MShatzkin-251x300We recently enjoyed several blog posts from digital publishing thought leader Mike Shatzkin about the importance of author websites.

In No author website rules of the road in publishing contracts is a big fail for the industry Mike argues that the inconsistent approach taken to the creation of digital presences for authors is unhelpful for everyone.

There should be no doubt about the critical importance of an author’s web site (and no, a page on the publisher site isn’t an adequate substitute). The author site serves three absolutely essential purposes that will not be adequately addressed without one.

Mike’s argument is that no publisher should sign an author without a clear agreement over what kind of web presence that author needs, who will pay for it, own it and manage it.

If you accept it as a fact that there should be at least a rudimentary website for just about every author, a little thought makes it clear that there is a lot a publisher and author should negotiate agreement on as part of their contractual arrangement.

1. It gives an author the capability to make it crystal clear to Google and other search engines precisely who the author is. All SEO efforts are hobbled without it. An author’s website is a central hub of data (a Pete McCarthy point: “data” isn’t always about numbers, in SEO “data” is often words) about the author, to which both fans and search engines can go for authoritative information.

2. It gives the author an extensible platform from which to engage more deeply with fans, some of whom are megaphones and media from whom the benefits of deeper engagement are substantial. An author can use it to gather email signups and really only with a site can an author reliably and systematically build and own direct relationships.

3. It gives a logical place for anybody writing about the author to link. That’s why author websites often score so high in search. (Inbound links are SEO gold.) And if an author doesn’t have a website, the next logical place to link might be the Amazon author page, or the Amazon product page (the book). The next choice would be a primary social presence, like Twitter or LinkedIn.

In a subsequent post, Starter thoughts for publishers to develop new author marketing policies, Mike lays out some suggested thoughts for publisher policies around these issues. He concludes:

These questions are complex but, while time passes, they are not getting any simpler. The value of the web and email list assets that can be optimized with cooperation is increasing, which means the cost of not doing this right is also increasing. It is simply not acceptable for every author and every publisher to avoid the discussion, leaving us with tens of thousands of entities operating in siloed vacuums. That’s the status quo. It isn’t satisfactory.

We would definitely recommend publishers check out Mike’s thoughts. It’s still surprising how many big name authors, especially at the ‘literary’ end of the market, don’t have websites – for instance, Hilary Mantel has only recently acquired one, apparently created by her US publishers, and authors as stellar as Donna Tartt, Michel Faber and David Mitchell have no web presence.

Bookswarm have designed numerous author websites and blogs, for authors both conventionally published and self-published. Some were paid for by publishers, many were paid for by the authors themselves. We would certainly agree with Mike that there would be a clear benefit to publishers, authors and agents from more consistent policies around website creation, ownership and operation, and that every author, however good their sales, needs a website – and if that helps to keeps us busy, we’re certainly not going to complain!