Blogger: Michelle Ule
Sitting in for Wendy Lawton busy preparing for a writer’s conference.
Let’s talk about author websites today.
While you can get plenty of advice and tutorials from many spots, I want to talk about my experience with an author website.
I hope this will give you some insight into what it means–from both a personal and business point of view.
Who owns a website?
You need to own your own website. Period.
As many advisors point out, your website is your personal corner of the Internet. If you own it, no one can take it away from you.
You have total control–for good or ill.
I started with a free WordPress website in 2011 and ran it for about a year. After that, I wanted more functionality and paid for my own (I began with WordPress.com and transitioned to WordPress.org).
It’s a business expense–whether you are published or not.
What is a website?
A website is your calling card, your business card, to the world.
You present your credentials, demonstrate your writing ability, and show your face to the world on your website.
It provides a place for people to find you–whether deliberately or by accident–and findability is one of the most challenging aspects of publishing.
What to put on it?
No matter where you are in the publishing life, write a good biography.
You can set up a media kit anytime–and you might as well do it while you have time. Here’s an example of mine.
On your website you can list your author credentials. (Talk about professional or educational experiences which make you worth knowing, for example).
Write a blog.
Post some photos.
Link to social media sites you’re already on (Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook)
Play and experiment.
When should you set up your website?
If you desire to be a professional writer, set up your website now.
When I set up mine in 2011, the “going” advice was to consistently and frequently write blog posts.
The blog’s goal was to build up traction and attract attention.
I set a schedule to blog twice a week to build up those numbers.
As of the day I’m writing, I’ve published 654 blog posts on Tuesdays and Fridays for more than six years.
(If you count my posts for Books & Such reaching back to 2009, I’ve written more than 800).
That’s a lot of blog “backlist,” which at this point feels like I’ve blogged about everything.
That means, however, that I have a long list of tweets to post through Hootsuite and I often recirculate those old posts.
(Don’t get me started on SEO–find a professional blog post to explain!)
Why write blog posts for your website?
As noted above, to establish credibility and to prove you can write.
Depending on your subject matter, you also can use a blog to build readership and, in my current case, encourage interest in your forthcoming book.
I’ve written so many blog posts about Biddy and Oswald Chambers now, they have their own page on my website!
I’ve met a lot of valuable people through my blog posts–including long lost cousins, researchers with important tips and simply friends.
I love writing my blog.
How to maintain your website?
There’s the rub.
Having a website, particularly with a regular blog posting schedule, is a lot like having another child.
I’m constantly thinking about what to blog about next.
No matter where I am, I carry my phone to take photos for potential blog posts.
My husband has given up expectations I’ll always be “present,” because I’m always looking for things to write about. (A problem. Sometimes I give up the phone to him).
A year into managing my blog, I threw in the towel and hired my daughter-in-law Alisha Ule as my webmistress.
(Note: she’s a creative woman with a degree in electrical engineering. She understands all this. I did, however, buy her a copy of WordPress for Dummies.)
A webmaster/mistress is a business expense.
She’s also a lifesaver.
You don’t know what’s going to happen with your career. As I began to publish, I needed more and more assistance with my website. Alisha handles it all with skill and aplomb.
Owning, running and maintaining a website is part of being an author in 2017 publishing.
Whether you’ve got books out with your name or not, business pretty much requires it.
And if you’re not willing to keep it up-to-date, perhaps you should be counting the costs of what is required to publish today.
I’m happy with my website and writing my blog–but I was a journalist long before I wrote fiction. Writing for joy and keeping a deadline were part of my life.
Count the costs., but try writing a blog–you may be surprised at what you learn about reading, writing, and meeting people through words.
What is an author website and why do you need one? Click to Tweet
Count the publishing costs: own your website. Click to Tweet
5 Ws and an H on author websites. Click to Tweet
Michelle, thank you for this. I just moved from Blogger to WordPress. I paid for my own site. But now I’m getting another message saying that if I don’t want advertisements on my site, I need to pay more. What should I know about that? And how is .org different from .com? Thanks so much, and Happy Valentine’s Day, y’all.
And if I make those kind of changes, do I have to start all over again? Setting up a new blog again?
I am not a WordPress expert, Shelli, that’s why I hired Alisha to do all that for me.
WordPress.com is the version for which you don’t have to pay. WordPress.org is the version for which you do pay and you don’t have advertisements.
In my case, I hired my webmistress Alisha when I switched from .com to .org. It was a little cumbersome as I recall, but it happens often enough that Alisha managed it fine.
I write the content, she manages the “backend,” so that’s the best I can say. Good luck!
Michelle, WordPress.org is free, too. It just serves a much broader purpose than hosting a blog.
Shelli, WordPress.com is a hosted service where all you really need to know is how to write your content.
*WordPress.org is a CMS (content management system). It’s used to create and maintain your entire website, not just a hosted blog. It supports full-blows commercial websites. I’ve read that about a quarter of the commercial websites use WordPress as their CMS.
