Guest post by ACW Visiting Writer Erin Dorney
In addition to building and maintaining my own author website for seven years, I have helped grocery stores, music festivals, nonprofit nature conservancies, community food shelves, authors, professional lighting companies, arts organizations, and illustrators build their websites.
First of all, why have an author website?
You have complete ownership and control over a space online.
As we’ve seen recently with Twitter changing hands, social media platforms—while valuable in their own ways—can disappear at any time. Remember how you used to be able to see all of the Facebook posts for organizations you chose to follow, and now you can really only see them if the organization pays to boost the post? The goal of social media platforms is to keep you spending time on that platform (so they can make money from showing you ads). They don’t want you to leave to go to another website to, for example, buy a book or read an artist bio. Having your own website gives a space that YOU control and build so that…
People can learn more about you and reach out.
Someone reads your work and wants to know more about your background, or what other things you’ve written. An editor wants to solicit your writing for a themed issue of a literary magazine. A fan or young writer wants to thank you for the impact your writing had on them. Having a way for folks to contact you directly is one big benefit to having your own site, and if you don’t feel comfortable sharing your email address on the web, you can always provide a contact form as an alternative.
It helps you visualize your path as a writer.
Having a website makes things feel real. You can gather all of your accomplishments in one place, and organize them in a way that makes sense to you and shows your progress and interests as a writer. This is a confidence booster, and shows that you’re serious about pursuing writing opportunities that might come your way.
Here are my top ten tips if you’re considering building your own site:
#1 – Think about what content you might want on your author website.
Here are some of the basics:
- About the author or bio – Who are you, where are you from, where do you live, what have you published, have you won any awards/grants/residencies, what type of writing do you do
- Events – Both past and upcoming workshops, author talks, online readings, featured open mics, book launches, etc
- Your books – A cover photo, synopsis, positive reviews, awards, and how to purchase a copy
- Publications – With links if possible (it’s good for your site to have some links to other websites)
- Contact info & social media handles – Always include a way for people to get in touch, even if it’s a separate free email account that you check once a week or a web form
You might also want to include a blog (sometimes called the “news” section). Here are some ideas for posts you can publish on your website’s blog:
- What you’re currently reading
- Announcements, awards, grants, accomplishments
- Latest book news
- Behind the scenes info (desk you write at, tools you use, etc)
- Just don’t post anything you want to send out to get published because then it will be considered previously published.
#2 – Find 5 author sites you love.
If you’re a writer, you’re surely a reader. Check to see if some of the authors you love have websites. Find a couple that you like, whether it’s the colors, design, or content that’s featured. Make sure you look at some authors who are near your level or just slightly above—not everyone needs the same level of website as Stephen King. Make a list of things you love that you might want on your own site and remember, it’s fine to borrow layout/navigation ideas (but not content).
#3 – Decide if you’re going to sell something.
If you’re going to offer copies of your zines or self-published book for sale on your website, you’re going to need a site that’s a little more sophisticated. That might mean you pay more to a website hosting platform for a package that includes “commerce” options. You also have to think about how you will accept money from PayPal and credit cards, as well as tracking for sales tax, shipping, and tax reporting at the end of the year. If you don’t want to bother with this, you can always link to other places where your work is available for sale, whether it’s Etsy, independent bookstores, zine distros, or local shops. Sometimes these places are listed as “Stockists” on an author website. Selling on your author website isn’t impossible, but it’s going to require much more of your time.
#4 – Think about your maintenance plan.
An out of date or abandoned site is worse than no site at all! Don’t spend the time making an author website if you can’t dedicate the time to maintain it. Decide how often you will update your site and put it on your calendar. I update mine every 2 months and it takes between 20 minutes and 1.5 hours, depending on how much I want to change.
#5 – Decide how much money you want to spend, if any.
Different website hosting platforms have different costs. There are free options, but that often means you may be limited in terms of functionality (might not have all of the design options you want; may not be able to connect a custom URL). Basic plans average between $4 and $23 per month. If you’re going to hire someone to make a website for you (and/or maintain it), that will be an additional cost that could range from an hourly rate (around $50-$100/hour) or upwards of a few thousand dollars, depending on the complexity of your site.
#6 – Build your site on paper first.
Draw what you imagine your site will look like on paper. Be messy. Make a couple versions. This will help you figure out how to organize your pages and think about all of the content you will need to create. Your site won’t end up looking EXACTLY like the drawing, so don’t get too attached to a particular color or layout.
#7 – Keep it simple.
A one page website is fine, particularly if it’s frequently updated with the most timely information! Websites cut into your writing time, so don’t make yours too complicated. It shouldn’t feel daunting to update. Remember, you are showcasing your writing, not your tech skills.
#8 – It has to be mobile friendly.
This just means your site has to look good and function when it’s accessed on a phone, where a huge chunk of website traffic comes these days. Most website hosting platforms do this for you automatically. Even so, you should visit your own site on your mobile phone to make sure it’s working the way you expect it to.
#9 – Pick a platform.
If you can use programs like Microsoft Word, Gmail, or Facebook, you can build your own simple website. Ask other writers what platforms they use. Most have free trial periods so you can test them out and see if you like the interface. Here are a couple of options:
- Squarespace – Free trial, approx $16-23/month
- WordPress – Free option, approx $4-$8/month
- Wix – Free option, approx $16/month
- Weebly – Free option, approx $10-$13/month
- Carrd – Free option, approx $19/year
#10 – Buy your URL.
Most writers opt for their name (www.firstlast.com). Once you choose a URL and build your platform, you don’t want to change the URL frequently. The goal is to establish a place for yourself on the Internet where people can find you quickly and easily. You can buy a domain somewhere else and connect it to your platform (for example, my website is a Squarespace site connected to a domain purchased from GoDaddy) or you can often buy a domain from the same platform where your site is hosted so that all of your costs are in one central spot. Domains average $10-$20/year.
Do you have an author website? Share it in the comments so we can check it out!
Erin Dorney is the author of I AM NOT FAMOUS ANYMORE: POEMS AFTER SHIA LABEOUF (Mason Jar Press, 2018). Through the CRNY Artist Employment Program, she currently serves as Visiting Writer at The Adirondack Center for Writing. Creatives Rebuild New York (CRNY), a project of the Tides Center, is a three-year, $125 million investment in the financial stability of New York State artists and the organizations that employ them.