Having an effective author website is absolutely critical. It’s not hard to imagine why. Lately, it seems that pretty much everything exists in some shape or form, somewhere on the web. Or on the Cloud, whatever you want to call it. Long gone are the days when we had to seek information away from our keyboards and, most recently, away from our phones. Everything is out there. And if you are a writer, you should be out there, too.
Managing Your Web Persona
This article will guide you through the process of creating a web presence that is both effective and easy to manage. Note that I say web presence because your author’s website is just a piece of your overall persona or online platform on the Internet. In this article, I will refer to your website as the place where you have:
- Information about yourself
- Details about your completed works
- Information about your work in progress
- A way for people to contact you
This is the rather static part of your web presence. It’s static because once you put it out there, there’s little you’ll have to update unless significant changes occur in your bio or you produce new work. This article’s scope won’t cover the rest of your web presence, including your social networking and blog. I will discuss those in a future article.
Should I Even Have an Author Website?
That’s a reasonable first question: why do you need a website?
A published author’s career can be quantified as successful or not, based on the number of published works and sales. You might argue that this is not the only way to value art. I agree that essentially, writing is an art, but it’s also business if you truly want to be a writer full-time. It’s really not that different from being a plumber who really enjoys fitting pipes. In the end, they still need to sell their services to acquire money to continue with their craft.
It’s not any different for writers.
But here comes the conundrum: You want to be a better writer, so you need to write a lot. Therefore, you have to spend your free time writing more, getting critiqued, improving your craft. This means that you don’t have spare time to put any effort into a website.
I believe that that is the wrong mindset. If you are serious about becoming a successful published author, you must re-frame that mindset and think about your author’s website as an extension of yourself. It’s a means to communicate outwardly. And, inasmuch as you don’t like to hear this, the effort you need to put into your web presence is, counter-intuitively, inversely proportional to your success.
The more of a novice you are, the more effort you need to put in. The more successful you are, the less effort you’ll have to put in. And I am talking about your direct efforts, measured in time and energy. As you become more successful, the overall web presence will increase, but you will no longer give it the same time and energy levels. Instead, you will give it your money, which now you have, by hiring experts to do it for you. So, while your web footprint gets bigger, you still have time to expand your horizon in other areas of activity.
In this article, I am addressing mostly those writers who fall into the beginning side of things. These are:
- Writers who haven’t written anything yet, but have a strong desire to become writers and published authors
- People who have written some pieces participated in writer’s groups and/or took some writing classes.
- Authors who have published some short works in paying or non-paying markets
- People who have finished one or more novels and are seeking agents or editors
If you fall into one of these categories and don’t have a website yet, this article is for you. If you have a website already, reading this article might give you ideas on improving it.
I will approach this scientifically by splitting the process into four separate baskets and each basket into three phases, as shown in the graph below.
Ideally, you might want to complete these in order, but in reality, there’s a lot you can do in parallel to save time. Without further ado, let’s start with the first topic.
Basics to Get Your Author Website Up and Running
Your Domain Name — Your e-Identity
We’ll start with a domain name. Once again, everything today is on the web. Every little thing has a website and a domain name. Domain names are being trademarked, and some of them become quite expensive because of the revenue associated with them. For example, did you know that the domain name LasVegas.com was sold for 90 million dollars? It’s true. Having your own personalized domain name is paramount currently, and this rule absolutely applies to writers.
A couple of best practices for domain names:
- Make them short and simple, even if your name is very complex.
- Make them about who you are
- Hint about what you do
Probably the best way to accomplish this is to incorporate your name and either one of the words “author” or “writer.” Depending on how long and unique your name is, you may have to be a little creative here. Most likely, the days when you could actually use just your full name (or pen name) in a domain name are long gone. But, if you do have a unique name, make sure it’s not too complicated.
For instance, www.AuthorMadhavadityaPalashkusum.com, although representing a lovely name, might be quite hard for people to use. If you have doubts, run the name by a few friends or members of a writer group. Remember, this will become your brand, so think long-term. The idea is that you should be able to spell the domain name to a person easily, and they should be able to write it down and reproduce it later without error.
The second thing to ponder about: To .com or not to .com?
