19 Jun 2017
The website is the one of the few requirements for the career indie author. It acts as your online headquarters, where everyone can reach you. This post will outline what you need for your first author website.
After all, not everyone is on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or whatever social media site that’s popular today. Having a single location that reaches everyone, where you control the message you want to send, is the ideal solution.
This can be intimidating to new authors. Even those who have been on the internet for years and are comfortable with using browsers find themselves confronted with an unexplored world with unfamiliar terms and procedures.
Fortunately, there are plenty of resources to draw on. With patience and their help, you can get up a basic website that’ll work.
You must have:
1. A domain name you own.
2. A website built at that domain.
3. Information about each book.
4. Links to where you can buy your books.
5. Something about the author.
6. A way to contact the author.
Everything else — blogs, essays, links to social media, podcasts, book trailers; the bells and whistles of marketing and promotion are optional. Nice to have, but seriously, 100% of potential book buyers will visit your site to
a. See what books you have out
b. Look at the cover and read a description and an excerpt
c. And maybe learn something about the author.
A Domain Name You Own
A domain name is the site’s name that you see in the address box at the top of the browser. The domain name for Google is “google.com.” The browser adds the stuff to the left of the name (“http://”). As you add pages to your website, where to find them will be to the right of your domain name.
You buy your domain name from a site that sells them, such as NameCheap, BlueHost, GoDaddy, iPage, 1and1, and HostGator. There are plenty of sites that sell them, and googling “best domain name registrars for [year]” can get you the latest opinions online.
Domain name registrars charge different prices for them, so it’s best to shop around. Generally, expect to pay about $10 to register a name, and maybe $15 to renew it each year. Multi-year discounts are available. Fortunately, you can go to most sites, type in a name, see if it’s available and how much without having to register.
What name should you use? Your author name, whether your own or your penname. It should also be a .com, such as “BillPeschel.com”. Don’t worry about the capitalization, by the way, it doesn’t matter. If you type in Google.com, gOOgle.Com or GOOGLE.com, you’re taken to the same site.
What if my name is taken? You have two options: a) change your name; b) see if your name is available in another “top-level domain.”
What is a top-level domain (TLD)? That’s the “.com” at the end of your domain. That designates sites that are “commercial” (for profit). Originally, the other TLDs had specific functions as well: .net (for network-related organizations), and .org (for non-profits). This proved unworkable. How can you prevent Microsoft by using its name with an .org TLD? You certainly can’t let a non-profit buy it?
In recent years, more TLDs have been created. They can be geographically based (.us for United States, .eu for European Union), oriented for devices (.mobi), information (.info), or businesses (.biz). If your .com name was used, you can try a .us or .biz TLD instead.
If you have your heart set on a .com (which users are comfortable using and trust), you can alter your name, such as adding a middle initial, a variation of your first name, or your first and middle name as initials. Or pick a penname that’s available.
As for changing your name, see if you can add a word to the end, such as books, author, or writer.
Whatever name you choose, make sure it’s one you’re comfortable using for the rest of your career. Not that you can’t change your name or add a penname. Just ask Jayne Anne Krentz / Amanda Quick / Jayne Castle.
Should I also get one for my book title? I wouldn’t. If you’re going to publish 20 books, buying a domain name for each will set you back hundreds of dollars a year, and they’ll all point to the same web site anyway. Stick to your name.
A Website Built at That Domain
Recently, I was listening to a podcast in which a book marketer was talking about websites, and how silly new authors can be about creating them. “They’re easy to do,” he said. “I can lead a class through them, and at the end they shake their heads over how scared they were!”
At the time, I was looking at the results of WordFence’s evaluation of my website. My security certificate was out of date, my site had been placed on SpamCannibal’s list of banned IPs, and I have a dozen broken links that needed to be fixed.
I had some pretty choice words for that marketer, none of them I will repeat here except to say they all concluded with the word “you.”
Admittedly, he’s right in one sense: There’s a lot you can do that’s easy. Buying your domain name is easy. Setting up a WordPress site can be a one-click process. Learning to create pages, upload artwork, styling for headlines and captions … is a little tricky, but learnable.
Working through this process is a lot like making your way through a dark room. You’re feeling your way around worrying about barking a shin on the ottoman or turning over a light table. It’s only when you reach a light switch, flip it on, and see the room lit up that you realize that you could have walked through it without a problem.
But after your site is set up, there are still things to learn and do:
* Design the website. A canned theme will see you through just fine. If you want a more personal look, I’m not going to lie to you. You either will need to learn a bit of website design, or find someone to design it for you, so you can spend time earning money by writing.
* You have to protect your site against hackers. Keep WordPress, your site’s theme, and its plug-ins up to date. This can be done automatically, but you have to know where to flip the virtual switch so WP will do that. Also installing the Wordfence plug-in provides added protection.
* You need to learn about Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Simply put, making your content scannable by search engines by using the right page title, URL, with the help of the right keywords.
Again, these skills can be learned, but you have to set aside time to do so. Fortunately, there are plenty of free and low-cost ways to learn, including books in your public library, YouTube videos, websites, even getting advice from your writer friends. Try those resources first before dropping money on courses.
Information About Each Book
Devote a web page to each book. If you’re writing a series, create a page for that with links to the individual book pages.
This page should contain:
* Art of the cover
* Great reviews or blurbs, if you have any.
* A description of the book. Use the same book description on your Amazon book page or on the book’s back cover (if there is one).
* An excerpt from the first chapter. This can be put on its own page, but be sure to add bookstore links at the bottom. You want to make the book-buying process as easy as possible.
* Links to the bookstores, both online and brick-and-mortar. This is covered in the next section.
Links to Where You Can Buy Your Books
The book page should have a link to every bookstore your book is at, in every version as well: ebook, print, and audiobook.
Your Amazon links should also contain your Amazon Associate code.
What is Amazon Associates? It is a program in which you’re acting as a salesperson for Amazon. You provide links on your website that contain your account ID. Anyone who clicks on that link and buys something from Amazon will earn you a commission based on a percentage of the price. This applies to anything, so if a visitor goes to Amazon to check out your 99 cent ebook and buys a $50 set of headphones instead, you get a couple bucks.
Not a bad deal, right? There’s a right and wrong way to use these links. They’re for your website. Not your newsletter, or any email you send. Nor should you be blatant about advertising your AA links. It’s all right to remind your readers that if they buy your books through them, that you get a little money back.
Some even put a portal link to Amazon in the sidebar of their blog, like this from Ann Althouse’s site.
Something About You
There should be a page describing you. What this consists of is up to you. The best way to answer this question is to visit other authors’ websites, see how they present themselves, and decide what’s right for you.
A Way to Contact You
This can be a part of your author’s page, or on a page of its own. WordPress provides a form that allows someone to type a message and email it to you. Or, you can provide a link to your email and to any social media platforms you’re on.
Disguising your email address: Putting your email on a web page risks opening the door to getting your inbox flooded with spam. Using a contact form keeps that from happening. Using a Google Gmail account lets them skim nearly all the spam out.
I have multiple email accounts tied to my websites, and I simply redirect their mail to my Gmail account, letting Google do the work for me.
This is a problem with many solutions. Simply find one that works for you.