The Book Publicity Blog

News, Tips, Trends and Miscellany for Book Publicists

What not to have on your book website

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, but the permalink for this particular post is .  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.


January 22, 2009 - Posted by | Online Marketing | , , ,


  1. As a web designer, I am happy to see many of the points you’ve raised! RSS is a must, and Flash should be used sparingly if at all. Thanks for promoting good design values!

    Comment by Dan @ Magnetic State Dot Com | January 22, 2009 | Reply

  2. Dark backgrounds always make me feel like I’m on message boards for Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek, Farscape, etc.

    Comment by Kama Timbrell | January 22, 2009 | Reply

  3. The funny thing to me is that most of the budding authors’ websites I’ve seen would be years ahead of where they currently are if they contained the above features.

    Being asked to sign a guestbook makes me snicker and click away.

    Comment by Douglas | January 22, 2009 | Reply

  4. I don’t have a problem with a dark background. I utilize one myself and I feel, if done right, it can add to the overall atmosphere of the site. (Still working on the whole site by the way)

    What I can’t stand is flash (so annoying!! I don’t want to have to wait, and sometimes, it won’t load at all!) trailers AND music that starts on it’s own, (maybe I forgot to turn my speakers down after listening to and suddenly, music blasts from my computer) no RSS which you mentioned and no rhyme or reason to the layout. I don’t want to have to sift through several pages to get to what I’m looking for and yet, it seems to be a very common thing. Why? If you want people to spend time on your blog/website, make sure they’re there for the right reasons. It’s interesting, is easy to navigate and a joy to peruse. Not because they’ve spent 20 minutes looking for one thing until they throw up their hands in defeat and don’t bother to come back!

    Comment by theo | January 22, 2009 | Reply

  5. Great tips. I definitely will keep these in mind. 🙂

    Comment by Carly Tuma | January 22, 2009 | Reply

  6. […] has got to find it useful, too. 🙂 So, without further ado, what all authors need to know about what NOT to have on their websites. This entry was posted on Thursday, January 22nd, 2009 at 10:47 amand is filed under Some Stuff, […]

    Pingback by What NOT to have on an author website | Sudden Storm on a Blank Page | January 22, 2009 | Reply

  7. Thanks for the great post! Very informative. However, I respectfully disagree about the dark backgrounds. I’ve seen several published–and very successful–authors apply this technique with great skill. Often, I felt it fit the tone of the books well and enhanced their brand. True, not everyone can pull this off, but there are exceptions to the rule.

    Comment by L.C. Gant | January 22, 2009 | Reply

  8. great and very helpful post, Yen. Websites are vital for author promotion, and the key has to be getting information across to ALL an author’s audiences (media, readers, etc.).
    Make it easy for your audience to learn about you and your book(s).

    Comment by Kat Meyer | January 22, 2009 | Reply

  9. I always try to explain a website to authors as browsing in a bookstore: readers want to know the content of the book, so you have to find ways of communicating that. It doesn’t need to be complicated (preferable if it’s not actually), just informative. And not all websites should “engage” the reader with blogs, forums, twitter, etc because not all authors are up for that (they have to spend some time writing). If there is enough of a community out there the fans will set up a forum on their own.

    It’s really important to include vital information: Title, author, ISBN, publisher. Some authors leave out title/author because it’s in the logo (a jpeg image banner that sits on top of the webpage), but search engines can’t scan that. You need it in the text (Google scans first 500 words of a page, first 100 are the most important). Booksellers and libraries need the ISBN (to buy the book) and the media need to know the publisher (so they know which publishing house to contact for a review copymor interview). That’s basic book information that strangely gets left out a lot.

    The dark background is sort of a general rule because it’s almost never used correctly. It would definitely work for certain books, but even then it can be tough. The trick for the website holding up is to have a white or light foregrounds, usually in bubble form, for the dense text (actual paragraphs), so people can read without hurting their eyes.

    I would also add embedding the text and embedding links. Putting up a picture of text is counterintuitive and just generally not a good idea (pictures take time to load and search engines can’t scan them). Links should be embedded rather than typed out.

    How often do publicists tell authors how important websites can be? I am getting more and more media stating they will not speak to an author if they do not have a good website.

    Lots more comes to mind but I’d risk this becoming a very long comment.

