Jane Friedman

Unpublished Writers and Websites: Should You Have One and What Should It Say?

If you plan to pursue writing as a professional, long-term career, I recommend starting and maintaining an author website even if you’re unpublished. Your website serves as an online home and hub for everything that you do, whether in real life or in the digital realm. You fully own and control it, tell your own story, and connect directly with the media, readers or influencers. It’s hard to overstate its importance over the long term. Consider it the cost of doing business in the digital era, a necessary business card and networking tool. In some cases, it can also be a creative outlet and community area, especially for writers who blog. (To be clear, having an author website does not mean blogging or require blogging. But if you’re interested, here’s my guide to blogging.)

Your first attempts at creating an author website probably aren’t going to be that great, and that’s okay. Plus, it’s unlikely you’ll get much traffic. Instead, the point is to practice your skills at expressing who you are, and what you do, in a public space. Over time, your ability to do this will improve, assuming you tend to your website periodically and don’t abandon it. (And why would you, if you’re still writing and publishing?)

If you start the website development process early, before you really “need” a site (before people seek it out), you can enjoy a gentler learning curve, as well as the power of incremental progress. You don’t have to launch and perfect everything at once. Start small, and build your skills and presence over time. You want something doable and sustainable—and sustainability is key.

What do you say on your website if you’re an unpublished author?

For very new writers, a website might consist of only one or two pages, mainly focused on your bio and portfolio of work, if any. Consider the following elements.

Home pages typically include the following elements.

Website and homepage design is incredibly subjective, but the most important criterion is that the type of writer you are—and the work you produce—should be recognizable quickly. You don’t want visitors guessing; you have about three seconds to convey a message. Some writers are able to get away with a fair amount of intrigue or cleverness, but try to be honest about whether you’re actually intriguing people or frustrating them.

Make the homepage navigation or menu system plain and clear—which usually means having an obvious path for people to find out more information about who you are (“About”), how to contact you (“Contact”), and what you’ve written (“Books” or “Publications”).

You might not have the resources to do it right away, but in the long run, it’s helpful to hire a designer to create a custom header for your site, or a custom look that fits your personality and work. If you’re using WordPress or a blog-centric system, be careful that your homepage doesn’t automatically default to showing blog posts—especially if you’re not going to blog!

Should you use WordPress, SquareSpace, or something else?

I generally recommend writers use WordPress (WordPress.com to start) because even though it can be a more complex and intimidating tool, it’s free and has so far stood the test of time. (WordPress has been kicking around for more than a decade, is open source, and underpins about 20-25% of today’s websites.) SquareSpace can be easier to use for those with few tech skills, but it comes with a monthly cost that may not be justifiable early in your career. Here’s a post that looks at the pros and cons of each.

Here I discuss when and if you should use WordPress.com or WordPress.org (self-hosting).

The good and bad news is that your website is never finished. It is always a work in progress. You’ll improve it, tweak it, experiment with it, and hopefully take pride in how it showcases your work. It’s better to get your site established while you’re unpublished, so you own your domain early on, learn how to use the tools, and begin the journey of expressing who you are within digital media environments.