Your Author Website: The Joy of Keeping It Simple
by Pauline Wiles
With so many appealing social media platforms available to you, it’s tempting to think you could skip the effort involved in setting up your own author website. However, the long term value in having your own central home on the internet – one that you control fully – is well worth the time you’ll invest.
You might enjoy hanging out and engaging with readers and other writers on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, but the rules and algorithms for these sites can change overnight. You could find the platform you’ve built is seriously undermined, or that you’re suddenly expected to pay for every interaction with your followers.
Plus, when you’re ready, your own website is the ideal place to feature a sign-up mechanism so that readers can join your email list. This permission to contact them directly is invaluable as you build your author career.
Having your own author website is also a courtesy to your readers, showing that you’ve made the effort to gather everything they might want to know about you in one convenient place.
Why do writers and authors delay in getting a website?
Many writers put this task off because they feel they’re not ready to commit to a website. In fact, my experience has shown that the best time to establish your site is earlier than you might realise. If you have at least finished a first draft, and you are reasonably clear on who your ideal reader will be, then the act of setting up your website should bring additional clarity to your author brand and your key messaging. Not only that, but creating a website shows you yourself that you are serious about your writing business. This mindset hurdle can be a significant leap for many new authors. And if you happen to have any friends or family who poke fun at your writing habit, this is one more step to convince them that you’re not just messing around.
The other big barrier is that writers assume a website will be too expensive. It’s true that you could hire a large design agency, write (more or less) a blank cheque, and let them make merry with your budget. However, technology is becoming ever more affordable and it’s now possible to create an initial author website without spending a penny. I’ll expand on that later. Simply put, don’t let financial fears stand in the way of getting your own online piece of real estate to call home.
The joy of keeping your author website simple
I firmly believe that you should start with a simple author website, and plan to refine or expand it later. This is a pragmatic and highly effective strategy: it gets you online much sooner than if you turn the project into the technology equivalent of War and Peace.
There are other benefits from simplicity, too:
Keeping things simple initially takes much of the pressure off your website project. You’re a writer, so you should be able to put together the text for your website fairly easily, as long as you don’t get bogged down in believing that every sentence is carved in stone.
As a relatively new author, you may not foresee everything that your writing career will encompass, or what you’ll want your website to achieve for you. You probably don’t have a perfect picture of the features, widgets and someday-functionality your website needs. That shouldn’t hold you back. Just create a straightforward website which represents you and your work now, and know that you’re not tied to it indefinitely. Your online home can, and must, evolve with you.
Easier to construct and maintain
The good news is that website technology is evolving fast, so that it’s much easier to use. If you do hire a professional to create a straightforward website for you, then it’s likely that person will spend less time building it than they would have years ago. This should be reflected in a lower fee.
Even if you get some professional help in setting up your website – wherever possible, you should learn how to make basic edits yourself. You no longer need to know html code to be able to tweak your author pages. And the time you’ll spend getting comfortable with your website interface has plummeted in recent years. This means that if you need to make an adjustment to your original wording, it’s no big deal. A simple website is much easier to keep up to date than something complex.
A simple author website is more affordable than ever
Equally exciting for authors on a limited budget: underlying website technology is becoming extremely affordable. So, if you decide to go it alone and create your own website, you can do so now for a less than you might expect. This especially applies if I’ve convinced you to keep your website simple! Some platforms are well-known, like the ones discussed in this SPF podcast episode. However, look beyond these and you’ll discover further options, including Carrd, Strikingly, Webs and Jigsy.
Some of these providers offer free packages, which come with less attractive domain names and (sometimes) advertising on your site. For this reason, free websites often attract disdain from marketing experts. I disagree: there’s nothing wrong with this approach if you simply want to test the water, or ease into your online home gently. I truly believe any website is better than none, and you have to start somewhere.
However, if you opt for a paid package, you can quickly elevate your website to a much more professional footing. As with all investments, do research your chosen provider carefully. Pay particular attention to your ongoing costs, not just the first year deal. For budgeting purposes, plan on about US$12 (£9) per year for your own domain name, and a fee from your provider starting at just US$19 (£15) per year for the simplest functions, rising to over US$100 (£80). (Prices at time of writing, autumn 2019.)
Tips for going it alone
If your promotional budget is tight, you might be interested in creating your own author website instead of hiring a professional to do it for you. There’s no reason you shouldn’t try this. However, much like book covers, the majority of self-made sites give themselves away through poor design.
The best tips for not looking like you cobbled your website together yourself include:
Less is more. Keep your content minimal, avoid clutter, and leave plenty of “white” (empty) space so the reader’s eye isn’t overpowered. In this scenario, sparse will look classier.
Restrict yourself to a neutral background colour (white or pale grey are good bets), plus two accent colours at most. Make note of the hex codes which represent those colours so you can repeat them: don’t guess at a shade.
Keep consistency, too, with the fonts you use. Again, limit yourself to two fonts, and consider how their vibe enforces your genre.
Use a large, clear photo of yourself. Ideally this would be a professional headshot, but if you can’t stretch to this, a tool like remove.bg can help create a more polished look for the best photo you have.
Make sure you have one clear call to action, whether that is to buy your book, sign up for your email list, or follow you on social media. Visitors are more likely to click on buttons than links.
Check your website carefully on smaller devices, such as tablets and smartphones. You might be dismayed at how your beautiful desktop design behaves on a smaller screen.
There are further great tips on approaching your website design project in this SPF podcast interview.
What are you waiting for?
As a self published author you wear multiple hats every day, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the different components of your author platform. If you don’t love playing with technology, then keep your author website simple and don’t aim for perfection.
Establish a basic online home sooner rather than later, congratulate yourself on your progress, and know that you can always make updates as your publishing journey evolves.
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