Your Website 101: How to Create a Strong Online Presence

Before you even finish your manuscript, your website should be in the works. Nothing looks worse to a publisher, customer, or reviewer than typing your name into Google and coming up with…nothing. In this day and age, no one can afford the luxury of not being online.

Start by creating an author website so readers can have a direct link to you and your book. You can link back to places like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Facebook with ease, and having your own website will help you make direct sales, connect with your readers, and, above all, have a landing place for your brand.

There are two choices when it comes to creating your website: hire a pro or do it yourself. This decision all depends on your level of comfort with technology, as well as the amount of time and money you have available. 

Option 1: Hire a Pro (or at Least Get Some Advice)

If you aren’t quite as tech-savvy as you’d like, getting online could be tricky for you to do alone. And even if you’re an experienced surfer, a professional web designer can give you the edge that you couldn’t get if you created a site yourself. A web developer will help you get your domain name, create your layout, set up pages and options such as PayPal or Google Checkout, and make your site polished and easy to navigate.

Who do I choose?

There are literally thousands of web developers and designers out there, so do some digging and research several different options based on your needs. Look for a commerce-oriented web designer, someone who has had experience creating websites for product sales or, even better, other small publishers or authors.

There are two other important factors when looking for a web developer: years in the business and responsiveness. You’ll want to hire someone who has had experience with web design and has passed the test of time. In regard to responsiveness, your web developer should get back to you in a reasonable period of time when you have questions or request changes. These two requirements will ensure that your developer will stick with your project and give you the help and guidance that you need.

Option 2: Do It Yourself

If this isn’t your first website rodeo, there are a few simple steps to follow to make sure your site will be tailored to selling you and your book.

Step One: Domain Name

Domain names are relatively easy to come by these days. Companies such as Go Daddy can set you up with a domain name for a small fee and very little hassle. Try to keep your URL simple and easy to remember. Consider using your name or your name + “author” as the URL rather than a book title.

Step Two: Choose a Template

Sites such as WordPress.comWix.com, or YourPubSite.com give you hundreds of layout options. Look for one that has good contrast between the background and the text, uses a clear font, and offers a simple but classic design. You can certainly get creative with your layout, but steer clear of pages that are too cluttered, confusing for visitors, or overly psychedelic (go easy on the neon, tie-dye, and rotating backgrounds).

Step Three: Create Your Pages

Here are some basic pages that you will need on your site:

  • Home page: This page includes basic info about you and your book, perhaps a couple of photos, recent news, and links to other sites. This should have well-written copy to drive interest for first-time visitors.
  • About the Author: If you don’t already have a bio, start writing one. On this page, you should include information about your background, your experience with writing, your related interests, etc.
  • Merchandise/Purchase page: This is where you will have your books or any other merchandise available for your readers. I’ll go into more detail on this page in a minute.
  • Media section: Upload all of your positive reviews, newspaper mentions, awards, or achievements related to your book.
  • News/Events: Be sure to keep this section up to date. Include book signings, release dates, TV or radio appearances, etc. However, if you’re not big on events, skip this section. An empty or outdated calendar doesn’t look good.
  • Contact: Give your readers a way to contact you with fan mail or questions. You don’t need to provide the direct route to your front door, but give them a form email, an email address, or P.O. box.
  • Read: You could also include a page for each of your books and/or a “Sample Content” page where visitors can read an excerpt or download a chapter for free.

Step Four: Merchandise Setup

If you’re planning on selling a book through your site, you’ll need a website merchant payment function such as PayPal or Google Checkout. Wait to create a shopping cart center—these can be complex and sometimes expensive and are really necessary only when you have a large inventory of products (we’re talking fifty different items).

Step Five: Marketing

Once your website is up, it’s time to get the word out. Start linking to your site on relevant social media sites and posts and add it to your email signature. Put it on bookmarks and in any of your promotional material, and ask your friends to promote it, too. As for search engine optimization, submit your URL to Google to help it move up in the ranks. Search engines such as Google try to provide the most readily accessed sites with the best content, and this should be you.

Step Six: Editing

Oh, yes, the editorial process does not end with your manuscript! You can have an editor look over your site or enlist a small army of friends and acquaintances to play around with it. Have them look for errors while also gauging the ease with which they can navigate the pages. You want all of your pertinent information front and center, with simple one-click options to get where visitors want to go.

At the end of the day, the most important aspects of a good website are 1.) it’s easily accessible, 2.) it’s relevant and features the right information, and 3.) it looks appealing and professional. No matter whether you decide to work with a pro or go it alone, be sure to beta test until your can check all three of those boxes off. And always remember—your website should reflect you and your book, so have some fun with it!

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