Traditionally, .com domain names had been designed to be used by COMpanies. However, since the early days of the net, the .com domain has become the standard staple, used by virtually everyone. The truth is, in the past, we had no other options. Much later, things like .net and .info appeared. And then, when people didn’t care for those that much, they became an up-sell. As a matter of fact, when you go to a domain name provider to purchase a .com domain, they will try to offer you the .net and .info domains for a big discount. I personally think it’s worthless to get more than one. Stick with one.
In the last few years, more interesting domain names have appeared—things like www.JohnDoe.Writer or www.JohnDoe.Author are now possible. Some of them are quite cool. For instance, GeorgeRRMartin.ninja is currently available. Go ahead—get it.
Just kidding. Let’s get back on track…
My personal preference: Stick with the .com domain. In our modern world, if you ask anyone about a website, their mind goes automatically to www.ANYTHING.com. So, I think a .COM domain is the safest choice.
Here is one exception to the rule of getting only one domain name: if you do wind up getting one of those vanity domain names, like www.something.Writer, then you should absolutely also get the www.something.COM domain and make the latter point to the former. This will ensure that people who automatically type the .com after every address get to your website and not an error page.
Also, very important: Before fully committing to a domain name, ensure that there aren’t others out there that could be mistaken for yours. You want to avoid confusion. Don’t just add a letter in the middle of the domain name, assuming it will make it unique. Research until you find the right match for you. That’s not easy if your name is John Smith—I get it—but work on it. Be creative. After all, you are a writer!
Once you get the domain name, that will become the central point of your web presence, and everything will be channeled through that domain name.
Here are a few places to acquire your domain name:
As you will see later on, you can always directly purchase your domain name from your website’s hosting provider.
Platform — What Will Your Author Website Run On?
Once you have your domain name secured, it’s time to decide what platform to use. And why are we putting the carriage before the horse, you ask? Meaning, why are we choosing a platform before we choose the hosting? That’s because you need to know the platform before you can select the hosting type.
There are several options when it comes to the type of platform you need:
- Visual Website Builders
- Self-hosted and developed from scratch
- Content Management Systems
A website builder is a platform designed for people who don’t want to dabble in any code whatsoever. These are usually extremely easy to use and provide a drag and drop type of interface and come loaded with many templates. Most of these platforms come in a free version and a paid version.
Here are the differences:
- You can’t use your domain name. Your link will be something like johndoe.somethingelse.com.
- The provider brands your site. This means you will always see something like “made with XYZ.”
- You are limited in the number of templates and tools you can use.
- You can use your own domain name.
- There is no other branding than your own.
- You have unlimited access to templates and tools.
Here is a list of such providers:
I will give you my personal opinion about website builders: They are limited, and you will find that those limitations start to matter in time. If you truly want to put something together fast, this is the way to go. The creators of these sites have put lots of effort into making them extremely user-friendly and pleasant looking. They are all that’s called WYSIWYG (“What you see is what you get.”). This is great for the beginning, but it’s not a viable long-term solution. Also, to fully take advantage of them, you must use the paid version anyway.
I highly recommend avoiding website builders and going with a Content Management System described further down.
Self-Hosted and Developed
This is the way to go for the programmers out there. It requires purchasing a server hosting platform and developing your website from scratch. Although this is by far the most feature-rich version, it is also costly, time-consuming, and requires a lot of programming knowledge to create and maintain. I would only recommend this to avid programmers with lots of time, no family, and no friends. So, skip to the next one.
Content Management Systems
This is the best of both worlds. Content Management Systems (CMS) are platforms that work on top of a hosted environment and provide you with an advanced editor for building your site. They are a few levels higher than a website builder in both features and complexity and a few levels lower than self-developed because you are constrained to the CMS’s capabilities. It’s really the sweet spot where you want to be.
Most robust CMS-es come packed with different features that collaborate across three categories: Web content management, blog publishing, and communities. So this means that they encompass the bare-bones management of the information you put up on the web, are a platform to share news and information, and also a place to collaborate and engage with the community.
Here is a list of the most popular content management systems as of today:
It’s my personal assessment that currently, WordPress is by far the best choice. Although it was initially created as a blogging platform, it has evolved into a robust web content management system. It is easy to use, full of features, constantly updated, and there’s a huge marketplace providing templates, extensions and tools, and help.
For the remainder of this article, I will assume that you have selected WordPress, but note that most of the best practices presented apply just as much to any of the other content management systems.
To Host or Not to Host?
