Once upon a time, in a land that now seems so far away, business owners had to have a storefront in order to sell their goods and services.
Recent decades have seen retailers close down their shops while online businesses take over, shifting the commercial landscape from physical buildings to the digital world.
Now, even the smallest companies and home-based businesses have their own virtual storefronts on the internet. What about authors? Since they can sell their books on Amazon and other online retailers, do authors need their own websites?
- The value of having a website
- Website options for authors (including free ones!)
- How to obtain and set up a WordPress.org website
- What features to include on your author website
Table of contents
Why Have Your Own Author Website?
What do Stephen King, James Patterson, Danielle Steele, and Nora Roberts all have in common?
In addition to being highly successful authors, they all have their own websites. In fact, it is difficult to find a bestselling author that doesn’t have their own website.
Let’s consider a few reasons why authors of all levels of success choose to have their own website.
1. Websites add professionalism to your work. It’s only natural as humans to make judgements based on appearance. For example, if you meet with an attorney for the first time and he struts in wearing a stained and torn hoodie and greets you with a dispassionate, “‘Sup?”, your confidence in him might wane. Instead, lawyers typically dress in finely tailored suits because they know that a polished appearance is more likely to engender trust. Similarly, when an author has a professional-looking website, it gives the appearance to readers that they take their work seriously and have produced a quality book. This imparts a level of trust between the reader and the author, and may lead more readers to purchase from that author.
2. Websites are useful in marketing. Many independent authors that have been able to turn their writing into a career have found that developing a database of readers is an invaluable key to their success. Having your own author website enables you to allow readers to sign up for your newsletter, giving you an avenue to market to them as your new books become available.
3. Websites give you control over your brand. Some self-published authors rely exclusively on Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, and the like to present their works. While online retailers and social media may be necessary outlets to reach customers, they place limits on their appearance and functionality. For example, while you can add custom photos and text to a Facebook page, at a glance they all really just look the same. Everything from the size of the images to the formatting of the page and the color scheme is ultimately determined by Facebook. And the world’s largest book retailer Amazon fills your book’s page with products and ads that can easily divert customers away from your book… the very opposite of where you want customers to go! Your website, however, is controlled entirely by you, giving you the opportunity to really let your personality shine and ensure that your books are the focus.
4. Websites give you another option to sell your books. That’s right, despite what you may have been led to believe, Amazon isn’t the only place where customers buy books. And, as this article points out, you can increase your profit margins by selling books from your own website.
5. Websites increase your online presence. When someone Googles your name or book, what results do they get? It could be that in addition to a few accurate search results, similar but competing websites are listed. You would certainly benefit by having your official site show up high in the results, and a well-designed website can do just that. Additionally, if you choose to blog regularly, this can direct more traffic (i.e. more potential readers) to your site from an even greater variety of search engine keywords.
Website Terminology for the Technically Challenged
If you’re new to the idea of having a website, there may be some terms that you’ve heard (or not), but don’t really know exactly what they are. Here are a few basic ones that we’ll be mentioning in this article.
- Domain: A website’s domain is it’s .com (or .net, .org, etc.) name, and it can be likened to an address. For example, while you might just call this site Kindlepreneur, it’s domain is actually kindlepreneur.com. And just as a physical address like 123 Main St. might be the location of a storefront, the domain kindlepreneur.com is a virtual address where this site can be located.
- Subdomain: A subdomain is also a name that could be likened to an address. However, subdomains don’t have their own exclusive .com (or .net, .org, etc.) name. An example of a subdomain would be support.google.com, which would take you to Google’s technical support center instead of their more popular search engine. Think of it like an office that is found at 123 Main St. Suite 142, rather than just at 123 Main St. It’s still there, but it may be a little harder to find.
- Hosting: Simply having a domain doesn’t cause you to have a website any more than registering a retail business in your state means that you necessarily have your own shop. Instead, you would have to rent a storefront where you can stock your wares. Similarly, for a website you need a hosting provider to rent you space where your website content can be held. Some website options are self-hosted, meaning that they take care of hosting for you, while others require you to purchase hosting separately.
- SEO: Short for Search Engine Optimization, SEO refers to a site’s ability to rank highly on Google, Bing, and other search engines. SEO is very important to a website’s quality and amount of traffic. It could be likened to the difference between a lot of vehicles passing by a business on Main St. downtown and the same traffic being diverted away from the business district to other more popular locations. And for more on SEO for authors, check out Publisher Rocket.
- Responsive: A responsive website is one that changes dynamically based on the device being used. For example, when viewing a responsive website on a computer you might see a list of menu items and a couple of columns of content, but when viewing that same site on a smartphone, the menu may be reduced to a simple three line menu button, and the columns may condense into a single scrollable column. (Sorry… no storefront comparison on this term. But don’t think I didn’t try to think of one!)
