Writing for Books vs. Writing for Author Websites

Authors are writers. Which means that most authors I work with don’t hesitate to write the copy for their own writer website. After all, a writer is a writer, right? Well, not necessarily.

Now this doesn’t mean that authors shouldn’t be taking a stab at writing their own content. They should, because no one knows better than them how to convey the message of their book and how to tell people about themselves. But a couple of the smartest authors I’ve worked with have written the copy for their website, sent it to me and said “What do you think?” In those situations, I’ve never hesitated to give feedback.

Writing for a book is different from writing for a website. Even writing for a magazine is different. Here are some things an author should keep in mind when working on website content.

1. Go brief. A book can take hundreds of pages to tell a story. On a website, you have about 1% of that space. Not because a website can’t hold infinite information, but because people who surf the web do not intend to dedicate a lot of time to scouring a website. So make it brief and get to the point.

2. Think bullet points. This ties into the “go brief” idea. Many people don’t read websites. They browse websites. Which means that they’re going to ingest whatever catches their eye. So rather than spending a paragraph explaining all the different benefits of reading your book, make them bullets. Those are much more likely to catch someone’s attention and convince them to click further.

3. Think of the homepage as a teaser. People shouldn’t have to scroll very much to read your homepage. Because there shouldn’t be too much information there. Instead, any copy on the homepage should simply serve as a way to get people to click around the site. So it should include a short blurb about the book (maybe a paragraph or two) and links to read more. A promo for the author blog and a link to read that. You get the idea.

4. Write in the third person. Unless a page on your site is a blog (or specified as a message from you to your readers), don’t write in the firstĀ  person. Don’t say “I’ll be appearing at the Main Street Bookstore on Thursday” or put your bio in the first person. It’s just less professional that way.

5. Keep search engine optimization in mind. Figure out what people who might be interested in your book are searching for. Then make sure to use those search terms in your site copy. That’s the best way to ensure you’ll show up on the search results. Even if it means repeating the same phrase a great deal. This is something that book or magazine writers never have to deal with, but it is a huge piece of writing for the web.

6. Divide long pages up. This ties into the “keep it brief” and the “think bullets” suggestions above. If you’re going to have a page with a lot of text (an “About the Book” page, for instance), break it up with bolded headlines. So you might have a “Book Description” section, a “Table of Contents” section, a “Featured Reviews” section, etc… (see Eliot Pattison’s site as an example). Break them up into small bits so that someone scanning the page isn’t overwhelmed by text. Again, let something catch their eye.

I’m always happy to work with my authors on developing website text. The best thing you can do is to ask a web writer (whether its me or someone else) to review your website content before launching the site. It may feel strange for a writer to ask for writing advice, but it’s worth it.