Why you need an author website
Social media is all well and good. It provides a valuable outlet, a means of discovering and connecting with readers and it can be a way to get exposure and to market your book, but ultimately it’s not yours.
For example, do you pay for twitter? Facebook? Instagram? Tumblr? No, you don’t, which means you are dependent on terms and conditions you cannot control. And these terms can change at any time. When they do, your options are limited. You can 1) Accept the new terms, or 2) Stop using the service.
There is nothing wrong with this, but these platforms have been built with one priority, themselves. If they see a better way of doing things there is nothing to stop them changing how the platform works.
They are not a public service.
Facebook is a good example. Only a couple of years ago you could create a fan page. Any posts made by the page would be seen by all your followers. It was a free, easy way to reach your readers.
Then Facebook decided to step up its game and expand its ad platform. Now, if you want your posts to reach a widespread audience you have to pay for it.
That’s not a bad thing – the Facebook ad platform is very powerful – but it’s an example of a change that was made to benefit Facebook. People who depended on that platform to communicate with their audience were the ones who suffered.
What can an author website do?
Having your own website, that is, a site that you fully own and control, should be the foundation of your presence on the internet. Your author website should be the hub of your marketing activity, and all the social media you chose to use can be the spokes.
Each of your social profiles should point back to your author website. In this way, your property, not Facebook, or Instagram, or Twitter, becomes the destination.
But as well as serving as the centrepiece of your online presence an author website should consist of the following:
- A sensible domain name. For example your pen name, your real name (if you prefer) or something like ‘yournameauthor’ if your name is not available.
- An ‘about the author page’. This is where people can find information on you. It only has to reveal as much as you want it to, but having this page turns you from a faceless writer into a real person.
- Your books. Ideally one page per book for maximum impact. Each book page should include the cover, description and links on where to buy it. If you really know what you are doing you can list them for sale directly from your own site. Tip: Use affiliate links to sell your own books and earn a little more on each sale. Book series’ can have their own pages too.
- Social links. This allows people to find you on their social platform of choice. This is where you can add your social ‘spokes’.
- Email signup. This is one of the huge benefits of having your own site. You get to collect data that no-one else will give you. Amazon will never give you a list of readers. Facebook will never let you contact people without using their platform. An email list give you control. And email is still one of the most effective marketing tools around.
- A blog. This might not be for you, but some people like having a blog that allows them to post updated content.
I suggest that at minimum you have the following pages:
- About you
- Social links
- Email signup
Like anything else, it can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be. Think about what you want the site to achieve, and focus your efforts on making this happen.
If you want to sell books, then make your book page and links as prominent as you can and direct people to places like Amazon as quickly and easily as possible (using your affiliate links, remember!)
If you want to get people to sign up to your mailing list, then make your sign-up forms big and obvious. Make things easy. Give them a reason to sign up – advance copies, free books, extra content etc. There’s nothing wrong with giving people a push.
How much does it cost to make a website?
Not very much at all. There’s a range of options, of course, but all you really need is a domain and a hosting service.
Domains can run from about £1-£15 per year depending on whether it is a .co.uk or a .com or something else, and special offers are common. (The domain for this site only cost £1 for the first year.)
Note, domain ownership is typically public information. You can buy something called domain privacy for around £6 per year which will keep this hidden. (You might be deluged with offers from Indian design companies if you don’t.) Personally, I think £6 a year is worth it to avoid the hassle. It’s only the price of a coffee and a muffin, after all.
If you want to keep things simple it makes sense to buy your hosting from the same place you buy the domain. It’s not required, but it means there is less technical work to do behind the scenes as the domain will probably already be pointing to the right servers.
Some hosts I have personally used in the past are
- Fasthosts – They currently charge £2.50 per month for simple WordPress hosting. Their services are good, reasonably priced and I think their control panel is one of the best. I use Fasthosts for all my domain names. Their telephone support is great.
- UK2.net – I used this company to host an online business. It’s more expensive than Fasthosts, but I think their servers are a little faster. WordPress hosting costs from £4.99 a month.
- Siteground – My current host. They offered a good deal on multiple websites for a two-year upfront payment, but they worked out cheaper than Fasthosts (The above Fasthosts deal wasn’t available when I set up my original site.) I find their service a bit faster than Fasthosts, but their control panel is more complicated
Note: Most prices you will see for hosting will probably be assuming you pay annually in advance, and will be plus VAT.
All in all, you should be able to buy a host and a domain for one year for less than £50.
You keep talking about WordPress…
I do! Because I love it.
WordPress is a company of two parts. WordPress.com is a service. Wordress.org is a free and open source platform which you can use to do anything you want.
WordPress.com provides hosting services on their own servers. This is mostly free, often cheap, and very simple. They can do most things you want, and sell you plugins and themes to make your site look great and add features. You are still using someone else’s platform, but it’s a very good one.
WordPress.org is the home of the WordPress software which you can download and run on your own server for free – completely for free – and because it is the same software which powers WordPress.com it is tried and tested.
If installing the software on a webhost sounds technical, don’t worry. Many hosting services these days will install and configure the whole thing for you with just a couple of clicks.
WordPress is a great choice for an author website because it is mature, proven, incredibly well supported, and allows you be super-technical or just start using it immediately. This site is built on WordPress, a collection of free plugins and one paid plugin to add some features not available out of the box.
And did I mention it’s free?
There are other options, like Squarespace (from $12 a month) and Wix (from free upwards). Both these services have more in common with WordPress.com, in that they are hosted services which don’t require you to have your own server. I don’t have any experience with these services but if some of our lovely lspag.co.uk members would like to provide a write up on any other options let me know.)
Some final advice: Even if you pick the simplest hosted service mentioned above, it is well worth taking the time to learn how to do this. It’s another skill you don’t need to pay someone for, and it is not as hard as you might think. Most importantly, if you know what’s involved you will better be able to judge and spot scammy (or just poor value) services often pushed to authors who don’t know any better.
How about an example?
Good idea. I’ve created a new author website to take advantage of my own advice. You can find it at www.peteradixon.com. It will be a work in progress so you can see how I’ve ticked the boxes I think are important.
Read the advice below, then keep anything you find useful and throw the rest away. Something is better than nothing but don’t stress over it too much.