Website Tour: E L James

Over the past week and change, I’ve discussed some of the best practices for author websites.  These are not without some help, as I’ve learned a lot through discussions with developer relations guru David I., but David doesn’t think about books every evening.  He thinks about software.  I, on the other hand, see the word “writer” and “editor” and think “NOVEL” and “AUTHOR.”  As I’ve been researching author websites for my own website, I took a list of contemporary novelists from “Amazon Best Sellers” and explored their books.  This list, compiled sometime in late May, includes a mix of household names and writers that I’d never heard of before. I tried to eliminate Romance, because that genre seems to play by its own rules.  However, a few of the well-known Romance novelists appear on this list, such as the one discussed today.

As I look into websites, and if this becomes a regular feature, I’ll only explore well-known authors, as I assume that these authors are not making their own websites, and are instead relying on professional assistance in their website development.  If you’re an independent author and would like some feedback on your website, I’d be happy to comment about it in this blog.  I’ll leave this little disclaimer: I’m not exactly out to snipe the indie author, who may be creating their own websites off of a Wix or WordPress template and have just about as much experience with professional web development as I have with professional lacrosse (i.e., none).

Without much further ado, let’s take a look at the official website of E L James, author of the Fifty Shades Trilogy.

E L James

The first person on my little tour of author websites is E L James.  She’s a fairly well-known name, in part because of her amazing story of going from a fan fic writer to one of the bestselling authors of the past decade.  Her brand isn’t my cup of tea, but I do applaud her for writing something that pushes the limits.  She makes no mistake about it when you read her website.  Right below her name on the banner, it says “Provocative Romance.”  Her website above the fold is pretty basic, with a simple banner, a series of pull-down menus, and then a welcome message with her photo.

It has a nice aesthetic, all told.  I wouldn’t put a welcome message quite like what she has on this site, but it has its own appeal, and it is far gentler (in terms of advertising) than some alternatives.  Aside from her picture and a short message, there’s a button inviting us to “browse the books.”  Immediately below that, there’s a YouTube trailer for her movie “Fifty Shades Darker.”  It isn’t until you tap the “page down” button a few times before you see her book covers, or anything of substance about her books.  This might be the natural evolution in her role as an entertainer, as the Fifty Shades Trilogy will likely generate much more as a series of movies than it ever has as a series of books.  At the same time, I don’t think I’ll ever see Michael Crichton (who has Jurassic Park and E.R. among his lifetime credits) as something other than an author, much as I don’t think I’ll see E L James as a Hollywood producer / entertainer.  The irony, of course, is that she is a former TV exec.

The Good:

Between her introduction and then her “About” page, I have a pretty good sense of E L as an artist who is living her dream.  Her “About” page is a glimpse of someone who was once a little girl, growing up in London, and dreaming about being a writer.  She shows humility and gratitude – both useful in reminding the rest of the world that she is, indeed, human.  I like the brevity (yeah, I know, yuk it up) and the sincerity here; in my mind, these are two difficult things to accomplish simultaneously.

She has widgets for her social media, including an interesting little film strip from her Instagram account that appears at the bottom of her site.  She includes several ways of contacting her or her representatives, including via snail mail and email.  My website drafts have some of this, but I’ve never used Instagram or posted anything onto YouTube.  I’ve also never created an email form (and actually deployed it).

The Bad:

Her blog only contains two posts, and hasn’t been updated since April.  The blog is more “news” than it is her thoughts on life or her thoughts on her writing.  Even then, there’s not much news here.  I probably spend too much time on my blog, particularly for someone who is moonlighting as a writer, but blogging twice weekly doesn’t need to be 500 words every time; it just need some sense of consistency.

Aside from her blog, she doesn’t have much other information surrounding appearances, reviews, an actual news tab, or FAQs.  She probably doesn’t need it.  However, I will definitely want to have these in place well before I have any semblance of success with my own writing.

Verdict:

There’s nothing wrong with her website.  It is clear a professional has created this.  At the same time, there’s just not much to keep people coming back to her website.  An author as big as E L James doesn’t need much to keep her audience engaged, but she’d be in a little trouble if she was someone in my shoes, hoping to build a following from the ground up.

To see Ms. James’ website, click here.

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