Just like with the website builders, a CMS comes in two flavors: hosted by the CMS provider and hosted by you. There’s a fundamental distinction here. In the world of WordPress, it’s presented as follows:
- WordPress.com – this is where the CMS hosts the website for you.
- WordPress.org – this is where you download the software to host the website yourself.
I know this already sounds a little scary: downloading software, installing it… But brace yourself. It’s not that difficult, as you will see in a minute.
As you have guessed already, I highly recommend that you go with the self-hosted version. Both versions are free, but the self-hosted version will require you to purchase hosting from a hosting provider.
When making a decision, consider that when you allow the CMS company to host your data, there are several drawbacks:
- You cannot use your own domain name. Your site will be something like johndoe.wordpress.com. However, you can pay a fee to WordPress that allows you to link your domain name to it, but that process is also quite complex.
- You are limited in what you can do to customize your theme and site’s look and feel.
For now, I will assume that you have selected WordPress in a self-hosted environment. So, let’s talk about hosting.
What is hosting, first of all? Have you ever heard the meme that goes: I just realized that The Cloud is nothing but someone else’s computer?
Well, it’s true—every website you see out there is actually hosted physically on a computer called a server. Servers are provided by hosting providers and made available for users. But in reality, they are high-capacity computers that sit somewhere on a rack inside a large secured room, with redundant power and huge bandwidth for Internet access.
So, when you “buy hosting,” you are actually renting a piece of a server (most servers are shared), and you are granted the right to use that server as if it were your own computer. Once you get access to that server, you are assigned a fixed IP address that identifies that server as your own. But don’t worry; you don’t need to know any of this. This is the beauty of WordPress, as you will see in just a bit.
The Domain Name Server (DNS) that the provider uses allows it to connect the domain name you purchased to your IP address. For instance, let’s take the website of author John Scalzi. If you google it, you will find that it is: http://whatever.scalzi.com. The domain name of this website address is “scalzi.com.” If you go to a “whois” service like https://whois.icann.org/en/lookup?name= and type this domain in there, you will see in the results that this website is hosted by the web hosting service provider called “1&1.”
I don’t mean to overload you with information, but I thought this is some cool information to keep in the back of your mind. But in reality, all of that is not visible to you, and you can fully ignore it. The hosting companies provide powerful visual tools that allow you to manage your hosting with very little knowledge about what goes on behind the scenes.
Now, when it comes to the practical approach, not all hosting is equal. Because you are trying to install WordPress, you need a hosting service that supports WordPress. More so, you need a hosting service that can automatically install WordPress for you. In addition, you want a reliable hosting provider, has excellent customer service, has strong security and privacy protocols and processes, and is also very fast.
Luckily, there are loads of them. Here are some of my favorite such services:
Note that these are all paid services. There’s no such thing as free hosting. The good thing is that they all have huge discounts for new users. Some of them offer a monthly price of $2.95 per account. This means that if you go this route, you are better off purchasing multiple years in advance. I usually recommend going for three years.
Here’s one more interesting fact for you: Most, if not all, of these services can accommodate the purchase of your domain name simultaneously. So, you could do it all at once.
After your hosting account is activated, you will log in to your CPanel. CPanel is a hosting management solution that lets you manage your server. Most of them look like the image below, but each provider adds its own flavor to it.
Do you see the line under the heading “Scripts”? That’s where the CMS installers reside. You can see WordPress and Joomla! and others. The list there depends on what the hosting provider is willing to support. Each CMS puts a different burden on their servers, so they choose this list wisely. However, I would say that 99.9% of them will have a WordPress icon there. Clicking on that will start the WordPress installer. Follow the steps as they are straightforward. In a matter of minutes, you will have WordPress installed.
If you bought your domain name from the same hosting provider, you have nothing to do. If you bought your domain name from a separate domain name provider, you need to link the two together through a process called Domain Name Server assignment. Your hosting provider will give you the proper name server and instructions, and you will have to input that into a separate field in your domain name registrar. To avoid this headache, I recommend you buy your domain name simultaneously from the hosting provider, and then you’ll have nothing to worry about.
After it’s installed, you may have to wait a little while for your domain name to “propagate” until you can use it. This could be 24 hours, or it could be a few minutes. It depends. You will know when it’s working when you can type your domain name into the browser, and it opens up your website.
Note that it is not a must that the CPanel of your provider has the WordPress installer. It’s a good thing but not an absolute necessity.
