Building a website is…complex. However, it's arguably one of the most important early marketing steps an author must take.
In this digital age, every author needs a place online that they can call their own—a platform to showcase their work, connect with readers, and cultivate a loyal following. But learning all the skills you need to build that website can be daunting, and it’s expensive to hire someone to do it for you.
So, how do you know what level of website marketing is right for you?
- Beginner drag-and-drop website editors
- Intermediate self-hosted “niche” websites
- Advanced selling books direct
- How to get someone to do it for you
Table of contents
- The Three Types of Author Websites
- Why Have Your Own Author Website?
- Option 1: Drag and Drop Website Builders
- Option 2: Self-Hosted “Niche” Websites
- Option 3: Websites for Ecommerce (Selling Direct)
- Website Terminology for the Technically Challenged
- What to Include on Your Author Website
- Finding Someone to Help
But before we go any further, you need to figure out which type of author website is best for you, so let’s dive into that…
Why Am I Qualified to Talk to You About Websites?
It's totally understandable to ask, why is this guy talking to me about building a website? How can he prove the he knows what he's talking about?
Totally understandable question.
Well, for one, I've been the content manager for Kindlepreneur for many years now, and in that time I've learned from the best, and built Kindlepreneur up to the point where it gets more than double the organic traffic that it received when I started.
Additionally, I've built a variety of author websites in my time, including MythBank, which is for my fiction audience.
But before Dave and I even started writing this article and all of the other related articles, we put our heads together to figure out the best approach, then surveyed hundreds of thousands of authors to learn what they do when building author websites.
When putting all that expertise together, I believe I have a good idea of the best routes authors should take to build their website.
So let's dive in.
The Three Types of Author Websites
Here's a quick breakdown of the different levels, from beginner to advanced:
1. Beginner: The Simple One-Page Website
If you're just starting out, you might opt for a simple one-page website. This no-frills approach typically includes:
- A sign-up form for your newsletter
- Links to your books on popular online retailers
This level of website marketing is great for authors who want a basic online presence without spending too much time or effort on the finer details.
2. Intermediate: The Niche Website
For those looking to level up, you could create a “niche” website. This type of site is more content-heavy and usually uses platforms like WordPress. It's an excellent option for authors who want to engage in content marketing to promote their books. Key features of a niche website include:
- Regular blog posts or articles related to your genre or writing topics
- An optimized website design that showcases your books and author brand
- Integration with social media platforms to drive traffic and engagement
3. Advanced: The Direct Sales Website
Finally, the most ambitious authors might choose to sell their books directly on their website. This approach allows you to retain full control over the sales process, collect more reader data, and potentially earn higher royalties. Advanced author websites often feature:
- A secure online store for purchasing books and merchandise
- Advanced marketing tools, like email campaigns and targeted promotions
- Analytics to track sales and customer behavior
DIY vs Hiring a Professional
No matter which of the three website options you choose, there are generally two ways to approach building your author website: the DIY (do-it-yourself) route or hiring a professional to create it for you.
Both options have their pros and cons, and your choice will depend on factors such as your budget, technical expertise, and the amount of time you can dedicate to the project.
In this article, I'll dive deeper into both of these approaches, offering guidance on how to tackle building your author website on your own as well as tips for finding and working with a professional web designer or developer. By the end, you'll have a clearer understanding of the path that's right for you and your author website, so you can take that crucial marketing step with confidence.
Why Have Your Own Author Website?
What do Stephen King, James Patterson, Danielle Steele, and Nora Roberts all have in common?
In addition to being highly successful authors, they all have their own websites. In fact, it is difficult to find a bestselling author that doesn’t have their own website.
Let’s consider a few reasons why authors of all levels of success choose to have their own website.
1. Websites add professionalism to your work. It’s only natural as humans to make judgements based on appearance. For example, if you meet with an attorney for the first time and he struts in wearing a stained and torn hoodie and greets you with a dispassionate, “‘Sup?”, your confidence in him might wane. Instead, lawyers typically dress in finely tailored suits because they know that a polished appearance is more likely to engender trust. Similarly, when an author has a professional-looking website, it gives the appearance to readers that they take their work seriously and have produced a quality book. This imparts a level of trust between the reader and the author, and may lead more readers to purchase from that author.
2. Websites are useful in marketing. Many independent authors that have been able to turn their writing into a career have found that developing a database of readers is an invaluable key to their success. Having your own author website enables you to allow readers to sign up for your newsletter, giving you an avenue to market to them as your new books become available.
