Why do you need a website in the first place?
I’m a literary agent, so a big part of my job involves looking at writers’ and artists’ work online and evaluating their potential.
I am surprised by how often I will google a creator’s name, and discover that they don’t have a website.
Or they have a website but it doesn’t list their current project, or it’s not really clear what they do. Or it doesn’t have an “About” page that tells me who they are.
When this happens, I want to grab them and say, “Take a couple days and focus on creating a good website! It doesn’t take that much time and it’s not that expensive, but it’s so worth it!”
Consider this quote from well-known illustrator Rebecca Green:
“When I started, I submitted to 20 agents and heard nothing back! So I poured my energy into sharing a ton of work online and an agent reached out to me.”Building an Illustration Portfolio blog post by Rebecca Green
Yes! If you create a well-curated, attractive website, and then share your work via a blog, social media, TikTok videos, webcomics, or whatever form of outreach works for you, you may eventually have agents, editors, and art directors reaching out to YOU, instead of you sending query letters that sit unread in their overstuffed inboxes.
On the other hand, if you post on social media but don’t have a website, that’s sort of like making ads for a store that doesn’t exist. You’ve attracted my attention, but there’s nowhere for me to go to find out more about you and decide if you’re someone I want to get to know better.
Why would you put all this effort into crafting advertisements that don’t go anywhere?
Your website is your homebase. It’s where you communicate who you are, show the type of work that you do, and connect with your ideal audience.
And it’s infinitely flexible.
In the beginning, it can be very simple. Maybe a portfolio along with an “About” page and contact information. At this point your “ideal audience” might be a handful of literary agents who represent creators like you. So you can carefully design your website to appeal to them.
As you develop, your website will change. You may add a blog. Or a shop. Or a page about your workshops or author visits or events. Or links to your Patreon or crowdfunding pages.
You can easily swap images in and out of your portfolio to reflect changes in your style and the types of projects you’re focusing on.
Your website, as Austin Kleon said, is your “self-invention machine.” It’s your personal printing press, your gallery, your bulletin board, your storefront, your broadcast station.
But it’s a thousand times cheaper than the physical versions of these things, and has the potential to reach exponentially more people!
In this post, I’m going to give you the step-by-step process to create an author-illustrator website that appeals to your ideal target audience.
Step #1: Determine Your Goal
When starting to design your website, it can be tempting to jump into questions like: what color should it be? What font do I like? Which design template should I use?
But these questions are NOT the first thing you should think about.
The first question you should ask yourself is:
“What do I want this website to DO for me?”
There is no right or wrong answer to this question. It’s totally dependent on you, the type of work you do, the stage of your career, and your current objectives.
Here are a few possible ways you might answer the question above:
- Convince literary agents I respect that they should consider me as a client
- Get visitors to sign up for my mailing list
- Persuade potential readers to buy my book
- Encourage educators or librarians to hire me to teach a workshop
Once you’ve clarified your goal (and it’s possible you might have a primary goal and one or two subsidiary goals – but I would strongly recommend that you not have more than 2-3 objectives, tops!), you now have a “North Star” that will help you make better, faster decisions on what to include, how to design your site, how to write your copy, etc.
Step #2: Clarify Your Target Audience
Once you’ve identified your goal, clarifying your target audience should be a piece of cake.
If you’re at the very beginning and not ready to look for an agent or get published yet, your goal might be “share my progress with friends and family.” In that case, your target audience is “people who know me well and want to support me.”
If you’ve been honing your craft and are ready to get an agent, your target audience might be “agents who represent middle grade fantasy graphic novelists.” That’s super specific and so helpful! Knowing that will help you choose what to include in your portfolio, what to include on your About page, and where to look for design inspiration.
If you have your debut book coming out next year, your target audience might be “parents, teachers, and librarians who have first and second graders who are reluctant readers and like silly animal facts.”
Once you’ve identified your target audience, you can then put yourselves in their shoes. Think about yourself from their perspective.
- What would they want to know about you?
- What aspects of your work would be most appealing to them?
- How can you help them decide whether they would like you to keep in touch with them?
