As I’ve written repeatedly in the past, an author website is a long-term investment in your publishing career. It should be something you own and control, and that grows with you from title to title. To accomplish that, here are three ways to avoid long-term pain and suffering if you’re preparing to establish your first author website.
1. Buy a domain based on your author name, not your book title.
Let’s assume you plan to write more than one title during your career. You don’t want to be in the position of either creating an entirely new website when your next book releases, or entirely redesigning your site because it’s focused on just one title.
Authors build brand equity with each new title they release. A website built on your author name helps develop name recognition with readers and the industry—as well as search engines!
Sometimes an author releases a book that’s meant to become a recognizable brand unto itself. Pottermore is an example of that—although keep in mind that series didn’t have its own website until quite late in the game.
Other times, an author or publisher wants to develop a unique online experience of the book. Far From the Tree by Andrew Solomon has its own site here—it offers special functionality and interactivity that would be hard to incorporate into your average author site. (But note that the author site is not replaced by a book-specific site. Here’s Andrew Solomon’s author site.)
Honestly, though, few books benefit from this type of treatment or even merit it. It takes tremendous marketing effort to see a book-based website take off; if you’re not planning to invest years in it, focus on launching or improving your author website instead.
2. If you’re not going to blog, choose the right platform or theme, and modify your settings accordingly.
Two of the most popular and free website-building platforms for authors (Blogger and WordPress) tend to put blogging front and center. But most authors either aren’t actively blogging and/or shouldn’t focus their homepage on blog posts.
The good news is that it’s easy to modify WordPress site settings to disappear the blog altogether. (Go to Reading Settings, and under Posts page, choose —Select— if you won’t be blogging.) Also, you can look for a theme that makes it easy to build a beautiful homepage focused on your books.
I don’t recommend using Blogger for author websites unless you intend to be very blogging focused.
3. Install Google Analytics and Use Google Search Console From the Start
Google Analytics tracks and reports your website traffic. The tool is free and only requires that you have a Google account in order to get started. It’s best to install it from the very beginning even if you don’t see a need for it; Google Analytics starts tracking on the day it’s installed and can’t be applied retroactively. Most authors, once they’re a couple years in, want and can benefit from the data that Google Analytics offers.
Something not done as often, but that’s also valuable, is registering/claiming your site through Google Search Console. You can connect Google Search Console and Google Analytics for improved reporting. While Google Search Console is more advanced than what most authors will be able to understand, it still offers functionality you’ll want over the long term. In the short term, use it to send you alerts when Google has problems properly indexing/accessing your site for search purposes.
For those of you who’ve dealt with website maintenance for a long time: What do you wish you knew from the start? Anything you’d like a “do over” on? Let us know in the comments.
Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the publisher of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors, and was named Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World in 2019.
In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. Her book for creative writers, The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), received a starred review from Library Journal.
Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.