If you’re an author, published or not, you need your own website. Period.
Why am I so forthright about this? Because of the realities of publishing today.
You’ve heard and read of your need for an author platform—a following, a tribe, visibility. Well, that all starts with having your own author website.
Regardless of what you say about yourself and your work when pitching agents and publishers, one of the first things they do—sometimes even before reading the rest of your proposal—is conduct an internet search for your name.
The first thing that ought to pop up is your author website. Google my name and you’ll be directed to JerryJenkins.com.
In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to Google any published author’s name and not find their author website with a custom domain name (usually, like mine, their own name).
No way around it, an author website is crucial.
The Purpose of an Author Website
It’s where agents, publishers, readers, and fans learn about your work and communicate with you. It gives you:
1. Instant credibility.
A professional-looking author website puts your best foot forward and implies you’re a serious professional.
2. A showcase for your work.
Once you’re a published author, it’s where you can connect directly with your readers.
3. An opportunity to build a following.
This is what publishers and agents look for in potential authors. It’s where you collect email addresses and build a list.
Get your growing audience interacting with you and each other by posing a simple question or taking a brief survey on their favorite things: books, movies, celebrities—you name it.
If the Idea of an Author Website Intimidates You
Maybe, like me, you’re not a techie. Don’t worry. Below are simple instructions to get you started.
1. Choose Your Platform
A website platform is the foundation on which a website is built. It provides the best interactive experience for your readers.
Forty percent of all websites use WordPress, including me. Its user-friendly platform offers a huge variety of themes and allows us laypeople to build a professional-looking website quickly and for very little or no cost.
In addition to WordPress, my team also recommends Squarespace, Blogger, or Wix.
2. Select a Domain Host
If even the idea of “hosting” a site sounds foreign to you (it did to me at first), think of the Internet as an apartment complex. Tenants decorate their apartments the way they want—but they don’t own that space. The landlord does.
Landlords own the hardware that makes websites work. These are also called hosting companies, so you rent your online space from them.
Of course, they don’t own your author website. You are responsible for everything posted there. Your hosting company makes sure your website is broadcast on the internet 24/7.
Free hosting is available. Most free host sites require you to either use their address (for example: yourname.wordpress.com or Ilovebooks.wordpress.com) or purchase the domain name from them.
In exchange for using their “free” space, they’ll place ads on your author website. You have little control over what those include.
If you can afford to pay for web hosting, you’ll find companies like GoDaddy, HostGator, and others. I recommend Bluehost. Until you start reaching hundreds of thousands of readers, Bluehost should be all you need.
- It broadcasts a website for less than $9 per month and offers a 30-day money-back guarantee.
- Bluehost customer service is accessible 24/7.
And should you choose WordPress, Bluehost has supported that platform for more than 10 years and has in-house WordPress experts.
Full disclosure: I get a commission (at no extra cost to you) if you use that link to sign up for a Bluehost service. But I’d recommend Bluehost regardless.
3. Pick a Domain Name (URL)
This is your web address, your URL. (which stands for Universal Resource Locator—I had to look that up). The most economical way to purchase one is through your hosting site. I pay an annual fee to own JerryJenkins.com.
Choosing yours is easier than it sounds—just use the name under which you publish or plan to publish.
I recommend capitalizing each of your names for easier readability, but that’s not mandatory.
If your domain name is already in use, you’ll get a message that says your choice is “not available for registration” or something similar.
You have a couple of options:
- Choose a different website extension. “.com” is preferred because it’s the most common, but “.net” or “.co” work just as well
- Choose a new domain name
Keep it simple—“TimothyWoodfordWriting.com” is good; “TimothyWoodfordsGreatWritingWebsite.com” is not. Keep your domain name simple, professional, and clear—not quirky or extravagant.
4. Add Domain Security
When you purchase a domain name, ICANN requires you to provide your personal contact information, making it publicly available.
When you purchase domain security, a third party becomes the owner, thus protecting your personal information by taking over as landlord.
Bluehost calls it Domain Privacy Protection. It’s included in the Prime Plan at no additional charge. If you opt for the Plus or Basic plans, the fee is well worth the extra 99¢ per month.
