August 2017

Creating an Author Website: The Stress-Free First Steps | Deep River Books

No need to look so stressed! Creating a website doesn’t have to be overwhelming.

Creating an author website sounds overwhelming. But it doesn’t have to be. Last month, we listed the four reasons why you need a website. This month, we’ll dive into those first decisions you need to make and steps you need to take. These can be divided into three main sections: Domain name, Hosting Choice, and Customization. For now, we’ll focus on the first two.

Jane Friedman gives an excellent guide, following those three broad sections, in her article “A Step-by-Step Guide to Build Your Author Website” on The Writer’s Digest. She does such a fantastic job, there’s no need to create a new guide here. Instead, this article weaves together some of the highlights, gives further insight into each choice, and provides a bottom line so that you have no more excuses not to create an author website.

Decision 1: Domain Name

Best practice is to create an author website with your name (or pen name) in its address. Friedman writes, “Most authors should buy a domain name that closely adheres to the name they publish under. While you might sometimes buy domain names related to your book titles, we’re most concerned with building an author-branded website that spans your entire career.”

That part where she says “spans your entire career” deserves special note. You don’t want to create a new website every time you write a new book or begin a new series. Generally, an author website is the way to go.

Exception: Sometimes, your book may need a separate site, particularly when it’s connected to a support network or organization. One example is loveourvets.org, the website connected to Welby O’Brien’s book Love Our Vets. She’s built an entire ministry with a strong web presence and resources for veterans and their loved ones. Her name is not in the URL—but it is prominent enough on the website that if you Google “Welby O’Brien,” you’ll easily find the right site.

Decision 2: Hosting and Website-Building Services

Friedman shares three main options for hosting—basically, for what service you use to design your website, get it online, and back it up. Hosting is technically separate from website design and building. In housing terms, hosting has to do with the property you build on, and design more with the structure itself and its appearance. However, the type of hosting you’ll use will likely affect how you design your website (or have it designed). So, like Friedman, we’ll combine those decisions here.

Option A—Free Hosting

There are a lot of options for free hosting, more than Friedman explores in her article. Some of them result in more professional-looking sites than others, if you go about it right. Sites like WordPress, Wix, and Weebly provide easy-to-customize templates and are great places to develop your website skills without worrying about the pay and responsibility of self-hosting. Anyone can use these services; if you have the patience and willingness to learn social media, you should be able to learn these with just a little more effort.

But there are drawbacks. The free versions have limits to their customizability and functionality. They often put ads on your website that you have no control over. And, ultimately, you don’t really own your site.

Still, free hosting is a great place to start if you’re reluctant to spend the funds and time. And if you think you might want to upgrade someday? Friedman writes, “I recommend starting with WordPress to allow for a seamless transfer to a self-hosted WordPress site if and when the time comes.”

In one of her other articles, “Building an Author Website on WordPress: How to Start Smart,” Friedman repeats the suggestion: “Use WordPress.com as a low-pressure, easy way to begin, with confidence in its long-term prospects.”

Basically, if you tend to procrastinate on new things that require money, start with WordPress.com. It’s a great way to get your website up, learn skills, and gain the confidence you need to manage your own website—and maybe even move onto self-hosting.

If you’re pretty sure you’ll never need to upgrade to fee-based hosting, then you can explore options besides WordPress, too. For example, this month’s Author on the Rise, Joshua McClure, uses Wix.

Remember, though, that even with free hosting, you’ll need to pay for your own domain name, so you aren’t stuck with a less professional-looking URL like [authorname].wordpress.com.

Option B—Fee-based Hosting, or Self-hosting

Self-hosting isn’t for everyone, but it’s the option that experts like Jane Friedman keep coming back to. They’ve found it works well for them and their businesses as authors and consultants, and this makes sense: It gives you more control, and it can be very affordable—as little as $4–7 a month. There’s a learning curve, but there are plenty of resources online to help you along the way. Here are a few of them:

If, along the way, you decide you need a bit of help setting up the website properly, you can always hire someone. A web designer can be costly, but might be worth it. More on that later.

Option C—Managed or Premium Hosting

This is really another branch of fee-based hosting—a more expensive branch.

Friedman only really spends a paragraph on managed hosting:

Many users find that with a bare-bones self-hosting arrangement, you get what you pay for. With managed or premium hosting, you pay a higher price (up to $30/month) for services such as regular backups, site security and superior support. For authors with little technical background or experience—and no time or inclination to get up to speed—managed hosting may be the right answer. One of the most popular managed hosting solutions for WordPress sites is WP Engine.

Note that managed hosting does not include the website design. That’s a different service.

Searching for more information about managed and premium hosting is, frankly, overwhelming. A lot of the managed hosting plans are clearly aimed at businesses with much bigger crowds of website visitors than our authors expect to get—and the price tags show it. If you want to look into managed or premium hosting, here is one of the least headache-inducing articles we found on the topic:

We’re trying to be impartial about platforms and providers, but most of the time, once you start exploring fee-based hosting, anything involving WordPress is less of a headache than other options.

More Options:

These are basically options B-1, B-2, and B-3, paths you can take “if managed hosting is too expensive and self-hosting is too scary.” Friedman suggests:

  • “Squarespace, which offers a managed hosting environment and e-commerce functionality.”
  • A WordPress.com upgrade
  • Hiring outside help for site setup.

Hiring Help

As Friedman writes, “Hiring help can speed the process, reduce frustration and give you peace of mind that things are set up correctly.”

It can also be expensive. If you think you want to hire a designer, these articles might be helpful:

The Last Step: Customization

This is the fun part! Jane Friedman goes into this a little bit in her “Step-by-Step Guide,” so be sure to check it out. But this step really deserves its own article. Look forward to a more in-depth look at customization and continued website management in September.

Now What?

If you still don’t feel ready to create a website, you might have a bad case of procrastination, information overload, or both. The best way to beat that is a plan. Make small deadlines for yourself and carve out time to meet those deadlines. Some ideas for your first tiny steps:

  1. Choose a domain name.
  2. Choose a type of hosting.
  3. Create an account on WordPress (or Squarespace, or whatever you’ve chosen) and follow some of the guidance they give you.
  4. Ask your spouse/child/grandchild/friend/dog to sit next to you and remind you that yes, you can do this.
  5. If you’re reading this in August 2017, complete those first few steps, then hold tight. We’ll check in again in another month with more details about customization, what you need to have for a successful author website, and more. [Here’s the link!]

Examples

Need some inspiration? Here are a couple websites by DRB authors:

http://paulgauche.com/

Paul Gauche’s website has refreshingly clean visuals. Note how his welcome page doubles as his about page, and he has social media links for easy connection.

https://laurapangaroni.com/

Laura P. Angaroni’s website is primarily a blog. She updates it with information about her novel—like reviews that have been written about it—trivia about her book, and personal thoughts on life, faith, and parenting. Note also her about page (titled “Laura”), book page, and contact page, as well as how she incorporates links to social media.

Both Paul Gauche and Laura Angaroni use WordPress, by the way. So do we.