Here’s a short video that explains how to install WordPress manually, even if your CPanel doesn’t give you the option to do it automatically: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0MnPxfeeilo.
Nevertheless, once this is done, you can type your domain name into any Internet browser’s website address bar and see a default WordPress start page:
Congratulations! You now have a website!
Bring Your Author Website to Life
Okay, so you have a website. Hurray! Now what? If you look at what you see, it’s a very bare-bones, default-looking page. How do we make the magic happen?
To make website development simple, all CMS systems include a theme management system. This means that you can install a Theme on top of the CMS, and that theme makes your website look and feel consistent throughout all pages and gives you the ability to edit and customize it as you wish.
I cannot stress enough how important the theme is. You want to select a versatile and flexible theme that is mobile-friendly and is created by a company that will continue to develop it and keep it compatible with new versions of WordPress. If you choose a bad theme, you will pay for it later. It’s tempting to choose the cheapest one, but my advice to you is this: Do not make the theme the place where you go cheap.
Here are a few important things to look for when shopping for a website theme:
- Responsive Design — This means that your website will be responsive to the changes in size and resolution of the device that displays it. Your site will display correctly on small mobile devices, medium size tablets, and full-size screens. In today’s mobile world, this feature is absolutely paramount. If a theme doesn’t advertise itself as being responsive or mobile-ready, do not waste your time.
- Upgrades and support — You want a company that stands behind its theme. Somebody that will keep it updated and secured. Don’t buy a theme just because it looks cool. Make sure it is supported and updated.
- Cross-browser compatibility — Yes, we think everyone uses Chrome, but that’s not true. The browser usage is still polarized between users, and the standards are not fully aligned among the various browsers. You want your theme to display well on Internet Explorer, Chrome, Safari, and everything else.
- Simplicity — Programmers can go a bit overboard when creating themes. You want a simple yet fully loaded theme. This one is difficult to judge because, at first look, most themes might seem complex.
- SEO Friendly — SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. Although in decline over the last few years, it’s still an important factor that helps your site get on the map and be found.
I know this sounds daunting. “How am I going to know all of this?” And this is where Frameworks come into play.
Theme Frameworks are large developments created specifically to abide by every one of the rules above and then some. Frameworks are robust platforms that solve all the above issues by wrapping them into solid pieces of code to deal with every situation. Theme developers simply use these frameworks’ capabilities to create the so-called Child Themes built on top of them. The power of this is immense. It ensures compatibility while still providing all the necessary features.
Here are some of the most widely used Theme Frameworks for WordPress:
I have personally used the first three over the past ten years or so. At this point, I am currently recommending the Genesis framework by StudioPress. Its simplicity, stability, and the huge amount of features make it the perfect candidate, whether you are a beginner with WordPress or not. I suggest you at least try it out. You will be impressed.
Once you select and install your framework, you are already very much ahead of the game. Note that you will have to follow the instructions from the framework developer to install the framework. Some of them come in the form of a WordPress Theme, others in a WordPress Plugin.
Now that the framework is up and running, what about the look and feel?
Your Website’s Theme
Well, for that, you need to add a Child Theme to your framework. There are hundreds of designers out there who create themes for each framework. All of those themes are easy to find and a breeze to install. As I explained above, because the child themes are built on top of the framework, they take advantage of the framework’s full set of features.
Below are a few theme marketplaces where you can browse for your favorite theme. Note that the theme you choose must be either a plain vanilla WordPress theme or targeting a specific framework. This means that you cannot install a Genesis theme over a Thesis framework. They need to match.
- Official WordPress.org theme repository
- Genesis Themes Marketplace
- Thesis Skins
- Cherry Framework Themes
- Themify Marketplace
- Elegant Themes – for the Divi framework
- Themeforest – huge marketplace
- Mojo Marketplace
Author Specific Themes
On my website, the one that you are currently reading, I am using WordPress with the Genesis framework and with the Author Pro child theme installed (since writing this article, I’ve switched to a different theme, but I am still using the Author Pro plugin to manage my work in progress). Which brings up a good point: What does an author-specific theme need to have versus any other generic theme that looks good?
Well, not much, to be honest. The frameworks described above are so versatile that you can use them to create any website for any profession. But to make things easier, the theme designers create specific themes, too. Sometimes you will find it easier to use one off-the-shelf as I did with this website. As you notice, if you go to the page for the Author Pro theme, my site doesn’t look anything like the one they show there. That’s because I customized it. Having a good base to start your work will make things easier.