Build and Design Your Author Website Yourself
Avoid the temptation to settle for one of the quick and easy website designs that look like everyone else’s, giving it a small-time feel. Creating your own great-looking custom site has become easier and cheaper than ever.
If, however, you simply don’t want the hassle, and your budget allows it, hire someone to do it.
Pages to Include on Your Website
Keep your menu simple and uncluttered. The last thing you want is to confuse your visitors.
The homepage is the landing page, the reader’s first impression.
As you choose your design and layout, keep in mind the real estate at the top of your homepage is the most valuable on your entire website.
Most designs include:
- A header that identifies you, and offers a tagline that usually appears at the top of every page. My tagline is “New York Times Bestselling Novelist.” Novelist Brandilyn Collins uses Seatbelt Suspense®. Novelist DiAnn Mills uses “Expect an Adventure!”
- The cover of your most recent book, or the latest work you wish to promote. I offer a link to a free writing assessment to help writers find the guidance they need to begin writing the book they’ve always dreamed of writing.
- Links to the social media sites you appear on.
- A unique invitation to connect via email (called a lead magnet), so you can communicate with visitors regularly. I offer a quiz to help writers reveal what’s holding them back. I offer to email free material that will help them grow as a writer.
- Reader reviews and media coverage.
Do not include “Home” as part of your website’s navigation. Since it’s the landing page readers see first, that’s obvious.
Whatever your design, be sure it quickly identifies who you are and what you offer.
This is one of the highest-ranked (and most overlooked) pages on most websites. A reader wouldn’t visit your website if they weren’t curious about you, so use this to get them up to speed.
Make it as easy as possible for readers to communicate with you by posting a brief list of reasons they might contact you:
- “I’d love to hear your thoughts on…”
- “If you’re looking for a speaker on…”
- “If you’re looking for a writer who…”
And then, of course, link to your contact information and include an invitation to opt-in to your email list.
If you’re a published author, include a list of your book(s).
Wherever you place yours, include:
- Your book cover(s)
- A brief description of the book(s)
- A link to where your book(s) can be purchased
- A link to any other materials you offer, like the introduction or first chapter, FAQs, or a study guide.
If you’re unpublished, you could link to any work you’ve published online or describe your work-in-progress.
A blog helps establish your credibility as an expert in your area of expertise.
If you add a blog, don’t make it your homepage. Linking to specific posts that direct them to your blog makes for a less cluttered appearance.
Regularity is more important than quantity. Visitors to your site appreciate knowing when they can expect a new entry.
Make more content visible on your blog page by offering the image, title, and the beginning of your most recent posts.
Because of the variety I offer writers, I include a dropdown menu that categorizes my content.
If you host book signings or speaking events, post your schedule on this page.
The Fine Print
Your website should include:
- A link to your Terms of Service: what happens when you collect an email address, what you’ll send, whether you’ll sell your email list, etc. (here’s mine)
- A Copyright notification
Conventional Expectations for Web Design
Effective design can only enhance your website.
If your page proves difficult to navigate and or read, you may discourage visitors from staying long enough to learn about your work.
1. Avoid too many different type styles or illegible fonts
Use clear, easily readable fonts, such as Times New Roman, Open Sans, or Garamond. Resist the urge to pick something quirky.
You want your author website to reflect your personality, but let your writing do the talking, not your font.
Limit yourself to fewer than three typefaces. Two will usually suffice: one for headers and one for body text.
2. Limit your colors
A simple color palette highlights the professionalism of your website and is easy on the eyes.
My website features a limited palette of blue, white, and black.
3. Direct visitors rather than distracting them
Too many images, pop-ups, and buttons can clutter your web page and confuse viewers.
Put the focus on your novel.
Make it easy for viewers to find the essentials: your About page, your blog, where to purchase your books, etc.
Hiring a Web Designer
Designing your own website can be incredibly complex.
While you can do it yourself, there are reasons to hire a professional designer.
1. It saves time
While a web designer costs money, the investment will save you time.
