You’ve written and published a book. Maybe more than one. You need an author website.
As an author, part of your job is to attract an audience of rabid fans. These are people who will buy what you’ve written and what you’ll write in the future. To do that, you need to get your face (and your book’s cover) out in front of the world.
The most important part of that effort isn’t your Facebook page, or your Twitter following, it’s your own website.
In fact, your own author website is so important that traditional publishers will, at some point in the process, require you to have one.
According to print-on-demand publishing company Ingram Spark,
Authors and small publishers must have their own mobile-friendly, professional looking website — it is, by far, the most important element of a book marketing strategy.
Sure, you can use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, or other social media platforms to get the word out. But, like any other independent business person (which is what you are, after all), you need your own home base on the web.
One that you control.
Digital sharecropping just won’t cut it.
It doesn’t do you a bit of good to develop a healthy audience of people who like and follow your Facebook page if Facebook changes the algorithm so that you have to pay to reach those same people.
Your own website serves as the hub of all your marketing activity. Once that’s in place, you can incorporate spokes leading out to different social media sites, forums, groups, and so on. But your website is the central pivot.
The problem is, even the simplest website builders have a learning curve. If you’re like most of the authors I hang out with, you’d rather be spending your time writing or honing your craft, not learning the mechanics of how to get a website out into the world.
We’ll talk about that more in a few minutes, but first, let’s take a look at what your author website should include.
#1. Your pen name(s), and a brief biography
Readers love to know about authors. They want to know how they started writing, how they got interested in their subjects, and even some personal stuff.
Your bio will live on a page titled “About” or “Bio.” It should be engaging, personal, and interesting. It should not look like a resume that you’d submit with a job application. A lot of author sites present their bios way too formally. Whether you like it or not, your website is part of your effort to attract readers and encourage them to like you. They’ll buy a lot more of your books if you don’t sound dull and stodgy (unless the dull/stodgy crowd is the one you’re trying to attract!).
For an example of a fun, irreverent bio page, check out this one, by a children’s book author and illustrator.
Gretchen Rubin, who writes about happiness, does a nice job on her About page. The first section is informal and personal. Then she offers a slightly more formal, fleshed-out version, and finally, a version to satisfy stilted academics.
#2. A list of your books, along with information about where and how to buy them
This seems like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised at how many authors get it wrong.
Whether you have one book or 100 under your belt, put them here.
If you write in more than one genre, it’s a good idea to put all the sci-fi together, and all the suspense thrillers together. If non-fiction is your thing, group your books in logical categories to make it easier for readers to find what they’re looking for.
#3. A way for readers to get onto your mailing list. (Yes, you need one of those too. That’s a separate topic.)
Just like any other marketing website, you need a mailing list. It’s a way to keep track of the people who want to hear from you, and communicate with them directly.
You might have your opt-in on the front page, or in a sidebar or other location on each page.
Here’s an example, from thriller writer JF Penn.
Note that it’s not necessary to give away an entire book! Some authors will make a chapter available, some offer some other type of giveaway. You end up with names and email addresses that you can then send information to.
#4. A blog
A blog isn’t obligatory, but it helps your ranking in search because Google likes sites that are updated regularly. It helps you:
- Share news about what you’re working on
- Provide information about events you’re involved with
- Whatever else you’re doing that might interest your readers.
Regular blog posting also gives you more to share on social media, and provides something for your readers to share on social as well.
#5. Contact information
It’s important to give readers a way to contact you, usually via email. Ideally your email address should be something like firstname.lastname@example.org, not email@example.com.
It’s also a good idea to include the social media platforms where people can follow you.
#6. A page for media people who want to know more about you, interview you, contact you, etc.
Are you available for podcast interviews? Radio, TV, or newspaper? Do you want to take on speaking engagements?
How about book readings?
This is the place to spell out what you’re available for, and how interested parties can contact you.
If you’ve previously been interviewed — in print, audio, or video — and you can provide links to those, definitely do so!
Your testimonials can be all on one page, scattered throughout your site, or both. At a minimum, these will include glowing reviews from real readers who love your books.
If you’re using the website to offer services, they should have their own testimonials as well.
The items listed above are the minimum you should have on your author site. There are others you can have if it’s appropriate and you want them — pages that tell readers about services you offer, courses you teach, or writing tools you like, for example.
How to Start Your Website
First, keep in mind the one rule to rule them all — you need a home base on the web that you control.
That means, you don’t set up your “website” on Facebook, Tumblr, Flipboard, paper.li, Blogger, or WordPress.com. Because you’ll never control them.
Easy places to start include platforms like Wix, Squarespace, and WordPress (the self-hosted variety, also known as WordPress.org, not WordPress.com. Go ahead and read this explanation, then come back here. I’ll wait.)
Since you’re reading this article on a site called WordPress Building Blocks, I’ll bet you can guess that I’m going to gloss right over Wix and Squarespace, and go straight to WordPress. Because that’s what I do. . . There’s nothing wrong with Wix or Squarespace, they’re just not my thing.
Domain Name and Hosting are the foundation
If you don’t already have one, you need to register a domain name. That will be your site’s web address — the domain name for this site is WPBuildingBlocks.com.
There are plenty of domains that end in something other than .com, but if you can snag the right dot com name, you’ll have a leg up. Find out more about domain names in general here, and why authors should have their own domain names here.
Next, you need hosting.
Just as you install a program like Word on your computer hard drive, you need to install your website on a server. That’s the service the hosting company provides.
You can read more about hosting and how to get it here.
Next comes WordPress
WordPress is the program that serves up your website to site visitors.
It’s a Content Management System, and uses a database. Fortunately, it’s very easy to use and the complicated programming is very much behind the scenes. As a WordPress user, you’ll be adding and updating content. (If you can use Word, or Scrivener, you can use WordPress.)
Of course, there’s a little more involved in the initial setup.
Can You Build Your Own Author Website?
The answer is a qualified yes — yes, if you enjoy playing around with technology, you can definitely do it.
You can build a gorgeous WordPress site without knowing any coding or programming, as long as you start with the right tools.
The WordPress Beginner’s Blueprint is a great place to start, and there are plenty of helpful tutorials on this site that you can follow.
Lots of writers, though, would rather spend their creative time actually creating, not fighting with unfamiliar technology.
If you’d rather not tackle the site building yourself, let me do the heavy lifting for you.