Do I Need an Author Website?
YES. YES, YOU DO. At the very least, you really don’t want the most obvious domain name to be claimed by someone who may misrepresent you or exploit your readers for their own gain. Maintaining control of a domain name is not a big yearly expense and can save you a great deal of mental and financial stress down the road.
At its best, a slick website is a great marketing tool and provides a way to connect to your readers. It also helps you maintain a consistent author brand, showcase your writing and personality, build up your newsletter list, create hype for upcoming releases, provide extra content surrounding your well-ordered backlist, and so much more.
Where Do I Start?
You have so many options, and most of them boil down to your budget and how involved in the design and maintenance you wish to be.
On one end of the scale are blog-publishing services like BlogSpot or WordPress. Both of those examples are ad-supported, meaning you avoid paying any monthly or annual fee if you let them put ads on your site. Some blog-publishing services are downloadable software that can be deployed through a separate web-hosting provider, but some are hosted only by the blog-publishing service itself.
I’m sure that was confusing, so here’s an example: when you create a free account at Blogger, your ad-supported blog will be hosted by Blogger itself and they will point a .com domain name at it for a small annual fee. Although they have customizable themes, there’s only so much you can change and its parent company, Google, can decide to make large changes to how the site works.
Alternatively, you can pay a web-hosting provider like DreamHost to allocate you some server space—or a whole server if you pay extra—that will host whatever you want (within their Terms of Service, of course). You can install WordPress on that server, dress up your site with either a free or paid WordPress theme (there’s thousands), and pay DreamHost a small annual fee to point a .com domain name to it.
Extra-alternatively, you can create an account at WordPress.com, which will host your blog for you either for free (with ads, using only the free themes and a wordpress.com domain name), or for money if you want no ads, a paid theme, and a regular .com domain name.
For a more in-depth comparison: “WordPress vs. Blogger — The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly” by Ariel via Elegant Themes. (This site sells WordPress themes, so take their opinion with a grain of salt, but her points were rather salient).
Further along the website spectrum are the “integrated website providers” like SquareSpace, Wix, or Weebly. For an annual fee, these providers host your website, point a .com domain name at it, provide a varied gallery of customizable website themes with responsive design, and take care of any updates to the code that supports your site.
On the low-maintenance, high-price end of the spectrum is hiring a website designer/administrator to build your website, get it hosted somewhere, and keep it up to date. All you would have to do is tell them what you want (don’t be difficult about it, though) and provide some level of content—anywhere from basic metadata and visual assets to regular blog posts. Note that some of the above website providers will take on the role of an administrator for an additional fee. Also, note that some freelance web designers do not offer to fulfill an admin role; depending on the contract, you might only be able to call on them to fix a technical problem with the site after it has gone live.
I’m telling you all this because you should also be prepared to make changes when necessary. If one service is not working out for you, look into finding one that does the things you want for the right price.
Some final tips:
A significant portion of readers surf the web on mobile. Note the difference between the two examples below (sorry, Stephen King):
You want your site to be as legible and navigable as Neil Gaiman’s, so keep “responsive design” in mind when deciding how to set up your site. Website providers like SquareSpace have a built-in tool when editing your site that shows you how it would look on mobile or a tablet. That said, responsive design isn’t a magic bullet, so stick to layouts and images that can flex along with the design.
Make sure your site is secure. Protect the password you use to access it, make sure that password is not easily guessed (you can use a password manager to create and store a complex password), and avoid site themes that have known security holes or are no longer updated.
If you pay for a domain name, don’t let your payments lapse. If you do, not only will your site not come up when someone pings it, but an opportunistic cad could also snatch your domain name out from under you. Maybe they’ll sell it back to you, though…for a price. I’d recommend setting up auto-renewal for both your domain payment and your webhosting payment.
When determining how to set up your author site—how it should look when you first arrive, how the content should be laid out, etc.—first reference the articles below and then go looking at other authors’ websites. If one really catches your eye, you can use its overall organization as a template, and you can even see about contacting the web designer (they’re usually linked at the bottom) to commission a similar site for yourself.
“How to Choose a Domain Name for Your Author Website” by Joel Friedlander via The Book Designer
"21 Ways a Reader Might Find Your Author Website" by Chris Robley via BookBaby Blog
“7 Must-Have Features for All Author Websites” via Written Word Media
“11 Author Website Must Have Elements” by Kimberley Grabas via Your Writer Platform
“How to Set Up an Inviting Author Website that Converts and Builds Loyalty” by Francesca Devin via Marketing for Writers
"Writing Your Author Bio? Here Are 10 Great Examples" by Diana Urban via BookBub
"Is Your Author Website Doing Its Job? 6 Things to Check" by Laura Pepper Wu via Jane Friedman
"The Five Most Common Author Website Mistakes" by Thomas Umstattd, Jr. via Rachelle Gardner
Favicon Generator: for making a website-specific icon that shows up in browsers.
"Case Study: Book Marketing, Search Engine Optimization and Using Press Releases For Your Book" by Kit McKittrick via The Creative Penn