whitefox: helping brands, thought leaders and writers create beautiful bespoke books
Charlotte Duckworth is a former journalist, successful novelist and freelance website designer. She started her career working as an interiors and lifestyle journalist, writing for a wide range of consumer magazines and websites. Charlotte is a USA Today bestselling author of five psychological suspense novels, all published by Quercus. She also writes book club fiction under the name Charlotte Rixon. Alongside her writing, Charlotte works with fellow authors as a website designer and feels passionately that every author deserves a website that does their writing and unique creativity justice.
Hi Charlotte! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you became an author website designer?
Hello and thank you for having me! I always wanted to be a novelist, but the careers advisor at university told me to become a journalist instead. So I did! I worked for a long time in magazines, and when publications started launching websites, I moved across to the digital teams. I looked after the websites for several major interior design magazines before finally getting my publishing deal.
After my second novel was published, I realised that lots of authors hated technology and really struggled with their websites. So I decided to train as a web designer, and I now build author websites alongside writing my own novels. It’s the perfect complementary career to my writing and I really enjoy it.
What is the purpose of an author website, and does this vary depending on genre or specialism?
I always tell authors to think of their website as their online home. It’s the only place you truly ‘own’ on the internet. It’s the best place to house everything related to your author career, and should include: obviously, all your books (plus links so people can easily buy them!); your professional bio; your agent’s / publisher’s / publicist’s details; a place to promote events and news; a way for readers (and press!) to get in touch; and last but definitely not least: a mailing list.
I also think if you want to make writing your career, you need to think of it like a business. And it’s 2023 – would you trust a business that didn’t have a website? It’s a mark of professionalism. We hear people talk a lot about the importance of authors using social media, but not all readers use social media. Most readers will use the internet though…
Non-fiction authors tend to need slightly more extensive websites as they often run a blog on their field of expertise and do more events and public speaking than fiction writers, but generally speaking the requirements are similar. Some authors I work with choose to sell signed copies directly from their website, which is a great idea. But some authors just have basic one-page websites with the above information included, and this works for them. It really depends on the author and their particular goals.
How does designing an author website differ from other forms of website design?
Generally speaking, author websites are quite straightforward, without too many pages, which is good as it means if you’ve got the time and patience, you can build one yourself! If there is an e-commerce element (such as selling books) then things can get more complicated, but generally speaking the technical side of things is quite simple.
The most important aspect to think about when designing an author website are the readers. Who are they? What kind of things are they interested in? What would draw them to your site and keep them there? Definitely take into account the genre of your book, and most importantly of all, design something that complements your book’s cover. I try not to let my website designs overtake the cover design as this is the thing we really want to stand out and be remembered. The website is the backdrop and must be a reflection of the author’s brand.
Which website providers, such as WordPress or Squarespace, would you recommend for authors and why?
It depends on the author. WordPress is amazing in its flexibility and scope, but I don’t generally advise using it unless you have some experience, or are really interested in technology. As it uses open-source software, you have to keep on top of updates to make sure your site is secure.
I am a specialist Squarespace designer so I’m obviously biased but I love it for its flexibility, security and ease of use. You can read more about why I prefer it to WordPress here. There are other drag-and-drop website builders such as Wix and Weebly that can also be good options for DIY-designers.
Can you recommend any clever tactics that authors can utilise to drive more traffic to their site?
First of all, it’s important to regularly update your website! Google likes websites that look as though they’re providing recent content, so don’t set up a website then leave it to go stale for years. But also, make sure you link to your website as much as possible – from your social media, from any interviews you do, from your agent’s and publisher’s websites. Sounds obvious but people do forget! And provide good quality content – give people a reason to visit. Blogs are amazing for driving traffic but require commitment to work effectively – to get the most out of a blog it needs to be updated at least twice a month.
Would you encourage authors to set up a newsletter alongside their website? How can this be beneficial for authors?
Yes, I’m a bit evangelical about newsletters! Done well, they can be so powerful. There’s probably too much to explain in an interview but if you want to learn more, I have a free 30-minute training video you can access here.
Which author websites have you really enjoyed working on and why?
Oh, that’s a tricky question to answer! So many. The great thing is the variety of authors I’ve worked with, so no two websites look the same. I genuinely enjoy working on all of them! Some recent favourites that come to mind are: the site I did for Catherine Law [https://www.catherinelaw.co.uk/] – because it’s so beautiful and perfect for her audience and she has some really lovely bonus content for readers; Tony Kent’s [https://tonykent.net/] – because it’s so bold and he has such an interesting career and background; Katie Marsh’s [https://katie-marsh.com/] – because it demonstrates that even with a one-page website you can still get all the information needed in; and Katherine Slee’s site [https://www.katherineslee.com/] – because it’s intriguing and whimsical, like her writing.