Yesterday I was asked for some information for a newsletter for an online book club with which I am affiliated. Which reminded me of the existence of said online book club. And now that I think of it, there’s a blog on the site, too. You’re probably sitting there aghast, wondering how a relatively tech-savvy person such as myself could so callously ignore a book club in which I’m involved. That I could not read a blog when I’m constantly extolling the virtues of online media. Here’s why:
— The flash takes forever to load. Flash (i.e., animation) is fun and catchy, but it takes a long time to load in the best of circumstances — and crashes your computer in the worst — so there had better be a good reason for it.
— There are no permalinks. A permalink is a unique address for a page. So, for example, the URL for this blog is https://yodiwan.wordpress.com, but the permalink for this particular post is https://yodiwan.wordpress.com/2009/01/21/what-not-to-do-on-your-book-website/ . Permalinks enable people do direct web users to a specific post / area of your website — to the author tour page, for example, or the author bio section. Without permalinks, you can only send someone to the home page and leave them to sift through mounds of information. (I’d actually complained about this earlier and in response, URLs were posted on the page itself. It looks weird, though — people expect URLs to appear in the browser above the menu bar, but on this site they appear on the page itself.)
— The blog lacks an RSS feed. I don’t know enough about programming to know why this is so, but I do know the site does not have an RSS feed, so reading the blog requires going to the website itself. Which is so 1999.
— The Search function verges on nonexistent. There’s no “Search” button. Let me repeat that, folks, because some of you probably don’t believe me: there’s no search button. Instead, you have to click on the “Bookshelf,” wait (for the flash to load), then click on a section of the alphabet, wait again (more flash), then mouse over the bookshelf and then individual book covers will appear before you. It looks great when (or rather, if) it finally loads, but all that to look up one book? There’s no place to, say, type in “Jane Austen” and simply pull up all of Austen’s titles. Essentially, the site is mimicking the feel of a “real” bookshelf in a bricks-and-mortar store or library. Which is novel for about a second until you remember it’s not a bookshelf.
Readers (or journalists) looking up books online aren’t seeking entertainment. That’s why Wii and bungee jumping were invented. Readers are looking for information — background information about the book and author, articles about the book or interviews with the author, an author tour schedule (if there is one), photos, etc. — and fortunately for authors and publicists, this information can often be presented quite simply and inexpensively. More often than not (there are always exceptions), author / book websites should be functional above all else: easy to use, intuitive. Except when I’m sleeping or on the subway, I spend virtually every minute of my life connected, if not on my laptop, then on my Blackberry and / or phone. If a website loses me as a user because I find it difficult to navigate, that begs the question: exactly who is using it?
I took a quick Twitter poll yesterday and here are a few more Do Nots from friends and colleagues:
— Failure to include a contact email address. It’s the web — anyone who makes it to the website can find it in themselves to send an email (rather than call a publicist to shoot the breeze). If you don’t want to get spammed / spidered, spell out your email address, e.g. johndoe[at]gmail[dot]com or build a contact form into the page.
— Dark backgrounds and small / multiple fonts. Keep it simple.
— Unused features. If your site features a blog or discussion board, make sure you post / update regularly.
— Forgetting to post downloadable hi-resolution images of / from / about the book. For copyright purposes, it may not be possible to post a hi-res author photo or certain pictures from the book. Consider posting other pictures about the book — for example, one author of mine posts snapshots of her traveling on research trips for her books. At the very least, make sure to include contact information so journalists / booksellers can contact you or the publicist to get what they need.
— Book trailers that play automatically play. Rude and disruptive.
— Boring book trailers. Book trailers are like flash — do it if you have a purpose, i.e., it’s informative and / or amusing. Skip it and save the money if you don’t.
For what you should have on a website (and for some examples), check today’s The 26th Story’s post about good author websites.