It may give away my age, but I’ll admit, I’ve been developing websites since the mid-90s. (This is my company.) In other words, when it comes to developing an effective website, I may know a thing or two, so I’m putting this together to help out fellow authors as they embark on their own journey to build their author website.
How to Build an Author Website
If you don’t already own a domain name, register one.
Some things to remember:
- You may not need to pay to register a domain name depending on where you host your site. Most website hosts these days will provide free domain registration. More on that in the section on hosting below.
- Stick with a .com if you can. I’d avoid .net, .org, .info, .us and similar domains. If you want a country specific domain, that’s ok, too, but .coms still rule the Internet.
- I think it’s great to establish your author site with your own name, or the name under which you intend to publish. If your name is often misspelled, you might want to consider registering a second domain name as an alias, just so you can be sure folks will find you.
For hosting, I’m a fan of HostGator and in fact I recommend them so strongly I’m part of their partner program. Their hosting rates are super reasonable and they always include a free domain registration.
You have a couple of options:
- If you want to go really cheap, get their Shared Hosting, Hatchling Plan. As of this writing it starts at only $2.75/month if you prepay for a few years. Once you have access to your cPanel (your hosting dashboard), you can do a one-click install of WordPress.
- If you are way too intimidated by having to do your own install of WordPress, you can opt for the Managed WordPress hosting, which as of this writing starts at around $5.95/month.
No matter which option you choose, you probably don’t need all of the other things they’ll try to sell you. Just stick with the hosting. Also, if you can, go ahead and pre-pay for a few years. It will be much cheaper that way!
As writers, many of you may already have experience with a WordPress.com blog. Using the open-source WordPress.org version (which can be quick-installed through most hosting company packages) will allow you to quickly and easily set up an attractive website that you can easily manage from any web browser.
WARNING: I do NOT recommend using WordPress.com to set up an author site. You are far more limited on what you can use in terms of themes and plugins and they will nickel and dime you to death for everything!
INSTEAD, go with a self-hosted WordPress site. In other words, pick one of the hosting packages above and you’ll still be creating a WordPress site, only without all of their restrictions and without them having their hand out for you to pay them something for every little thing you wan to do!
There are plenty of good-looking free themes available, but if you’re willing to fork over a few extra bucks, there are a number of themes and theme frameworks that I think you’ll find are well-worth the money. In case you’re interested, my favorite WordPress themes use the Genesis framework. I use them for all of the sites I build.
- No matter what, look for a responsive theme. That means it will look good on any device. People will be able to read and navigate your site whether they are sitting at their huge desktop monitor, or using their smartphone while they’re in the waiting room at the dentist’s office. (Most sites these days are going to be responsive anyway, but I’m just mentioning this in case you stumble on some old theme that isn’t mobile responsive.)
- Content. I could probably write books on any of these topics, especially this one.
- The first content you need to have on your site is an About page. (Obvious, right?)
- You also need a way for people to contact you, either via e-mail, a contact form, Twitter, etc..
- If you’ve already written and published books or articles, put that on your site, with links if you are able.
- Think about writing blog posts about the world of your book, the characters, your research.
Please don’t create posts without images.
Seriously. People are visual.
Few books attract readers without an interesting cover. The same is true for blog posts. If it’s pure text, people might not be as likely to read it (unless it’s just a quick blurb — but if it were me, I’d still pick an image.)
Here are a couple of sites for completely free stock images:
One of my favorite things about WordPress is the variety of frequently-updated plugins. They can help you achieve everything from setting up social media icons on your page, to making one of those snazzy pop-ups to grab newsletter subscribers.
Here are some completely FREE plugins that might interest you:
- WooCommerce is the very best e-commerce plugin. You can sell your own books from your site, or any merchandise that you want to sell! There are paid add-ons that will also let you sell memberships or subscription content.
- PushAlert – Web Push Notifications – This is a plugin that does just what it says. It allows your users to sign up for push alerts so they will know whenever you have posted new content. It will provide a popup notification in their browser, regardless of where they are browing online, as soon as you trigger the alert.
- Revive Old Posts – This plugin’s FREE version will automatically post older content from your blog on a rotating schedule to your Facebook Page and to Twitter. There are other social media posting options in their paid version. You set up the schedule and let it do the work helping you dig up old content to share with potential new followers. It will also allow you to filter out content that you don’t wish to have re-posted.
- Blubrrry Powerpress – This plugin will let you set up a podcast with iTunes and all of the major podcasting outfits. They have a paid option if you want to host your podcast on their servers, but the free version works great for me!
- JetPack – This plugin is made by the same company that develops WordPress. The free version has a few super helpful features:
- They can store your site’s images in their super fast CDN (content delivery network) which can help your site run faster.
- You will be able to view quick site stats of which posts and pages are most popular right from your Dashboard.
- There is a neat feature that will let you easily start new posts by cloning a draft from an old post. This can be a great time saver if you have a certain kind of post format that you’d like to consistently use, say, on a certain blog series.
There is a ton to learn about developing an author site, or any site for that matter, but you’ll have to start somewhere. Relying on that old Blogger or WordPress.com blog might be ok when you’re writing as a hobby, but if you want to write as a career, you need to invest in your online image. I’m not saying you have to hire a website developer like me, but taking some of the steps above will help you set yourself apart as someone who takes their writing seriously.
Thankfully, there are ample resources available online to teach you virtually anything you need to know about working with WordPress, and depending on the theme you use, there might also be an active support system in place to answer your questions.
Have website questions? Ask me directly over at the Write, Publish, Succeed Facebook Group!
(Originally posted 10 Aug 2014; updated 5 Feb 2021)