These days, it’s easier than ever to get yourself online. Making a simple, visually appealing, and functional author website is no longer the sole domain of technical wizards. But that doesn’t mean building the cornerstone of your online presence isn’t daunting for the uninitiated. We created this beginner’s guide to help you get started.
Why make your own author website?
Creating your own website isn’t nearly as technically challenging today as it was back in the early days of the Internet. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t work involved in building and maintaining a site. Is it worth the effort?
Yes. It’s not only worth the effort, it’s essential. Writers today can’t choose to avoid the Internet. An author website is the pillar of your brand. It helps you develop a voice, build an emotional bond with your readers, and differentiate yourself from other authors in your genre.
Here are some of the benefits of making an author website:
- Establishing an online presence helps you build an audience for your writing
- You can forge and maintain connections with other writers and readers
- Your website is an affordable tool for promoting your published books and upcoming releases
- Some publishers want their authors to have an online presence before they agree to publish them
Before we get started, for the non-technical types, let’s define a few key terms.
Domain – Your website’s online address (www.yourname.com).
Website builder – A service like WordPress.com, Wix, or Squarespace that hosts your website files on a shared space and provides easy online tools for site-building.
Hosted site – A website whose files are stored with a web host (a non-shared space) rather than part of a website builder community.
Web host – A service that provides online storage space for your hosted site’s files.
Where to build an author website
Should you create a hosted site or use a website builder? That’s the million-dollar question.
When it comes to getting a website online easily, you have two options — you can either create your site using a website builder where the platform for creating your design and layout is built-in, or you can get a web host and install the platform. There are advantages and disadvantages to each.
You don’t need to learn how to write HTML code to build an impressive online home. There are platforms where you can buy a domain, choose a free template (or purchase a premium one), and plug in the information you want to share. Here are a few of the most popular website builders:
- WordPress.com is well-known as a blogging platform, but you can build an impressive website with it. Because it’s so widely used, there are scores of excellent templates available. Note that WordPress.com (a shared blog hosting community) and WordPress.org (a content management platform that requires a web host) are two distinct animals. Here’s the difference.
- Wix has become a popular website option. Its drag-and-drop functionality is a game-changer, making web design easy and intuitive, even for non-designers.
- Squarespace focuses on small business owners looking to forge an online presence easily. It also features drag-and-drop design tools.
A Google search will reveal more website builders, but here’s a tip — if you stick to the most popular platforms you’re more likely to encounter a robust set of features, plug-ins, and templates. You can also rest easy that the site builder has staying power, so it’s less likely to close its doors and vanish your carefully crafted pages into the ether. If that’s important to you, don’t stray too far from the beaten path.
Benefits of Website Builders
- They’re easy to use, with no programming, coding, or technical skills required.
- They can offer a wide variety of design options.
- They often have social and community features built-in.
Drawbacks of Website Builders
- Basic hosting may limit the number of pages you can create or files you can store.
- Customization and plug-in options are limited.
- Basic or free plans put advertising on your pages, over which you have no control.
- You’ll have to pay for an upgrade if you want to use your site to sell things directly or monetize with advertising.
Hosted sites function a bit differently, but they can still be relatively uncomplicated to use once they’re set up. With a hosted site, the easiest approach to building a site requires adding a content management system (CMS). WordPress is by far the most popular, with 30% of all websites using the platform.
There are other CMSs such as Drupal or Joomla!, but we won’t overcomplicate things here. Odds are good that WordPress will offer everything you need in a website platform, so it gets our recommendation.
Many web hosts have the option to add WordPress at the click of a button. Bluehost is a popular WordPress hosting option, but it can be a bit pricey. HostGator is also recommended and may be friendlier on your budget. Shop around, compare, and pick the host that fits your needs.
PRO TIP: Be sure to read reviews. Not all hosts are created equal, and that budget option may not be so appealing when you consider its lack of features or problems with downtime.
Benefits of Hosted Sites
- You can add cool plug-ins and functionality that website builders lack.
- You have the ability to monetize your site with advertising, affiliate programs, or direct sales.
- The customization options are unlimited if you’re tech-savvy, or you want to hire someone who is.