- How can you organize information on your site to make it as easy as possible to find what’s relevant to them?
One of the most frequent mistakes I see creators making with their websites is not spending enough time thinking about their work from the point of view of their target audience.
If you don’t do this, it’s easy to leave out crucial information or make assumptions that other people will understand certain things that they may not understand at all. For example, your art style might be very cute, but the content of your stories is aimed at teens. A librarian who stumbles on your site could think your work is for elementary aged readers if you don’t make it immediately clear what age level your work is for.
On the other hand, it’s also easy to get very scattered and try to appeal to “everyone,” which is a surefire way to appeal to no one. For example, maybe you do a certain type of work-for-hire illustration that pays the bills, but you have an original project in a totally different style. In that case, you might want to host your work-for-hire portfolio on a separate website so a potential agent doesn’t get confused about the type of work you do.
Step #3: Hone in on your author/illustrator “brand”
If you’re just getting started or you’re just publishing your first book this year, it can be easy to think, “I’m just a beginner, I don’t have a ‘brand.’”
I would argue that all of us have, in a sense, a “brand.”
Here are a few definitions of a “brand” in the marketing context:
- “a particular identity or image regarded as an asset”
- “how a business is perceived by those who experience it”
All of us certainly have a specific identity! And all of us are perceived by others who interact with us or our work.
One of the easiest ways to get a handle on your “brand identity” is to ask yourself:
“How would my friends describe me? How would my critique partners describe my work?”
Make a list of 10 adjectives you’d use to describe yourself. Make a list of 10 adjectives you’d use to describe your work.
Then make a list of 10 adjectives you think other people would use to describe you, and 10 they’d use to describe your work.
For bonus points, go beyond imagining and ask other people for the adjectives they’d use to describe you and your work!
Then fill in the following Madlib:
I am a [TYPE OF CREATOR YOU ARE] who makes [TYPE(S) OF WORK YOU CREATE] for [TYPE OF READERS YOU CREATE FOR].
Make this statement as descriptive and specific as possible.
For example, instead of saying:
I am an author-illustrator who makes fantasy graphic novels for middle grade readers.
It would be much better to say:
I am a nerdy, passionate Lebanese-American author-illustrator inspired by Neil Gaiman and Zeina Abirached who makes fantasy graphic novels set in imagined Middle Eastern kingdoms for middle grade readers who feel a bit like outsiders and love quirky, resourceful characters.
Now you have a short “personal brand statement” that you can use to vet your website.
Once your website is published, if a stranger stumbled upon it, would they get a sense of most of what you describe in that one sentence within a few seconds of poking around your site?
If the answer is “yes,” congratulations, your website is doing its job!
Step #4: Gather inspiration
So, you’ve clarified your goal; you’ve identified your target audience; and you’ve honed in on your author-illustrator brand.
Now it’s time for some fun! It’s time to gather inspiration for your site.
I love Austin Kleon’s wisdom on this topic:
“Start copying what you love. Copy copy copy copy. At the end of the copy you will find yourself.”from Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon
Make a list of the creators you admire. Then make a list of other organizations, people, and businesses you admire.
I think it’s important to look at examples that are close to the work that you do (for example, websites of children’s book authors or illustrators you admire), but also examples from other fields that have nothing to do with your specialty (for example, a coffee company you like, or a non-profit you admire, or a musician you listen to, etc.).
The more in-depth and diverse your sources of inspiration are, the clearer you can get on the style that you like and the type of content you’d like to include.
Look at their websites. Do you see anything you like?
Create a list of anything and everything on their websites that inspire you. You could do this digitally, on a Pinterest or Figma board, or simply by taking notes on a piece of paper.
Professional marketers call this their “swipe file” – from the days when people would tear pages out of magazines or make photocopies and save things they wanted to reference in actual file folders.
Once you have compiled a whole bunch of reference material and identified the specific things that you like, you can let that marinate in your mind, where it will inform the decisions you make on your own website.
Step #5: Decide what you want to include on your site
After all this “big picture” talk, it’s finally time to start getting nitty-gritty.
What are the pages you want to include on your website?
Just like you outline a story, you “outline” your website: you list the pages your website will contain.
