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What’s the point of an author website?

Posted in Just for Writers

WebsiteDesignThere are plenty of gorgeous websites out there for books and authors, but I think that a surprising number of them miss the point and frustrate their readers and potential buyers.

Over time, I have evolved some firm opinions about what should be on Author and Publisher websites. It seems only fair to put them up here so that others can shoot at them.

In brief, the point of an Author website is to own and control all the information about your products so that you can tell readers what they want to know and turn them into fans who will buy your next book. It's really that simple. Almost no one builds their first Author website with that in mind, however, and it can take quite a while for them to clarify what they're doing with it.

Let's explore what that mission statement means, in a 4-page post…

1. Your author website is the central point for all information about books & author

If your Author website is going to be the place where everyone comes to find out about your books, no matter where they ran across you, then there are some logical implications.

1.1 It must be owned and controlled by the author

This is how you are represented to the world. It is your fundamental platform. It belongs to you and you don't want to ever lose control over it. You have to control its domain name and its web hosting.

1.1.1 Domain names (URLs)

That means you should own your domain (URL). Find an unused domain based on your name, if you can, but since it should match the name you use as an author that will be difficult if you have a common name or if you have multiple pen names that you want to combine on a single author site.

In that case, use a conceptual name or combine your name with something to make it unique (MyCommonNameBooks). Neither of those choices is ideal, but I favor the conceptual name (e.g., HollowLands) over the combo-author name, because the latter seems more amateurish to me. Some authors with pen names prefer one site per pen name.

Keep in mind that if you choose to write in multiple genres, a conceptual name will need to be broadly applicable (“NoirWorlds” might not work well for a Christian Romance diversification).

You will own your domain name (URL) for as long as you pay for it. That's the closest thing to permanent we have for the internet. If there is a successor in twenty years (the internet was barely around thirty years ago), I would expect to retain unique ownership to whatever succeeds it.

1.1.2 Hosting

There are free web-hosting services, but you should host your site using a service that you control and pay for (and you can usually consolidate your domain renewals there, too).

If you host it on someone else's free site, like WordPress.com, what will you do if they change the rules or go out of business? If you're using WordPress.com, switch to WordPress.org instead and find a hosting service that supports it (they all do). If you decide to change to a different hosting service later, that is a common business practice and all reputable hosting services make that a straightforward task.

Your site should be maintained in industry-standard software (WordPress is a common choice with many lovely templates). It is far better to use a standard platform rather than an individually designed and built custom website — that's much more difficult to maintain, dependent on the person/firm that built it, and you may have a non-functional site if something goes wrong and there's a delay in fixing it. Big companies can afford to hire techies to write and maintain their websites — you can't.

The favored software platform for building websites like yours will change over time, and you should anticipate having to upgrade it every couple of years or so within the basic software (e.g., new WordPress templates) or moving to a new software platform every 5-10 years. That will mean re-creating all the static pages and as many of the blog pages (and their comments) as you think useful.

No software platform lives forever. None of them. This will happen, and you should plan for it now.

1.1.3 Costs

There's no reason for any of this to cost much. I pay about $12/year for the HollowLands domain. I own about a dozen websites, and the cost of hosting all of them is well under $100/year. Each lets me set up unique email addresses (e.g., KarenMyers@HollowLands.com) that I forward to my single primary personal email for convenience.

1.1.4 Expertise

I used to build websites by hand (in the bad old days when this was necessary) but now all of them are based on WordPress with various templates, all are mobile-friendly, and all are easy to maintain.

If you don't feel that you are capable of figuring out how to do this and call someone in to help you, be sure you have them document what they're doing and explain it to you, in case they become unavailable or you need another helper later.

The best help would be someone who sets you up in a standard environment like WordPress, instead of a custom-built one. That one-time cost is a tradeoff for you acquiring the knowledge to do it yourself, and if they explain it well to you, you might become empowered to do your own support when the time comes.

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16 Comments

  1. Ms. Myers,

    While I’m not exactly new to writing, I am just getting started seriously trying to publish – and with that, professionalize something that’s always been more of a hobby. To that end, this post was an invaluable catalyst to get me thinking about managing my image as an author.

    I think I’ll especially benefit from the advice you gave about the transient nature of website platforms – I’m currently using the free wordpress.com, which, come to think of it, isn’t a great idea. (The above website is a webcomic I’ve been doing for fun).

    I just wanted to say thanks.

    Daniel

    July 22, 2015
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  2. Karen. I read the shorter version on ALLi, came here for the rest. Best article I read to date on Author websites. Will be sharing with friends.

    September 1, 2015
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    • Thanks, Shawn. I was all prepared to pontificate to a friend on this topic and thought, why not make a monster article about it instead?