I urge you to consider the Author Pro theme first. It’s highly customizable and easy to use. But, just to give you more options, here are a few links to blog posts that list several of the best themes for authors and writers:
- 26 Best Minimalist WordPress Themes for Writers
- 33 Simple & Beautiful WordPress Themes for Writers, Bloggers, and Other Authors
- 21 Best WordPress Themes for Writers & Authors
- 29 Best WordPress Themes for Authors
As you can see, the author-specific themes usually provide special pages for displaying your portfolio, showcasing works, or even selling books. There’s nothing unique there, to be honest. Some very fancy themes are specifically designed to help you sell your books. They may have 3D books opening and closing and all the bells and whistles that come with it. For the time being, especially if you are just starting, work with something simpler. WordPress’s beauty is that you can always install a new theme, and your content won’t change. Your theme is like a new fresh coat of paint.
In the end, you will have to do your research and find the theme that is right for you. Once you have it, install it on WordPress. If you need help installing a theme, watch this video: Installing a WordPress Theme.
Plugins for Safety and Functionality
Before customizing your site to your needs and creating content, please spend some time adding the proper plugins to your site. A plugin is a piece of code created by an independent company that adds, extends, or improves the functionality of your WordPress installation or your theme. This is important because once your website is online, it becomes vulnerable. Of course, when you first launch it, it is unknown, and therefore it doesn’t have a lot of value for anyone interested in hacking it. But, hopefully, as your site becomes popular, that might change, so you want to start on the right foot from the get-go and avoid future headaches.
Note that most plugins for WordPress are free, but some do offer upgrades to a Premium version. Use your judgment based on what you are trying to accomplish.
Below is a list of plugins in different categories that I recommend installing and activating as soon as your WordPress site is live.
- Akismet – Protects your site from spam comments.
- Wordfence – Protects your site from hacker attacks and scans for vulnerabilities.
- Google Authenticator – Provides a two-step verification of your login.
- Google “I’m human” captcha – Eliminates bots by blocking login attempts made by machines.
- Updraft Backup & Restore – Backup your site often and automatically – Very important!
- All-in-one SEO Pack – Improves the SEO of your pages and content.
- Google Sitemaps – Allows easy discovery of your content by the Google search engine and others.
- WordPress Ping Optimizer – Prevents your site from being banned if you post a lot.
- WP Google Analytics – Adds a connection to your Google Analytics account if you use one to track traffic. You should!
Site speed & optimization
- Autoptimize – Improves the speed of your site by caching content.
- WP Super Cache – Additional caching capabilities that will improve your site’s speed.
- Broken Link Checker – Find those pesky broken links and fix them.
- WP-Optimize – Compact and clean your WordPress database automatically.
- JetPack is a complex plugin that covers many aspects of your site’s optimization and security while also providing improved features and capabilities. Highly Recommended.
Content and Comments
- Disqus Comment Management – Great improvement over the built-in comment system.
- Yet Another Related Posts Plugin – Allows automatic links between posts to keep visitors engaged.
- Contact Form 7 – Allows automatic links between posts to keep visitors engaged.
- Relevanssi – Improves the default search on your site.
One word of warning: when you look for new plugins, make sure that they are compatible with your version of WordPress, they have lots of good reviews, and they have been updated in the recent past. Yes, I know some of the plugins above break this rule, but that’s because they are based on APIs that haven’t changed in a long time, such as Google Analytics. If you are ever in doubt, read the user reviews in the official WordPress plugin repository.
Branding — Make it Yours
Logo & Pictures
Your name is a part of your brand. When it comes to your website, though, the look-and-feel becomes a part of your brand as well. This means that the color palette you choose, the fonts, the general way that pages are divided and linked are all part of the bigger picture.
I highly recommend this: Get a set of good, professional photographs of yourself. This is not the time to use the pictures your seven-year-old took with your phone. This is your image as a writer. If you create a persona, do it, but be professional about it. Good quality pictures will take you a long way. And don’t be shy using those pictures on your site, at least on your home page. This will add humanity to your site. Readers will feel that it’s all real.
The second part is your name and tagline.
Your name should be obvious and clearly stated on the site’s homepage. You can use regular fonts, but I strongly recommend investing some money in creating a personal logo for yourself. You can go to Google and simply search for “logo design,” and you will find a dozen sites where you can get a professionally designed logo for something like $50. Most of the sites have a portfolio so that you can check their style and quality of work.
