I’ve spent a lot of time looking at other publisher’s websites trying to figure out how to do it. I’m not saying we’re the best or anything, but I’ve noticed a few common mistakes made by small publishers and lit mags. Here are a few of them.
1. No extracts available to read online.
There’s no reason why you shouldn’t give readers the opportunity to look inside the books you’re selling. That’s what they would do in a bookshop, so they should have the same opportunity on the internet. Why is the content such a secret? No one’s going to steal it.
2. No links page.
A wasted opportunity here. Setting up reciprocal links with other literary sites (of which there are many) is an easy way of increasing your web traffic. Plus, it’s good just to have one anyway. Links pages are good.
(Also, if you’re going to do it, do it properly. Linking through to Google and your flatmate’s band’s My Space doesn’t count as a links page.)
3. Lack of content.
Some small press publisher’s websites are hardly there at all – contact details, submission guidelines, and a couple of links to books on Amazon. People need a reason to visit the site. If there’s nothing on there, there’s no point.
For an example of an excellent small press publisher’s website, including extracts, interviews, audio and video content, visit http://www.saltpublishing.com. Some of the larger publishing houses could learn a trick or two from Salt.
4. Incomprehensible mission statements.
If you’re going to go to the trouble of writing a mission statement, make sure you make it clear what your mission is, rather than writing:
“What are we? What aren’t we? We are the world. We are passengers on the post-postmodern Mystery Machine…” and so on for fifteen paragraphs.
5. Listing submission guidelines on the home page.
A lot of small publishers make the mistake of focussing their attention on writers rather than readers. A publisher’s website should ideally act as a means of selling books. My advice is, create a small page for submission guidelines and don’t draw too much attention to it. Writers who are interested in submitting will know where to look. Of course it’s important to attract as many good writers as possible, but it’s important to attract readers too.
6. Out of date information.
It’s an obvious and patronising point to make, but if you’re running a website you need to keep the content relevant. Nothing puts people off more than the caption, “Last updated, February 2004.”
One final point before I exhaust myself on this subject:
7. Don’t over-sell yourself.
There’s no need to make any over-the-top claims about being the greatest publisher there ever was (unless you genuinely are). Tell it like it is. You publish literature. Some of it’s pretty good. The best thing to do is make some of your literature available to read on your website so that the work can speak for itself.