Killing Your (Other) Darlings

Killing Your Other Darlings

“In writing, you must kill all your darlings.” —William Faulkner.

Have you heard that quote? It’s more than likely that you’ve not only heard it, you were already nodding your head at it as you saw me starting off this blog post with it. Faulkner’s famous advice has been put into practice by writers and creatives everywhere, often to great success.

In case you’re not sure what to think of Faulkner’s advice, here’s another version from writer/director Joss Whedon (The Avengers, Firefly, etc.):

Here’s one trick that I learned early on. If something isn’t working, if you have a story that you’ve built and it’s blocked and you can’t figure it out, take your favorite scene, or your very best idea or set-piece, and cut it. It’s brutal, but sometimes inevitable. That thing may find its way back in, but cutting it is usually an enormously freeing exercise.

And you’re probably nodding your head at this quote as well. “Ouch!” you say. “That advice hurts, but it’s sooooooooo true!”

Okay. What about your other darlings?

“What other darlings?” you ask. “I’ve already cut my favorite scene out of my novel and it’s better because I did that.”

Great! Now let’s look at the darlings on your website.

My Website? But, but, but!

I want you to take a good look at your website from a visitor’s perspective. Pretend you are a new reader exploring this author’s site (yours) for the very first time.

What do you see? What confuses you? Make a list.

To help you get started, here are a few specifics that I notice on many author sites.

Menu Clutter

When presented with too many choices, the human mind tends to shut down. Think carefully about what you want a visitor to do, then tailor your menu with just a few options to lead them to that goal.

Another aspect of menu clutter is a lack of clarity when it comes to which links go to your books. You can use your book title as a link, but is it clear that this link is going to take me to a book? I’m guilty of this one with my link to “Finding the Core of Your Story” but no indication that it’s a book I’ve written. Try using words like book or series, or lumping all your books into a submenu underneath Books.

Fix My Story Menu

Too Many Testimonials

Most authors love to get positive reviews, and it feels great to share those reviews on your website. All these positive reviews make readers want to buy your book, right? Well, not necessarily. They might just be adding clutter the reader has to wade through before getting to the all-important Buy button.

I’d recommend two steps to determine if you have too many testimonials. First, ask yourself if there’s anything important below the block of reviews. I’ve seen many sites where the onslaught of testimonials appears above a form to sign up for the author’s mailing list—unfortunately, the visitor probably never scrolls past all those reviews to get to the mailing list box!

Second, check for duplicate content. Do you have more than one review from the same person (for different books, of course)? Pick the best one and chop the rest. Otherwise, it looks like your reader base is so limited that you can’t find anyone else who will recommend your books.

Another check for duplicate content would be to make sure your featured reviews aren’t all covering the same ground. Think about what aspects of your book you can show off. Let’s say it’s humorous, action-packed, and has great characters. If you have three reviews talking about how funny your book is, but zero about how much excitement it contains, you might want to trim out some of those “funny” reviews and find one calling out some of the other aspects of your story.

Extraneous Information

This may be the most difficult category for you to kill darlings in, so hold on tight. Take a hard look at what content is on your author site. Does some of it relate to things other than your books or you as an author? I’ve seen many author sites with blog posts and pages about the author’s hobbies, all in prominent places next to the books. This makes it look like the author’s site is as much about their books as it is about their hobby making quilts or collecting classic cars. Oops!

Folks, it’s really, really easy to have more than one website. Focus your author site on your books. On the About the Author page, link to your site about your stamp collection or your photos of your jungle safaris and let the visitor check it out if they like that kind of thing. But keep the author site about your books and author news.

Let’s Get Practical!

I’d like to do something a little different with Fix My Story for this month. Instead of posting an article in two weeks on my regular schedule, I’m going to take the rest of the month to work on killing my website darlings—making some improvements and changes to better serve the goal of the site.

Here’s what I’m going to try and improve at this month:

  • Move Logline FAQ off the main menu.
  • Improve my Subscribe page based on what I learned from reading Reader Magnets a couple weeks ago.
  • Create a Start Here section to make it easy for new readers to find my most useful content.

Now, let me turn this over to you. I want to help you kill your website darlings this month as well. Post a comment with something you can improve or fix on your author website by the end of this month. If you need help thinking of something, post a link to your website and I’ll be glad to take a look and give you some ideas.

Let’s get out there and do it!

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