I spent the entirety of my ‘Marketing Monday’ working on my website: grantmatthewjenkins.com. Most authors, particularly novelists, have them these days, and a website is an essential part of any marketing plan whether your are rep’d or self-published.
Where do you start?
For my website, I used the open-source, web-based software, WordPress, because I have some experience using it for some of my other projects. Everyone likes to say that its ‘easy’ but even for someone like me who has done some HTML and CSS coding, designing a website can be difficult and frustrating. There are other services like Weebly or SiteBuilder, but you can also use Adobe DreamWeaver or even Microsoft Word.
WordPress, despite its complications, has its strengths. First of all, it is fairly intuitive to use. Their visual editor, Gutenberg (yes, that Gutenberg) makes website building a little like word processing. You literally build your site out of figurative ‘blocks,’ that have different purposes (image, list, text, etc).
Secondly, their service is world-class. Tech agents get back with you quickly via email, and the chat help is fantastic. They’ve helped me through some sticky situations where I was getting very obsessive and angry.
Free or Paid?
WordPress has five plans to choose from. It does have a free service that you can build a website quickly and cheaply. It comes with free templates and access to most of the basic blocks you need to get started. The Personal is $4/mo. while the Premium plan is $8/mo., and both allow you to use a unique domain name, not just https://www.wordpress.yourname.com
If you want a unique domain name, you’ll have to pay for it or buy a WordPress plan. For me, it was worth it to have a website that was easily remembered as my full name. Luckily, there aren’t many Grant Matthew Jenkins’s out there.
You can check the availability and purchase site names through web hosting sites like Domain.com or GoDaddy. It costs around $13 a year for a name, and you have to renew it annually, or you could lose it and have to pay to fee to unlock it or buy it back from someone else. Choosing ‘auto-renew’ can save you headaches.
Nobody tells you this up front, but if you want to do more advanced things with your website, like sell books, you’ll have to pay for a premium plan, either Business or eCommerce. For authors, I recommend the former, unless you are doing hella traffic and moving lots of books and merchandise. I bit the bullet because I think I can recoup my costs just on the higher margin I’ll get from selling books on my site.
Choosing a Design
All web design software comes with free and, if you upgrade to Business like I’d did, premium templates. None of them are perfect–I’m a little pick about the way things look–but they can really help you if you are not a design expert. There are even template geared towards authors who want to sell books, like “Book Landing Page” and “Author Landing Page.” I went with the latter because it is clean and bright. Simple.
You can also buy template and plug them in (‘plugins’ are small applications that you can integrate into your WordPress site that expand its functionality). Prices vary widely. On my budget, I went with a template that came with the WordPress Business Plan.
Pro Tips for Web Sites
Here are some hard lessons I’ve learned managing my several websites, and I hope you find them useful as you think about your web presence:
- Remember, effective websites are visual. Use lots of photos of you, your books, and your life to make it captivate your audience.
- Update often. Keep your website maintained and up-to-date. Fix dates, names, and info, especially with things you are doing or selling.
- Use the blog feature of your website, if it has one, to keep in front of your reader. Link your blog to your social media site so that posts automatically show up, or, if you don’t want a Business Plan, just cut and past links to tweet, post, and pin.
- Don’t put too much on one page. Scrolling is a pain. Use links to multiple pages with different functions (home, blog, about me, etc) so most of you information appears on the screen at once.
OK, that’s all for now–I have to get back to obsessively futzing with my own site to get it just right! Leave comments about your experience with web design down below.