Now that you have your mailing list set up (did you ask your friends and family to sign up?), the next step is to establish your online presence in the form of an author website.
I’m quite often stunned at the number of self-published authors who don’t bother with a website. But this should be rule number one. Like the mailing list, you shouldn’t be renting – you should own your own digital real estate. Then make your fans and potential future fans come to you – not the other way around.
Be creative with the domain name
When setting up an author website, the domain should ideally be your name. If you have a common name like John Smith or Jane Jones, then you’re going to find it difficult to get the domain you want.
In that case, you need to get a bit more creative. Maybe John Smith Books or Jane Jones Novels. Add extra words into your desired domain name and do some jiggling around until you find something that’s available.
But don’t add hyphens! If someone tries to type in your domain name – and forgets the hyphens – then they will not reach your site! Have the domain name as all one word, and as short as possible.
.com domains are not the be-all and end-all
Also, don’t feel compelled to get a .com domain. Yes, they’re the most popular, but there are other equally good domains too. I have markoneill.org but you can also get .net or your country domain. Newer domains are also springing up, like .ai or .cc. It’s really worth not rushing into getting a domain and taking some time to think about it.
One thing to note here though, is that newer domains are very expensive. It might look cool having an .ai domain but is it really worth the cost? A country domain, for example, will cost a lot less.
One other thing to remember is that, if your name is often misspelt, it’s worth buying a few domains which are common variations of your misspelt name, then forwarding them to your real website.
Which web hosting company should you use?
Any web hosting company is more or less fine, but I now use Siteground. They’re pricey, but their service is outstanding. Get a professional site made, but don’t cheap out with a crappy design – potential readers are going to be judging your professionalism and seriousness by what they see on your website.
Get WordPress installed, then get a professional website designer to come in and smarten the place up.
I highly recommend Caro Begin for this job. She charges quite a bit, but she’s very fair, very talented, and more than delivers on what she promises. Everyone I know has only good things to say about her. So it is definitely money well spent – you’re paying for quality. She has saved me on many occasions when I thought about “just tweaking something on my site.” (spoiler alert – don’t tweak! Get Caro to do it.)
One thing you should NOT forget to do is embed a sign-up form for your author mailing list on your new site. That way, you can advertise your freebie, collect email addresses, and own your fans. Have you figured out yet what your reader freebie should be?
Getting the right author website theme
WordPress, being a popular content management system, offers a wide range of themes specifically designed for authors. However, with countless options available, it can be overwhelming to select the best WordPress theme that suits an author’s needs. I love building WordPress websites, but choosing the right theme is always a mentally exhausting experience for me.
Here are some essential factors to consider when choosing a WordPress theme for authors.
- Simplicity and Focus: As an author, your content should be the main focus of your website. Look for a theme that is clean, simple, and emphasizes readability. Avoid themes with excessive animations, cluttered layouts, or distracting design elements. A minimalist design will allow your visitors to concentrate on your work.
- Responsive and Mobile-Friendly: With the increasing use of mobile devices, it is crucial to choose a theme that is responsive and displays well on different screen sizes. Ensure that the theme you select is mobile-friendly, as this will improve the user experience and accessibility for your readers. Google ranks responsive websites higher in search engine results, and penalises sites that don’t do well on mobile. Check your site’s mobile-friendliness.
- Customization Options: Authors often have unique branding or a specific style they want to showcase. Look for a WordPress theme that offers customization options, such as the ability to change colors, fonts, and layout. Customizability will allow you to personalize your website and align it with your author brand.
- Page Templates: Consider the page templates provided by the theme. Authors might require different page layouts, such as an about page, a blog page, or a portfolio page to showcase their work. Ensure that the theme you choose offers the necessary page templates to meet your specific requirements. This is where Elementor shines.
- Plugin Compatibility: WordPress plugins provide additional functionality to your website. As an author, you might want to integrate features like contact forms, social media sharing buttons, or email subscription forms. Ensure that the theme is compatible with popular plugins and supports the ones you plan to use. This compatibility will enable you to extend the functionality of your website as needed.
- Regular Updates: WordPress frequently releases updates for security and functionality improvements. Ensure that the theme you choose is regularly updated by its developers. Regular updates demonstrate that the theme is actively maintained and compatible with the latest WordPress version. If you start using an abandoned theme, security vulnerabilities will not be patched in the future, and your site becomes an inviting target for hackers.
- Price: WordPress themes come in both free and premium options. While free themes can be a good starting point, premium themes often offer additional features, dedicated support, and regular updates. Evaluate your budget and consider investing in a premium theme. A free theme gives off a kind of amateurish vibe and you need to avoid that appearance at all costs.
Essential WordPress plugins for your author website
Once you have the website actually up and running, you need to get certain WordPress plugins installed. The following is not a definitive list. You may have different requirements. But in my experience, the following six are absolutely essential.
- Yoast – everything you need for SEO. You will instantly get a sitemap, which you should register on Google Search Console. Do yourself a big favour and get the premium version.
- Google Site Kit – everything you need to get a boost on Google. You can link your site to Adsense, Analytics, site performance, Tag Manager, and much more.
- Jetpack – this is a bit of a contentious one, because many people believe that Jetpack slows a site down. But I haven’t seen evidence to that effect. I particularly like the downtime email alerts and the auto-posting to social networks.
- Askimet – if you start posting blog articles, then spammers are going to swarm to you like bees and honey. Askimet is the one plugin that will nuke them before they even have a chance to get comfy on your site (the spam comments, not the spammers.)
- Amazon Link Engine – in a future article, I will be discussing geo-specific shopping links. But suffice to say right now that you need a plugin that will take all existing shopping links on your site and convert them to geo-specific ones. This one works with Geni.us.
- Contact Form 7 – the last thing you want is spam email, and putting your email address in plain text on your site is going to cause an avalanche of spam. Instead, put a contact form on your site. Add a Captcha to deter any drive-by opportunists.
You need to get a web hosting package, a domain, and a professional theme. Siteground’s basic hosting package starts at $155 a year and a domain will cost between $15-$20 a year. A theme will likely have a recurring annual fee if you want to get all the future theme upgrades from the developer. Expect themes to start from around $50 upwards per year. So basically, you’re looking at just over $200 a year, all in all. It’s a lot of money but it’s a necessary investment. And it’s tax-deductible.
Get the site up right away as one of the first things you ever do. The website will act as your 24-hour non-stop sales promotion machine. So while you’re writing your book and preparing it for publication, put the cover on your website and add links for readers to place pre-orders.
Lots of things! Start with introducing yourself on an About page. Set up a Contact page with an email form. Links to your social media profiles and of course a form to sign up for your author email newsletter. Finally, set up a sales page for your book and take pre-orders. Remember, it usually takes time for Google to index and list your website. Better to get started early so when your first book comes out, your site is already starting to rank.