QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

What To Put On Your Writer Website

Following my post about starting a website or blog, Kate Karyus Quinn (who already has a blog) asked what writers should put on their websites. So today that’s what we’re going to discuss.

Before we get into content, let’s talk a little bit about design. You need to pick a theme or symbol to represent you. Something that’s unique to your site and your work. In advertising, we call that branding.

I have this really cool pen that my mom got me as a stocking stuffer one year. The barrel is clear, and there’s a little light in there that changes colors. I turned it on, put it on a white sheet of paper and started snapping photographs as it changed colors. That silly little gift, with the light orange, has become my symbol for Archetype Writing. I have it on my site; I have it on my blog.  (I also have it on notepaper and my business cards.  I'm getting oodles of mileage out of that pen.)

Scenes from Mary Lindsey’s novel Soul Purpose take place in Old City Cemetery in Galveston, Texas. I did the graphic design for her site, and we decided to use a beautiful angel grave marker  to mark her “brand.” She then took this a step farther by including more of the cemetery and other monuments from her story in a Photos  section of her site.

If nothing leaps to mind, you can start with a site template and worry about branding later. But definitely keep your eyes open for something unique to represent you and your work!

Moving on to content, here are a few pages you definitely want to include.

Your Biography

Include a brief, interesting biography. Here are a few examples.
Carrie Vaughn is the bestselling author of a series of novels about a werewolf named Kitty, as well as numerous short stories in various anthologies and magazines. She's also a contributor to the Wild Cards series edited by George R. R. Martin.
Stephenie Meyer graduated from Brigham Young University with a bachelor's degree in English. She lives with her husband and three young sons in Phoenix, Arizona. After the publication of her first novel, Twilight, booksellers chose Stephenie Meyer as one of the "most promising new authors of 2005" (Publishers Weekly).
Include a picture of yourself — it helps your readers feel more like they’re “meeting” the writer, and assures them that you’re a real person!

Some writers create longer biographies, and that’s also fine. In addition to the “official” bio above, Stephenie Meyer has an “unofficial” bio that’s much longer. Jodi Picoult also has an extensive biography page.

Never use your website to replace the biography section in your query letter, and never ask an agent to go to your website to read an excerpt from your novel. It’s fine to include your website address on your queries, but don’t count on the agent clicking on it!

Your Publications

A simple list of publications is adequate, but it’s even better if you have a cover scan and a brief synopsis for each story or novel. If a story is out of print, you may be able to post it on your site, but double-check your contract to make sure it’s okay first.

If you’ve published a novel or been included in an anthology, don’t forget to link to places your visitors can buy the book!

Your Unpublished Projects

If you write novels, consider creating a separate page for each series or project. And don’t be afraid to share a little bit of your work. Mary Lindsey has the first 15 pages of her novel Soul Purpose posted on her website. Thanks in part to this, she was approached by an independent film company and her book is now being made into a TV series! (We’ll let you know more as things move along.)

Be careful if you’re unpublished — don’t create pages for umpteen projects; instead, pick between one and three of your best works and showcase those.

Never post your work in its entirety — nobody wants to pay to publish something that’s already available online for free!

Your Blog

Many if not most website owners use a blog to provide updates to site visitors, so provide a link if you’re also blogging.

Along the same lines, you may want to provide links so interested visitors can also find you on Twitter, MySpace, Facebook, or other social networking sites.

Always stay professional on any site you link to from your website. Don’t bash agents, other writers, or the publishing industry in general. And don’t bash yourself, either. Agents want to represent someone who’s going to get out there and sell herself, and obvious insecurities may make them doubt you can do it.

If you have questions, suggestions, or other comments, definitely let me know in the Comments below!

Dr. Carolyn Kaufman is a clinical psychologist and professor residing in Columbus, Ohio. A published writer, she runs Archetype Writing: Psychology for Fiction Writers and an associated blog. Visitors will find not only articles about psychology tailored to their needs, but they can ask Dr. K their writing/psychology questions. She is often quoted by the media as an expert resource.


