I bet you hear this a lot: “An author website is a must have.” It’s one of the more common and oft-repeated lines coming from every book marketing and publishing industry expert. Website, website, website. You HAVE to have one.
If you’re hoping I might offer a different opinion, you’re sadly out of luck. If you’re a self-published author and you want to drive sales of your book, you really need an author website. No way around it.
Luckily, the best author websites have a few considerations you can lean on to help you create an amazing website of your own. And thanks to design tools like WordPress, you can do it all with little or no web design know-how.
1. Hosting Your Author Website
The most important thing to remember when you plan out and buy your URL: it won’t change.
Don’t name your website after the title of your first book. The SEO might be great for that first release. But what happens when you publish your second, and third, and fourth titles?
This is your author platform so the hosting URL should reflect that and should also be easy for your website visitors to remember. Like your name (or pen-name), the name of your publishing company, or something hyper-relevant to your fans. For example, the official Harry Potter website URL is https://www.wizardingworld.com/. It’s not the publisher or author’s name, but it manages to be relevant to the readers and stands out as clearly Harry Potter related.
With a URL in mind, you’ll need to find a website hosting service.
Author Website Hosting Options
Any of these tools will work well for creating your website. Some, like WordPress and Wix, are focused on content creation. Others, like Shopify are more intent on building a webstore. Research and look closely at the costs because you’ll have to pay something to build a site with your chosen URL.
You need to be sure the tool you’re using meets your specific needs and fits your budget.
All of the examples I listed above offer one very important option for authors; editing and developing without having to work with HTML or CSS. You want a web hosting service with the design tools to create without forcing you to learn to code
2. Your Author Website Design
Think carefully about how you’ll design your author website. While the design is not locked in like the URL, you’ll want to make changes sparingly.
You want the design to be visually pleasing, easy to digest, and as modern as possible.
You’ve got a lot of control over the individual designing of the individual elements on your page, but my advice (and this is coming from someone Lulu’s creative team can attest is NOT a designer) is to stick to the basics. Don’t be afraid to mirror the aesthetic of other successful author websites, or just websites in general that you like.
Author Website Design Examples
I don’t want to go down a rabbit hole of examples, but here are three that really stand out:
The main image (often called a ‘Hero’) is prominently displaying the book he’s promoting currently. And the navigation helps guide you to the most relevant pages. Note too the Twitter icon next to the ‘Contact’ link; indicating Chen wants you to connect with him on Twitter above other social media options.
The master of simplicity, Grisham’s site is almost too simple. It actually looks like an out-of-the-box WordPress theme. But his content is on-point consistently. Note again the Hero promoting his newest book. And just below that, we have the columns of content, with email capture prominently displayed.
Jemisin, much like Grisham, offers a very simple and basic design. This design focuses on the blog styling and has a lot of content. That means she knows her readers are here for that content; while our first two examples clearly know their visitors are coming to their site to purchase a book.
3. Creating Author Content
I’m not talking about your book specifically here. Your author site is a platform for sharing interest in your products. Those products are not limited to your book; more accurately your products are your words!
Maintaining a blog is a great way to share your words and dovetails nicely into the next tips I’ll get into. The great part about a blog is that it’s more than just a journal or log like it used to be. In fact, a blog is more of a structural page design for websites; it’s basically anything you want it to be, so long as you’re publishing content consistently.
Blogs, by their nature, update to display the newest post on the front page of the blog. You can take Grisham and Jemisin’s lead here and display that content live on your home page too. If you do decide to blog, just make it accessible from the home page and update it regularly.
Blogs And Beyond
Blogs can be as detailed or broad as you want—my most valuable suggestion here is to think about the kinds of readers who will visit your site and do your best to tailor the content you create around their wants and desires.
For example, you might love to travel and take pictures of exotic locales. You might also write instructional manuals for using modern digital cameras. Your author website will need to appeal to photographers, but that does not mean your blog should be a travelogue of your adventures. If this isn’t the material that appeals to your audience, you may drive them away from your site!
With a good sense of what your readers want, aim to serve up new content on a regular schedule. Data shows that posting more often (upwards of 16 posts a month) leads to better traffic and click through for businesses, but as an individual author, you’re probably not in a position to generate content at that volume.
Instead, you must determine for yourself how to plan your blog. Here’s some great advice from marketing guru Neil Patel about how to find the “sweet spot” for posting frequency.
But a blog is hardly the only pieces of content you’ll need for your author website. You also need a rich About page.
If you want to know more about the product, you’ll be scanning for a product listing page. But if you’re more interested in the creator or business, that About page will be your target. What happens next? You browse the About page and decide to either continue learning more about the product and company or you click away to something more interesting.