3. Websites give you control over your brand. Some self-published authors rely exclusively on Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, and the like to present their works. While online retailers and social media may be necessary outlets to reach customers, they place limits on their appearance and functionality. For example, while you can add custom photos and text to a Facebook page, at a glance they all really just look the same. Everything from the size of the images to the formatting of the page and the color scheme is ultimately determined by Facebook. And the world’s largest book retailer Amazon fills your book’s page with products and ads that can easily divert customers away from your book… the very opposite of where you want customers to go! Your website, however, is controlled entirely by you, giving you the opportunity to really let your personality shine and ensure that your books are the focus.
4. Websites give you another option to sell your books. That’s right, despite what you may have been led to believe, Amazon isn’t the only place where customers buy books. And, as this article points out, you can increase your profit margins by selling books from your own website.
5. Websites increase your online presence. When someone Googles your name or book, what results do they get? It could be that in addition to a few accurate search results, similar but competing websites are listed. You would certainly benefit by having your official site show up high in the results, and a well-designed website can do just that. Additionally, if you choose to blog regularly, this can direct more traffic (i.e. more potential readers) to your site from an even greater variety of search engine keywords.
Option 1: Drag and Drop Website Builders
Your website is often the first impression your readers get of you and your work. But let's face it, not all of us are tech-savvy web designers. That's where drag and drop website builders come in.
Sure, using a drag and drop website builder might be seen as the “easy route.” But that doesn't mean it's the wrong way to go.
In fact, for most authors—especially those with limited technical skills—this is what I'd recommend.
Because, ultimately, I think all an author needs is a single landing page that allows readers to sign up for a reader magnet and has links to your books on Amazon and other retailers.
That’s it. That’s all you really need.
Which Drag-and-Drop Service to Use
There are a number of good drag-and-drop website services, which may include:
|Free Plan or $16/month
|Free Plan or $4/month
|Free Plan or $10/month
|Free Plan or $11.99/month
|Free Plan or $11.99/month
The Benefits of Drag and Drop Website Builders
- Easy to set up: You don't need to know a thing about coding or web design to create a beautiful site.
- Lots of templates: Choose from a wide variety of professionally designed templates to make your site stand out.
- Hosted for you at a low cost: No need to worry about finding a separate hosting provider, as most drag and drop builders include hosting in their packages.
- Good for simple functions: Collect email addresses, let readers learn about you, and link to your books on Amazon with ease.
The Drawbacks of Drag and Drop Editors
- Limited design functionality: You might not be able to achieve the exact look you want for your site.
- Limited blogging or e-commerce functionality: Not ideal for authors looking to sell products directly from their site or run a full-fledged blog.
- Ads on lower payment tiers: You may have to deal with ads on your site if you don't opt for a higher payment plan.
- Almost no plugin support: Limited options to extend the functionality of your site with additional features.
How to Get Started With a Drag and Drop Editor
- Step 1: Pick which platform you should use.
- Step 2: Get set up with that platform.
- Step 3: Create a simple page that lets you promote your reader magnet and establish an email list.
- Step 4: Link to your social media profiles
Finding the Right Balance for You
At the end of the day, it's all about finding the right balance between ease of use and functionality. For many authors, a drag and drop website builder is the perfect solution. It offers a simple, affordable way to create a professional-looking website that showcases your work and connects with your readers.
Remember, your website doesn't have to be perfect or have all the bells and whistles. It just needs to effectively convey who you are and what you do.
Option 2: Self-Hosted “Niche” Websites
What if you're ready to take your online presence to the next level? Enter the world of self-hosted blogs and “niche” websites.
Self-hosted websites are a more intermediate type of website. If you have even mild technical skills, I'd recommend this approach for most author websites. Trust me, the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks.
The Magic of WordPress
When it comes to self-hosted websites, I recommend WordPress—full stop.
There are other options out there, but WordPress is by far the easiest and most widespread. Plus, its vast community of users and developers means you'll never be short on support and resources.
Wordpress also boasts and insane number of templates that you can use to make the building of your website easier.
Choosing a Reliable Host
To get started, you'll need a good host, like Siteground. There are a number of good hosts out there, but which one you use will depend on your needs. For example, if your site receives little to no traffic, you might pick one host over the more heavy-duty hosts that are better for websites that get a LOT of traffic (like Kindlepreneur, for example).