Stina said...

As usual, great info, Carolyn.

I see my years in pharmaceutical sales is actually going to prove useful. Branding is something I'm familiar with.

Wow, can't wait to see what we'll learn tomorrow.

Mary Lindsey / Marissa Clarke said...

Thanks for the mention, Carolyn. My website has been a fantastic investment. I was floored when the movie company contacted me asking for the manuscript. Even more floored when they proposed the TV series. On a fun note, the screenwriter is flying into Houston tomorrow to meet with me. I'm n-n-n-nervous.

I look forward to tomorrow's installment.

Paul W. West, Author said...

Wow Mary. That must be exciting. Congratulations.

And Carolyn, thank you for the great suggestions. I don't have a website yet, but I do have a blog and a lot of what you suggested I suspect I can put in a blog.

Amanda Bonilla said...

I'm all for branding and getting out there, but I'm wondering.... If you don't have an agent yet, making your work far from unpublished, is this still a good idea? Do prospective agents find this presumptuous? And how can you use your blogs, websites, facebook, etc. in conjunction with your search for an agent? I'm guessing it doesn't make for a very professional query letter to add... "please be sure to check out my blog and website". I have a few followers, but I'm wondering what kind of following it takes to draw the attention of industry players. If any of you wonderful (and helpful) QT bloggers could clue in this 'newbie', I'd appreciate it! :)

Kate Karyus Quinn said...

Thanks for answering my question, Carolyn. The way you break this all down, I feel like I might actually be able to have a very cool website one day!

Michelle D. Argyle said...

Great advice, thank you!

Elana Johnson said...

Great post, Carolyn! And Mandy, great questions. We'll add these to the queue of things to come.

Carolyn Kaufman | @CMKaufman said...

Hi Mandy -- good questions. I think having a professional website, even when you're unpublished (or maybe especially when you're unpublished) demonstrates a commitment to developing a platform.

I also haven't heard of any agents finding writer websites or blogs presumptuous, though I can understand why that might be a concern.

It would take a LOT of followers to draw industry attention (think thousands) to your site, but I do believe some agents check out your site if they're considering representing you.

And when a site is managed intelligently, it can only be an asset. I love what happened with Mary's site and the TV series, for example. And I certainly used my website to help sell my nonfiction book idea, both to my agent and to the publisher who bought the book. And I'm still using it as I interview people for the book, as I can refer them there to help them understand what I'm trying to do with the book.

Should we do a post on platform? It's more relevant when we talk about nonfiction, but it's becoming more common to hear about platform with regards to fiction.

And definitely ask more questions if I missed anything!

Mary Lindsey / Marissa Clarke said...

I'll take a stab at addressing Mandy's concerns, so Carolyn, prepare to correct me if I'm wrong.

I never put my website address in queries. If an agent is interested, they will google your name. Many agents say it is a big no-no to point them to your blog or website. I think that is where your idea of "presumptuous" comes from, Mandy.

As long a you just present the basic information and don't put silly, personal stuff up, a website can be helpful. Keep in mind that a bad website is a liability. I know of a case where an agent told a writer that she was not going to offer representation because she found the writer's blog offensive and unprofessional--so be careful what you blog about if you use the name under which you are querying.

As my book description, I basically have my query letter. No extra information extolling its marvels, which I see a lot of on unpublished authors' sites. I have a page for pictures from the settings of my book because it is historically based.

I was lucky to have a web design company who specializes in writer websites that was willing to work closely with me and use my own photographs even in the header.

Bethany Wiggins said...

Fantastic information! I never knew about "branding" but it makes perfect sense. Thank you for the great advice.

Carolyn Kaufman | @CMKaufman said...

Great points, Mary. I don't see anything wrong with listing your website or blog address with your contact information (or in your query signature) IF it's a professional writer site. I do, as Mary pointed out, see a problem with asking an agent to go to your site to look at it. Especially in lieu of you including requested information in your submission (biography, sample pages, etc.)

Anonymous said...

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