      September 1, 2015
      |Reply
  3. Karen — I also came via the ALLi site and think this is one of the best articles I’ve read on author websites. Thank you — you have given me some food for thought! 🙂

    Colleen

    September 8, 2015
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  4. You have a lot of books out; I have one – and the next two books in the trilogy will easily consume the next two-four years of my writing life.

    I’m overwhelmed by these pages – nodding my head, but not seeing how to get there from where I am.

    I need the absolute minimum of what you have – so I’ll be thinking what I can add or rearrange for now.

    It is obvious you know what you’re doing – so many people don’t. Time! Can’t but more of it – waste so much due to illness. Not even procrastination. That’s the sad part.

    January 15, 2017
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    • No one goes from zero to sixty in a single website creation — it’s just too much, unless you do website design for a living, and even then you have to convince your customer that you know what you’re doing (if the customer isn’t yourself).

      Instead, the first website takes care of a lot of the basics. Then, as soon as it’s done, you start to understand a lot better what it doesn’t do (yet) that you wish it did. You have to go through these iterative steps to understand what you need to do to it next — there’s really no shortcut.

      January 15, 2017
      |Reply
  5. Hi Karen,

    I found your article via a blurb at the end of a different article at selfpublishingadvice.org. I am enjoying browsing your posts and learning a great deal – thank you so much. I wonder if you would mind divulging your web hosting company? A dozen domains with hosting for under $100/year is a great deal! I’ve recently switched to the free hosting at wordpress.com because of cost. But you have me re-thinking that move. Thanks again for all you’ve done here.

    January 27, 2017
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    • Hi, Liam,

      I use a company called Hostica.com, and in particular their package “SimplePlus” which I’ve used for several years which covers, as I recall, 10 hosted sites. I have more domain names (parked or redirecting) and a couple additional hosted sites which I pay for individually.

      The last time I did the reconciliation, in 2015, the domains cost what domains typically do (circa $9-$13/year), and the hosting cost $60 for the 10 hosted sites, and $7-9/annually for the additional ones, each.

      Now I have very simple hosting requirements — basic HTML, WordPress, a few mailboxes (all of which forward rather than store), etc. All of my sites are on shared IPs (I’m not high volume). If you enabled all possible bells & whistles, might cost more.

      Don’t know how grandfathered I am — the plans being offered now might be a bit more expensive. But I’ve had a very good many years with Hostica, good support both for emergencies and ordinary things, and excellent availability. I do recommend them.

      January 27, 2017
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      • Wow, Hostica looks fantastic. I’m currently paying close to the SimplePlus plan to host one bare-bones site. My needs are very similar to yours. I was about to sign up for the SimplePlus plan, but I noticed they have an affiliate program – I will happily sign up through you Karen if you’d like. https://www.hostica.com/pap/affiliates/index.php

        January 28, 2017
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      • Thanks very much, Liam — I had no idea Hostica had an affiliate program.

        I’ve signed up for the affiliate membership. They tell me there’s an approval step to go through. (“You have been successfully signed up. We review every application manually, and your registration is waiting for manual approval. Please, be patient. After confirming your registration, you will receive one more email from affiliates@hostica.com with all the necessary information including your password which can be changed once you sign in. “)

        So, if you can wait a day or two, I’ll contact you with that information, by email (and if you can’t wait, I’ll understand.) 🙂

        You can reach me via email at KarenMyers@HollowLands.com, and I’ll reply to you that way.

        January 28, 2017
        |Reply
  6. Very helpful. Thank you! I’ve had too many websites over the years (some abandoned owing to long-term ill-health; others ‘cos they went hopelessly wrong, beyond my ability to do anything but scream ‘Arghhh!’; two went belly-up because 1) My website designer became uncontactable, and 2) ‘cos they took my money and left town). I’ve now got a self -hosted WordPress website (with Hostgator-though yours sounds Mmm). I will now attempt to follow your excellent suggestions. Fingers crossed!

    February 16, 2019
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    • Glad to give you something to think about.

      Since this article was written, I’ve settled on a 3-part website structure:

      1) Publisher (https://PerkunasPress.com). Info directed at wholesale & business contacts. I now have new imprints for publishing I do for others (e.g., https://BehindTheRanges.com) which are “children” of the Perkunas Press organization.

      2) Author (https://KarenMyersAuthor.com). Info for my readers, where I send advertising/newsletters, etc. Limited blog. All my public branding focus for readers is here.

      3) Writing colleagues (https://HollowLands.com). A website of articles about writing & publishing, a small blog, and book info, for my colleagues in the business.

      The book pages on all 3 sites are functionally identical.

      February 17, 2019
      |Reply
    • If it helps, I’ve been using Hostica since that discussion above from 2017. Their user interface can be a little daunting, but the one or two times I’ve contacted them, support has been great. I have nothing to complain about and the price is still very right 🙂

      February 17, 2019
      |Reply

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