What’s one of the first things I do when I discover an author I’m curious about?
Look ’em up online, of course.
If I can’t find them, it’s a total bummer.
Which means that if people can’t find YOU, it’s a total bummer.
If you want your books to be found, you’ve got to have an author website. Actually, it’s one of the most important things you can do as an indie author.
You want readers. And there are readers out there who want books. They even want the exact type of book you can offer them. But first, they need to find you.
Which is why author websites are so important.
Some authors freak out a bit when they realize they need to create a website. They’ve never built a site before so they put it off and what ends up happening? They do nothing. Instead, they pester their great aunt Hildy or spam author message boards asking people to buy their latest sci-fi.
Or worse, they list their books on places like Kobo and Amazon and pray for the sales to start rolling in while doing nothing else to market them.
Sorry, it doesn’t work that way.
Stop pestering your great aunt Hildy to buy your books. Create a smart author website and watch your readers come to you.
You want to be attracting authentic book lovers who WANT to spend money on your masterpieces.
But know what you need before these readers come to you?
You got it.
An author website.
In the future, I’ll be using my blog to talk about all the ways you can get people interested in your work as an author (guest blogging, social proof, authority building, etc). But first, having a hub that all these activities stems from is crucial.
There are so many tools to help you out these days. You don’t need to be a coder or whizkid. You just need to put in a little time and effort.
If you don’t have a website yet, or have one that hasn’t been updated since 2008, don’t worry. I can show you the step-by-step process for setting up smart author websites.
Sidenote: It’s possible to start a free blog at places like WordPress.com, Blogger, or Tumblr. But it’s not ideal.
The downside of going this route is that you’ll be forced to use their branded domain name (EmmaPickleWrites.wordpress.com instead of EmmaPickleWrites.com), and you’ll likely be subject to ads on your site. These ads will show up either in sidebars or embedded in your posts and can be pretty distracting.
Now, I get it. Sometimes you just want to take the free option because it’s easier and cheaper.
“I have to spend money on my author website? NO WAY. People should be paying me. After all, I did an English Major and five years of writing workshops. It’s not faaaaiiirr.”
I understand, and ultimately the decision’s up to you.
If you know your work has a very limited audience and your ultimate goal is simply to sell 25 copies of your chapbook of poetry about the beauty of the neon tetra fish, having a paid author site might not be for you.
Similarly, if you’re an unpublished author and don’t have anything for sale yet but want to start to build your presence online, you might not want to pay for a site yet.
Many of the bookselling strategies I’ll be covering will still be available to you if you choose a free site, so keep that in mind.
But, if you feel that now’s the right time (you want to look professional, want to maximize your selling, and know you have more books left to write), creating a paid author site is a smart idea.
Spending a few hundred dollars upfront can end up paying off big time.
Paid sites show people that you mean business
They look professional, and they’re foreward-thinking because they can integrate greater sales functionality down the line if you’re planning on selling more books—or other products, like writing courses.
In this post, I’ll walk you through the basic process of setting up your author website by using these steps:
- Purchase a website hosting plan and domain name (or choose a freebie site)
- Choose a site theme
- Prime your site for book sales by including must-have author content
- Create your author site now
1. Purchase a website hosting plan and domain name (or choose a freebie site)
A little internet 101 recap:
A domain name is what you type into the address bar to take you to a website. For example, this site’s domain is www.lindsayulrich.com
A hosting plan is the money you pay to a company to store (host) your website online.
You can buy these through separate companies, or through the same company. Personally, I find it’s easier to buy them both at the same place.
When you buy a hosting plan, you are creating a self-hosted website, meaning that you are in complete control of your website. Self-hosting is in contrast to free hosting and paid hosting sites, where your content is at the mercy of another party, such as Tumblr or Wix. (More on this later.)
Of all the domain/hosting companies I’ve used, I’ve found the most user-friendly has been BlueHost. BlueHost also offers a fast, 1-click WordPress integration.
This means that you can buy a hosting plan, a domain name, and quickly install WordPress within minutes.
Let’s check out a few features from BlueHost:
Here are the pricing plans:
A simple rundown of the 1-click WordPress install (click to enlarge):
From there, you’ll be able to log in to your website through a WordPress login screen (usually www.yourwebsitename.com/wp-admin), and build your site from there.
A snapshot of the WordPress back end:
To WordPress or not?
By now, you’ll probably have a sense of whether or not you’re up for the challenge.
Personally, I’m NOT tech-y by nature. I don’t code, and technology can, uhh, take me a while to figure out. (Late adopter over here, for sure.)
And yet, I can use WordPress. And I can use it pretty well.
I’ve realized that figuring out technology mostly depends on how much you want the end result. If you put in the time to figure it out (research online, watch free YouTube tutorials, ask a friend), you’ll probably be able to achieve what you want to achieve.
Money saver tip: If you already have a website with a hosting company, contact them to see if you can use an addon domain. This means that you’ll only have to purchase another domain name and NOT another hosting plan. Though your two sites will be under the same hosting umbrella, no one else will know this and the two sites will operate completely distinctly from one another.
If you’ve done your research and know that this WordPress business isn’t for you, don’t worry, there are simpler alternatives.
Here are a few popular website builder alternatives to WordPress. (These are the paid-hosting plans I mentioned before.)
