Before we start, let me just get this out of the way. I would never presume to tell anyone that they do not have a good author page. If you have a personal website for your writing and people can extract information on how to contact you, buy your book and attend any appearances you make, I believe you’ve accomplished the major goals of an effective author page. But, since we’re already here, I’ll give you my ten cents on how to craft a great author page.
As I mentioned, I believe the main goals of author pages are to promote your work and give people a means to contact you if they so choose. Also, your site should give readers the chance to learn a bit more about you as a person and provide access to some sort of avenue to find and purchase your work, whether it be a widget or a separate page dedicated to your books, poetry or short stories.
Having said that, I’m not a huge fan of websites that are “busy” design wise, in the sense that they have seven thousand buttons, twelve widgets for cat pictures (maybe trim it down to two), five gifs loading and background music from your self-titled piano and rainstick album from the early 90s autoplaying. If this is your site, this is totally cool, just not my thing. I prefer a simple clean design template that can be easily understood and navigated. Again, a personal preference, but I think a clean look helps first time visitors acclimate themselves better to your page.
Another effective way to orient new visitors to your site is through the use of a splash page. A splash page is essentially a general greeting page that for the most part operates as a bit of a mission statement. Even if you have a blog and other info pages, splash pages do a better job orienting and directing visitors than a blog entry you wrote the day before about how your new blender is your favorite thing in the world. If a blog entry is the first thing they are greeted with, they will judge your site based on the latest entry, and that may not always be the best representation of what your site is about. I don’t personally have a splash page, which again proves that you can do whatever you want with your site, but I plan on getting around to making one some day. For now, I get by because my site is simple enough to navigate and my contact info is pretty easy to extract. So, needless to say, I don’t toss and turn at night and have splash page related nightmares. But if people are finding themselves lost or confused on your page, try out a splash page.
Although I may have come off as anti-widget a couple of paragraphs ago, I should point out that there are a number of them which are very helpful, especially sharing and following widgets. Having a way to easily share your stories through facebook, twitter and other means of reposting is an important way to build exposure, especially when visitors enjoy a particular post you have written. Follow buttons and RSS feeds allow visitors to essentially bookmark your site and be alerted to your updates through the convenience of a feed. This goes a long way toward eliminating the one visit, one comment, disappear forever from your world visitors that may be plaguing your comments section. It will help you build up a dedicated readership and cultivate more of a community on your site.
One of the more effective ways to introduce visitors to your writing is by infusing a little bit of your personality into the site (I didn’t say you had to get rid of all the cat picture widgets). It’s your page, so have some fun with it. If you’re a mystery/thriller writer, have a mystery/thriller oriented theme, just as Da Vinci Code scribe Dan Brown’s website does. Certainly, it is possible to go too far overboard and alienate readers if they feel you are running a forum for your non-writing hobbies, but if you’re too conservative about asserting your personality, you miss a great opportunity to promote your work through the site’s content. If people like reading your posts, they may be more willing to check out your books. Try to find the happy medium between making your site a hobby corner and a sterile contact page.
So, now that you’ve built what you feel is a good author page, will it determine your success as a writer? Absolutely not. Really wildly successful writers have some pretty minimalist/non-existent websites and they do just fine. The late Isaac Asimov’s website is a testament to websites not dictating popularity. But good web pages can help and if they’re really good, not only can they keep your current readers informed and interested, but they can create new readers altogether.