There are still authors who think marketing their book is unnecessary. Or they know it’s necessary, but they have no interest in, or stomach for, the journey. But regardless of how incredible your book is—or how timely or appealing—if no one knows your book is available, they can’t buy it, or tell their family and friends about it.
An author website is key to announcing the presence of both your books and yourself as a writer. Your website can be a glorious place to not only engage with readers but sell your books, introduce people to your writing, and establish and reinforce your author brand. But before diving in, let’s examine how to make your website an effective experience for both you and your readers.
Why do I need a website?
Known in marketing and sales as the “funnel,” the best approach to selling a product is to start by generating leads and interest, casting the largest possible net. Advertising campaigns, social media, viral blog posts—these are all means of appealing to the greatest possible audience for your work. But they don’t guarantee sales; they only increase your visibility. They entice the customer (the reader) to enter the store.
Once you’ve caught someone’s attention through social media / advertising / publicity, you want them to come to your “store.” For authors, this is your own website, or the online retailers you’re working with. Of course the reader needs to be able to see your book and easily buy it once they’ve entered your site. But not everyone who walks into a store immediately buys the product. They want to look around and see if what you’re selling is worth their money. And this is where content can be really important. Offering blog posts, articles or short stories, or even videos on your website can let your readers know what your books are about and who you are.
If your website visitor is intrigued and excited, you’d like to think that they’d just buy your book. But it’s not always that easy. Sometimes folks want a little extra incentive. So give your readers a good reason to buy your book right now. That can mean a special offer or discount, or you might include bonus content. Even if they decide not to buy your book, you can encourage them to sign up for your newsletter, which will give you an opportunity to continue to engage them in the future and let them know about more content, new books, events, news, and more.
But most important, you want to make sure that no matter where a reader is in the decision process (and it happens very quickly) they can easily and quickly buy your book at any point.
SOCIAL MEDIA + ADVERTISING
Your Website (or Retailer)
Book Sale and/or Newsletter Sign-Up
Reviews, Recommendations, Fandom
What are the key things my website should do?
Author websites have a few very important goals they must achieve in order to be successful. Your site must:
- Prominently display your book(s) with an easy “Buy Now” button, which either allows visitors to order the book directly from you or redirects them to a major retailer like Amazon or Barnes & Noble.
- Feature your author bio. Your readers want to know about you and about your writing/professional background.
- Include links to all your (public) social media profiles.
- Provide a means for readers to contact you. Including your personal information on a public website can be dangerous, so many site-building companies offer widgets that allow visitors to send a message to you without requiring an email address. Do not include your phone number, address, or any personal email that you don’t want the world (and some of the goons who live in it) knowing.
- Encourage readers to sign up for your newsletters. Once you have email addresses, you have a direct means of being able to communicate with your audience to let them know about new releases.
- Offer quality content in the form of blogs, articles, short stories, etc.
- Have all the information the press/media would need, such as an extended professional bio, press releases (if relevant), and downloadable hi-res images (such as your author photo and book cover, and any other important art).
What do I need to get started?
1) Register your domain name.
For most authors, choosing a domain name is pretty easy—it should be your author name. For authors who write under a nom de plume(pen name), you’ll want to use that. Use both? Decide which name you’ll want for your writing career, or you can purchase multiple domain names and have the URLs point to the same website.
In the event that your name isn’t available, look for alternate options. Instead of “YourName.com,” try “YourName.net” or “YourName.org.” Another tactic some authors use to include “author” or “books” in the domain name—so, for example, “SusieSmithBooks.com” or “JohnLopezAuthor.com.”
Registering a domain name is pretty affordable (you’re usually looking at roughly $10 per year), so even if you aren’t quite ready to put together your website, you’ll want to register it as soon as possible to ensure no one else can use it.
TIP: Once you purchase your domain name, set up an autorenewal notice to ensure it doesn’t inadvertently expire. Once it’s no longer reserved by you, someone else can purchase and use it. Or the price can go up significantly. (This happened to me, and it would have cost $1,200 to get my domain back.)
2) Decide on a website template.
Before you investigate hosting options—which will allow you to make a website and share it—you will need to make decisions about the kind of website you want.
If you’re working with a tiny budget, check out companies like WordPress and Squarespace, which allow you to use preformatted website templates that can be personalized, then add on feature “widgets” for things like newsletters, scheduling calendars, and e-commerce. Some of the templates are free, and others can be purchased if you’re looking for something more specific.
Have a few extra bucks and aren’t worried about knowing how to use your own website? Hire a professional website designer. Fees for this can range between a few hundred and a few thousand dollars, depending on who you hire. Ideally, you’ll want to find someone who has worked with authors and has some understanding of how author sites should be set up. The best way to find a web designer is to ask fellow authors in your network for recommendations.
3) Find hosting.
In order to create your site and make it public, you’ll need a website hosting service. Often, hosting involves a monthly fee (some start at as little as $5). For an author website—where you’re only selling your books—you should be able to keep it fairly lean and mean, and that means affordable. If you’ve decided on a format or template, some hosting sites offer unique packages specially tailored to Wix, Squarespace, WordPress, or others. Note that hosting fees can vary drastically depending on what you want your website to do—refer back to our list of functions an effective website must perform and make sure you can accommodate them. And maybe as a fancy bonus, look into domain-registered email addresses (such as info@YourName.com, or otherwise personalized for you).
TIP: If you’re working with a designer, ensure that you retain control of both the domain name and the hosting for the website. This ensures that you don’t find yourself high and dry if your designer bails or decides to hold your site hostage for more money. It’s rare, but it does happen. (One more reason to look for referrals.)
Coming up in Part 2, we'll look at some successful author sites and talk more about how to create great content.
Hannah Guy lives in Toronto and is a professional writer and copywriter who specializes in books, books, and more books. Follow her on Twitter at @hannorg.