A very basic author-illustrator site might include:
- Homepage with a portfolio gallery
- “About” page with bio and contact information
That’s it! If this is all you need, you’re good to go!
However, depending on your career stage and goals, you might need a more robust website that serves a couple of different audiences and purposes. A more extensive site might include:
- About page
- Books page
- Portfolio page
- Author Visits page
- Contact page
- Newsletter signup form
Below is a list of most of the different types of webpages author-illustrators might want on their sites.
Treat this as a menu of options; you only need to include the ones that are relevant to you and your audience at your current stage.
The homepage is the virtual front door to your author website. Make sure to include a clear navigation menu that directs users to other essential pages of your site. Any especially important information should be “above the fold”; i.e., visitors shouldn’t have to scroll down to see it.
The “About” page is where you can showcase your personal story and background. Including a headshot (or illustration of yourself) helps readers connect with you. You can include your contact information, an FAQ section, or a media kit on this page if you want.
The portfolio page is the centerpiece of an artist website (unless you’re already extensively published, in which case your “Books” page might be the centerpiece). It should showcase a range of your best work. If you work in several different media or styles, you might organize your portfolio into categories.
If you’ve already been published or have a book coming out soon, the “Books” page is the heart of your site. This section should include cover images, book summaries, publication details, reviews, and links to purchase options. You can also provide additional resources like sample chapters, downloadable activities, or book trailers.
Blogs are awesome!! They’re a great way to show your personality and connect with potential fans. Plus they help with SEO (search engine optimization), too. And they don’t have to be wordy; you could create a blog that is mainly images, audio (podcast links) or videos (YouTube, Twitch, or Tiktok links).
The “Contact” page is where readers, literary agents, educators, or event organizers can reach out to you. Some people prefer to list a contact form rather than an email address to make it easy for people to get in touch.
If you frequently do cons, speaking engagements, or school/library visits, creating an “Events” page is a very good idea. This page helps readers connect with you in person and encourages additional event organizers to reach out to you.
- Press or Media Kit
A media kit is a valuable resource for journalists, bloggers, reviewers, and event organizers. It usually includes your biography, author photos, book covers, press releases, and any media coverage you have received. This page showcases your professionalism and makes it easier for people to promote your books. (If you find yourself emailing this type of content to people more than once, create the media kit page! Then all you have to do is email the link to the page.)
- Services or Commissions
If you offer services such as commissioned artwork, editing, design, or collaborations, create a dedicated page to showcase these offerings. Including examples of past commissions or testimonials from satisfied clients is an effective way to instill confidence in potential customers.
- Author Visits
If you’d like to book appearances at schools or libraries, the “Author Visits” page is a crucial section. This page should include a clear description of the your presentation topics, grade levels they cater to, and any specific requirements or resources needed for the visit. Testimonials from previous schools or organizations showcase the positive impact of your visits on students.
If you want to sell prints or merch, include a “Shop” page. Each product should be accompanied by high-quality images, descriptions, and pricing information. The more professional the presentation, the higher the perceived value.
You could include an FAQ section on any of the pages listed above, or you could create a standalone FAQ page. An online FAQ is great if you get certain questions over and over again — or if there are certain questions you wish people would ask you! Some author-illustrators use the FAQ section to make you laugh; others use them to provide useful information.
What If You’re Unpublished?
One of the most common questions I hear regarding author/illustrator websites is:
“Do I need a website if I’m unpublished? And if I do, what do I put on it?”
If you’ve already read the beginning of this blog post, you already know my answer to the first question: YES, you do need a website.
A website allows you to present yourself in a professional way if an agent or editor is trying to find out more about you. And if you eventually do get a book deal or decide to self-publish, it’s much better if you’ve been slowly building up your online presence over time rather than scrambling to put a website together a few weeks before your publication date.
