Need an author website? Websites (including blogs) may be the most prevalent marketing medium these days, but the process of setting one up is still a complete mystery to most. When I teach self-publishing workshops and mention the necessity of having an author website, panic always ensues.
In this blog post, Fiona and I will explain what you need to know about author websites, how to set yours up, what costs to expect, and how to maintain it. After explaining all your options, we’ll also tell you exactly how we set up this website. Click here if you want to skip directly to that section.
Here’s what you’ll find in this rather long article:
- Why you need an author website
- The elements of an author website
- How to set up an author website
- Author website maintenance
- Expenses involved with an author website
- How we did it: A step-by-step guide
- You can do this, too
Your website is your headquarters, a place where you can showcase your work, publish a blog, connect with others, and most importantly, build a following. This is your author platform.
A page on Facebook or other social media is not a substitute for an author website. That’s because the acceptable social media norms are always changing, and you have little control over who can see your pages. So you need your own site and an email list of subscribers. That way you can reach your followers easily and on your own terms.
If you’re reluctant to put up your own site, do it anyway. You could try to get away with a single web page, but your annual expenses will be the same whether you have one page or fifty.Don't be intimidated by the very thought of setting up your #author website. You can do this! We explain the ins and outs. https://goo.gl/v7Gzzh Click To Tweet
If you insist on a one-page website, make sure you show the following:
- Book title(s) and author’s name
- Front cover(s)
- Story synopsis, marketing copy, or your manifesto—whichever is most appropriate
- A short author bio, preferably with a photo
- How to order the book(s) (or a “Buy the book” button linking to an online book seller)
- Your contact information
- Links to your social media accounts
But readers expect something more sophisticated, with multiple pages. Take a look at your favorite authors’ or your competitors’ sites and list their best and most important elements—or explore the ones below:
- Anne Sarkisian: Toxic Staple
- Jane Hanser: Dogs Don’t Look Both Ways
- Sharon Helbert: How to Lose the Last Damn Ten Pounds
- And of course you can use our website as an example, too.
You’ll soon see that they are all quite similar and include the following (in addition to the ones listed above for a single-page site):
- Book reviews
- A blog
- An email signup form
- A media kit (Look online for help with this.)
- Links to other resources (for nonfiction books)
- News (for authors with a lively appearance schedule)
- A Contact page
- A shop for your other book titles and/or related products or services, or
- A Paypal page linked to your site
Your domain name
Now make it all more real by thinking of a good domain name (address) for your site. Maybe try your name first, e.g., JaneDoe.com. If that’s not available (you can do a quick search at GoDaddy.com), try a different extension (.net, for example). Or you can expand the name: JaneDoeAuthor.com. You’ll soon find a domain name that will work for you. You can register and pay for it when you choose a hosting company (see below).
Should you hire a website design service or do it yourself? Your choice will depend on your time, your budget, and whether you lean toward DIY or not. We’ll discuss both options below.
Some important menu sections
Before plunging into design and setup, you need to sit down and organize your site. What material will go on your home page? What about your author bio page? Do you want a “Buy the book” button on every single page of the site? Are you going to divide your media kit into separate pages, with one for photos, one for book synopses, and another for author bios?
Analyze other authors’ sites and you’ll soon get the hang of it. After all, the process of writing your main menu and submenus is exactly the same as writing a book or story outline.
By doing this preliminary work, you’ll save yourself time and money.
A web log (blog) contains your experiences, observations, advice, and opinions. The blog section of your website is different from the pages in the main menu sections. The pages are static, remaining just the way you created them. Your blog posts, however, have a much more changeable presence on your website.
Blog posts appear on your blog page in reverse order, with your latest post appearing at the top. WordPress (see below) provides different ways for visitors to find blog topics that interest them. They can search by category, tags, author, or date published. Because blogs are very searchable and are updated every time a new post is added, they often get more traffic and rank higher in search engines than static pages do.
Your blog posts should include images (to attract readers’ eyes and keep their interest), external links (to other websites), and internal links (to pages within the site) when relevant. These links will help your website rank better in the search engines.
Email signup form
You’ll need an email signup form with a “Subscribe” button. We suggest using an email list service such as Mailchimp or Constant Contact, both of which give you the signup form for your website and then keep your subscriber list as it grows.