That’s why I recommend Siteground for the average author who gets under 50,000 pageviews a month. It’s one of the best bangs for your buck, but also don’t skimp out on essentials like website backups and easy Wordpress installs.
If you're not sure which host is right for you, check out my post on the best website hosts to learn more about your options:
Benefits of Self-Hosted Blogs
- Higher flexibility in design and capability: Customize your site to your heart's content and integrate advanced features.
- Lots of themes to draw from: Choose from countless themes to create the perfect look and feel for your author website.
- The best option for bloggers and content marketers: Attract organic SEO traffic and boost your book sales with a powerful content marketing strategy.
Drawbacks of Self-Hosted Blogs
- More technical skill needed: You'll need to invest some time and effort to learn the ropes.
- Requires self-hosting: This means you're responsible for managing your site's hosting and security.
- Potential vulnerability to hacks: While hacks can happen to any site, you'll need to be proactive in protecting your self-hosted site (drag-and-drop website builders usually handle this for you).
How to Get Started With a Self-hosted Website
- Step 1: Define your strategy and pick your niche/genre.
- Step 2: Fine the best web host for your needs.
- Step 3: Get set up with Wordpress.
- Step 4: Pick your Wordpress theme.
- Step 5: Begin creating content and marketing your book
Finding the Sweet Spot for Your Author Website
Embracing self-hosted blogs or niche websites can elevate your author platform and open up new opportunities for growth. Yes, there are some drawbacks, but the increased flexibility, design options, and content marketing potential make it well worth the effort.
Option 3: Websites for Ecommerce (Selling Direct)
Selling books directly on your website is an exciting idea, but it's also more advanced and not for everyone.
So, let's take a closer look at the ins and outs of e-commerce for authors.
Deciding on Your E-commerce Strategy
Before diving into selling direct, you need to decide if you want this to be your primary strategy or just something you'd like to do on the side. This decision will determine the best approach and platform for your e-commerce journey.
The best hosts for selling books direct include:
- Shopify: Best for authors who are serious about selling direct as their primary strategy. It's a powerful, all-in-one platform that's designed for e-commerce success.
- WooCommerce: Best for authors who already have self-hosted niche sites and want to add a way to sell direct without making it the main focus of their website. It's a versatile WordPress plugin that can integrate seamlessly with your existing site.
- Gumroad: Ideal for those who want a simple, easy-to-use platform for selling direct. It's a lightweight solution that's perfect for dipping your toes into e-commerce without feeling overwhelmed.
Benefits of Selling Direct
- Valuable customer data: Gain insights about your customers that you won't get from Amazon.
- Email collection: Build your email list and foster a stronger connection with your readers. Every sale you can get the email of your customer, which you can’t do through Amazon.
- Different marketing strategies: Attract high-quality customers through Facebook ads and other marketing channels.
- Full royalties: Keep all the profits from your book sales, without sharing a cut with third-party platforms.
Drawbacks of Selling Direct
- Complicated setup: Creating an e-commerce site can be complex and time-consuming.
- Requires time and money for primary selling strategy: If you choose this route, you'll need to invest in learning about Facebook ads, marketing funnels, and other strategies to make it work.
How to Get Started Selling Direct
- Step 1: Learn the basics of selling direct
- Step 2: Get a course to walk you through it (you'll thank me later)
- Step 3: Choose your provider.
- Step 4: Build your store and start selling
Finding the E-commerce Path That's Right for You
Selling books directly through your website can open up new opportunities for growth, but it's not a one-size-fits-all solution. Consider your goals, the time and resources you're willing to invest, and the best platform for your needs.
Website Terminology for the Technically Challenged
If you’re new to the idea of having a website, there may be some terms that you’ve heard (or not), but don’t really know exactly what they are. Here are a few basic ones that I’ll be mentioning throughout this and other articles on the subject.
- Domain: A website’s domain is it’s .com (or .net, .org, etc.) name, and it can be likened to an address. For example, while you might just call this site Kindlepreneur, it’s domain is actually kindlepreneur.com. And just as a physical address like 123 Main St. might be the location of a storefront, the domain kindlepreneur.com is a virtual address where this site can be located.