In terms of what to put on your website, you could include:
- A simple homepage that explains who you are and the type of work you do
- A “Works in Progress” or “Excerpts” page that highlights your current projects
- A blog that documents your creative process or the ups and downs of your experiences as an aspiring author-illustrator
Here’s an example of what my client Kathlyn Kirkwood’s website looked like before her first book was published:
And here is another inspiring example: Jonathan and Desi St. Amant are husband and wife, and also an artist and writer who sometimes work together, and sometimes work on their own projects. They haven’t been published yet but have appealing websites:
Step #6: “Wireframe” Your Site on Paper
“Wireframing” a website means creating a visual representation of the layout and structure of your website. Here’s what that might look like:
I personally think it’s much better to start doing this on paper before using digital design and development tools. This is because it’s waaaay too easy to fall down the rabbit hole of experimenting with layouts and fonts and color palettes if you’re using software.
If you’re using pen and paper, it keeps you focused purely on organizational structure and helps you avoid perfectionism.
Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to wireframe your website on paper:
- Gather your tools and reference materials: You’ll need a blank sheet of paper, a pencil or pen, and any additional materials like sticky notes or markers. Have your website outline and inspiration list at hand. Identify the essential elements you want to include on each page of your website, such as the header, navigation menu, content sections, sidebars, footer, mailing list signup form, and any interactive features.
- Outline the basic structure: Begin with a rough outline of the entire webpage using simple geometric shapes, such as rectangles or squares, to represent different sections. For example, a rectangle at the top can represent the header, a wider rectangle in the middle can represent the content area, and a thin rectangle at the bottom can represent the footer.
Within each section, note any specific content and functionality you know you want to include. Use basic shapes or symbols to represent images, text blocks, buttons, forms, or other elements. Consider the hierarchy and placement of these elements, keeping in mind usability and user experience.
- Label and annotate: Use labels or text annotations to describe each section or element. Include brief notes to remind yourself if there are any specific ideas you don’t want to forget about any elements.
- Revise, evaluate, and finalize: Keep refining your wireframe by experimenting with different layouts. Use erasers or sticky notes to make changes or try out alternative arrangements. Once you start feeling happy with your designs, show them to critique partners or friends to get their feedback. Ask them if the user flow makes sense to them. Revise based on their feedback.
Step #7: Create Your Style Guide
Now you have your organizational structure completed, it’s time to pick colors, fonts, and other design elements! Yay, the fun part!
Professional designers would call this your “Style Guide.” A corporate “Brand Style Guide” might be dozens of pages and include extremely detailed information, but in your case, it’ll probably be very simple.
In fact, I strongly recommend that you keep it as simple as possible, because one of the easiest ways to create a design that looks amateurish is to mix and match too many different colors, fonts, and design elements.
What I recommend that you do is decide on and list the following information:
- The Color Palette
Choose 2-3 primary colors and write down their “hex numbers.” (The hex number is a representation of a specific color using a six-digit alphanumeric code.) If you want, you can also choose 2-3 secondary colors
- The Fonts
Choose 1-2 fonts. You could use one font for your whole site, or choose a body font and a separate title font. I recommend not using more than two fonts.
Keep in mind that you may have only specific fonts available to you by default, depending on which website platform you use. If you want to use a font that isn’t available on your platform, you may able to purchase and upload it, but the easiest way to go is to choose fonts that are available.
- The Design Elements
It’s possible that the only “design element” you will need is your logo. Or you might draw certain icons by hand. Compile any elements like this in one place.
Step #8: Write and Compile Your Website Content
Now it’s time to write the copy for all those pages you’ve listed in your outline.
Writing for the web is a whole different ballgame compared to other types of writing you might do. Two things are especially important: being concise, and keeping “search engine optimization” in mind. I’ll explain a little about each of these things below.
Brevity is key.
Internet users have notoriously short attention spans. Verbose prose doesn’t work online. Keep your sentences and paragraphs short, and get straight to the point.
People don’t read on the web, they scan. Make your content visually appealing by breaking it up into bite-sized chunks. Use subheadings, bullet points, and numbered lists to help readers quickly find the information they’re seeking.
What exactly do you need to know about search engine optimization?
SEO is the art of crafting copy that will help your website show up on search engine results.
It might sound technical and intimidating, but the main thing you need to focus on is keywords. Incorporating relevant keywords into your content is vital for visibility.