2. Certain web designers specialize in author websites
3. A bad website reflects on you
An amateurish website is not worth saving a little money.
Invest in a professional who can help you put your best foot forward to agents, publishers, and ultimately readers.
Track Your Website’s Performance
How do you know readers are finding your site and reading your content?
Many free tools can tell you everything you need to know.
This is the most in-depth and is used by more than half of all websites.
It’ll help you understand:
- Who’s visiting
- Where they’re coming from (online source and geographical location)
- Whether they’re on a mobile or desktop device
- How many and which pages they’re visiting
- How long the visits last
- Which page they visit before they exit
- How long the entire visit lasted
How to set it up:
- You’ll need a Google account. Then go to Google Analytics and click “Start for Free.”
- That will lead you to a page that invites you to “start measuring.”
- Click there and enter the requested information. When finished, click on “Get Tracking ID.”
- Accept the Terms and Services to obtain a tracking ID, a number that looks like this: UA-123456-7. Beware: this number is unique to the security of your website.
- Once you have your tracking ID, you’ll be directed to the Admin page where your tracking code will be provided.
- Copy the tracking code and install it on every page of your website. This will enable Google Analytics to measure and report your activity.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)…
…is a way to increase traffic to your website and improve your ranking on search engines like Google, Bing,Yahoo, DuckDuckGo, Dogpile, and others.
A tool like this can greatly contribute to your success.
A Google search will yield far more detailed information on SEO than I can provide, but meanwhile, make this incredible tool work for you by:
Writing great in-depth content.
Gone are the days of “shorter is better” for a blog. What works now are 1,000+ word posts that go in-depth and use a variety of targeted keywords.
An easy way to determine what keywords people are searching for is to use your favorite search engine and try a few.
For instance, I searched for “Author Website.” Before I even finished typing the second word, I began getting results:
Use terms from that list in your blog, and you’ll trigger popular searches.
Build visibility through link building.
Described as currency for the internet, link building is getting other websites to link to yours, which requires relationships with other writers, experts, and influencers.
It improves your ranking on search engine results pages (SERP’s), and should yield an increase in traffic to your website.
The best way to do it? Create share-worthy content that establishes you as an expert, and builds a following.
Grow relationships by looking for great content you can share on your blog and social media platforms. Communicate with the author to get them to return the favor and share your work, and also to build a genuine relationship.
Exchange guest posts.
As you build relationships, invite writers to guest post on your site, and offer to return the favor to expand your following.
Using Your Author Website to Market Your Books
In today’s digitally driven world, an author website is an important part of marketing your book, but beware. Your webpage must benefit your readers more than it benefits you, and visitors quickly tire of being sold.
Give them regular takeaway value and they will be happy to occasionally hear what you have to offer.
Your author website is your home—where agents, publishers, and readers come to get to know you.
Your voice becomes your brand.
It’s your distinct:
Your voice sets the tone for your brand. I want my brand to be known for visitor benefits, not for book sales—though those will come if I succeed in offering those benefits.
Websites I find professional-looking:
Joanna Penn tells what she can do for you and why she’s qualified to do it. Everything you need to know about her is on the home page.
2. Eric Metaxas
You learn who Eric is, that he’s a New York Times bestselling author, what he’s written, what others say about him and his work, where you can get his email newsletter, and how to contact him. The website is easily navigated and has a dropdown menu of his other books.
3. K.M. Weiland
Simple, easy to navigate. A header offers a free copy of one of her books, tells who she is, and what kind of fiction she writes. The bottom of the page offers a glance at all her work.
4. DiAnn Mills
Beautiful, bright, and easy to navigate.
The header provides a glance at her work, who she is, social media profiles, speaking engagements, awards, mentoring opportunities, and email newsletter sign-up. The bottom displays her latest work, and a menu of other books she’s written.
Anthony’s website immediately tells you who he is, what he’s done, and what he’s working on. The menu is uncluttered and easy to navigate.
Your author website should serve you well for years, but it can and should evolve, just like your writing.
Looking for ways to grow as a writer? Here’s a list of online creative writing courses I offer.