Lastly, think of a good tagline. You don’t have to go overly smarty-pants here. It can be something simple like, “Where stories come alive,” or something similar. Of course, this is optional, but I think that you should do it. If you don’t want to create one, use the tagline to hint at the type of work you do. For instance, “Fantasy and Science Fiction Stories” or “Mystery.” It’s a good place to let people know from the start what you are all about.
Hopefully, your name is carried forward by your domain name, a picture, and a tagline. Now you have an identity on the web.
Colors and Fonts
WordPress will let you edit the colors and fonts on your site very easily, but you may need to get an expert opinion on the colors and font combinations, especially if you are as clueless about it as I am. If you want a place to get some quick suggestions on color combinations, go to this website and peruse their large collection of color schemes: http://blog.visme.co/website-color-schemes/.
A few critical things to be aware of:
- Contrast – make sure that the color of the text is contrasted well with the background color.
- Links – make sure that the color of the links is very prominent and clear.
- Navigation – the navigation should be large and easy to see, and present on all pages.
- Headings – the headings or titles are large, bold, and act as a visible split between text blocks.
The advantage of starting from scratch and not having anyone know about your website is that you can play with it without a problem for as long as you want. Nobody will know. You should share it with your close circle and ask for feedback, but outside of that, it’s like your own personal playground. Play with it and experiment. WordPress has a powerful preview engine that lets you see changes in real-time as you do them. Take advantage of it and customize the looks to your needs.
When it comes to fonts, you should stick with some of the default fonts like Arial, Tahoma, or Helvetica. However, if you want to do something different, read this article about choosing the right font for your site: Pick the best font for your website. Don’t go crazy, though. Most websites use the same font, and people are used to them. My opinion here: Stick with the default.
Your layout comprises the various elements of your site and the location and order in which they are displayed. Here are some of the main elements of a website and how they are used:
- Header – The header usually appears at the top of the website. It’s used to host your logo and tagline, maybe your picture, and some links to the site’s main parts.
- Footer – The footer is at the bottom of your site, and it’s usually comprised of a few containers that hold information. It could be your contact info, links to other parts of your site, your copyright notice, or any other notifications.
- Navigation – The navigation contains the menu with links to all your pages or the main entry pages. The navigation might reside inside the header; it might be hosted in one of the sidebars or a floating or pop-up element. I recommend that your site’s navigation is always visible.
- Sidebars – Generally, sidebars are narrow vertical elements containing links and data. In reality, sidebars could be anywhere, but you will see them mostly used as vertical blocks either on the left or right of the content. Some sites have multiple sidebars, some even showing them on both sides of the content.
- Content – This is where the meat of the page goes: The text. Usually, the content exists between the header and the footer and between sidebars, and it will naturally expand downward to fit all the content on the page.
- Floating – Some websites have floating elements designed to give the user additional ways to interact with the site.
The layout is the general way that you arrange these items. Here are some generic website layouts:
A full-page layout allows the entire content to stretch from left to right and cover all the available screen real-estate. This is particularly good for sites that display a lot of images and large text. It might not be great for blogs or pieces of text because it is not that easy to read very long lines. However, this doesn’t matter on mobile devices. As a matter of fact, most responsive designs will switch your site to a full-page layout when viewed on a small device to ensure that all text is visible.
Note that this is different from full-width. Full-width is when your website stretches fully from left to right and fills the entire screen no matter how big or small the screen. A full page may still be limited in width, but the concept here is that there is nothing on the left or right of the content.
These layouts restrict the content to a smaller box while allowing one or two sidebars to be visible simultaneously on the screen. This is probably one of the most common designs out there. I don’t have any statistics on this, but my gut feeling is that the design with one sidebar on the left or right is probably the most prevalent.
Mix and match
This is when you go crazy and mix and match the previous layouts. Don’t forget: Most of your elements can be split into sub-elements. A sidebar may have multiple sub-sidebars. The possibilities are infinite.
I suggest you stick with a standard layout for a beginning website—either a full-page layout or a layout with one sidebar.
As explained before, the framework and theme will allow you to choose your default layout and then even go in and select different layouts for different pages. For instance, if you go to my about page on this site, you can see a full-page layout. However, most of the other pages have a sidebar on the right. If you scroll down, you can see that my footer is divided into three blocks: social links, links to pages, and a search box. Also, depending on the page that you are on, the information in the sidebar changes.
