Author Websites and Self-Promotion

Dickens poster

Charles Dickens was a big self-promoter and if he were writing today would definitely have a website and be on social media!

 

I have built websites for several authors and their needs are generally similar. (A few samples are here.) If someone just typed your name in the search bar, what would we find? Chances are they are looking to find out About You (biography), your Publications, any Events you might be involved in (readings, workshops) some samples of your writing, and a way to Contact you. And those topics make up a reasonable starting place for a website menu.

For a business, if you don’t have a website you don’t exist, and for a published (or hoping to be published) author that is also true. In 2020, a website is a mark of validity. (That is unfortunately also true for conspiracies, scams, and questionable groups.) Every writer should have a website as a way to market and promote yourself and your writing and build your audience.

I have worked on designing sites for a number of writers who were actually told by their publisher that having a site was a requirement for being published. The bigger publishers often will host a page for your book with a few of those elements but a lot of the marketing of writers (especially novices) falls on the author. Self-promotion is important.

That self-promotion online has a lot to do with having a social media presence on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram etc. It can also be having a blog as part of your website so that fresh material is out there about you. If the only update to an author site is when they have a new book (which might be a year or years apart), people are not going to return to your pages.

Every writer I have worked with or just talked with about websites has wanted to know how to get their site to be the top result when someone searches for their name. That’s a whole other topic but in general, your “page rank” from Google and other search engines largely results from how many other sites link to you and how important those sending sites rank themselves. A link to your website from The New York Times is going to move you up a lot more than a link from your friend’s blog – though both are important to have.

Here’s a quick set of tips to help writers increase their search results, and I’ll write more about search engine optimization (SEO) in other posts – including the scams involved in paying to get higher results.

Miller’s Law and the Magical Number Seven

7There is definitely some psychology to design. And UX design is definitely about organization. There is a principle of organization that comes psychology that I have seen written about in terms of product and service design. It is Miller’s Law.

It was put forward in 1956 – long before UX and web design was a thing – in a paper by cognitive psychologist George A. Miller. In his well-known paper (at least in psych circles), titled “The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information” he proposed a limit to memory which is now called Miller’s Law.

Miller proposed that the number of perceptual ‘chunks’ an average human can hold in working memory (a component of short-term memory) is 7. He found that memory performance is great five or six different stimuli but declines aft so let’s say 5-9.

If the mind can handle ~7 bits of information when completing a task that requires cognitive effort, then designers need to keep that in mind when designing. That would apply to completing forms and surveys. It applies to lists in menus and lots of other tasks that might be presented to users. What happens when a catalog page shows 15 items?

Miller believed that all of us “chunk” information and that if the information is organized in categories no larger than 9, but preferably ~5 chunks, memory is best served.

A related find – which I learned in a writing course – is about primacy, and recency effect (also known as the serial position effect). These two terms describe how we remember items placed at the beginning and end of an experience, and if we forget some it’s likely they will be in the middle. Combining this with Miller’s Law and you would say that the bigger the number of items, the more middle to be forgotten.