Powerful Author Websites: Get the Results You Want
by Lisa Norman
Authors know they need a website. But did you know there are different types of websites?
From years of working with authors, I’ve identified 3 basic types of websites, each with their own strengths and weaknesses.
The Basic Business Card
A simple online presence for authors to showcase their professional profile. It contains an author bio, a list of their books, and some social media links. These websites are often hosted on platforms like WordPress.com and may feature ads to cover some of the cost. However, due to limited traffic, they may not generate much income from ads or affiliate links.
Very successful authors who already have a platform and who don’t want to interact with fans
Authors who don’t want to be bothered with maintaining a website, but who want to be able to say they have one
Easy to maintain
Can be ignored for long periods of time
Lacks the content that helps search engines discover an unknown writer
Can lead to a false sense of security (I have a website. I’m good.)
These websites cover the basics and little else. There are three mistakes I see made with this type of website:
New authors sometimes think that this is all they need to do to build a platform. “I mean, if it is good enough for (insert name of successful author who already has a platform) then it should work for me!” No. Big Name Author can get away with it because they are already a Big Name Author. People are going online searching for their name. They don’t need to convince people to buy their books. If you are just starting out, no one knows you exist, so no one is searching for you.
Knowing that they need a bigger website, but building on a platform that can’t expand. “Since I only need this for now, I will just put something together on (insert easy drag-and-drop website builder).” This isn’t wrong, but it is shortsighted. When they get time to work on their website, they discover that they have to start over from scratch. I’ve watched the sheer frustration of needing to start over delay an author’s growth.
Authors pay for a hosting platform that would run a stronger website, but only use it for a business card. Wasted money, and they come to believe that having a website is just throwing money away.
The Blogging Platform
A more comprehensive author website that includes a blog or news section to keep fans updated on the author's latest news and projects. These websites aim to build up the author's fan base and promote their books through affiliate links and marketing efforts. However, its success depends on the author's dedication to using the website as a marketing tool. It also depends on the author's understanding of their ideal fans.
Most entry-level authors who want to build their fan base
Successful authors who still want to keep in touch with their fans
As a middle ground, this type of website is easy to expand or contract. There’s a lot of creativity in how you can put it together.
Fun, once you get the hang of it. This type of website is dynamic and allows you the most freedom to experiment.
Entertaining for fans.
It only works if you use it.
Costs more than a smaller website.
Can take several years of consistent effort before you see a return. Not always, but often.
Biggest mistakes I see authors make with this type of website:
Not using it. They build it, they learn how to use it, and then they get distracted. Or they get writer’s blogging block. Some will use it diligently for 6 months and then give up. This type takes time. I’ve seen many authors give up just as the site was starting to grow. They see a small growth and think that’s all they are going to get, not realizing that website growth exponential: growing very slowly at first, but once it gets going, it can have periods of dramatic growth.
Not knowing their fans. Authors often build this type of website for themselves. They think about what they want from the website, what they want it to do, but they forget about what their fans want.
Trying to build it on unstable hosting or a hosting plan that is better suited for a business card website. Cut corners too tight, and it becomes a hassle.
The Pro Business
An author website that not only showcases their profile and books, but also offers additional products and services to generate income. This type of website requires a higher level of investment in terms of hosting power and speed to accommodate the increase in traffic and sales. When optimized correctly, this type of website has the potential to pay for itself and beyond.
Authors with products to sell, whether books, merchandise, coaching, or other products. This only makes sense if you will use the tools.
This is great for indie authors with multiple books and a strong following.
This site should cover its cost and bring in income.
High-powered — the industry is constantly changing. Owning a site like this lets you pivot quickly.
Time required to maintain and run it
Biggest mistakes I see authors make with this type of website:
Building it before they have products to sell. This can become overwhelming, and if the site can’t pay for itself, you’re spending a lot of money for something that is being used like a business card website.
Building on a platform that can’t handle growth or pivots. Some platforms seem like a really good deal, but when you want to add a classroom, a wiki for your fans, or other power-tool that you’ve just realized your fans want, you realize that you can’t do that on this platform. Then you must decide if you want to disappoint the fans or rebuild your website. No one wins.
Doing it because someone told them to without considering the costs involved. “(Insert name of marketing pro who is making money through affiliate links) recommended it!”
Questions to consider when deciding what you need:
How much time do you want to spend on your website?
What do your fans want?
Look at the marketing wheel in this post (https://writersinthestormblog.com/2021/07/5-reasons-why-authors-need-a-website/). What areas do you need your website to handle for you?
How much money do you have to spend comfortably?
Where are you in your career? Do people already know who you are? Or do you need to charm the search engines so that new readers can find you?
