Your First Website

career indie author

career indie author introduction

B. Your First Website

1. How to build your website

The Career Indie Author is intended to be used as a map, showing you the wide, expansive terrain of indie publishing. Doing everything suggested in these pages is not recommended. Some techniques may not work with the kind of books you write. You may not have the interest in doing videos or podcasts. You may not have the money to hire a great cover artist or design a cool website.

That’s all right. The CIA’s purpose is to guide you over the landscape of possibilities. It’s up to you to pick and choose what you think will work.

your first website

The biggest risk with owning your website is finding someone to help you if there’s trouble.

There is one exception: Second to having books to sell you must have an online presence. That means a website. It doesn’t have to be a flashy website that the best-selling authors have. It doesn’t have to have a forum (which I wouldn’t recommend). It doesn’t even have to have a blog (we’ll get into that later).

But if you want to be taken seriously as an author, if you want readers to find you and your books, you have to have something to show them online. And that means a website.

So let’s break down the process by deciding what your options are and their plusses and minuses. I’ll tell you the cost, the amount of time you need to put in, and the expertise you need to master.

Personally, I believe that if you are intending to make a career out of selling your books, if you’re in it for the long haul, you should have a website that you own and that you have complete control over. When your site is being hosted by someone else — Google’s Blogspot, Facebook, WordPress.com, Wix, Squarespace — you’re fortunes are tied to theirs. If the company vanishes, you’ve lost the credibility and search engine juice that you’ve built up. Look at the musicians would set up their website at MySpace, or those who had personal websites at Geocities.

But I also recognize that I have a lot of years experience in dealing with websites. And as I was researching this article, I realized there was a way for you to have a cheap, good-looking website, and still retain some control over it should the hosting company go bankrupt.

First, a few basic definitions:

Domain name: This is the address of your website that has to be typed into the search bar. It begins with “www” — I know, I know, officially it’s http://www.yourwebsite.com, or even https: — ) just bear with me for a moment. Sites that let you build a website for free give you some leeway in creating a domain, but they’ll stick their name in it as well (for example: “www.blogspot.billpeschel.com” . You can also pay a yearly fee for your own domain name (they say buy but, really, you don’t own it for life, unless you cough up the dough), but if you want to use it at Wix, you have to upgrade from their free plan. We’ll get into that shortly.

Web host: The company who sells you space on their servers (a box with a lot of memory) where your web site is stored.

If you’re just starting out, there’s nothing wrong if you want to start at Blogspot or WordPress.com or Wix. They’re great places to get your feet wet and to get you a basic knowledge of websites and what they can do. But eventually you’re going to want to have a domain name that you own where people can find you. That you can set up exactly as you want it.

There are three kinds of websites: those free to set up, those you have to pay a monthly fee, and those you own. The boundary lines between the first two options are blurred because a service such as Wix or Weebly offer both free and paid plans. Just keep that in mind as we discuss the options below.

A. Free Plans: Blogspot, WordPress.com, Wix, Weebly.

If you know nothing about websites or computer programming, these are ideal places to start. They have free plans that allow you to build your website using a template, which is a bare-bones skeleton of a webpage. To do things like change the color, fonts, and add stuff, you drop icons onto a page to make it look the way you want it to. This is called “drag and drop programming,” but no code-writing actually takes place.

The advantage of this plan is that it’s free, you can get a website up and running very quickly, and you don’t have to deal with more complex issues such as buying a domain name, finding a company to host your website, telling its servers where to find your name, and some of the more technical details of running a website.

The disadvantages of a free plan are that, as we said earlier, your fortunes are tied to the fortunes of the company. If the company goes down, your site goes dark. Not only do you have to scramble to find another hosting service to get your website back online, but you’ve lost any search engine optimization juice you have built up by being in the same place over a long period of time. Until the search engines catch up to your new location, can expect to see a drop in visitors to your website.

Another disadvantage of these free plans are that they make you use a domain name that identifies you as a cheap author. Instead of having a domain name such as www.billpeschel.com, you will have www.wix.billpeschel.com. I don’t think you be penalized too much for having a cheap domain name like this, but it’s not going to help you either in terms of your reputation. Eventually you’re going to want to live at www. billpeschel.com. So why not start now?

The company also has the right to run ads on your pages. If you want those removed, you’ll have to pay them.

Another free option is Blogspot, run by Google. It’s a free service, easy to set up, and because it’s run by Google, you get an advantage in search results from that company. Blogspot sites are very limited in terms of design. I’ve seen some that looks very nice, but plain. If you don’t mind that, this could be an ideal solution.

(By the way, I happen to know at least one experienced writer who has been on Blogspot for many years and continues writing for it to this day. Visit Lynn Viehl at http://pbackwriter.blogspot.com/ and see what can be done.)

B. Paid Hosting

The next step up from free hosting is paid hosting. At some point, you may get tired of seeing your name connected with the hosting company in the domain name, you may want more bells and whistles for your site, and you may wish to remove the company’s advertisements from your blog (this is why you’re paying nothing).

Fortunately these companies offer paid plans in which for anywhere from five dollars a month on up you gain more benefits. You’ll be able to buy a domain name. The ads will be gone.

Buying a paid plan from these hosting providers could strike a very good balance between your need to have a good-looking site without having the computer knowledge to handle the problems behind it. I come from an amateur computing background. I’ve been working with computers since the 1980s. I’m comfortable with them. I used to build webpages using HTML coding. I’ve worked on a number of blogging software platforms. So that’s why I use WordPress with a hosting provider to run my company.

But you may not have that computing knowledge. You may not be interested in learning how to code a webpage. (Which by the way I’m talking about a very simple coding such as to bold ( to turn on and to turn off) or underline or italicize words.)

But what about cost? I think they are comparable. Depending on the plan you choose a paid hosting provider may cost you anywhere from five dollars a month on I pay roughly $10 a month to use WordPress at HostGator. So I think that washes out.

C. Roll Your Own

The third option is to hire a hosting service to host your website, install a blogging software such as WordPress, and design your site from the ground up. This can be a complex undertaking but will result in a professional looking website that will make you look as big online as any New York Times best-selling author. It allows you the freedom to put up whatever material you want to support your books.

website hackedThe disadvantage, of course, is that means you’re responsible for anything that goes wrong on the website. The hosting provider is responsible for keeping your website up, but if you don’t keep WordPress updated (an automatic process, but you still have to start it), you may visit your webpage one day to find it’s been hacked.

This just happened at the that the time of writing this book. WordPress updated its software, then three days later it was reported that older versions had a serious hole that allowed hackers to enter and deface the pages. Imagine the online equivalent of a vandals spraypainting the side of your house. Amateur “Script kiddies” using automated software have been attacking the sites and leaving their names up. The solution was simple: keep your website updated. But like dental visits and New Year’s resolutions, it can be difficult to follow through.

Then there’s the problem of setting up your website and designing the pages. WordPress has canned themes that give you a good start. Most of them are pretty bland, so if you want one with more flair and flash, you either have to learn how to do it yourself, or hire someone to do it for you.

When you hire a person to design your website, they’ll work with you on the design. When it’s done, all you’ll have to do is post blog posts and keep the site updated. It will cost you money, but a polished author website will leave a better impression on potential readers, then a free webpage at Wix or Blogspot.

Again, there is no one correct answer. You will have to decide for yourself, how much time, money, and energy you want to devote to this. The only way to find out is to jump in and see for yourself.