One of the first things you need to do when writing a book (besides write it, of course!) is to create an author website. Why? Because a website is the best place to tell the world about you and your books. You need a platform! And your author website will be one of the first places that a potential customer goes to find out about you. So, get your site up and running (even long before your publication date)! That way, you’ll be able to use your author website to build an audience for your book when it comes out!
The good news is that making a simple, compelling, and affordable website for your author platform has never been easier. There is sooo much knowledge available out there! There are also many many easy-to-use templates that even a tech-novice can learn to use. “Wait!” you may be thinking, “where do I begin?!” There are a few key elements to keep in mind as you get started thinking about creating a good author website:
1. Make it about you, not your book
One of the most common mistakes that authors make when building a website is making it too much about their book. That’s right! I’m suggesting that you should make your site as much–or more–about you, the author, than about your book. That means the URL should be your name, not the book title. It means that the overarching brand of the site should be you, the author, not your book.
Why? It’s pretty simple. There is only one you and many potential books. If you make your website more about you, you’ll be able to use this same platform for all the books you write in the future. And even if you only plan to write one book, a personal site is usually more compelling to readers and potential media than a book site. People respond to people. And you can still have an entire page dedicated to your book and promote the heck out of it all over your site.
2. A good author website is simple, but not too simple
Another common mistake that happens as you start to develop a website (with or without professional help), is that they tend to get too complex very quickly. All the various visions for what you might house on your site start to appear. Before long, you have a massive and confusing array of pages that don’t congeal and revolve around a common theme. My advice is to start out simple and build from there as you need it. Our author sites tend to have only 4-5 pages in the beginning (homepage, about the author, book page(s), and a blog). As your platform grows, you can add more bells and whistles, like a media page and an event calendar. But start small and grow from there.
3. Offer a free excerpt of your book
One of my favorite things to add to an author website is an option for visitors to download a free excerpt of the book. I generally suggest the first 2-3 introductory chapters (including foreword/intro). This gives potential readers a chance to check out a sample of the book before they buy it. Plus they give you their email in exchange for the excerpt, and you build your list. It’s so much easier for someone to give you their email than to purchase your book. Once they have a chance to check out a short excerpt, they’re much more likely to buy the entire book! In fact, I like to embed “buy buttons” right into the PDF. That way, folks can click through to Amazon as they read the excerpt!
I know, I know. Everyone seems to be saying “blog” these days, but there’s a reason for it. Creating a consistent stream of published content on your site benefits you in several ways. First, every time you publish a new blog, it gives you a way to send more traffic to your site. You can share the link on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram. When people visit your site to read the post, they learn more about you and your book! Second, the best way to improve your Search Engine rankings is to create consistent content on your site. The days of planting keywords into your code and inflating your SEO are over! Lastly, it gives you a chance to diversify your audience. If you have a book about “meditation,” for example, you can write a blog post about the connection between meditation and work performance, and reach a new audience.
5. Capture emails
One of the best ways to build an audience for your book is to build an email list, as discussed above. When you sell a customer a book (usually through Amazon), you’ve got a sale (great job!). However, when you get them to sign up for your email list, you’ve got a customer. Now, you can promote many things to this new customer, including your book, future books, and other services you offer. Keep in mind that subscribing to an email list is a much easier step for people than buying a book. So when you capture that email address, you can more efficiently follow up on that reader’s interest.
To start getting emails onto your list, you need to get an Email Service Provider (ESP). These companies specialize in knowing the rules of the email-road so you don’t have to (the last thing you want is for your site to get black listed for spamming people!) I recommend MailChimp for their simplicity and affordability (first 2,000 email subscribers are FREE). Then you’ll need an email capture form on your site. There are many available, but if your site is built on WordPress (which I recommend!) I suggest Bloom. You can build forms embedded into the page, and also have them “Pop-Up” as people scroll through your site (these pop-ups are BY FAR the most effective).
If you’d like to read more about this topic, check out this blog.
6. Make sure your author website is easy-to-use
This is a big one. When you’re creating a good author website, you generally have two choices: the DIY approach, or hiring a designer. Both are great, but there are a few things to know about each. I recommend the DIY approach only if you’re confident in your web abilities to a decent degree. Avoid the “super simple” templates like Wix or SquareSpace, as the end result will usually look unprofessional and out-of-the-box. I recommend using a WordPress platform with a “theme” that is easy to customize. A theme gives you a more professional look, but doesn’t lock you into a one-size-fits all approach.
If you decide DIY isn’t your thing, and that you want to use a designer, I HIGHLY recommend that you ask them to build your site using one of these themes. Be aware that web designers tend to hate themes because, a) they can’t customize them like they want to, and b) themes kind of put designers out of work. Remember, the more customized the design, the more you will become dependent on your designer in the future. I recommend using a theme that you can use to make small changes to the site down the road. It’s more flexible. It’s cheaper. And it’s more rewarding.
Of course there are many other details that go into creating a website, too many for one article. I hope you’ve found these tips helpful in your journey toward an author website!
And if you want to see some concrete examples of the tips above, check out some we’ve recently created for authors. They all include elements I’ve been discussing. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to email me! firstname.lastname@example.org