Author Website Options
There are a variety of options available for authors to have a website, and these can vary greatly in terms of price, level of difficulty to operate, and SEO-friendliness. Let’s consider a few of the more popular ones, along with some of the benefits and drawbacks of each.
(A similar option is Weebly.com)
Pricing: Starts at free
Details: One of the greatest draws to sites like Wix is that you can have a website for free. As a bonus, these sites are fairly easy to set up and, since they take care of hosting, it requires very little work to operate your site. However, there are some drawbacks to sites like Wix and Weebly. For one thing, their free website options are subdomain sites that typically don’t show up well on search engines. Additionally, they present ads on your site, which take away any appearance of professionalism.
Example: To be honest, I couldn’t readily find an author using a free Wix site through Google since they generally perform so badly on search engines. However, Mike Murphey’s website is a nice looking Wix site using one of their paid plans that allows the author to remove the ads and use his own domain. While the site has many good features, including showcasing both his books and his personality (and also some video recommendations featuring yours truly!), it also highlights some of the disadvantages of using Wix. For example, at the time that I prepared this information, his site’s homepage isn’t responsive, limiting how well the site displays on many devices.
Setup Instructions Overview: Sign up for a free account at Wix.com > Answer a few questions about the site you want > Choose a template > Change out the default images and text to fit your needs.
2. WordPress.com Paid Plan
(Similar options include GoDaddy.com’s Website Builder and the paid Wix.com or Weebly.com plans)
Pricing: Starts at $4 per month
Details: A benefit to these options is that you get to use an actual domain, rather than a subdomain, which provides a better visitor experience and better SEO. They care for your hosting and are fairly easy to set up and maintain, although individuals with very little tech skills may prefer to hire a web designer. One disadvantage, as was true with the previous option, is that the functionality and design of these sites is somewhat limited.
Example: Derrick Smythe’s site is an excellent example of a well-designed WordPress.com website. Everything from the font to the background and images scream epic fantasy. Emphasis is placed on the awards and positive reviews that the author has received, and the site is designed to make it easy for visitors to purchase Smythe’s books or join his newsletter.
Setup Instructions Overview: Sign up for an account at WordPress.com > Step 2 of the signup process allows you to search for and select the domain that you would like to use > Purchase a paid plan on Step 3 of the signup process > After signup is complete, you will be redirected to your website’s dashboard, and from the dashboard you should follow the steps in the Site Setup box to prepare your site and provide some basic SEO information > Additionally, on the dashboard’s side menu, you can customize your site by changing the theme template, and add/edit your pages, posts, images, and functionality of your site.
Pricing: WordPress.org is open source code (meaning that it is free to use), however WordPress.org sites require you to have hosting and a domain, and prices for these start at about $12 per month
Details: WordPress.org, which is managed by the same company that runs WordPress.com but is actually a completely different product (confusing, I know!), accounts for a staggering 40% of all websites on the internet. The reasons are obvious. WordPress sites are far more flexible in terms of functionality, and they can be set up to have a very powerful SEO. The only real drawback to using WordPress is that with all the added capabilities and performance comes the need for a little bit of technical know-how. For example, while the previous options take care of hosting for you, with WordPress.org you have to set up your own hosting through Hostgator, Bluehost, or another hosting provider. Someone new to website ownership may have a difficult and frustrating time designing and maintaining a WordPress site, or else they may have to pay to have their website designed, set up, and updated.
Examples: If you aren’t sure what a WordPress.org site looks like, you might be surprised to find that you are looking at one right now! That’s right, sites like Kindlepreneur.com, IndiesToday.com, and RosettaBooks.com are all WordPress sites. But rather than considering those, let’s take a look at a couple of author websites.
Bestselling fantasy and paranormal romance author Sherrilyn Kenyon uses a WordPress website that features a clean look to highlight her impressively vast portfolio. Her site is chock full of interesting and insightful content, and she makes good use of some of WordPress’s various functionality options like sliders and countdown timers to make her site more dynamic.
While Lindsay Buroker’s website (also WordPress) isn’t the most stylish or modern one you’ll find online, there are a few things that it does extremely well. Firstly, you can’t help but know right away by the introductory graphic that she specializes in fantasy and science fiction. Additionally, two of her menu tabs are dedicated to her newsletters, and she offers bonus material to individuals that sign up for her emails. This, along with her reliably entertaining writing style, has enabled Lindsay to develop a large and loyal following of dedicated readers. Perhaps most importantly, this site has excellent SEO since Lindsay has been blogging on her site for a number of years, amassing over 500 high-quality posts.
Setup Instructions: As mentioned before, the setup for WordPress.org is a little more detailed, so we’ll go ahead and devote an entire subheading to it. Thus, if you’re interested in setting up a WordPress.org site, as Marcel the Shell famously put it, “Read on!”
