So, if you’re a writer who’s hope is to make any money, you sadly need a website. Since you know that much, I’ll bet you are now asking – how do you go about getting one and what are you going to put up on it?
Since this is going to require multiple parts, we’ll start with the beginning.
Getting a Website
There are potentially millions of places to get a website, and your access to these can depend on where you live. Since we can’t break this down country by country, I’m going to keep it general with what I have seen in my experience or learned of in the 20 years (since 1998) I’ve been working with websites, hosting, and customization. While the industry has evolved, the basics are the same as they’ve been for over 15 years. The major sites change, but not much else has.
So, there are multiple types of hosting, most of which you don’t need to worry about. If you are just getting started with this, chances are you are just needing the basics. No matter what people tell you, unless you are getting thousands of hits a day (which can take years to build up to), you don’t need all the bells and whistles. You probably won’t even have any use for them, either, if I’m totally honest.
So what you need is a basic account somewhere. Depending on how comfortable you are with new software, the set up on some sites may be too complicated for you. If that’s true – just try something else. This doesn’t have to be a real big deal.
For free, you can get a standard wordpress or similar site which uses a backend CMS (content management system) that can be very good for some people. It’s usually simplified and has some limitations, but it’s one place where you can start off. They all have free templates you can customize to some degree.
Another is wix. Now wix, like many others, has a drag and drop system that can allow you to lay everything out as it will look to everyone else. I personally don’t like drag & drops, but they are easy for some people. There are always templates there you can customize, too. Some have WYSIWYG editors (what you see is what you get) that is a little different that drag and drop, but mostly it’s either CMS or drag-and-drop.
Your option is to make it yourself with whatever editor you know how to use (I use notepad or it’s equivalent). But I’ll wager you don’t know how to do that, so we’ll stop there for now.
You CAN pay for a site, but I strongly advise everyone start out small until they get a steady following that justifies the expense. Especially if you’re on a budget, like most of us are. If you can afford it, many sites offer premium templates or custom designed sites, but the prices can vary a fair bit and some will require an upgraded account for you to use them.
Instead of listing a bunch of sites, I have found several sites that offer comparisons of a variety of website builders, most of these with free options. Take a look at these before making a decision on where you want to start. Often, these will give you links to places you may not have heard of or that may offer a feature you need that others don’t.
SiteBuilderReport – Top 10 Free Website Builders
PC Mag – The Best Website Builders for 2019
Website Builder Expert – Best Free Website Builders in 2019
Website Tool Tester – The 21 Best Free Website Builders
Just so you know, you may want to purchase a domain name and upgrade to a basic plan once traffic picks up. If you purchase your domain, you may wish to get the privacy option. If you do not, your name, address, phone number, and email address will all be available for anyone to see. I do advise this if you have any concerns for your safety, however, fewer people know about this than they used to. It’s less risky than having that information on other places, such as facebook or twitter, but is still available to the general public.
Now, the domain is yours as long as you pay for it and you can take it anywhere with you if you decide to host your site in a place other than where you bought it. I am not going into all that right now, though. One step at a time.
Building A Website
Now, fortunately, it’s not that hard to build it. Anyone can do it. There are some things you’ll want to keep note of, however.
As tempting as it may be to use bright, vivid colors – don’t. There is a reason why certain colors are used more on websites than others. Now, accent colors are great. Make them bright and bold if you want. But anywhere you have text, it should be readable over beautiful. Bold colored backgrounds may look pretty, but reading on it causes eye strain or just repels people. Personally, I prefer black or dark backgrounds with not-quite white text, but you’ll find many businesses use white or a lighter colored background. Migraine sufferers often prefer the darker backgrounds, as do gamers, but it depends on your preferences. This is more than a personal site, but less than a business site. That means you get a bit of leeway.
- Menu / Navigation
The second most important part of your site is the menu. No matter how good your content is – if they can’t find it, it’s pointless. This is why it’s important to put things in categories. Every single site format has a way to put pages & posts in groups on the menu in one way or another. Look at my menu as an example. Now, for a single person, it’s essentially what you need. It should contain: Home (main page), Blog (it’s almost a requirement these days, but only if you are going to dedicate time to it), News (when something happens, like you publish a new book or you’re going to an event or something), Books (something that shows off your work), About (where you put a bio and all your other links), and Contact (A page with a form to email you, send you a letter, etc. – do not publish your email address or you will get spam! – as well as other places you can be reached like facebook, twitter, etc.).
I STRONGLY advise against publishing your personal phone number or address on your website! I cannot stress it enough. All it takes is for one mentally imbalanced person to get a hold of it and start harassing you and/or your family. Use a PO or another mail box away from your home if you wish to receive mail, but unless you are doing more than writing books – such as publishing, illustrating, editing, etc. – don’t post your personal phone number.
Do not put up half-assed graphics! It’s better to have no images than it is to have crap. With no images, it may be plain, but it won’t turn people straight off. Do put up book covers, your picture (or something that represents you) and even little images where you can throw them, like for news or as we have with the headers on the posts. Sometimes that is all you need. There are lots of images that are public domain, offered by the site, or that you can buy rights for to find to help fill in where you need them (like blog posts). When it comes to personalized graphics, though – pay for it if you can’t or ask a friend who you think is really good. Some people will be happy to help you out with some personal images because they’re just nice.
At least once a week, you need to post something on your site. The more you’re doing, the more people look. Blast your achievements, tell people your thoughts, talk about your passion or whatever, but keep putting things up. Unless you’re a big name or you have someone to do it for you, your website isn’t going to do you as much good if it just sits there and doesn’t ever change. It looks abandoned, so you don’t draw as many people in to come back and return visitors help sell your books. You do not have to accept comments, have a user area, or a forum. Unless you’ve already got dozens or hundreds of loyal, dedicated fans, it’ll all largely sit there unused or barely used. If you do those things, be aware that if you get a lot of activity, you will pay more for hosting. Either way, everyone has to accommodate their own image and market for their needs and fans.
This is the most loved and most hated part of a website. Hated because you have to think about what to write and loved because for some reason people like to see what we have to say (I have no idea why). So what the hell do you write about?
If you’re not comfortable talking about your personal business, then find a topic. If you need inspiration, look at twitter or facebook. There are always some questions out there that are designed for people to provide their perspective. Do that on your blog. If you’re funny, then do it in a way people will find amusing when you can.
Write about what you’re doing. Are you working on a new book? What chapter are you on? Is it the first draft or other? How many words are you at? What’s the book about? (don’t be too detailed) How big do you think it will be? What genre is it in? Is it a single book or part of a sequel? Tell them.
Maybe there’s a short little bit of a story that pops into your head, or a scene that will draw interest into your story. Sometimes a paragraph or two can draw in the curiosity, so that when you finish it, people will already be anxious to see what happens. That translates to sales.
You are a writer – write things. Don’t let the fear and self-consciousness block you. Eventually, it will become a habit and it won’t be so bad, but you have to start somewhere, right?
While there is far more we can go over, that alone should get you started. You need to remember that if it annoys you on a website, it’ll probably annoy your visitors. This is also going to represent you, your brand, and your product. Keep that in mind as you create your site and as you build it up. If it’s on the internet, it’s out there and you don’t want anything that’s going to bite you in the ass later.
Always, always have other people look at your site before you put it out there for the general public to see. Make sure there are numerous devices, browsers, screen sizes, and operating systems (if you can). Unfortunately, as has been the case since the very beginning, things don’t show up the same way to all the different software and devices out there, so it’s best to do a test sampling for people to help look and give you feedback. Twitter and Facebook are both good for people volunteering if you ask.