- You’re in control, so you can back up your site and access its core files.
Drawbacks of Hosted Sites
- There are no free options. To host a site, you’ll have to pay.
- Although many hosts make it simple to add a CMS, there may be a slightly steeper learning curve.
Whether you choose a website builder or a hosted site depends on your needs. If you want to blog and raise your profile as a writer, a website builder may do the trick, especially if you upgrade to add your own domain name. (More on that in a moment.) If you’re serious about promoting yourself as an author and you want to monetize your site or sell books or merchandise directly, a hosted site is the best option.
Choosing your author website domain
Once you’ve chosen a website platform that works for you, you’ll need your own domain. Your domain is your website address. Think www.yourname.com. In our case, www.AutoCrit.com is our domain.
There are two ways to handle establishing your domain:
- Create your domain when you sign up for your web host or site builder. All of the website builders and hosts we’ve mentioned offer the ability to create a domain, either as a paid add-on or part of the service package.
- Buy your domain name from a domain name registrar and transfer it to your web host or website builder. This can be particularly handy if you’re not quite ready to create your site, but you want to lock in your domain name. GoDaddy.com is an example of a popular domain name registrar.
Website building sites like WordPress.com and Wix all give you the ability to create a free site, but you won’t have a custom domain name. Instead, the website address will look something like myauthorsite.wordpress.com. That’s fine if you’re just getting started, or you’re building your site but not ready to start promoting in earnest. It’s not a good longterm solution if building your author brand is at the top of your to-do list. Face it, StephenKing.com is a whole lot easier to remember than stephenking.squarespace.com.
What to include on your author site
You’ve got the site set up. Now what? Here are a few things all great author sites have in common.
- An About Me page. Your readers want to know you! Share some things about yourself and what made you the writer that you are. Bonus points if you write your bio in a creative, engaging way.
- A blog. Maintaining a blog can be time-consuming, especially when you’re busy writing fiction. But making time for a brief weekly update can help you build a rapport with your readers. Regular updates can also increase your visibility on Google. Share your creative process. Show your sense of humor. Be vulnerable at times and let readers know there’s a real person behind the pages.
- Teasers. What could be more enticing than a carefully selected portion of a published or upcoming book? Keep your teasers exciting and end on a cliffhanger when you can. Don’t forget to include links to a sales portal where the visitor can buy your book. If you’re not published yet, invite visitors to subscribe to a mailing list for updates.
- Interviews. Even if Jimmy Fallon isn’t beating a path to your door (yet), post any interviews you’ve done. If you haven’t been interviewed so far, take visitor questions, or write your own questions and answer them.
Examples of great author sites
Let’s take a look at what some famous authors are doing to dominate with their online presence.
Author Lee Child proudly showcases his books, with a portfolio-style presentation.
J.K. Rowling maintains a highly impressive social media presence, sharing her work, views, and personal insights. Her enormous Twitter presence is placed right up front on her website, to draw visitors into her world.
Katharine Center keeps her website simple, clean, visually appealing, and regularly updated with new posts and events.
Bestselling author Rainbow Rowell builds her simple site around a consistent brand tone, and even takes advantage of the ability to sell branded merchandise directly to her fans.
Goosebumps legend R. L. Stine gives away a completely free ‘writing program’ that he hopes teachers and librarians will provide to students.
Finally, James Patterson uses what’s called a ‘lead magnet’ – a free and exclusive offering that visitors can obtain by signing up for his mailing list. In this case, those who give their details will be privy to exclusive books, contests, and special deals.
This allows him and his team to keep in regular contact with readers, ensuring he’s a regular presence in their lives.
Is an author website worth the effort?
You might think that setting up your new author website is going to be far more trouble than it’s worth, but stick with it. The days of the isolated writer toiling in obscurity, getting published, and becoming an overnight sensation are all but over. Today, the trend favors writers who share and gather readers via the web.
Ultimately, your website speaks volumes about how determined you are to succeed as an author. So choose your host and platform, invest a little time in learning its technical ins and outs, and make your presence known.
Do you have your own author website? Did you create it yourself, and how difficult was it? Which methods have worked best for you in building your online presence? Talk about everything digital in the comments below!