- Subdomain: A subdomain is also a name that could be likened to an address. However, subdomains don’t have their own exclusive .com (or .net, .org, etc.) name. An example of a subdomain would be support.google.com, which would take you to Google’s technical support center instead of their more popular search engine. Think of it like an office that is found at 123 Main St. Suite 142, rather than just at 123 Main St. It’s still there, but it may be a little harder to find.
- Hosting: Simply having a domain doesn’t cause you to have a website any more than registering a retail business in your state means that you necessarily have your own shop. Instead, you would have to rent a storefront where you can stock your wares. Similarly, for a website you need a hosting provider to rent you space where your website content can be held. Some website options are self-hosted, meaning that they take care of hosting for you, while others require you to purchase hosting separately.
- SEO: Short for Search Engine Optimization, SEO refers to a site’s ability to rank highly on Google, Bing, and other search engines. SEO is very important to a website’s quality and amount of traffic. It could be likened to the difference between a lot of vehicles passing by a business on Main St. downtown and the same traffic being diverted away from the business district to other more popular locations. And for more on SEO for authors, check out Publisher Rocket.
- Responsive: A responsive website is one that changes dynamically based on the device being used. For example, when viewing a responsive website on a computer you might see a list of menu items and a couple of columns of content, but when viewing that same site on a smartphone, the menu may be reduced to a simple three line menu button, and the columns may condense into a single scrollable column. (Sorry… no storefront comparison on this term. But don’t think I didn’t try to think of one!)
What to Include on Your Author Website
There are a few factors to keep in mind when designing your author website.
- Make sure that your design fits your genre. Images, titles, and even the site’s color scheme all give visitors an impression about you and your books before they ever begin reading anything on your site. And if your visitors get the wrong impression, they may leave before giving you a chance.
- Author bio. Readers feel more connected with an author when they know something about them. A professional quality photo of yourself, along with a few personal details can go a long way in allowing readers to feel like they have a bond with you. More details about what makes a bio effective can be found here.
- Include your books. This suggestion is kind of obvious. Just make sure that you remember to either allow readers to purchase your books directly from your site or link to Amazon or another retailer where they can purchase them.
- Reviews and accolades. Is your book an award winner? Did it receive a positive editorial review (such as an Indies Today review) or a prominent endorsement? Then make sure that you share that type of information with your website visitors.
- Newsletter sign-up form. As mentioned earlier, a newsletter can be a very valuable marketing tool for authors. View this article to learn more about which newsletter service might be your best option. Similarly, providing links to your social media can help your readers to keep in touch with you.
- And more… It’s your website, so it’s really up to you what you decide to include. Do you want a blog, which can be good for your SEO? Or how about a contact form so that readers can send you messages? What about giveaways? Perhaps a press kit? Your options are as limitless as your imagination (well, unless you’re a fantasy writer!).
Finding Someone to Help
As an author building your online presence, one of the biggest choices you'll face is whether to create your website yourself or hire someone to do it for you. There's no one-size-fits-all answer, but I'm here to help you weigh the pros and cons and make the best decision for your needs.
The DIY Approach
Going the DIY route is great because it can save you a ton of time and give you full control over your website. However, it does require a lot of learning, which could take you away from writing or marketing in other ways. Here's what to consider:
Pros of DIY
- Save money on website development costs
- Gain valuable skills in website design and management
- Maintain full control over your website's look and functionality
Cons of DIY
- Steep learning curve for beginners
- Time-consuming, especially when you're just starting out
- Potential for mistakes and frustration
Hiring a Professional
While hiring someone to create your author website can be expensive, it could save you a big headache by ensuring your site is professionally designed and functional. Here's what to think about:
Pros of Hiring a Pro
- Expertise in web design and functionality
- Saves time and allows you to focus on writing and marketing
- Minimizes the risk of mistakes and technical issues
Cons of Hiring a Pro
- Expensive, especially for custom designs
- Potential loss of control over your site's look and functionality
- Ongoing costs for updates and maintenance
Generally, I believe DIY is the best option for most authors. However, if you're not keen on building your website yourself, consider using a simple drag-and-drop service, which will make the process easy, and hiring someone can make it even easier.
However, if you plan to blog for content marketing or sell your books directly, I highly recommend learning the skills you'll need in those areas. This will save you from constantly hiring someone for even small tweaks and updates, which can quickly become costly.
In the end, whether you choose to DIY or hire a pro, remember that your author website is a crucial tool for connecting with readers and showcasing your work. Invest the time and resources needed to create a site that truly reflects your unique author brand.