Ten Author Websites That Really do the Business

Simon Appleby

Posted filed under Experience.
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Simon Appleby, director of digital agency Bookswarm, highlights ten websites that do their authors justice on the web.

Hopefully there’s not a writer alive who doesn’t believe they need a website – there are so many good reasons for having one that even if you don’t agree with all of them, you ought to agree with one or two. Whether you’re raising your profile, interacting directly with readers or providing a behind-the-scenes look at the creative process, you really do need a decent home on the web.
Of course, some author websites are better than others. Here are ten that we think really do their authors proud.


John le Carré

Why we like it:
The design is really appropriate for the subject matter of the books: espionage, subterfuge and murky dealings. The way that Twitter is presented (tweets from le Carré’s feed are ‘transmitted’ and tweets from others are ‘intercepted’) is very clever and in keeping with the genre too. Beyond the home page there’s loads of content, and the site recognises both the global nature of the publishing, and the interest in films based on the author’s books.

Black marks:
The author photo in the bottom corner of the home page is squashed and distorted – a basic error that needlessly lets down a lovely looking site.

www.johnlecarre.com


E.L. James

Why we like it:
The woman who made BDSM a socially-acceptable topic of conversation has a slick website that nicely defines her work as ‘provocative romance’. The Gallery section contains wine lists and play lists that collate all the gastronomic and cultural references of the books, which is a neat touch for fans who really want to immerse themselves in the author’s world, and the Fan Sites section offers a lovely acknowledgement of fan sites from around the world. Few big name authors would be so generous.

Black marks:
Dare we say it, we were expecting more handcuffs!

www.eljamesauthor.com


Joe Abercombie

Why we like it:
Joe is a writer with lots to say – not just about his books – and he uses his website to say it (he blogged seven times in January 2013). Judging by the level of interaction in the comments, his many fans appreciate this kind of access and the opportunity to interact that it presents. Not all writers will feel that they can sustain this level of interaction and still focus on their writing, but if you are someone who can, this is a good example of how to do it well.

Black marks:
The design is perhaps a little dated, but with content this good that’s a minor point indeed. Remember, content is king!

www.joeabercrombie.com


J.K. Rowling

Why we like it:
Admittedly few authors will ever have the resources to create and run a site that are available to the author of Harry Potter. It’s one thing to have those resources, though, and another to use them well – which this site does. The central timeline idea is a clever one – news stories are laid out horizontally and the user can scroll sideways to go back in time. News segues in to brief biographical posts about key events in the author’s life before she was published, going all the way back to 1965. There’s even a special mobile version.

Black marks:
The design is perhaps a little sterile for our taste – though you can see why they would steer clear of an overtly Potteresque look and feel.

www.jkrowling.co.uk


Anthony Horowitz

Why we like it:
Horowitz writes for young adults and grown-ups too – and striking a balance of tone and look for different audiences is often tricky. In this case, his YA series Alex Rider and The Power of Five have their own branded sections with a strong call to action, with plenty of downloadable goodies. The Messageboard shows that discussion forums can still be a valid idea, if you have enough engaged fans and the time to manage them.

Black marks:
At the screen size we were using, much of the text is too small, a definite accessibility black mark. We know that the youth have better eyesight, but still…

www.anthonyhorowitz.com


Bernard Cornwell

Why we like it:
When you’ve written as many books as Bernard Cornwell, you need to give your fans a hand to keep everything straight – and this organises all the titles by series, as well as giving a brief word from the author on each (many sites just repeat the book blurb that can be found on every book retailer’s site). The ‘Your Questions’ page is well-used and current, and the alternating masthead images lend an appropriate historical atmosphere to everything.

Black marks:
This is a very difficult site to fault – we wish we’d done it.

www.bernardcornwell.net


Anthony Beevor

Why we like it:
Non-fiction authors need websites too, and this is a good one. The site has a ‘skin’ that reflects the design of the author’s latest tome, but that will surely change when there is a new book to promote. The events feed is prominent (and nice and full) and the blog a good insight in to the writer’s activities. The bibliography from The Second World War will be appreciated by students and researchers.

Black marks:
A very minor quibble, but the line length of the body text is uncomfortably long – it pays to understand ways to make reading on the web as comfortable as possible.

www.antonybeevor.com


Will Self

Why we like it:
Because it proves, if any proof were needed, that if you have good content you don’t necessarily need fancy design. This site uses a very simple WordPress theme – but within seconds of arriving, you can be reading Self’s cutting restaurant reviews for the New Statesman or finding out more about his books.

Black marks:
The way information about the books is presented could confuse some users – the links on the left of the page and the links on the Books menu do two different things.

www.will-self.com


Gillian Flynn
Why we like it:
The site for the author of Gone Girl is just a lovely piece of design – it creates an atmosphere and a tone that’s in keeping with both the look and the subject matter of the books, through well-judged use of colour, texture, imagery and typography.

Black marks:
Hard to fault – a good example of uncluttered thinking and uncluttered design that works well for both the UK and US markets.

www.gillian-flynn.com


Marcel Theroux
Why we like it:
Well, partly because we made it! And because it proves that for a writer who does not want to flaunt themselves on the Internet, there are still ways you can put something of yourself in to your website. In this case, the hand-drawn illustrations that adorn the pages show views of Marcel’s study and objects in it that have meaning to him. They prevent a simple, direct site becoming sterile and impersonal.

Black marks:
We think this is small but perfectly formed (but we admit we’re biased!).

www.thisworldofdew.com


As the web continues to evolve, no doubt our ideas of ‘what good looks like’ will too – but remember, making a good author website is less about how it looks than it is about what you have to say, who you have to say it to and how often you expect to say it. Give that some serious thought, and the rest should fall in to place. Good luck!

Bookswarm is a nimble digital design agency that works exclusively for book publishers, authors, agents and others in the trade. They combine publishing experience and technical and creative expertise with an understanding of what writers, readers and publishers need in the digital era. They are trusted by Faber, Orion, Octopus, Gallic Books, the Book Marketing Society and authors Chris Cleave, Lesley Lokko and Raymond Khoury, among many others. Technical note: all sites were reviewed in Firefox 18.0.1 on a Windows 7 PC at a screen resolution of 1,920 x 1,080