamilton and his design for Bowood.
- You could try to find old pictures of the gardens, and have modern pictures too. (Look out for copyright issues for pictures, of course.)
- You might have had to research native and introduced plants for the Bowood gardens. Gardeners would like to read about that.
- The house’s history and pictures might merit a page.
- Joseph Priestley discovered oxygen in his laboratory in Bowood House in 1774, so your family’s father could have been involved in that somehow (I don’t know how – you’re the writer), so you might want to provide a little biography of Priestley.
- It could be that your family travelled to the market in Chippenham, so you could write about Chippenham and markets.
Get my drift? What’s relevant and how much detail you want to go into is for you to decide – just think about what your reader might need or want to know.
I spend a lot of time in Ireland and so read a lot of books by Irish authors. I read only English, but some Irish books include words or terms in Irish – your website could provide a glossary. Or the book might make some reference to a particular bit of folklore, so it would be good to have an article on that.
Series, modern or historical, can benefit from their own website. On it you could have a synopsis of each book, a timeline, a potted biography of the main characters, maps, background – you choose. If your readers might like it, include it.
Whether this information is on your author website (you’ve got one of those, right?) or a dedicated site is up to you. It will depend on what else you write about and how much information you are likely to want to give your readers.
But I have a blog with this stuff on it
Great. But how easy is the information to find? It's no good to me as a reader who wants only to see a map of eighteenth-century Nottingham if it is buried among posts on how you hate your editor and was added to the blog in February 2009. And before you say you have that map on Facebook and Pinterest, think about how easy it is for me to find there.
One of the most extensive “site of the book” sites I’ve seen is www.wheretoskiandsnowboard.com. The book, Where to Ski and Snowboard, comes out annually. It is independently published – the two editors have formed a publishing company which pretty much produces just this one book, updated each year. They organise everything, from the research, the writing, the picture research, the editing, the drawing of maps, the typesetting, the production and the marketing. The only thing they farm out is distribution, although they also do some themselves, for direct sales. They work on the book pretty exclusively for about four months of the year, and the rest of the year they work on their own projects. For the busy months they employ a team of freelancers, and they have one full-time employee to keep things ticking over. And they have been doing this for over twenty years – "self-publishing" at its very best. Their website exists purely because the book does. It concentrates on the exact-same subject as the book. Go look at it. How much more professional can you get?
Lorna Sixsmith’s blog came first, and from one blog article she got inspiration for her book, Would You Marry a Farmer? Her blog carries on the theme of the book, even when it is not directly about the book. That is, farm life, farm parenting, farm stock, and so on. So although it is not about the book, it is a constant reinforcement of the books she writes and provides further information on the themes. And yes, it's a blog not a dedicated site, but the blog is pretty much full of related articles and is tagged very well.
This is Piers Alexander’s author website. It has all the right stuff – information about Piers as an author, information about his book, reviews of the book, contact information – but most importantly (for reference to this article anyway) it has a menu item titled “Calumny’s time” (Calumny is the main character in his book). The article gives a bit of a history lesson and if you choose to read that, you will get further insight into the story. You don’t need to read the web page, but it’s there if you want to.
An experience in itself – a community made up of Potter fans. Your characters may not be as famous as the Hogwarts students (in fairness, they probably aren’t), but as an example of added value, this site ain’t half good.
A fresh-looking site aimed at teenagers. It’s all about one series of books, its characters and places. You might not be writing for a YA audience that loves vampires, but it’s a good example of added value and, of course, marketing.
I’d love to look at some more examples, so do let me know if you are aware of any.
Yet more work – all I want to do is write!
Yes, but you want to sell as well. And it needn’t be hard work. You could treat the article as a way of formulating your research. It’s another way of showcasing your writing. You might need just a map and nothing else: source, ask for permission ‒ done. At a pinch (one that really hurts), it could even be just a page of links to relevant external sites (but do make sure they are relevant).
It could be a few pages added to your existing website. It could be a new site quickly set up with WordPress. Or you could go all out and get it designed. Once it’s done, it’s done, pretty much. You might want to add to it, but you don’t have to.
Since you're on a roll, anything else?
Now you mention it, there are all sorts of things you could do with your website to add value, such as:
- Adding short stories involving your characters (main or secondary) – this needn't be too arduous a task: you could adapt scenes deleted from the book or books
- Providing book club questions
- Interviewing yourself
- Interviewing someone else (say your book is about a florist, you could interview a florist)
- Giving a recipe (say you are writing about a Victorian picnic at which they drink lemon and barley water, you could give the recipe for this)
- Offering your cover or inside artwork as wallpaper
- Merchandise relating to your books (for an example, see M T McGuire's K'Barthan merchandise – this is sold through Zazzle (I've seen several author sites selling this way))
- Writing a quiz based on the book, series or the reader's knowledge of the era in which the books are set, or the language used – do a search for online software that will help you make it interactive.
Most importantly, though: make it easy for your readers to find the information they want.
What do you think: would your book’s readers benefit from the book’s own site or pages?