No doubt you’ve read plenty of sage advice about building a long-term livelihood as an independent author. One recommendation you’ve probably come across before is to establish a website early in your career. Why? Because even if you’re promoting your work widely on social media, and in online groups, it makes sense to have a piece of internet real estate which you control. Algorithms, rules, and fees on websites owned by others can change overnight, potentially leaving you out of pocket, or unable to reach the audience you’ve built there. Not only will you come across as more professional by having your own website, it’s a courtesy to your reader to offer one central place where they can find out about you, your work, and your latest news.
However, many authors find the idea of creating a website daunting. If you’re not especially tech savvy, both the unfamiliar terminology and the number of options can be overwhelming. The fear of making expensive mistakes or wasting scarce time can hold you back. Equally, you may have set up your author website several years ago, and you know it desperately needs refreshing, but you’re not sure how to do this easily and affordably.
Here, then, are some tips to create or makeover your author site:
1. Keep it simple
You’ll do both yourself and your readers a favor if you go through the exercise of identifying the bare bones content which absolutely must be on your author website. The process of eliminating clutter and choosing your key pages is an excellent opportunity to target your ideal reader more carefully. When you are intentional about what your reader needs from you (and not the other way around), you make it far more likely they can find the information they want. If you write your key content with that person in mind, you’ll form a deeper and more lasting connection. Trying to market to everyone is definitely a trap for new authors.
If you’re starting from scratch and you’re not sure what these key pages might be, consider creating just these four:
- A home/welcome page,
- A page about you,
- A page showing your work (with buy links if appropriate), and
- A way (or ways) of contacting you, including relevant social media accounts.
Your website will become even more functional when you add a sign up form for your mailing list. This gives you permission to contact today’s website visitors in the future, when you have news to share. However, I suggest getting those initial pages live first, and then follow up with creating an email form, once you’ve caught your breath.
Trimming your content to the essentials makes your life far easier, too. You have less to write in the first place, which makes it far more likely you’ll actually finish your website project and be proud of what you’ve posted. Going forward, you’ll have fewer pages to keep up to date, and fewer places where distractions and clutter will lurk.
2. Take a look at new technology
The great news is there are an increasing number of services designed to help you build – and then host – your website. Their goal is to help you construct something that looks appealing and works perfectly, all without tearing your hair out.
As recently as a few years ago, it seemed like a self-hosted WordPress website was the only reasonable choice for serious authors, but a range of new and affordable providers now deserve your attention. WordPress is still a good choice if you enjoy technology and want plenty of flexibility and add-on options… and if you’re willing to invest the time in making it all work. Don’t forget this also means you need the bandwidth to keep your WordPress theme and plugins up to date, and secure.
On the other hand, if you want a quick and easy website so you can go back to pursuits you enjoy more – like writing, say – then take a look at a provider which offers a drag-and-drop interface. Popular options here include Wix, Weebly, and Strikingly, along with my personal preference, Carrd.co. These platforms have a range of price points, depending on what you need. They include free plans where you’ll have less choice over your domain name (website address) and possibly some adverts displayed too. There are also plans where you pay a monthly or annual fee to bring your own domain name and remove ads. Carrd is currently the most affordable for a professional-looking site; it achieves a super-competitive price point by encouraging you to keep your layout extremely simple.
3. Avoid common mistakes
The most common mistake I see on author websites is to clutter the screen with too much information, causing distractions and confusion for the reader. Decide in advance what the key purpose of your website should be (examples: to sell more books, to collect email addresses, to serve as an information hub) and consider on each page what single action you would ideally like the visitor to take.
Once you have your purpose figured out, know that your site will look far more professional if you use fewer design elements. Restrict colors and fonts to just two or three of each, space your content so the eye has places to “rest”, and use good quality images. If you’re on a really tight budget, investing in a professional-looking photo of yourself would be my number one suggestion for where to spend money.
If you’re new to website design, it’s easy to think that just because your technology provider offers a feature, that you should include it on your site. Think twice, though, before you add a side bar, or anything that moves or flashes. Equally, a calendar of events is a poor choice if you only have two appearances a year.
And if you’re tempted to blog, know that if your posts display dates, your most recent article should fall within the last month. It’s much better to have no blog than one which betrays your lack of interest. Otherwise, you’re telling your readers that you’re neglecting your website, and they shouldn’t bother to come back.
Along with blog frequency, aim to keep the rest of the content on your website fresh, too. If it’s been a while since you set up your site, be sure to look for links, text, and images which are out of date. If nothing else, make sure your copyright year shows as 2020! It can be helpful to set a calendar reminder to run your eye over your website on a monthly or quarterly basis. The good news is that by forming the intention to revisit it and make tweaks, you take pressure off yourself from having to come up with the perfect layout and wording at the outset.
You certainly don’t have to work with a professional website designer to create an attractive, thoughtful and effective website, but if you’re uncertain about your skills, design capability, or ability to follow the project through to completion, it’s definitely worth getting help.
If setting up an author website still feels daunting, remember: you’re not carving it in stone. By keeping the scope of your website project super simple, and finding a provider whose interface is intuitive to you, you’ll reduce the burden of both creating and maintaining your site. Avoid any temptation to wait for perfection before you publish, and start enjoying your online home sooner rather than later.
Pauline Wiles creates simple, stylish websites for writers and authors. Find out more and get your free website starter kit: https://www.paulinewiles.com/