Experiment and see what you like the most. The layout, the colors, and your brand is what will make your website come together.
And once that’s all done, here comes the content!
Publishing Content on Your Author Website
One of the biggest mistakes people make is going through the pain of creating their first website only to leave it untouched and without any content. Or they’ll post a few things and leave them like that for years. If you do that, you’ve wasted a lot of time and energy for nothing. So—don’t do that. Make a content-generating plan and review your content constantly. That’s the only way that your website will feel “alive” and serve its purpose.
Website vs. Blog
As I mentioned at the start of this article, your website is different from your blog, even though they may reside in the same place and ride on top of the same platform. Your website is your marketing material, your current persona as an author. Your blog is your dynamic persona, your stream of thought, and your way of communicating with your readers and peers.
The good thing about WordPress and other content management systems is integrating website capabilities with blog capabilities. The beauty is that they both share the same theme and framework. This means that you don’t have to do the work twice. Once your website is up, your blog is up, too, whether you choose to use it or not.
I will not focus on the blog portion, as this is not in this article’s scope. I will tackle that in a future post.
Now that you have a website up and running and looking nice and sharp, it’s time to add some content. In the context of the CMS, content is held on Pages.
Here are the critical pages you should have on your website:
The About page is the page where you tell your story. This is where you tell the public who you are and why they should hang around your website for a while. The About page should be a combination of your bio and your personality. If you make it too dry, it won’t be catchy to readers; if you make it too aloof, you won’t provide the information some might be looking for. I suggest you check the websites of established writers in your genre or even other genres and see how they tackle their About page.
Below are some examples:
Here are some guidelines that I have regarding About pages. None of these are hard rules, but more like personal preferences.
- Keep it in the first person. This is your website. It speaks for you, as you. So, I find it awkward when I go to John’s website, and I read, “John graduated from XYZ college.” It feels distant. As you can see in the examples above, the rules change when your website is managed by somebody else. It is reasonably assumed that you are no longer directly involved in managing it, which is the case of the famous authors in the examples.
- Do have a “press kit” – this is a part of your About page where you can have a short bio (100 words), a medium bio (250 words), and a long bio (1000 words) written in the third person. This will prove very useful when you publish something, and you need to provide a bio promptly.
- Have some decent photos of yourself, as I mentioned above. It will go a long way!
- • If you have any reviews or testimonials, or even comments on stories you’ve published, include those as well.
This is a little tricky for writers who don’t have anything to show yet. However, it’s still fine. Maybe as a starting point, you can talk about what you like and want to write about. Maybe you have a teaser for the novel or story you are working on.
- • If you have published works, of course, list them. Try to keep short fiction separate from long fiction.
- Add links to all of the external places where your works appear. The more, the better.
- • If any of your works are available for sale, link to those sales sites as well (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc.). If you are a self-published author, you have more leeway as to what you can show here. For example, you can give sample chapters for your readers to enjoy.
- You may consider displaying your query letters as well in case any agents might stop by.
Think of the Works page as an extension of your About page. About is just about you. The Works page is about your work, so try your best to draw the reader into your world. Together they are all about you as the writer.
I’m shocked by the number of websites I encounter where it’s very difficult to locate the proper way to contact a person. That’s the whole point of having a web presence! Make sure you have proper contacts, which should include:
- A contact form for people who don’t like to send emails.
- • A professional email (email@example.com is okay, but firstname.lastname@example.org is not. If you have your own domain, it’s best to have a professional email address linked to it, such as email@example.com. If you love using your Gmail client, you can still link this custom email and manage it there).
- • Links to the social media accounts you use (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn). You don’t have to use them all but feature them here if you use any of them.
One tiny note about the last point: Social media accounts. I think it’s quite critical for all writers to have a presence on Facebook and Twitter, but don’t get hung up on the idea that your website will drive traffic to your social media network. It’s usually the other way around. You will use your social media to bring people to your website. Keep that in mind because it’s a critical point, especially when your site is new.
Final Round Before You Release the Beast
It’s very tempting to publish your site and right away send it out into the wild. I’ve done that—many times. And a day later, someone tells me there’s a horrific typo on the very first page, or when you open the site on your phone, you don’t see anything. Embarrassing.
