(By Jane Friedman)
“It may be hard to envision, but Facebook may eventually lose favour. Google Plus may become more popular, or it may be an entirely new site or technology not created yet. It’s impossible to predict. But by choosing Facebook instead of an author website, you are favouring the short-term over the long-term. You are investing your time and energy in a platform that may not pay you back in several years’ time. Maybe it benefits your current campaign or initiative—but you can never be sure it’s going to benefit your second or third project.“
I was recently talking with a debut novelist who was advised by someone in the publishing industry that a Facebook author page would be OK to use instead of creating an author website.
I’ve occasionally been asked by authors at conferences: Why not just use Facebook? Isn’t that where everyone is spending their time already? Why would people visit my site? Why bother with all the effort of establishing a site, which, if it becomes dusty or out-of-date, could be more damaging than no website at all?
First, I’ll address why it’s a bad idea to use Facebook as a substitute for your author website.
1. People may leave Facebook.
I remember the very first fan page I created for Writer’s Digest—and it wasn’t on Facebook or Twitter. It was on MySpace. Guess how many people visit that page now?
It may be hard to envision, but Facebook may eventually lose favour. Google Plus may become more popular, or it may be an entirely new site or technology not created yet. It’s impossible to predict. But by choosing Facebook instead of an author website, you are favouring the short-term over the long-term. You are investing your time and energy in a platform that may not pay you back in several years’ time. Maybe it benefits your current campaign or initiative—but you can never be sure it’s going to benefit your second or third project.
In the meantime, your author website remains undone, and people who don’t use Facebook become incredibly difficult to identify and reach.
2. Facebook is not under your control.
This is pointing out the obvious, but authors don’t take it seriously enough. You can never control what Facebook does—with its design, with its user interface, with your likes/followers, with its functionality, with its ad displays. You’re limited in how you can optimize the experience, and your insights (metrics) are limited to what Facebook itself measures and decides to pass onto you.
Many people and businesses received a rude awakening when Facebook adjusted its algorithms so that only the most popular status updates would be seen by most fans of a page. If you want to reach ALL fans who’ve liked your page, you now have to start paying money.
That said, it’s true that a site with 1 billion users has attractive qualities to anyone building an online presence. I’m not saying ignore Facebook, but realize you don’t call the shots.
3. A website is the most effective way to deliver information to your audience.
Your author website serves as a hub for all your activity—online and offline. Imagine the following scenarios:
A potential reader hears about your book from a friend. They Google your name or book title. Where do they end up? If you don’t have a website, they probably land on Amazon. That may not be a bad thing, but what if …
A reader finishes your book, loves it, and wants to see if you have any book club materials, readings or events, or other opportunities to enrich the experience they’ve just had. They Google your book title. What do they find?
A reader finishes your book, loves it, and wants to find other things you’ve written. That reader may explore Amazon, go back to Google and search for your author page, or find your Facebook page. Will they be able to find what they’re looking for?
Someone in the media hears about your book and wants to contact you. They run a Google search. What do they find?
A conference organizer reads your book and thinks you’d make a great speaker. They run a Google search. What do they find?
You probably see the common thread here. When people seek information, they often go to Google to search for it. People won’t be inclined to visit Facebook when they have a specific goal or information they’re seeking. Why? Because Facebook is a soft connection tool, for people to stay in touch in a very organic way. It’s not about structured information delivery, but conversation and social engagement.
A website, on the other hand, serves as a hub for all people who are interested in your work and are seeking more information or updates directly from you. It doesn’t matter if they heard about you online or offline, people are trained to use their mobiles, tablets, and desktops to search for more information, and your author website is a 24/7 resource waiting for them.
I haven’t even touched on the many other reasons an author website is essential to your long-term development as an author. They include:
Developing an e-mail newsletter list that puts you in direct contact with your true fans (this is like money in your pocket, a long-term investment that pays off hugely over time)
Making your other online efforts more effective—or making people aware of all the places you’re active. For instance, the No. 1 way people find out about me on Facebook (and end up subscribing to my feed) is because they’ve visited my website or read my blog.
Offering many ways for your fans to engage. Aside from having an e-mail newsletter, you may offer ancillary materials that fans would enjoy, such as additional chapters, resources, book club materials, etc.
But isn’t a bad website worse than no website at all?
It actually takes effort these days to have a bad website, given today’s website building tools such as WordPress.
I also have to wonder why your website would be out-of-date or damaging to your career if you continue to write and publish. The only reason I can imagine is if you had a website built in the way it was done 10 years ago, when you needed a web developer or programmer to be the “webmaster.” Today, if you create a new website, it should be done in such a way that it’s easy for YOU the author to maintain and update—no more difficult than if you were updating a Word document.
Sure, you may need to spend a couple hundred dollars every year or two for a developer to assist with a redesign or functionality add-ons. But for anyone with a long-term author career, this is one of the best and most critical investments you can make.
“Opinion pieces of this sort published on RISE Networks are those of the original authors and do not in anyway represent the thoughts, beliefs and ideas of RISE Networks.”