Here’s a pricing and feature breakdown of these drag-and-drop site builders from this blog post. (Click to enlarge.)
I had never heard of Jimdo before, so I thought I’d take a look.
Jimdo is $7.50 CAD per month for a membership, which includes hosting and domain name registration, and your choice of some beautiful designs.
Let’s take a look.
Jimdo’s main page:
Here’s Jimdo’s pricing plans. For your author site, you’d only need a JimdoPro account. You can always try a free account to see if you like it.
From the homepage, I clicked on Templates and then Portfolio:
I liked the look of Shanghai, so I tried it out. It prompted this window where I could select a free or paid domain name.
Here’s the yearly cost breakdown for the JimdoPro account ($90). Or I could go with the 2-year option for $165.
Let’s take a look at how editing the site works. Here’s how the site looks, right out of the box:
Let’s see if we can make this very clearly an author site. I’ve updated the header image with a picture from my computer and edited the text.
I’m going for a modern noir detective vibe. Mission accomplished?
Here I’ve changed the main page image to something a little more splashy and in-line with Emma’s brand:
I could go on, but I think you get the picture.
Within seconds, I was creating my author website.
And what about blogging? Jimdo has blogging—you can read about it here.
Newsletter integration? You bet. For example, you can read about Jimdo’s Mailchimp integration by clicking here.
It’s a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) editor and will definitely help you create a top notch website. Definitely a powerful option for people who don’t want to fiddle around with hosting packages or domains.
Poke around a bit, and see what works for you.
2. Choose a website theme
Unless you’re a coder extraordinaire and have decided to hack it alone (in which case, why are you reading this post?!), you’ll want to choose a template/theme for your website.
I’ve already showed you one of my favourite portfolio themes from Jimdo, but there are also personal and even business themes that could work as author websites.
In general, I’d caution against any theme that makes your site look like it’s from 2001, but I’d also warn against anything too salesy or businessy (unless you’re selling non-fiction books and this would be an appropriate look for you.)
For fiction authors, books are long sales. Meaning, you build up an audience slowly and gain their trust through authentic writing and blogging. It’s a process. So you want your site to convey warmth and authenticity—not like you’re looking for a quick or impersonal buck.
A note about WordPress themes
If you’ve decided on a self-hosted website and are using WordPress, you’ll need to choose a theme. There are thousands to choose from, many of them free. Some are definitely more impressive than others.
But before you select one, make sure to choose wisely. Many of the elements (fonts, colours, borders, text widths) are baked into the theme and can’t be changed unless you know CSS or HTML.
So play around and select one you really like.
If you want to step it up a notch, and desire greater customizability, you might want to pay for a premium theme.
Premium themes generally cost between $30-$100, and can add a lot of professionalism to your site.
I want to give a shout out to The Theme Foundry. They’ve been making professional themes for almost 10 years, and offer some of the nicest ones I’ve ever seen.
My site is currently using their Watson theme. (Pretty, right?)
They’re currently offering 11 of their premium themes in a bundle for $79, which I think is a smokin’ deal.
Personal favourite: Their current theme leader is Make (not included in the bundle), a drag-and-drop theme with massive customizability and aimed at small businesses. It can make beautifully simple, blog-based sites as well.
It’s all about how you use it.
I will warn that there’s a bit of a learning curve with Make. Be prepared to take some time to learn the theme. Once you do, you won’t be disappointed.
And because we’re all book dorks here, an apt testimonial:
And the best part? You can try Make for free. When in WordPress, go to Appearance > Themes and search for Make.
I’ve used the paid and free versions of Make before, and both are super impressive.
Intrigued? You can take a look at a list of real websites using Make by clicking here.
3. Prime your site for sales by including must-have author content
By this point, you probably have an idea about how you’re going to set up your author website.
But, don’t forget the crucial stuff.
There are a few things your website absolutely needs.
Author websites must have these things…
The big 5
- Your name and genre – You want to build your name and let readers know, specifically, what you write. If they don’t know these two things within the first 2 seconds of being on your site, this info needs to be more obvious.
- An author bio page – Let your readers know who you are! Sounds simple, but people are interested in other people. Include a photo to help people get to know you.
- An email collection form – Even if you have no clue why you’re collecting these names and addresses right now, trust me, do it. (We’ll chat about it later 😊.) MailChimp is what I use, and it’s free if collecting under 2000 email addresses.
- Your books! – Make sure your book images are clear and easy to find. Have well-written and enticing blurbs about them to get readers interested in your work.
- Links to where readers can buy your books! – Next to your books, make sure to include a link so people can easily buy them. One click. Any more and people get confused, frustrated, and lose interest. Do you have more than one way they can buy your book? Great! Include them all.
4. Create your site now
I know this has been a lot of info, but I hope it hasn’t been too overwhelming.
As with many things in life, the biggest hurdle to overcome is often starting. Lots of authors fail to create their website because they want things to be perfect.
But here’s a thought: It doesn’t have to be perfect.
Just start. And improve your author site over time.
Pick the option that is within your current means and that resonates the most with you and just…start.
You can always adjust your site in the future.
No matter what option you choose for your author website, remember that there is no one way.
Whichever platform you choose, you can create a personalized, functional website that will help connect you to your readers and move those book sales along.
In the future, I’ll show you how to optimize your site for audience engagement, how to tap into an online community, and how to increase your sales.
But for now, build the darn site already 😉