What keywords should you include? Well, once again, put yourself in the shoes of your ideal target audience, and ask yourself, what things might they search if they were looking for a book like mine, or a writer or artist like me?
Make a list of all those words. Then google them, and see what other related keywords Google says that users search for. Create a spreadsheet of those words, and make sure to include the most important ones in the copy on your website.
But don’t go overboard and sacrifice readability or your natural writing style. Keyword stuffing is a big no-no. Instead, aim for a natural integration that makes both the search engines and human readers happy.
Include links where it makes sense. Linking to external sources and internal pages within your website not only adds credibility to your writing but also improves user experience.
In addition to words, you also need pictures!
It’s very important to size your images correctly. Large, hefty images can slow down your website’s loading speed, leaving your visitors twiddling their thumbs – and also getting your site penalized by Google. (Google considers page loading speed as part of its search results algorithm.)
On the other hand, if your images are too small, they’ll be pixelated and make your site look bad.
Optimize your images by resizing them to the appropriate dimensions. Aim for a balance between quality and file size, ensuring your visuals look crisp while not weighing down your site. Usually this would be JPGs or PNGs at a resolution of 72 pixels per inch and somewhere between 600 and 2000 pixels wide, depending on your site layout.
When it comes to naming your image files, use descriptive, keyword-rich file names that give search engines a clear picture (pun intended!) of what your image represents. Do not use “IMG_12345.jpg.” Instead, name your file something like “YOUR NAME-BOOK TITLE-middle grade fantasy-interior-page.jpg.” Remember, search engines love context, so let your file names speak volumes.
“Alt text” is your helpful companion as well. Alt text, or alternative text, is a short description that tells search engines and visually impaired users what your image is all about. It’s like painting the picture with words. When you upload images to your site, write concise and descriptive alt text that includes relevant keywords and accurately represents the image content. It not only boosts your SEO but also improves accessibility.
Step #9: Choose your platform
We’re ready for the big decision now: what website platform will you use?
With numerous website platforms available, it can be overwhelming to choose the right one. Below, I’ll compare some popular platforms—Google Sites, Squarespace, Wix, Ghost, BigCartel, Shopify, and WordPress—and explore their suitability for you.
- Google Sites
Google Sites is ideal if you want a simple and FREE solution. It offers basic website building features. It’s easy to use and integrates seamlessly with other Google services. However, its customization and SEO options are limited compared to other platforms.
Known for its beautiful templates and user-friendly interface, Squarespace is a popular choice among creatives. Its intuitive drag-and-drop editor allows for easy customization, and its responsive designs ensure compatibility across devices. Squarespace offers excellent design options for showcasing illustrations, creating galleries, and promoting books, making it a strong contender for author-illustrator websites.
Similar to Squarespace, Wix offers a versatile and visually appealing website building experience. With its vast library of templates and easy-to-use editor, Wix enables customization to match your style. While it’s suitable for a variety of websites, its flexibility and design capabilities make it a great choice for you if you want to be able to design your site from scratch.
Ghost is a platform that focuses on simplicity, speed, and elegant design. It’s designed for bloggers and writers, offering a distraction-free writing experience. While Ghost lacks some advanced customization options, its clean and minimalist aesthetic can be appealing for author-illustrator websites that prioritize content and storytelling.
BigCartel is specifically tailored for artist’s online stores, making it a good option if you plan to sell books or merch directly from your website. It offers simple e-commerce features and payment integration. However, if your website requires extensive content creation or a broader range of features, other platforms might be more suitable.
Shopify is a comprehensive e-commerce platform. With its robust features, including inventory management, secure payments, and seamless integrations, it’s an excellent choice if selling merch is a big part of what you do. However, if your website requires extensive content creation or functionalities beyond e-commerce, other platforms might be more suitable.
WordPress is a highly flexible and widely used platform, offering a variety of options. While the learning curve can be steep, it provides extensive customization possibilities, plugin support, and a large community. WordPress is best for more technically inclined author-illustrators who want complete control over their site’s design, functionality, and content.
If you’re looking at certain websites for inspiration and want to know what hosting/design platform they are using, go to WhatCMS.org, plug in the url, and it will tell you! (“CMS” stands for “content management system.”)
