Today we're talking about your writer or author website, and how to use it to achieve your goals. I'll share with you the basics you need to make a great first impression online, plus the most important thing every author should include on their website.
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After I wrote my post “Should Writers Blog?” I received emails from writers who wanted to know: If I don’t need a blog, then what do I need? Like, at a bare minimum?
At the very least, every writer should have a website, but not just any website. You want a strategic website that helps you meet your goals, ideally one that’s simple to maintain (so you can get back to writing). I have great news, friends. You can easily create a website that helps you reach your goals without giving you headaches.
You can easily create a website that helps you reach your goals without giving you headaches.
I’ll share with you my four tips to help you get started (plus my bonus tip for authors), but first let’s talk about why you want a website.
What do you want to achieve?
Just as we discussed in my Build a Better Blog Challenge, setting goals for your site will help you make future decisions. Before you do anything, take time to define what you want your website to do for you.
For example, authors may want a website to connect and engage with readers and grow their audience, whereas new writers may want a website to help them connect with other writers. There are no wrong answers, and the more you clearly define what you want to achieve, the better you’ll be able to make choices about things like your domain name or which website service to use.
Action: Goal setting // Why do you want or need a website?
Set a timer for ten minutes. Grab a notebook and pen. Start the timer and write down every single reason why you want a website. When your time is up, look through your list of reasons and highlight the reasons that stand out to you. Use these to create a 1-3 line purpose for your online presence. Example: I want my website to be where readers can go to connect with me and learn about my books. Or, I want my website to impress agents and give them a way to contact me.
Keep your goals in mind as you read the tips below. I encourage you to make notes about how you’ll use each tip to help you reach those goals.
4 Tips for Making a Simple + Strategic Website (plus one bonus tip for authors)
1. Own your name as a domain name.
Writers and authors are a special case when it comes to websites because your name is your brand. So although you might start a blog to connect with other writers, and therefore a fun, cute, or witty blog name would suffice, at some point you will want a website domain with your name or your pen name (example: AuthorName.com).
Side note: A pen name is the name you choose to as your author name for your books. This is the name you want people to know, so it’s the name to use when choosing a domain name for your website.
Think about this scenario:
A reader finds your book or story. Perhaps they found it on Amazon, or maybe they discovered you in a literary magazine. They LOVE it (of course!), and like any good reader, they want to read more.
What do they do next? They type your name into a search engine. But nothing comes up. Or the results are all for a photographer with your name, not you. FAIL.
So what’s the solution?
You need to get your site to rank higher in search engines when people type in your name. There are a number of things that can help make that happen, but the very first step is to own the domain name with your name.
Action: Buy your domain name.
Even if you choose to create a blog with a different name, at some point you will want to own your domain name.
- I recommend using NameCheap* or DNSimple to buy your domain. I currently use DNSimple, but it’s best for people who buy or own numerous domain names because you pay a monthly versus annual fee. If you just need one or two domain names, I recommend NameCheap*. I’ve used it in the past and although it isn’t perfect, it’s far superior to most other Domain Name Services.
- Important note: when you search for your domain name, be ready to buy it within 24 hours. There are companies that will use your search to buy the name you want … and then they’ll turn around and sell it for far more than the original price.
- If your name isn’t available, then try adding relevant words like “books” or “author” to your domain name. Example: “BridgidGallagherBooks.com.”
- Still want a cute/witty/fun blog name? You can always create a main website under your name (AuthorName.com), but have a blog with a special name (AuthorName.com/BlogName).
If you read all of this and you still want a fun/cute/witty blog name, then here are two tips about choosing a name:
- Think evergreen names, or names that will be relevant for a long time. Although you might love mountain biking now, the name “MountainBikingMom” might limit you in the future.
- Avoid distasteful or inappropriate names. You might find bathroom or bodily function jokes hilarious, but will they be off-putting to your readers? Your website is your online business card. It’s the first thing people might see of you online, so consider what type of impression you want to make.
2. Use an affordable + effective website platform.
Writers and authors, you don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on your website. There are many affordable platform options for creating simple websites, and—especially when starting out—simple is exactly what you need.
Writers and authors, you don't need to spend thousands of dollars on your website.
Here is a fantastic post about how to choose a platform from Marianne of Design Your Own (Lovely) Blog. I love this list because she wrote it with cost-concious people in mind. Although it’s targeted to bloggers, anyone who needs a website will find this post useful.
I personally recommend Squarespace to my friends who want a simple, out-of-the-box website that is beautiful and easy to manage (and they don’t mind paying $8/month). As with any website service or blogging platform, there is a learning curve. Thankfully, Squarespace offers fantastic, 24-hour support, so you can ask questions and get answers around the clock.
For those who don’t mind getting scrappy and learning basic HTML and CSS (or hiring a designer), then Wordpress.org is the second option I recommend. There is a bit of work required to get your site started, but once you do there are very few limitations to what you can do. This is a great option if you want a lot of flexibility and custom functionality, and you don’t mind learning some coding basics.
