Author Websites: The Whens, Whys and Hows
If you don’t already have an author website, you’ve probably heard or read someone, somewhere, saying you need one. What may not be as clear is why you need one. Or when you need one. Or where to go next if you do decide you actually should have one. That’s why we’ve turned to Virginie Carmichael for help. As someone who has made a business out of helping authors with their websites, Virginie has the answers to all these questions, and more.
Being a successful author is not for the faint of heart. It requires dedication, planning and making some mistakes along the way. You might have already set up a website, and just given up on it because it’s too much of a time suck to manage. Or maybe you haven’t slayed that beast yet, because it just seems too daunting. Or you might not even be sure if an author website is worth your time.
We’re going to help you weigh the pros and cons of creating your very own space on the web.
When does an author need a website?
Not everyone is ready to set up their website, and that’s okay. If you’re a brand new author with less than 2-3 books under your belt, a website is not something you need to worry about just yet. There are other more important things to figure out first, like increasing your sales and fanbase!
If you also decide to jump on the KDP Select bandwagon, setting up your own website might not be as useful as someone who publishes on multiple platforms. You can still absolutely use a website (and I’ll cover why it can still be a good idea later), but it’s up to you to decide if it makes sense to spend time on it or not.
If you’re a seasoned author, then having your own website is one of the best tools you can have working for you. Once it’s set up and you’ve figured out your flow, it shouldn’t take too much effort to manage. If it does, you might need to reconsider how it’s set up.
What is an author website used for?
First, let me set your expectations straight. An author website is there to do one main thing: turn one-time readers into lifetime fans.
It doesn’t necessarily need to generate money in itself or bring you new readers. It absolutely can, down the road, but that shouldn’t be your main focus in the beginning.
Your focus should be on making sure that readers have a haven to go to when they’re looking for your next book, and give them the proper incentives to stick around a little longer. Your books are what are going to bring them in, and how easy it is to use your website is what will keep them around to discover all you have to offer.
Now that that’s said, how can you use a website to make your life easier and at the same time keep those readers within your own little ecosystem?
Link to your website in all your backmatter
Sending readers to your own website after they’re done reading your book means that you’re exposing them to your whole catalog without having to update the backmatter in every single book every time you publish a new one.
You don’t have to worry about links expiring or changing, you can simply link to your own website knowing that it will always be there (as long as you keep it online, that is).
One link, multiple storefronts
If you’re publishing on multiple platforms, it can be pretty hard (and tedious!) to add all those links to your book backmatter.
Instead, have a dedicated page for each book that you can easily update with links to all stores. Not only will this make your life easier, but your wide readers’ lives much easier as well, and a happy reader is a paying reader!
Even if you’re currently in KDP Select, it can be a good idea to direct readers to your website in your backmatter. Otherwise, if you ever do go wide, you’ll be forced to update all of the backmatter in your books.
Turn one-time readers into newsletter subscribers
Like I’ve mentioned before, one of the best tools an author can have is a solid fanbase, AKA your newsletter. Your website is the best way to collect those email addresses! You can offer an incentive such as a free book or free sample to get them to sign up. Just remember that the easier it is for people to sign up, the higher the chances they’ll actually do it.
That means having signup forms straight on your homepage and even in your website footer so they can show up on every page.
It’s a good idea to make sure your sign-up forms are obvious, but not invasive and in the reader’s way. If you do decide to use pop-ups, make sure they are easy to exit and don’t take over the whole page on mobile devices.
Optimize newsletter delivery with a custom email address
This is one of those things a lot of authors overlook. If one of your goals is to build a solid mailing list, it’s important to also consider deliverability. You wouldn’t want to waste all that effort building a list, only to wind up in the spam folder right?
The best way to avoid the spam folder and ensure high open rates is to use a custom email address to send from. It will look something like this:
Once that is set up, you’ll want to use that email address to send your newsletter. When setup properly, you’ll have a much higher chance to reach your subscribers’ inbox. This is because mass emails sent from a free email account (like Gmail or Yahoo) appear spammy to most spam filters.
The second thing you can do is authenticate your domain name, which means telling your mailing list provider that you actually own the domain, and giving them permission to send emails on your behalf. This is achieved by adding a DKIM and SPF record to your DNS. If you’re like “DK what??” don’t worry, you’re not alone. A lot of authors skip this step because it involves knowing a bit about tech.
Basically, your mailing list provider will give you some information that you need to add to your DNS records with your webhost. Because this step will be different for every mailing list provider and webhost, we won’t go into details here.
If you’re uncomfortable doing this yourself, I would recommend asking your webhost for assistance. Most good hosts will assist you in adding the code to your DNS for you.
Which company should you set up a website with?
Now that you’ve decided an author website is for you, it’s time to learn how to set it up!
Certain platforms are definitely easier than others, while some offer more flexibility and are a bit more difficult to setup. Let’s take a look at the platforms you could use and their pros and cons.
Generic Hosted Website
- Easy to get started
- Comes with support that can point you in the right direction
- Tends to be a bit more expensive
- There are limits to what you can actually achieve
SquareSpace can be a good option if you’re a relatively new author who isn’t quite sure yet if this whole “writing for money” is going to get serious or not. You’ll be able to get a website up and running pretty quickly, but it will limit your website’s potential as it’s more limiting than the other options.
Self-Hosted WordPress Website
Yes, there is a difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org. WordPress.com comes with hosting and has many limitations while WordPress.org is open-source and free, you just have to host it yourself.
There are many hosts out there, but my favorite is SiteGround. Their support is out of this world, which makes them especially good for anyone that doesn’t really know what they’re doing. Obviously, you can’t ask them to set up your whole website for you, but if you hit a roadblock, they’re usually more than happy to help.
- Cheap to get started (usually $80 to $120 for the first year)
- Very flexible, you can add almost any feature you’d like if you have the technical skills
- Requires either the willingness to learn the platform or an advanced knowledge of WordPress and how it works
If you don’t have a lot of funds, but a lot of time and a willingness to learn, setting up a self-hosted WordPress site can be very rewarding down the line!
Author-Specific Hosted Website
If you want the best of both worlds, we’ve built a platform called Novely that is made specifically for authors. You just answer a few questions and we’ll setup your website for you. Our plans include free setup and maintenance, so you only have to worry about updating it whenever you launch a new book.
- Much easier to add content than any other platform
- Minimal upkeep
- Easy to get started
- It’s built with authors in mind, so features are tailored towards your needs
- Can be a bit more expensive
If you’re successful enough to have the budget for a custom website, it’s always a great idea! Your web designer can help you pick which platform is best suited for you, and then set up your website for you.
Obviously, this comes at a much higher cost, and the maintenance cost can also be higher. You’ll most likely have to hire your web designer on a monthly retainer basis or have a techy virtual assistant who can help you maintain the site.
- Will fit your needs 100%
- You can use whichever hosts, platforms or software you want
- Starts in the $2-3K range and can go up to $10K depending on the complexity level of your website
- Most will likely also require a techy person to do the monthly maintenance
There are a lot of things to consider when it comes to setting up an author website, but if you take the time to set it up properly, it can make your life much easier. Just remember that whichever road you decide to take right now, you can always change in the future. At worst, you’ll lose a few hours and a bit of money, but you can always re-adjust as your needs change.
And if you haven’t found the right platform for you yet, don’t lose hope. There are so many website options out there, you’ll eventually find one that works great for you. Just give yourself some time, and take a break if you need to.
Building a quality website will be worth it, but if it takes a little bit longer than you had anticipated, it’s not a deal breaker. You’ll get to it eventually.