Recently, we’ve been finding ourselves having conversations with our authors about author websites. “Should I do a website? Can YOU do a website FOR me?” We get that a lot. Here are a few bits of advice on whether a website is appropriate for you, as an author, and if so, what you should include.
SHOULD I HAVE AN AUTHOR WEBSITE?
Ask yourself this first: What would I do with my website? If the only reason you are considering a website is because your friends or family asked if you have one or you think you “should”…then you probably shouldn’t.
If your book offers information on a specialized topic, or is a memoir or biography that addresses moments in history or life experiences that are popular topics, a website has the potential to bring attention to your book from people searching online for further information.
If you will be handling distribution on your own (i.e. selling books yourself) or plan on offering speaking engagements or workshops, a simple website is probably a good idea. It is also an easy way for your network of contacts to spread the word about your book — if they like it, or simply want to help support you, they can easily share a link.
If you offer expertise on a particular topic and the idea of updating and adding new, timely content on a regular basis appeals to you, a blog is a great way to expand upon your book contents and build an audience.
We advocate for an author site, rather than a book-specific site, for two main reasons: 1) Who knows, you may find yourself writing another book! It’s easier to add another book to an author site than it is to create another site for a new book. 2) Many of our authors are professionals with expertise in a specific field and often have an established business. Some have an existing business site and some do not. For those who don’t, building a site under their own name allows them to promote both their book and their business and make the two work synergistically.
WHAT SHOULD BE ON MY AUTHOR WEBSITE?
Include the basics:
- Who are you?
- Why are you qualified to write this book (or what makes it special, if it is a memoir/biography)?
- Where can the book be purchased?
- How does someone contact you?
From there, you can consider adding:
- Testimonials on your expertise (for advice books)
- A blog
- An events calendar
- Information on speaking engagements or workshops
- Excerpts, photographs and/or video
- Social media links
Keep your site simple. Fancy bells and whistles are nice, but they can cost you a lot of money to incorporate and aren’t as easy to change as simpler design elements. They also may not work as expected across different platforms and devices. Quality information is a better sales tool than a spiffy video montage.
SHOULD I DO MY SITE MYSELF?
That depends — how much time are you willing to devote to maintaining your site? If you don’t already know how to use simple website management programs, such as WordPress, are you willing to learn? Are you willing to pay someone to do this for you? How often do you expect to be updating your site? Are you thinking about e-commerce?
Time — Managing a site on your own requires that you put in a time investment. You’ll have to design it and then you’ll have to maintain it. WordPress offers a basic, free option that can get you up-and-running right away with very little effort, as do other platforms and services.
Know-how — Using a simple platform, like WordPress, is easy for most people to master. The interface is simple to use and doesn’t require a lot of tech know-how. (We use WordPress to run this very blog.) Most blogging templates offer you an option to create an attractive homepage in addition to your blog. For a little more investment, you can claim your own URL and get rid of ad placements. Although WordPress is predominantly known as a blogging platform, it can be used to create and administer a simple website without including a blog. SquareSpace is another platform that allows simple site creation and optional blogging capability. In addition, it allows the incorporation of e-commerce (more on that below). However, unlike WordPress, it does not have a free option. Again, platforms like these are simple and user-friendly and many guides exist to help you through the process. But if you’re the kind of person who has problems with adding attachments to email, you probably want to enlist the help of a tech-savvy friend or relative, or hire a professional.
Paying someone else — If you’re willing to spend the money to hire someone else to set up (and possibly maintain) your site, great! Having someone else do the set up work often makes authors feel more comfortable, even if they plan to take over updating the site on their own. Note that while you can create your own site and even get hosting for free using many popular services, adding “extras” can incur charges. If you don’t understand what web hosting is; if the idea of trying to decide what is and isn’t worth paying for is daunting—these are good reasons to talk to a professional, outline what you want and consider using their services to handle site creation for you. If you would prefer to have your site hosted somewhere other than a free service, you will either need a working knowledge of how to do this on your own, or you’ll need to hire a professional.
Updating — Hiring someone for the set up is all well and good, but depending on what sorts of updates you plan to make—and how often you plan to make them—you may need some basic lessons in managing your own site. Professional site designers and web managers will charge you when you want to make changes. If you want to put up a new photo every month and you aren’t going to do it yourself, be aware that it will cost you. If you plan on a simple informational site with no future changes, you shouldn’t have any problems, but look into options that incorporate a Google calendar so you can add events on your own. We consider site updates—changing/adding images or video, adding new information (like events, press coverage or new books)—different from blogging. Blogs should be updated regularly with new, interesting content. Blog content should be original and generated by you (or if this is for a business, a representative of your company). If you don’t plan on regular updates, consider a simple news announcement section on your site that a web manager can update for you.
E-commerce — Authors who are not signed up for the Legacy Isle Distribution Service should think about how they want to handle book sales. Perhaps you’ll be working directly with a store or two, or a community group to sell books in a physical store. Maybe you want to accept mail orders only. Or, you could sign up with Amazon and sell through their site. The final option is to allow online purchases of your book directly through your site. PayPal and Square have made it easy for anyone to accept credit cards in person or online. There are many other e-commerce solutions, too, that allow you to create an online store managed separately from your website. Some e-commerce platforms will allow you to create basic informational pages and others do not, meaning that if all you want from your author site is to provide some basic information and allow online purchases, one of these platforms may work as a one-stop-shop solution for you. SquareSpace (not to be confused with Square, the payment services provider mentioned above) is an example of a website management platform that integrates e-commerce, making it an all-in-one solution. If you decide to incorporate e-commerce on your site, don’t forget that you’re committing to handling order fulfillment—make sure you charge enough to cover your postage expenses and send out orders in a timely fashion. If that idea doesn’t appeal to you at all, you will need to direct potential customers to an alternate method of purchase or sign up with Amazon.
If all of the talk above has got you completely baffled, your next step is to talk to a professional, or a friend or family member who is more comfortable with web design.
The most difficult aspects of what we’ve discussed are the site set-up and e-commerce. If you’re completely uninterested in e-commerce and you really don’t want to hire a professional to set up your site, take a look at what platforms like WordPress have to offer. Create a test site and keep it private while you see if you’re up to creating and managing your own site.
One last thing to remember: If you establish a website, be sure you’re ready to respond to inquiries received through your site. If you enable commenting on your blog, interact with those who comment. Answer emails or contact form inquiries in a timely fashion.
NOTE: Legacy Isle Publishing does not create nor maintain websites for clients. Our own main site was built by our sister company, Upspring Media, and our blog was created in-house using the free WordPress platform. We assume no responsibility for the content or services rendered by any third-party vendor mentioned in this post.