The services are free up to a certain (large) number of subscribers. They’ll also help you set up attractive messages—like the ones we send every month. And they integrate with social media to make it super easy for new readers to find you. Just another way to add to your list!
Your blog is the best way to keep in touch with your followers. “What followers?” you may ask. To start out, send a personal email to everyone you already know, include a link to your blog page, ask them to subscribe, and bingo! You’ve got followers. If you make use of SEO in your blog posts (WordPress and Squarespace give you hints on this), more people will discover your blog, and then—you hope—subscribe to your email list. Your email list grows because of your blog and vice versa—it’s sort of a chicken-and-egg situation.
Think about design
Of course you want your site to look terrific. Whether you’re hiring a designer or using a premade template, you should think about colors and typefaces.
Choose two or three colors from your book’s front cover or from your business logo. If you want a background color other than white, find one that contrasts with the color of your cover; after all, you don’t want the book cover to disappear into the background. Avoid using black or any other dark color for the background. A decade or so back, black was used a lot, but now that just looks dated, and it makes your copy harder to read.
Pick one “action” color. In other words, make any words or buttons that you want people to click on all the same color.
Leave plenty of white (or background color) space.
Keep a unified look throughout by using the same typefaces (one for headlines and another for text) at the same sizes and the same colors on every page. If you use a template, the typefaces will be chosen for you, with various colors and heading levels, and will probably look just fine.
Hire a web design service
If you choose to hire a website design service, you’ll find many out there just waiting for your call (or click). Some of them are dedicated to authors:
Or find another by doing an online search for “author website design.” Please look at their portfolios, read their testimonials, make sure they offer sites that are readable on all devices (especially mobile!), and compare prices and services before committing your money.
Do it yourself
You can do this yourself. There are so many ways! We suggest exploring a few of the suggestions below (but if you want to follow the route we took, read our step-by-step description below). Your options are listed generally from simplest at the top to more complicated at the bottom.
- Squarespace offers templates, does its best to make it all very easy, and has customer service.
- SiteBeginner.com teaches you all the steps for free.
- Jimdo.com claims to get you started in just a few minutes.
- A WordPress template is probably the most common way to go, but you’ll probably need help from a book or a class, and there is no customer service.
- An online course may be enough. (Try lynda.com, which your public library might offer for free. If not, the Unlimited Access plan is currently $29.99/month with the first month free.)
- A community education class on setting up a site might give you just the right amount of in-depth information.
- A lynda.com course on setting up a Paypal page, and/or PayPal’s tech support—one or both will help.
Every single one of you should learn about search engine optimization (SEO), which will make your site visible to more people. There are lots of books on the topic, plus tutorials and courses on lynda.com. We also talk about it a bit in our recent article on using your book to build your business.
Don’t forget to keep your website up to date! Weekly, monthly or at least annually, get in there and change things up a bit.
- If you haven’t already, start a blog and post articles regularly. The experts recommend doing it once a week, though at Book Design Made Simple we keep a monthly schedule.
- Add news of your appearances, book awards, great reviews, famous authors you meet, and associations you join. Don’t forget to sprinkle in some photos.
- If you’re especially active, include a calendar of future appearances.
- Always keep your fans aware of any other books you’ve got in the works (but don’t promise anything you can’t deliver).
- Announce special pricing for events such as anniversaries of your launch date, holidays, or special days relating to your topic (Black History Month or Valentines Day, for instance). And set up your Paypal page for the sale while you’re at it.
- Update your site’s copyright date every January.
Aside from any expense you may incur in setting up your site, you will also have to pay yearly fees for various elements. Some of the design-for-you and do-it-yourself services listed above include these services and fees. Either way, you need to know what it is you’re paying for:
Hosting is basically the server (computer) that stores your site and allows traffic in and out. Here are a few of the numerous providers:
The price range is about $80 to $250 USD per year and usually includes one email address. Once you see an acceptable price online, call and ask about your particular situation. These companies normally sell package deals that include a domain name and security—see below. You do need these things, so ask questions until you understand it all.
You’ll need to pay someone—usually your hosting service—to safeguard your domain name for you. It can cost anywhere from $10 to $50 a year, depending on the deal you get when you register it. Don’t let your domain name expire. Someone could very easily take it and then sell it back to you at a higher price!