Your About page serves two critical roles: to draw a user in and to steer them to further pages on your site.
About Page Content
- A story – this is likely to be some backstory about you, your products, and your area of expertise.
- A value proposition – why should this Internet user buy your book instead of a different one?
- A Call to Action – give your reader a link (or two or three) that directs them to the next steps you’d like them to take.
The About Page is all too often overlooked or created with a minimal effort. You can’t afford to lose users who make it all the way to your page! Keeping new users on your page and converting them to a reader (someone who has bought a book) is the entire purpose of your site.
Hubspot ranks four pages as being the most often visited for any given website:
The About page is going to get traffic—likely about as much as your Homepage. So don’t neglect it.
4. Product Pages
The reason we’re all here, right?!
Your book(s) will be the primary feature of your website. Each book should have an individual sales page displaying information about the book, as well as the direct “Buy” button to start the sale process.
Product Page Content
- Publishing metadata
- Publishing Date/Publisher
- Similar works
I would look at various booksellers—Lulu, Barnes & Noble, and even Amazon—to inform how you design the book pages. Specifically, I suggest removing any sidebar from these pages, adding plenty of links to information (shipping times and prices for example), and to use an ecommerce platform to integrate the sales process into your page.
The best option will be to utilize an ecommerce platform and sell directly to your customers. Lulu offers a Shopify App to allow you to integrate your selling through your website, or you can use our open API to build your own pipeline to our print network.
Setting up an API connection can be some work and if you’re not the most experienced web developer, it may be too much. This is the exact reason Lulu developed our Shopify App and why we are under production for numerous other ecommerce plug and play Apps.
Clear Call to Action
I include this separately from your product pages and the buy buttons on those pages. This Call to Action (CTA) is distinct because it lives elsewhere on your site. For example, if you have a sidebar on your site, you might include a graphic link to buy your most recent release.
Ideally, you’ll have this “new release” content on your homepage as well. Including a clear, easy to click (so actionable) CTA on the home page and in the sidebar, is a good way to encourage visitors to look closer at your book. And it ensures a visitor coming to your site specifically to buy that new book can quickly and easily do so.
5. Author Website SEO
I’ve talked a lot about SEO and authors on this blog over the years. Most of what it boils down to is that you need to blog like a content marketer and less like an author.
Most of your SEO will focus on organic discovery. That means, holding to my earlier example, if someone goes to Google and searches “digital camera specifications” and you’ve got a book about that as well as a wealth of researched, well crafted, SEO rich blog posts, your site should appear high up in the results.
SEO is a vital part of your online presence that can absorb a ton of time in researching and crafting content, but will be almost entirely invisible to your readers.
Your blog is going to be an SEO powerhouse, but it’s not the only important element to consider. Your product pages should have good keyword tagging (you’ll need to research your website host and design platform for more on how to do this). This will only work for some very specific searches, but it’s still worth while to let search engines know what your product pages contain.
6. Lead Generation
Last tip for today is all about lead generation; which is really just fancy marketer BS that means ‘collecting their contact info.’ For most readers, lead generation means joining your mailing list.
For a lot of authors, email marketing is going to be the most effective way to generate actual sales and long term interest. Social media is a inching up there, particularly as they add social selling features, but at the moment email is still on top. So your lead capture strategy should probably focus on email.
Luckily, this is relatively easy for an author website. Because you can safely assume visitors are readers, you can offer email subscribes a freeby—a chapter from one of your books is a great offer—in exchange for a sign up. This is a nice way of collecting emails and it makes for a great user experiences. Their first action on your site leads to a free sample!
Be sure you’re not just focusing on building your email list (and never buy mailing lists!); you also need to deliver regular emails that are interesting and engaging.
In this way, lead generation overlaps with content on your author website. If a user lands on you page and decides to put their email in that capture box, it’s because they want you to send them an email. Make sure you make it worth their while by sharing content they’ll care about!
The Value Of An Author Website
The goal of your website is to serve content up to readers and potential readers. That includes free content like a blog and paid content like your book. Once you’ve established a fan-base, you might see their extended cloud of connections showing interest. Developing a following who reliably buys your books is the most important step in earning income from your writing. The website is a key tool to facilitate this goal.
Paul is the Content Marketing Manager at Lulu. When he's not entrenched in the publishing and print-on-demand world, he likes to hike the scenic North Carolina landscape, read, sample the fanciest micro-brewed beer, and collect fountain pens. Paul is a dog person but considers himself cat tolerant.