If you’re still not sure which would be the best for you, then I recommend reading this excellent post comparing Squarespace and Wordpress from Ashley, the web designer behind NoseGraze.
In summary: If you want simple, go with Squarespace. If you want more complex functionality, go with Wordpress.org.
3. Keep your design simple.
Like a great book cover, a great website design can set the tone for your readers. But. Some writers and authors take their design too far and the experience is jarring and distracting.
Like a great book cover, a great website design can set the tone for your readers.
Less is more when it comes to website design. If you’re at all unsure about choosing a design or template, go with simple. Black and white. Lots of whitespace. Keep calls to action (buttons, forms, links) to a minimum.
Pssst: I talk more about website design in my Build a Better Blog Challenge.
Action: Find other author websites for design inspiration.
Take a few minutes to visit author websites. Focus on authors in your niche or genre. For example, if you write YA Thrillers, then look up your favorite YA Thriller authors and study their websites. Try to visit at least five different author websites and jot down a few things about each site:
- Do they create a mood with their colors and images? How?
- What do you like about their site?
- What don’t you like?
- Were you confused/distracted by anything on their site?
- Does their site invite you to sign up for their mailing list?
Here’s a great example for authors. These are the sites of two Middle Grade writers, Brooks Benjamin and MarcyKate Connolly. What kind of tone do these sites create? Can you guess which sub-genre their books would fall into?
4. Include the content essentials.
Less is more is also a good rule of thumb for your content, but there are a few things you must include for your website to be effective.
There are a few differences for writers versus authors, so let’s start with the essentials for writer websites:
- About (name + brief bio + photo of you)
- Contact (email address or form)
- Portfolio (if relevant)
- Blog (optional!)
That’s it! You could include everything on one simple page and be good to go. It truly doesn’t require separate pages or anything complicated.
For authors, add the following:
- Books (book cover + synopsis + buy links)
- Mailing list sign up
Both writers and authors: keep your bio brief and include an action for your readers. Think about your purpose and write to that purpose. Tell us enough about you that we know what you do, your purpose, and a sprinkle of personality.
Authors have a little more leeway, because readers often visit your site to learn as much about you as possible. It’s great to share more, but make sure you keep it relatively short to help them focus on an action (example: signing up for your mailing list).
“My name is Sarah Jones and I write books about magic and cookies. (Wait, I eat cookies.) I am currently seeking representation for my Middle Grade Fantasy about two pixies who go on a culinary adventure of monstrous proportions in the Land of Giant Sweets. Want to get in touch (or bake me cookies)? Send me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org.”
“Sarah Jones is an avid mountain biker who writes contemporary Children’s fiction. Her first book, THE BEST TITLE, is coming DATE from PUBLISHER. Join her mailing list for a first look at her book.”
“I’m a romance author who loves nothing more than a glass of red wine, a bubble bath, and a steamy book with an alpha hero. Read my latest book for free here!”
Get the idea? Simple. Focused. Actionable.
Bonus tip for authors: Make sure you have a mailing list.
Pssst: Writers, you could skip this one, but skim it because you’ll need it once you’re preparing to publish.
All authors should have an email mailing list. Your email list is a way for you to get permission to contact your readers when you have new books, news, sales, or upcoming launches. It is the one way you have to contact people that you own. Unlike social media (Facebook, I’m looking at you), where you have little to no control over how often people see your updates or if they see them, with your email list you can guarantee your email makes it into their inbox.
Tim Grahl, author of Your First 1000 Copies (a must-read for authors), says it better:
“The truth is, your email list is your #1 asset for community building. Here’s why:
When someone requests that you email them, it is a huge sign of trust. Everybody already gets too much email, so the fact that they are requesting that you be another inbox item is a huge commitment.
People won’t check your website every day (or week) but they check their email every five minutes.
It’s much easier to ignore a status update than a new inbox item.
The people making money online use email marketing. I follow several people online that are “internet marketing gurus”. Despite what you may personally feel about some of these people, they are the ones actually making a lot of money online. And you know what? Every one of them would trade Twitter, Facebook, their blog and any other online asset to keep their email list. They make money off their email list.
Social networking, blogging and all the other tools out there serve their purpose and can help grow your community, but your email list is, by far, your most important asset. Above all else, focus on growing your email list.”
Although adding an email list sign up form to your website is simple, starting an email list can be intimidating. I want to help you get your list started, so next month I’ll be sharing some blog posts about mailing lists, and I’m also putting together a free Email Marketing for Writers & Authors e-course. Sign up to be notified when the course launches.
Okay, friends. That is IT. The basics for creating a simple but strategic writer or author website.
Now it’s your turn. Do you have questions about websites, design, or mailing lists? Jump in the comments. I would love to hear from you!
Psst: There’s still time to access my FREE Build a Better Blog Challenge! Click the image below to join + I’ll also send you my Blog Content Workbook for Writers.