How Much Website Does an Author Need?
Full disclosure: My day job is writing for Sprocket Websites, so I’m pretty pro-website. On the other hand, I’m also an under-valued author so I completely understand when other authors tell me they can’t afford much of a web presence. Long ago, I wrote about why you want a website, but today let’s talk about how much website you really need to have.
You can build an elaborate online fulfillment machine that markets your work, collects money from customers and delivers your book straight to their Kindle or mailbox. But since Amazon already does that really well, you might as well let them.
The caveat with Amazon is that it is SO easy to be distracted there – they hire legions of marketing people whose sole job is to do just that – which makes it risky to let your Amazon book or author page be your sole online presence. You want the focus to be on you and your work.
Your website is the only place where you are in complete control of your own information. Amazon, Facebook, LinkedIn and the like can do as they please with the profiles and pages you build on their platforms, including deleting them entirely. Use the website YOU control in your press releases, on your social media pages, in your presentation slides, on your business cards and bookmarks – every place where you are promoting yourself.
The Wixes and Weeblies of the world advertise that you can do all this awesome website stuff FOR FREE! In the world of my website-day-job, people bring up that “free” thing every time we quote a project. Yes, they offer attractive templates and it’s fairly simple to modify them, but any upgrade for a professional appearance will cost you. Price it out before you make a decision between a free do-it-yourself website and hiring a website pro.
Here is where the costs are:
Free sites will have a URL that includes something like “wixsite.com,” a tip-off that you are using a free site builder. For a more professional look, they will sell you a custom domain name. Domain names are actually “rented” in that you have to renew your ownership. You can pay for your domain annually or in multi-year increments.
Whether you hire a website builder or do it yourself, you should own your own domain name. Typically, it will cost you around $15 a year, but then it’s protected from ne’er do wellers. Also, you’ll need it for email. (read on!)
When someone wants to hire you to talk about your book, it’s a bit off-putting when your contact info is “email@example.com.” It’s far more professional to be “Author@AuthorBook.com.” You might get such an email account if you pay to upgrade from your free website or you can buy that separately from various vendors for a few dollars per month.
Hosting depends on how big your website is and how much you do on it. Your site with free hosting might be fine for a while, but be prepared to outgrow it and check out what it will cost to upgrade so you can compare that price to other popular hosting plans.
No one can predict this cost. You may be perfectly content with the templates offered by a free website builder and never need to change. Or you may have an amazing vision for a website that will blow people away, requiring custom programming that book sales will never recoup. Somewhere in between is where you will make a decision.
Writers tend to be pretty creative people, so think this one through before you become unhappy. If you are unhappy from the beginning, then maybe you need a little customization that will cost you extra now, but on which you can build. If you become unhappy later, you enjoyed “free” for a while, but may wind up paying extra to move your content to a customizable platform later.
Certainly look at other author’s websites to see what they have done. Learn from their mistakes and be inspired by their successes. If you choose to hire a web pro, show them what you liked and didn’t like. Having a well-thought-out plan for your website will save them time – and save you money – but be open to their suggestions. They are the web pros, after all.
But while you’re thinking about all of this, go buy your domain name. Just do it.