Choosing the right platform for your website depends on your specific needs and preferences. Squarespace is my top recommendation for ease of use, affordability, and beautiful design. Google Sites is the cheapest and simplest option. BigCartel is great if selling merch is a big part of what you do.
Consider your goals, budget, design preferences, and technical capabilities to decide which is best for you.
Step #10: Make Your Website “Sticky”
As an author-illustrator, you pour your heart and soul into creating stories and illustrations. But if you don’t deliberately create a way to keep in touch with the people who like your work, you are out of sight, out of mind.
To ensure your audience stays connected, it’s important to make your author-illustrator website “sticky.” The most effective way to achieve this is by incorporating a newsletter signup form.
If you have a newsletter signup form, the people who really like your work may give you their email addresses. Then, when you have news or publish a blog post, you have an existing list of people who’ve explicitly asked you to keep them updated.
One of the most straightforward marketing processes I recommend to all creators is:
- Publish a regularly scheduled blog post on something you enjoy (your creative process, a webcomic, tips about craft, etc)
- Send the blog post out to your newsletter list
- Post links to the blog post on your social media accounts
This way, you’re creating one piece of content and repurposing it in multiple ways to reach different audiences.
Some web platforms like Squarespace have native email marketing capabilities, so you don’t need to sign up with a separate email marketing app. If you do need email marketing software, there are lots of possibilities. Mailchimp, Mailerlite, Substack, and Buttondown are popular options.
To make your newsletter signup form attractive, offer an “opt-in incentive” (otherwise known as a freebie) that aligns with your target audience’s interests. A free e-book, a printable coloring sheet, or access to exclusive illustrations or content are all great options.
Place your signup form on your website for maximum visibility and conversions. Consider placing it prominently on your homepage, at the end of blog posts, and in a fixed position sidebar or footer. This ensures it remains accessible in multiple places as visitors scroll through your website.
Once someone signs up, make them feel welcomed and appreciated with a personalized welcome email. This is something you can set up to be sent automatically through your email marketing provider.
Thank them for joining, introduce yourself, and set expectations for the type of content they can look forward to. Personalization adds a human touch and strengthens the connection between you and your readers.
Step #11: Build and Launch Your Site!
You’ve compiled everything you need, chosen your platform, and set up your mailing list, so you’re ready to build!
Schedule a day in your calendar to get it all done. If you’ve followed my advice and crafted a complete site outline, written all your copy, and compiled all images and design elements in advance, getting the site set up should be pretty straightforward.
Thoroughly test your website across different devices and browsers to ensure a great user experience. Check for broken links, slow-loading pages, and responsiveness. GTMetrix is a free online tool you can use to test your site’s loading speed.
Once you’ve finished, it’s time to announce your website to the world! That’s right, you have to TELL PEOPLE ABOUT IT!
- Email friends, colleagues, and family to let them know that you’ve launched a new site.
- Post about it on online communities and forums.
- Spread the word on social media.
You did it!
I hope this guide helps demystify the process of creating an effective author-illustrator website.
I am convinced that anyone can create their own website, even the “tech-allergic”! And, in fact, I think that almost all author-illustrators should create their own website, not outsource it (or avoid creating one altogether) – because once you know how to build it, you know how to keep it updated.
Having an appealing, up-to-date website is one of the most effective ways to create a positive impression on agents, editors, book buyers, teachers, librarians, parents, etc.
Is there anything about author-illustrator websites that still confuses you? What’s the hardest part about organizing and updating your site? I’d love to hear from you – please leave a comment below!
If you found this blog post helpful, please share!
Good News: Upcoming Website Course!
If this blog post was helpful but you’re still feeling a little overwhelmed or like you might need some hand-holding, I’m teaching a “Website Launch (or Relaunch) Bootcamp” starting on July 12th! Click the button below to find out more.
Need help building or revamping your author/illustrator website?
Check out (Re)Launch Your Website Bootcamp, a course I’ll be teaching from July 12 through August 17, 2023.
By the end of this 6-week course, you will have a brand new website that you built yourself and know how to edit!