    Comment by Alice Northover | January 22, 2009 | Reply

  10. […] a great post on what not to have on your website: (I would include that you shouldn’t have a picture of your cleavage or other […]

    Pingback by Nice Mommy~Evil Editor » Blog Archive » Friday Confessional 1-23-09 | January 23, 2009 | Reply

  11. Might I add having AUDIO that plays automatically is a real annoyance. If I visit an author’s site, the last thing I want is to be deafened by their music or Site Pal talking head.

    For readers, it can cause issues and they will stop visiting that site. If they are at work, even at lunch, and want to see what their favorite author is doing, they probably don’t want to advertise it to their co-workers. If they decide to wait until later, they may not remember.

    I’m a strong believer that all audio should default to OFF.

    Comment by redpeninhand | January 25, 2009 | Reply

  12. All good points. Thankfully, my site fits well with all the tips! And I have to agree about the sound and vision – definitely default to off.

    Comment by Alan | January 27, 2009 | Reply

  13. […] The other day I posted about what not to have on a book website.  A couple colleagues tweeted about my post and traffic […]

    Pingback by What is Twitter all about? Part 142 « The Book Publicity Blog | January 28, 2009 | Reply

  14. […] January 22, 2009 What not to Web Posted by Leah under Uncategorized   Every published author knows she needs to have a website – and I highly encourage those who are in the submission process to have some kind of web presence as well.  There are a number of places to find out the best features to include on your site. But today The Book Publicity Blog included tips on something just as important – what not to have on your site. […]

    Pingback by What not to Web « Romantic Reads | February 6, 2009 | Reply

  15. I recently made a book trailer that I think is a good example of one that really had something to say. It’s not about the plot or characters in the book. It answers the question that is the elephant in the room: Why would a white woman write about the Inuit people?”

    It’s posted on You Tube now at:

    Hope you enjoy it! Cheers,


    Comment by Mara Feeney | May 20, 2009 | Reply

  16. […] · New York Times article about using websites for books – the guy who designs for the top selling authors – maybe pick up some ideas here? And The Book Publicity Blog on what NOT to have on your website […]

    Pingback by Publishing 2.0 News: Jan 27 2009 - from The Creative Penn | The Creative Penn | June 30, 2009 | Reply

  17. […] What not to have on your book website […]

    Pingback by Paged Media: Web Design for Authors » The Book Publicity Blog | July 1, 2009 | Reply

  18. […] more information about author websites, check out What not to have on your book website.  If you have the money, go ahead and set up a really gorgeous website (go easy on the audio and […]

    Pingback by What to include on author websites « The Book Publicity Blog | July 8, 2009 | Reply

  19. […] Useful things to NOT have on your website. […]

    Pingback by Useful Links: 7:15 « To Breathe Underwater | July 14, 2009 | Reply

  20. About flash on a site, the most over-the-top site I’ve seen is, where it starts with a trailer, and then an intro, and finally a very slick site with easy browsing of his books and a media kit, but no way to contact the author. (And oh yeah, don’t try to join his forum ’cause first you have to pass inspection.)

    Comment by Mainer | October 7, 2009 | Reply

  21. […] on The Book Publicity Blog August 9, 2009.  (Another tip: read the companion article, “What not to include on author websites.”) I learned about both of these articles from the publisher of The Doha Blues and the advice […]

    Pingback by Creating a Book Website « Strategic Ideas | October 26, 2009 | Reply

  22. […] on The Book Publicity Blog August 9, 2009.  (Another tip: read the companion article, “What not to include on author websites.”) I learned about both of these articles from the publisher of The Doha Blues and the advice […]

    Pingback by Launching a book website « Strategic Ideas – Practical Online Marketing Ideas | October 29, 2009 | Reply

  23. […] not to include on your website? Yen Cheong’s “The Book Publicity Blog” covers those tips. Authors should avoid dark backgrounds, small or multiple fonts, unused features (like a blog that […]

    Pingback by Futher tips for your author website | May 6, 2010 | Reply

  24. I see you have a nice blog and I can help you to promote it.

    Comment by woenmag | January 25, 2011 | Reply

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  26. Another thing about dark backgrounds is they feel heavy, I don’t like sites where the entire first page is black with a small box of content and dark text, it has a deathly, gloomy, heavy, “feel” to it. Black is great for setting off color photos though.

    Comment by Wolfpause | June 5, 2012 | Reply

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  29. […] the rest of the post on The Book Publicity Blog, and also see What Not To Have On Your Book Website on the same […]

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