Okay, now that we’ve established the need for an author website, the question is how to go along with creating one. This sounds a lot harder than it is in reality, but I agree that if you have little or no experience with building a website, the whole process can seem daunting. So, we are going to take it step-by-step to make sure you got this part.
Free Author Websites
To start, we need to talk a little about what kind of website you want to run and how much money you have available to fund it, not just now but on a recurring basis. If you are starting author and you don’t have much money to spend, a free WordPress site will probably be your best bet. These are the websites that have a domain name that ends in WordPress.com. That means you won’t have a super easy or pretty domain name, but it will get you there.
If you’re not familiar with WordPress: it’s in itself free blogging software that you can use to build a website and especially a blog. The cost isn’t for the software, but for the hosting, or in other words for using a server somewhere to “store” your website.
Another alternative in this free category is to create a free website using a simple platform like Wix or Weebly, which are similar blogging abd website building platforms. These have fairly limited options, but usually they’ll do the trick if you’re just starting out. I’ll admit that I’m a huge WordPress fan, having used it for many years now, so that’s what I’ll be talking about mostly.
The downside of these free versions is that first of all, your domain name (your “internet address” that starts with www) is often not pretty and usually ends with the name of the free provider, like wordpress.com or weebly.com. Secondly, your options for customization (meaning getting it exactly the way you want) are super limited. It may work for a little while, but you’ll soon get frustrated with how little freedom you have. You’ll also likely run out of space, as free websites can be limited in how bog they are (and book covers, for instance, are big files).
Paid WordPress.com Options
If you want to start off a little more professionally and have a domain name that consists of just your author name, which I totally recommend, you’ll need a bit more. You’ll also need to spend some money. The good news is that for, say, $135 a year, you can have a professionally looking website with your own domain name.
A first option is to choose one of the paid packages wordpress.com offers. These start at $36/year right now, but I’d advise you to really look at the restrictions, because there are many. You can’t run ads, for instance, or run other stats than theirs. They can also delete your site if they think it violates their terms (big red flag there for me with LGBTQ content, just saying).
And another important one: you can’t use plugins—and plugins are what I love most about WordPress. They’re little snippets of extra software you can install that offer extra options, like a word cloud on your home page with tags, or the option to automatically tweet your posts, or anti-spam protection. We’ll talk more about this in a later post.
For a more thorough overview of WordPress.com, check out this post.
Build Your Own WordPress Author Website
My advice? Do it your own way and build your own WordPress website. This sounds daunting, but it’s really not that hard of you’re not afraid to experiment a little. Here’s what you will need and we’ll discuss all of these in more detail below:
A domain name
A web provider also known as hosting
A WordPress Theme
My advice is to choose a domain name for your author website that’s a simple and logical as can be, like your author first name and last name followed by .com. Anything else may be harder for readers to remember. Dashes and other symbols are super hard to remember, so keep that in mind.
If your domain name is already taken, you may be forced to get creative. In that case firstnamelastnameauthor.com may work or authorfirstnamelastname.com. Tip: if you’re a newbie author and still deciding on a pen name, check to see of the domain name is still available before you make a final decision.
You can register domain names with any company you want, just google “buy domain name” and they’ll pop up. But if you also need to buy hosting, you may get a better deal if you buy them at the same time. Often, hosting providers will throw in a free domain name registration for two years. Your domain name has to be renewed every year usually, and this can cost you anywhere between $5 and $20 per year, with much more for super commercial domain names.
Web Hosting basically means that a company will store all the files that together make your author website on their server somewhere. If you are starting out, “shared hosting” is fine, meaning you’ll share a server with other websites. If your site would grow super-duper big, you may need to get “private hosting”. The difference is how fast your website will load and how much storage space you get on the server. Of course, private hosting comes at a completely different price.
Like with domain names, there are a ton of web hosting companies out there, but these are not created equal. Do your due diligence and research here and google for reviews and experiences from others, because some offer shitty service for a lot of money.
I’ve been using shared hosting with a company called DreamHost for eight years now with various blogs, and I love them. Their service is great, they’re affordable, and their tech support is able to explain things to total newbies. I pay around $120 a year for an unlimited number of sites with unlimited email addresses, excluding domain name registration.
This one is simple, because the WordPress software is not only free, but often comes pre-installed with your hosting plan and domain name. If not, they usually have a one-click install button through your provider’s dashboard.
Okay, we need to dig a little bit deeper into WordPress now, and I’m now gonna abbreviate it to WP. Don’t get overwhelmed, this is the fun part. WP itself is software to build your author website, but of course, not all sites look the same, nor do we want them to. There are hundreds, maybe thousands of WordPress Themes (WP Themes), basically basic layouts for your blog or website. Some of these are free, others are paid.
If you google for WP themes, you’ll find a ton. Simply go through them and see which ones you like. You’ll also find a few pre-installed on your WordPress site that you can use.
Not all themes are created equal. Again, do some googling and check for other users’ reviews. Things to pay attention to are loading times, mobile-friendly (super important), responsive menus (meaning the navigation menu will automatically adapt depending on whether someone is looking at the site on a phone, tablet, or computer), and how much you can customize. If you have specific ideas for your website like direct sales, you’ll need to check if it’s suitable for ecommerce.
That’s it for now. I hope I’ve given you a solid start for your author website and that I’ve been able to explain all the techy terms into normal English. If not, hit me up with any questions. Next week, we’ll talk about essential elements of an author website.