It should also be noted that the options listed above are just a sampling of the many choices available to you. For example, many brands like Constant Contact and Shopify offer website services, and there are also WordPress alternatives like Adobe Dreamweaver that some prefer.
How to Set Up a WordPress.org Website on Hostgator
The majority of hosting providers offer WordPress hosting, and a couple of the more popular are Hostgator and Bluehost.
(Editor's note: Hostgater is also where I got my start – Dave)
Additionally, within each hosting provider there are a number of options available to you. For our setup tutorial, we’ll show you one of the more simple ways to create your WordPress website using Hostgator.
1. From the Hosting tab at Hostgator.com, select a Shared Hosting plan.
2. Find and select a domain, answer a few setup questions, and purchase your domain and hosting plan.
3. From your Hostgator Dashboard, select Install WordPress, then Install Now (or select Quick Install).
4. Choose your domain name and create a username and password before clicking Install. Note that these are your website login credentials and are separate from your Hostgator account.
After your site is created, you’ll be provided with login instructions. In addition to the login credentials that you just created, these will include your website login page, which will be yourdomain.com/wp-admin (obviously, you replace yourdomain.com with your actual domain name). Use this information to log into your website’s dashboard.
5. From your dashboard, there are a number of things that you will want to update or customize. Here is a list of the primary ones.
- Settings > General > Give your site a title and tagline, perhaps using your name as the title and the genre that you write as the tagline
- Appearance > Themes > Select and activate a theme that fits your style (Pro tip: It is best to choose themes that have a lot of active installs because these theme designers are generally more active and thus update the theme to keep it operational and secure)
- Pages > Add New > Create a homepage and the primary pages of your site (If you choose to blog, use Posts > Add New to create blog posts)
- Settings > Reading > Select and set your homepage
- Settings > Discussion > Allow visitors to comment or not, and adjust commenting settings
- Appearance > Customize > The options available to you here will be based on the theme you selected earlier, and they can be used to make your site look and function the way you want it to
Most themes let you create a menu and add widgets from the Customizer tab, but if not you can do so from Appearance > Menu, and Appearance > Widgets
- Plugins > Add New > Select and activate plugins for all sorts of things including contact forms, newsletter signups, SEO setup, Paypal or other payment acceptance, site security, etc. (Pro tip: As with themes, it is often best to choose plugins that have a lot of active installs because these are more likely to be maintained to stay operational and secure)
A few plugins that I regularly use for optimal functionality, speed and security are All In One SEO, Captcha by BestWebSoft, Contact Form 7, Limit Login Attempts Reloaded, Really Simple SSL, Smush, and WP Super Cache.
Also, keep in mind that most plugins that you install will have settings that need to be set up or adjusted individually.
What to Include on Your Author Website
There are a few factors to keep in mind when designing your author website.
- Make sure that your design fits your genre. Images, titles, and even the site’s color scheme all give visitors an impression about you and your books before they ever begin reading anything on your site. And if your visitors get the wrong impression, they may leave before giving you a chance.
- Author bio. Readers feel more connected with an author when they know something about them. A professional quality photo of yourself, along with a few personal details can go a long way in allowing readers to feel like they have a bond with you. More details about what makes a bio effective can be found here.
- Include your books. This suggestion is kind of obvious. Just make sure that you remember to either allow readers to purchase your books directly from your site or link to Amazon or another retailer where they can purchase them.
- Reviews and accolades. Is your book an award winner? Did it receive a positive editorial review (such as an Indies Today review) or a prominent endorsement? Then make sure that you share that type of information with your website visitors.
- Newsletter sign-up form. As mentioned earlier, a newsletter can be a very valuable marketing tool for authors. View this article to learn more about which newsletter service might be your best option. Similarly, providing links to your social media can help your readers to keep in touch with you.
- And more… It’s your website, so it’s really up to you what you decide to include. Do you want a blog, which can be good for your SEO? Or how about a contact form so that readers can send you messages? What about giveaways? Perhaps a press kit? Your options are as limitless as your imagination (well, unless you’re a fantasy writer!).
If you still have questions about having an author website, or if you want to discuss how I can help with your specific website needs, you can contact me and the Indies Today team at IndiesToday.com/why-get-author-website/#service.
For authors that already have a website, what platform do you use? Let us know! Also, if you have any tips on specific WordPress themes or plugins, or if there are any aspects or functionalities that you find useful on your website, feel free to comment those too.
Having an author website is a great idea for those that want their craft to be taken seriously. Author websites are also a great way to connect with readers and market to them. Best of all, having a website doesn’t need to involve becoming a techie or breaking your budget. With so many options available, no matter how specific your needs are, no matter how tight your budget is, and no matter how tech savvy you are (or aren’t), there is still an option that is a good fit for you. So, what are you waiting for? Get your site online today!