You should have an email address related to your website (e.g., info@JaneDoe.com) because it’s smart to keep your business and personal accounts separate, and it looks more professional. This is included in many hosting packages.
Your hosting company will offer you (or even insist on) some security for your site. It’s called “SSL” (Secure Socket Layer) or an “SSL certificate” and it basically means that traffic to and from your site will not be interfered with. More specifically, an SSL certificate
- Includes encryption
- Ensures that Google will not tag your site “Not Secure,” and therefore boosts your ranking
- Makes your URL begin with https:// (instead of http://) so users can see at a glance that it’s a secure site
- Protects purchasers’ credit card information, but this may cost extra
- Might come with a warranty for $500,000 or more
If you’ve seen “SITE NOT SECURE” notices on some sites or if you’ve even been blocked from entering them, you can probably appreciate the necessity of paying for SSL. For more technical information on SSL, go to Steve’s Internet Guide.
There are a few levels of security available (technical info at DreamHost.com), so make sure you get the most appropriate kind. A lower level of security is probably fine if you’re not going to sell anything directly on your site. Discuss this with your customer service person. Prices range from $15 to $300 per year but may be included in your hosting package.
This may all sound very complicated, but don’t worry. WordPress and Squarespace packages include all the security you will probably need.
How we did it: A step-by-step guide
Now that you know about the parts and the options, we’ll reveal how we put this website together and what it cost.
- We decided to go with WordPress for our website and blog. We used Rob Cubbon’s free tutorial, Set up WordPress and blog: A crash course in web publishing. It’s a real comfort to have all the steps explained as you go!
- We chose a design template that works for us. Free design templates are available, or you can purchase one at sites such as WordPress themes, Themeforest, and Themify, just to name a few. The options are dazzling! But try to picture your main image in the allotted space on the home page, and your material on the pages they offer. Take your time. This is an important decision. Our theme is called Lifestyle Pro Theme by Studiopress and it cost $99.95.
- We developed a media kit. We knew absolutely nothing about this at first, so we attended a webinar with Joan Stewart (The Publicity Hound) and then purchased a set of templates from Author Toolkits. We followed their advice to the letter. The result is a set of web pages full of information and author portraits for anyone who invites us to speak or who interviews or writes about us.
- We use Bluehost for hosting, at a cost of $160 for two years.
- Our domain name costs us $16/year and we have arranged to renew it automatically on a credit card so that we don’t forget.
- For security, we paid Kits Media a one-time fee of $125 to set up our SSL certificate (which changed our URL to https://www.BookDesignMadeSimple.com). Our website is very basic (without a shopping cart), so the SSL certificate alone fulfills the level of security we require.
- Paypal: We set up Paypal buttons on our Buy the Book page for book sales. We used the tutorials and FAQs on the Paypal site—not to mention the phone help. Linking to a Paypal page is a great way to sell books without having a shopping cart right on your site.
- Maintenance: We are always working to improve our site—Fiona has become an SEO geek! In addition, we write a blog post once a month, heeding all the hints that WordPress offers to improve search engine rankings (which often puts our blog on the first page when anyone does a search for our topic). As a result, we get more subscribers all the time.
- To boost our SEO even more, we signed up with Yoast, which offers plugins, courses, and a blog. This service costs $89 a year, and we think it’s worth the expense.
- We use Mailchimp to keep our email subscriber list for us. When it’s time to write to our followers, we use a template that we set up a while ago, add new copy, hit the Send button, and it goes out to everyone at once.
If, after reading all this, you decide you need start-to-finish help with setting up your site, don’t worry. There are many, many services out there.
New services for DIY types are springing up constantly. By the time you finish building your site, you’ll feel like a genius! And you’ll be able to make your updates with confidence, too.
Most of the web design and hosting companies have good customer service and are very used to helping complete beginners with tutorials, over the phone, and with an online chat. Don’t worry that you’ll feel intimidated by a phone rep. If they can’t explain things clearly enough on your first contact, just choose another company.
So there’s really no reason to panic. It takes persistence and possibly some cries for help (as it did with us), but you can definitely do this.
Read more: Use your book to build your business, where we offer a list of resources on SEO (search engine optimization).
Read more: Devising a color palette for your book—it applies to your website as well.
Book Design Made Simple. You can do it yourself.