And Why They’re Wrong
by Christie Speich
All writers need a website these days. Okay, I’ll qualify that to almost all writers. If you’re just writing for yourself, and maybe for a few people that you’ll personally hand your writing, you might not need a website. But if you want people to find your work, become a fan, and keep coming back for more, having your own author website is the way to go.
Writers have several reasons justifying why they don’t want or need a website, but are they good reasons?
Reason #1: “I’m Not Published Yet.”
Building a website is one step of building your (yes, I’m going to say it…) platform. Platform has become such a big buzzword in the writing world, but what does it really mean? At a basic level, your platform is your group of fans.
Reason #1a: “Fans? I Don’t Have Any Fans Yet!”
Hey, everyone starts somewhere. The “overnight success” is usually a myth and comes from all the hard work done before the breakout — sometimes years before. E.L. James built her fan base in fan fiction, bit by bit as she posted her story online chapter by chapter. When she published her fan fic as Fifty Shades of Gray, she had a built-in platform — people who went out and bought her books right away because they already “knew” her. And then they told all their friends about the books, too.
Consider this: two unpublished writers query the same editor. Writer A already has a website and has even started a blog where readers are starting to interact with her. Writer B has no online presence. Both stories are superbly written and a great fit for the publisher. The editor would love to accept both, but due to scheduling or budget constraints, must pass on one of them.
Publishing is a business — never forget that! — so given the choice between a first-time writer who has already started gathering a following and one starting from zero, who is the editor more likely to choose?
A website is just one piece of building your platform, but it’s an important one. And you can start now, no matter where you are in the book-publishing cycle.
Reason #2: “Won’t My Publisher Do That For Me?”
These days, publishers expect authors to do a fair amount of marketing themselves, especially when it comes to an online presence and social media. If you thought you could get out of marketing because you’re not self-publishing, think again. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Would you really want your publisher to be in charge of building, designing, and maintaining your website? What if you sign with multiple publishers? What if your publisher goes out of business or is acquired by another publisher?
Your website should sell you. Not a particular book. Not your publisher. You are the brand, not your book. Not convinced? Check out any of Kristen Lamb’s numerous articles or her books. While we’re talking about branding, let’s take a quick moment to discuss your website’s address:
it should be your name. Not your book’s title. Not a character’s name. Your author name.
Yes, yes, I know, J.K. Rowling has Pottermore. When your book breaks out like Harry Potter did, then you can have a website dedicated to one book/series/character. But that’s in addition to your author website. (Notice J.K. Rowling has jkrowling.com also.)
Reason #3: “I Already Have a Blog.”
Awesome! You’ve already started building your platform.
But blogs can’t stand alone as you author website. By their very nature, blogs aren’t static. Every time you write a new post, your website changes. This is a good thing for building your fan base, networking with readers and other writers, establishing authority, and showing up in search engines.
But it’s bad news for the readers who want to find out information about you or your book. They want pages on your website that are easy to find. They don’t want to have to scroll through three months of blog posts to find the one where you describe your book.
You need a static website in addition to your blog. The best method is to integrate the static pages of your website with your blog and host them under one website address. (And that address should be…? Right. Your name.)
If you’ve used WordPress to build your blog, you are a step ahead. WordPress makes it super, super easy to have an integrated website and blog.
Reason #4: “I’ve Got a Facebook/Twitter/Google+ Already.”
You’re rocking your platform! Excellent!
How about MySpace? Got an account there?
Social media can be great for building your platform, no doubt about that. But you still need your own website. Remember all the artists who built their following on MySpace? They had to start over after MySpace went belly up.
It’s hard to imagine a world without Facebook or Twitter, but you never know when the next shiny new thing will come along. Social media sites also suffer from the same problem as a blog: new updates are pushed to the top and information is hard to find. Social media is great for interacting with readers, not so much for providing readers with the information they are looking for.
You want to be in control of your website. What are you going to do when Facebook changes their algorithms again and your posts are even less visible than they were before?
Your readers are your most valuable assets. You need to be in control of maintaining that list. You do that by setting up a mailing list subscription form on your website. Do you really want to trust your list to companies whose focus is curating and using your data for their own purposes?
Reason #5: “I Can’t Afford to Hire Someone to Build My Website.”
Here’s the great thing: you don’t have to! You can do it yourself.
Reason #5a: “I’m a Writer, Not a Web Developer!”
I promise you don’t have to be. If you are comfortable enough with the web to fill out forms on websites, shop online, pay your bills online, or any of the other tasks you do online every single day, you can build your own author website. No programming experience necessary.
How? WordPress(*). With WordPress, building a website is as simple as filling out forms. And it can be as simple or as complex as you need it to be. Just want a few simple pages to talk about your books and yourself? Easy! Need an e-commerce site so you can sell your books directly to your readers? Yes, WordPress can do that too.
Reason #5b: “I’m Not a Designer, Either!”
WordPress has you covered there, too.
All the design work is done for you; you just choose a theme to install. With hundreds of free themes to choose from, there’s sure to be one that you like. Later, when you can afford it, you can purchase a premium theme or hire a designer to make a custom one for you. Either of those options is much, much cheaper than hiring someone to create your entire website.
Reason #5c: “Ain’t Nobody Got Time For That!”
You’re right that building your own website takes time, even using WordPress. But you’ll only need to set it up once, and from then on maintenance becomes small tasks like adding your newest release to your website, or information about your upcoming book signing, and other news.
As with most business decisions, it comes down to time vs. money. Which one can you afford to spend? And which one will pay off in the future? If you hire a web designer to build you a custom website for a couple of thousand dollars, will you be able to update it later? Or will you have to pay someone every time you need something changed or added? What happens two years down the road when you realize your brand isn’t what you thought it would be, and that beautiful website doesn’t match it? If you build your website in WordPress, you can update it yourself and change the theme whenever you want a new look.
A website dedicated to your writing will help readers find you and might even convince someone to pay you to write. A little time invested upfront can pay off down the road, whether you’re writing the next great American novel, your fiftieth genre fiction novel, a technical reference book, your autobiography, an article, or fan fiction you post for free online. It’s never too early or too late in your career to build your website.
Do you have another reason why you don’t think you need an author website? Tell us in the comments and let’s discuss!
(*) NOTE: WordPress comes in two flavors: the host-it-yourself wordpress.org and the they-host-it-for-you wordpress.com. The main difference is with wordpress.ORG, you can have your own address (http://www.yourname.com/) and you can install plugins which means you can do more with WordPress (like the e-commerce site I mentioned). With wordpress.COM, your site runs on their servers (http://yourname.wordpress.com/) and you can’t install any plugins. Plugins are what make WordPress so powerful.
WordPress.COM has limitations, but it can be used completely for free. My recommendation is wordpress.ORG, but you do need to sign up for a web hosting company and register your address, which costs money. Websites don’t have to be expensive. At the time of this writing, the web hosting company I use, Dreamhost(**), charges as low as $8.95/month and you get your website address for free.
For more about the differences between wordpress.COM and wordpress.ORG, see WordPress.com and WordPress.org, WordPress.org vs WordPress.com: A Definitive Guide For 2014, and Self Hosted WordPress.org vs. Free WordPress.com (Infograph).
Still not sure? You can start with the free wordpress.COM and switch to wordpress.ORG later following How to Properly Move Your Blog from WordPress.com to WordPress.org.
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