Websites can change and grow. I recommend building on platforms that give you the freedom to move and change, but even dead-end pre-made websites can often be converted or restructured with effort. Knowing what you want is the first step in deciding what type of website you want to build.
Don’t compare your website to the websites of others in different categories. If your website meets your needs and the needs of your fans, then it is earning its keep!
What type of website do you have? Are you happy with it? Is it meeting your needs? Feel free to vent about your website woes!
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Lisa Norman's passion has been writing since she could hold a pencil. While that is a cliché, she is unique in that she wrote her first novel on gum wrappers. As a young woman, she learned to program and discovered she has a talent for helping people and computers learn to work together and play nice. When she's not playing with her daughter, writing, or designing for the web, you can find her wandering the local beaches.
Fantastic blog, Lisa! Great info for beginners and pros!
Thanks, Laura! Glad it was helpful!
My website began on Valentine's Day, some years back, on the advice that all authors need one.
I had some free assistance to start. It was kinda like a St Valentine's Day massacre, and took me long time to really understand what I was doing. Technology and I have a love-hate relationship.
I use WordPress, which works for me. My website contains several pages, one points to the blog, another to Charlie Chameleon merch.
The site could always improve.
Thanks for the helpful blog, Lisa!
Please tell me it points to a blog on your own website. Otherwise, you wind up splitting your traffic between two sites and sending the best traffic away from your site...
Very timely post! I'm late to the website game, having just released my debut novel. I've convinced myself that I need a website. I want one that is simple to use (for me, a non-techy), with blogging/comment capabilities and signups for a newsletter. The only host you mention is WordPress, which I used years ago to post blogs with my crit group. I did not create our site. I found then and hear now from some that WordPress is not particularly user friendly. So, I'll be going down a rabbit hole to find an easier host, or just counting my pennies to hire a website guru. This post is a keeper for me as I navigate the possibilities.
Barb, there is nothing wrong with hiring someone to get you started. Authors who have to slog through that learning curve on their own often don't want to use the site by the time they're done. They're sick of it already!
It's true, Jenny. People who like to hire pro's keep me from starving!
I'm a big believer that having a website is an equalizer in some ways. I've seen a simple website from a tiny company out-perform a too-fancy one from a huge company. To me, it is important that people have access to the technology. If they can afford a developer, great. If they can't, I still want them to have the ability to have a site!
Note: WordPress comes in two flavors. WordPress.org is the software that you can install on any hosting platform you want. WordPress.com is a hosting company that only runs WordPress websites. WordPress.com works, but it is kind of like living in your parents basement. Once they start charging you rent, it is time to find your own place, because their rules can be annoying. (grin)
I feel you with the decision, and there's a lot of noise out in the writing world right now about different types of websites.
For a basic blogging website like you're referring to, I highly recommend getting a WordPress.ORG site set up on something like SiteGround or A2Hosting. Keep the style simple and use a solid theme like Kadence. Keep it simple and clean, and you should be able to manage it. I teach a class for authors on how to set these things up, but don't intend that as a sales pitch.
Only you can know whether you'd be comfortable doing it yourself or not. I will say, if you hire a developer, make sure they don't put a site builder on it. Tell them you want it simple and clean because you want to be able to maintain it yourself. Then make sure they teach you how. Regular site maintenance is not hard.
I was working with a new website owner just a few days ago. I showed her how to post a blog and she commented that it was like using her word processor. That is what it *should* feel like.
Can it be made harder? Yes. Can it be made so complicated that it looks like a foreign entity? Yes. I've seen a bunch like that. But they don't have to be that way.
Don't hesitate to ask me questions. I'm around!
Great advice, Lisa. Thank you. I am in the beginning of changing my website yet again. You've convinced me that I need to up my website game! Thanks to your posts on websites, I know how to best create a website that speaks to my fans. It will take me a while, but thanks to you and your Crazy Easy website class, I know I can do it.
You are a fantastic blogger, Lynette. I love your posts! Y'know, it isn't uncommon to update the site and change it around every few years. Kinda like remodeling. (wink) You'll do a great job.
I love how you've laid this out, Lisa. It is comprehensive, without being overwhelming to people who are new to the website game. Well done!
Thanks, Jenny! I try! One of my favorite things is to take geeky things and make them hopefully understandable.
Very true about picking the right site type is important. Its easy to get sidetracked and not get the most from your site.
We're lucky to have your insights to help us launch our sites. 🙂
(grin) Ah, Kris. You have the super-powered website. LOL!
love the breakdown.
Love how you broke this down, Lisa. Great way to look at it!
Thanks, Colleen! I'm hoping it will encourage some folks!