How to Build a Website (For Authors)

Why

People will look you up online. They look you up for three things:

  1. Information about you
  2. Information about your book(s)
  3. And (if they like you) your social media so they can observe your life

How

There are four aspects to this: hosting; a domain; design; and content.

Domain Tips

I wish I could tell you how to do this completely free, but unfortunately, you must have your own domain, and that carries a small cost. This means you.weebly.com or you.wordpress.com won’t cut it. You MUST have a domain with your own name, or you risk looking unprofessional.

  1. A domain is a once-a-year cost.
  2. Don’t spend more than $15.00 on the domain itself. If you’re paying more than that, you’re being bilked.
  3. Purchase “domain privacy,” which averages $10.00 a year. THIS IS IMPORTANT. If you don’t, people can look up your domain and learn where you live.
    (REAL LIFE EXAMPLE: My address showed up before domain privacy;
    whois1
    After domain privacy, it doesn’t.
    whois2
  4. I suggest you buy your domain through your webhost. This makes it much easier to set up email and install WordPress.
  5. Don’t use GoDaddy.

Host Tips

  1. Choose one with 24/7 help, via chat, if possible. If you’re looking at Monday through Friday business hours, you will spend many a weekend up crap creek.
  2. Watch for restrictions on space (the stuff you upload) and bandwidth (how often that stuff is viewed). Some hosts will nab you for going over their “limits.” (From experience: check the FAQ. “Unlimited” really might mean “5GBs.”)
  3. I Repeat: do not purchase at GoDaddy.  This advice comes from years as a professional web desiger. GoDaddy is incredibly clunky behind the scenes, and its weird restrictions make it INCREDIBLY DIFFICULT to build your site compared to other hosts. Also, their security is dreadful. (Have doubts? Here is one of MANY in-depth explanations.)
  4. If you can afford a little more, go for Siteground. That’s where I currently am hosted, and they are FABOO.
  5. If you can’t afford hosting, go with wordpress.com. While they will limit you very slightly with themes and such, they’re secure, fast, and utterly reliable.

Setup

I can’t recommend using WordPress (.com OR .org) enough. It gives you beautiful control over your pages (the things in your menu) and your posts (your blog), as well as security, the ability to connect with readers, and more.

If you went with wordpress.com, obviously, you’re already set up. If you go with a reputable host, then they will either be able to install Wordpress for you, or offer a “one-click” install. (If you want details on how to do that, email me.)

Design

From that point on, you have a lot of good choices, and you’ll be tempted to do lots of  crazy and “quirky” things. Don’t.

Yes, we a want a site as glorious as Sherrilyn Kenyon or JK Rowling, but those take a LOT of money to build, so let’s stick with something simple and clean.

The goal for your website: 

  1. Easy to navigate. Menu must be obvious and easy to find.
  2. Clean design that works on all devices (“responsive” means it changes size according to the screen it’s on).
  3. These pages:
    • Your Bio
    • Your Books
    • Your Blog
    • Contact Information
  • You do not need a fancy image banner. Large text with your name is fine.
  • I’d suggest you choose a theme in either white or black. Avoid crazy colors, even if you love them, because the majority of your audience won’t – and crazy colors/images/fonts will distract your reader from the information they came there to find.
  • When you click “add themes,” search for the word “responsive.” That will ensure you choose a theme that works on phone and laptop and tablet.

Starter theme suggestion: Customizr (by nikeo).

  • Focus on content! They came there to see information, not your love of Papyrus font.
  • Bio: a little about you. Keep it in third person, and this is where you get to throw in all your quirky personality. If you’re not sure how to write one, go look up your favorite authors’ bios and use them as a template. (Examples: Jim Butcher; Sarah Rees Brennan; Guy Kawasaki; Me.)
  • You’ll need a photo of yourself, but ONLY if it’s high-quality. Do not post anything grainy, weirdly colored, or old (yes, people can tell if that photo is 20 years out of date).
  • Books: cover(s), an interesting summary no longer than two paragraphs (like what you see on Amazon), and where-to-buy links. If you have good reviews, include a few of those in blockquotes.
  • Blog: Yes, I’m sorry, you have to blog. The keys to blogging are: keep it short; make it something you’d like to read; keep it short. I repeat that last one because folks usually won’t scroll below the fold (translation: what they see on their screen without scrolling down), and right now, starting out, you want to grab them at once. (For blogging suggestions, use these prompts or these prompts.)

Contact Information: DO NOT POST YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS. You’re just asking to get spammed. There are tons of plugins that will give you the ability to use a form instead, often with spam-prevention (like CAPTCHA). On the contact page, include your email form and your social media profiles.

That’s It.

It may seem like a lot, but I promise, it’s not. If you do these things, you can set up a professional-looking site for the cost of your domain, and possibly hosting.

If you have questions, contact me. I love to help out other creatives, and I will answer your questions and give you a hand.


 

P. S. If you’re willing to spend a little bit of money and are comfortable fooling around with CSS and design, I’d suggest going with Genesis. Genesis is a fantastic WordPress Framework that prepares your site for SEO (search engine stuff) and is versatile enough to do just about anything. I use it for my site, in fact. However, it’s not for beginners, so take that to heart. Writer Kendall Hanson also suggests WooThemes (some of the best, most reliable themes/shopping carts/plugins out there). Go forth and view them!

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Ruthanne

Indie author Ruthanne Reid writes about elves, aliens, vampires, and space-travel with equal abandon. She is the author of the series Among the Mythos, and believes good stories should be shared.

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Show 2 Comments
  • Kendall Hanson July 8, 2014, 7:26 am

    Genesis is also a very good framework if you have the cash. If you want to set up a site where you can also sell your books or ebooks, take a look at the free WooCommerce cart with a free responsive theme like Artificer or Mystile to match it.

    • Ruthanne July 8, 2014, 2:15 pm

      I do like Genesis as well, and I have a license. 🙂 I just found in my personal experience that it was slightly less flexible, but I appreciate you mentioning it AND WooCommerce! Both excellent choices, and I will add them to the post. Thanks!