Designing an Author Website

Websites are stories. Or at least, that’s how I see them. I’ve been designing websites for twenty years, and ten of those years I’ve been designing them professionally. The technology changes, and so does the way we approach design, but at the heart of it, I still look at the design process like I was writing a book.

I plan. I outline. I research. I follow the path my user-characters will take. I ensure that they meet the goals I set out for them. I add flesh to the whole thing and I breathe life into it like it was a golem and set it upon the world to do its thing, and I go back and edit and tweak and optimize so it performs better. So that it’s received better.

It’s not very different than writing a book at all, save for the fact that I’m actually making money doing this professionally.

Designing an Author Website

I started KiraButler.com with an end goal for myself: I wanted to create a place that could perform, that was visually appealing, and that would sell my books for me when the time came, and that could grow along with my writing portfolio.

I’d designed a couple of author websites in the past (for a couple of YA writers, funnily enough — well before I ever thought I’d try to write my own young adult novel), but between the time I launched those sites, and the time when I wanted to start work on my own, a lot had changed in the industry. User experience and user interface design had become top conversation items. “Conversion” became a consideration at the tip of everyone’s tongues.

Author websites don’t need to be robust to be successful. Indeed, your books should sell themselves, but in an oversaturated industry, I figured even moderate success would be a challenge. I started researching. There are too few articles out there that directly cater to self-publishing authors (or even the traditionally-inclined: ya’ll are still hiring me because you don’t want to do this yourself, right?) But I found a few requirements, and what solutions I couldn’t find, I cobbled together for myself.

I have a plan. I have been working on that plan for the past year in between writing and revising, and holding down a day job and a stable relationship. Slowly, bits of that plan get pushed out into the world, and I can let them evolve as I start work on another aspect of my home on the web: this place for my work to be showcased.

Today, I chucked another part of the plot into the world.

And now I get to show off a bit.

The Website Plot

Some of the best examples of self-publishing websites are best likened to story worlds: there are character details, and interviews, and discussions about the things that inspired the writer. Spaces for readers to hang out. Spaces for people to interact.

It’s not just about selling books.

I kept that in mind when I took my first crack at the site plan. This is by no means complete, but it is what it ought to look like when my first book goes into the pipeline.

(In reality, I will probably offer a membership only section for ARC readers by that point too, but I’m letting the idea gestate for the moment.)

This is pretty ambitious, but it’s also the basic requirements of what I need to get this beast off the ground.

Your needs, granted, might be different than mine. The sheer size of this “plot” shouldn’t be cause for concern. I’m investing at least five years of life into a trilogy, so for me, the effort is proportionate to the needs of the books.

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If you’re familiar with user flow, you can see where the connecting loops drop off. A user arrives through one page and travels — you don’t want to slam them into any walls where they might bounce. I.e. leave your site altogether because they were offered no further opportunities to engage with you. Since this is an organic site map, I’ll be finalizing those paths as I lock certain functionality into place.

I use little colour-coded dots to indicate the things that need work. The red ones indicate problem areas. “Borked” pages that need to be improved before they’re released.

This mapping method works for me. It also helps me keep on top of what I need to tackle next.

Designing an Author Homepage

The end result of this weekend’s efforts is a single page from this map. One webpage. Built, designed, and released like a cloud of bats into the world, dark little wings beating against the night.

I am, however, terribly happy with it.

So I’m gonna flaunt it.

See below, or visit it live: www.kirabutler.com

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The more I think about it, the more I want to break down and detail the decision making process and explain how this works to people.

Maybe it’d help other future self-published authors who are in the same situation: they need a website to hawk their books, but they don’t understand the scope of a project. Telling your designer “I want a website just like Stephen King’s” isn’t relevant anymore for a few reasons, the first being, you’re not Stephen King, and you probably don’t have his budget. (His website is the equivalent of a digital city, by the way.)

It’s a thought I’m rolling around in my head: a series of how-to’s with recommendations and suggestions for people who want to get started but don’t know where to begin.

Let me know in the comments if something like that would be beneficial to you, or just hazard your best guess and sign up to the mailing list to get the first drop on it when I inevitably add something more to my already full plate. 😉

Showing 5 comments
  • Angie G
    Reply

    I would be very interested in your designing process. I’m always curious to see how people make things work for them.

    • Kira Butler
      Reply

      Cool. Will start brainstorming and see what I come up with. 🙂 Thank you for the vote.

  • Jolene
    Reply

    Your website it so gorgeous! I love it. – Jolene

  • waterrose
    Reply

    I am just starting the process of creating an author website. I would love to follow your process since your site is beautiful.

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