Don’t make that mistake. After your site is finished, take a breather. A day or two away from it. It won’t make a difference, even though psychologically it feels like it would. It won’t. Take some time away, just like you do after you finish your first draft. You will come back to it with new eyes.
When you do come back, follow these steps to proofread your site and ensure that it’s working properly:
- Use the Broken Link Checker plugin to ensure that all the links on your site are working correctly.
- Review your linking system:
- Is your navigation easily accessible?
- Can you reach your content quickly from all pages?
- Is it obvious for visitors where your contacts are?
- Do you have a sitemap?
- Proofread your text for grammatical and stylistic errors. I recommend using a tool like Grammarly or Pro Writing Aid. In addition to these, the JetPack plugin mentioned in the plugins section also has a pretty good embedded grammar spellchecker.
- Do all the pictures render correctly?
- Does your website display correctly on different screen sizes and devices? Use a service like ScreenFly to test your site on various screen sizes and orientations (landscape vs. portrait). Usually, you will find tiny things that you have to fix here and there, but if you run on a robust framework, like Genesis, most of this will be handled correctly. However, don’t just count on it. Check it!
- Does your website render correctly on most browsers? Use the service at BrowserShots to test it out. You will get a static image across different browsers. Your website should be rendered properly in Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Edge, and Safari.
- Use the WP-Optimize plugin to shrink your WordPress databases and optimize them.
- Turn on all the Caching plugins (Autoptimize and WP Super Cache, or whichever ones you use. Note: during development, it’s not recommended to have these running. Turn them on only at the end.)
- Take a full backup of your site with Updraft and set up automatic backups to go on daily.
- Get a glass of your favorite wine and sip it slowly in your favorite rocking chair while humming. Your website is ready!
Please don’t skip this phase. Users have very little tolerance, and they’ll move right on to the next site. Proofing your site will increase the chances that your site will become successful.
And don’t skip the last part either—the wine. And by that, I mean celebrate. However you do it, celebrate this victory. It’s a big step, and you’ve invested your time and money to get here. You’ve also learned a boatload of new things and climbed a new step toward your professional career as a published author. Congratulations!
Marketing — Your Author Website After Creation
Once you’re done with all of the steps above, you now have your very first finished version of your author’s website. It’s nice and pretty, it works, and you love it. Now it’s time to let the world know about it. Hopefully, you haven’t kept it completely a secret, and you shared it along the way with your safe circle. These are people who can give you true, direct, and constructive feedback along the way.
Here are some techniques that you can employ to market your site in the beginning:
- Tell all your friends and family. Ask them to forward to their friends and extended family.
- Post about it on your writer’s group site and ask your writer group to check it out.
- Write about it on your Facebook, Twitter, and or any other social media sites.
- Submit your site to Google for indexing. Hubspot published a great article about how to submit your site to Google and why it matters.
- Add a link to your website in your email signature.
- Open profiles on various writing websites and list your new domain name.
- Connect your website to Facebook and Twitter using the All-in-One-SEO plugin.
- Print your website domain name on your business cards.
The next thing is to be patient. The web is immense. Quite gigantic. There are over 1.5 billion websites on the World Wide Web today. Of these, less than 200 million are active. Still, it’s a pretty damn big number. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t get traffic right away. It will take a long, long time. From here, you can focus on writing and publishing. In time, your work will fill your website, and your website will help people find it.
Be patient, and never give up!
Recap: Author Website A-Z
Before I let you go, let’s take one more look at the general roadmap for your website.
Most of your money will be spent in the first two groups. Most of your time will be spent in the next two groups. Do them both, and don’t skip.
If you didn’t get through to the end, ask yourself: where did I get stuck and why? Now, the why matters a bit less. The where is most important. Because for every step in this process, there is someone out there who can help you out.
Don’t give up on the idea of having a website just because you hit a roadblock. Hire somebody or ask someone for help. Heck, ask me! I’ll help you out!
Now, before you go, I have…
3 Questions For You
- Do you have a website, and if not, why not?
- What do you use your website for mostly?
- What are some of your favorite writers’ websites?
Please share your answers in the comments below. Sharing knowledge helps us all improve and get better!
Hi there! I’m Iulian, and I want to thank you for reading my article. There’s a lot more if you stick around. I write about personal development, productivity, fiction writing, and more. Also, I’ve created Self-Growth Journey, a free program that helps you get unstuck and create the beautiful life you deserve. Enjoy!