*To have your own website, you lease your domain name. Most webhost companies will handle this for you when you sign up for their service. I have several: carolashby.com for the Roman history site, carol-ashby.com for my Christian author blog site, and cerrillopress.com for my indie publisher site They all live where I’m renting server space from a website hosting company. There are many webhosts, but a few examples are eHost, BlueHost, and GoDaddy. Most have a one-click process to install WordPress.org as your CMS at their hosting site.
*I’m my own webmaster using WordPress as the CMS. That “WordPress for Dummies” book has all the info you need to operate a WordPRess site on your own. It assumes you know almost nothing when you start.
*WordPress.org is very user friendly with lots of basically plug-and-play features There’s no real need for you to know anything about the behind-the-scene coding that makes everything work. It does take a while to get started because there are so many choices for your basic theme (website layout), but a small amount of time and some patience will get you up with a site that does what you like. Once you’re up, you only have to worry about generating your content, like with WordPress.com.
*WordPress includes site analytics (stats) for tracking activity at every part of your site. That’s how I know I’ve had 35 different countries visit my Roman site while only 6 countries have come to my Christian blog. Checking first thing in the morning to see who visited overnight is part of the fun of running my own sites.
*I can also see how many people click thru to my book at Amazon from each site, and I can tell whether they went from the click-bait image of the cover at the side or from one of the pages that include more info about the book. What I can’t tell is who bought, who didn’t, and why they made that choice.
If you want to go the .org route, Shelli, contact me.
Thanks for answering those questions so well, Carol.
Thank you , Carol. I started a WordPress website, my own domain. I just wondered about WordPress.org. I sure might have some questions for you real soon.
We began blogging the same year, Michelle. I first began posting 3 times a week and did that for years. About a year ago, I went to twice a week (with no dip in readership) based on survey results about how often my audience could devote to reading it. Beginning this year, due to another job obligation and my need to devote more time to book writing, I’ve slipped to one full post per week and an occasional inspirational image.
Dropping my blogging to once a week was really hard for me, but looking at the big picture and keeping from burn out has helped me adjust.
Thanks for the great website advice and peek at yours. God bless you and your writing.
I’ve considered going to once a week, too, but for the next year Fridays need to be devoted to Biddy and Oswald Chambers as I ramp up for my book launch. That means I wouldn’t get to write about anything else–which disappoints me. So, I continue at twice a week and hope my readers don’t mind.
I like it that way. 🙂
What a great, practical post, Micelle!
* I’m not sure of when I started blogging, but I know I’m at around 1000 posts (I use Blogger). Stats of post numbers or readership don’t really interest me…
“I write for the individual,” he said pretentiously (thereby adding adverb usage to arrogance).
* I’ve thought about setting up a dedicated author site, but my name…that’s a domain name with a length of twenty-one characters. I’d love any suggestions!
* A question – if one is SP-ing, is it worth setting up an online store for immediate ebook downloads and signed copy sales rather than depending on click-throughs to Amazon?
Above my knowledge base, Andy-dog-lover.com.
You can, of course, do Amazon affiliates, though I haven’t tried that either.
Anybody else know?
LOVE that domain name!
A caution: If you set up your own e-store, you may have to deal with collecting sales tax, depending on where you live.
One suggestion I’ve seen is to offer signed “stickers” that can be mailed and pasted in the front by the person you’ve specifically written the sticker for.
Good thought on selling, Carol, especially with some states now wanting to collect tax on residents’ online purchases.
* And the stickers…cool!
Hey Andrew, give yourself a Valentine’s Day gift this year and hike (or drive, or ride, I figured you’d appreciate that “hike” part, having put down how many miles in your life?) over to San Marcos, Calif and see Jerame Nelson at the revival. It’s called Fire and Glory or something, not sure exactly, and is held at the Summit Church I think on weekends. I’d call to make sure Jerame would be there. He is a man of God who you would love. Ask your friends to let you down through the roof, and walk out.
Wanda, thank you; yeah there were a lot of miles, and I do know San marcos. I’ll get there if ever I can.
Damon J. Gray
I’m thinking Andrew_BS is a great domain name. 😉
I like that one, Damon!
* I’ve got the heading picture and tagline worked out…
* Picture – me, wearing wraparound Oakleys and my old contractor ballcap (I’ve regrown my ‘relaxed grooming standards’ beard and hair), and below it :
Christian Romance – The Hard Way
* Whaddaya think?
That occurred to me as well, but it’s Valentine’s Day so I was trying to be nice . . . 🙂
I think you can play around with using parts of your name and initials for your website name – J.K. Rowlings did that. Or you can combine one of your names with something that interests you to make a website name.
Michelle, such a good post. I’ve heard the best way to have a website is to put out the money for someone to create and manage it for you. My funds aren’t there for this endeavor right now. So, I’ve kept my domain name, and keep a wordpress.com site. I suppose I’m going to need to figure out the website scene.
*I loved your post and your suggestions. So practical!
Thanks, Jeanne. I had friends help me set up the original website and ran it fine by myself for about a year, but it then became clear I needed more help as I prepared to launch a book.
The ads always bothered me, personally. I also am a technophobe and my husband was too busy, so I went with the webmistress. Now when things don’t work, I can email her and she fixes it. It works well for me.
Jeanne, I created my WordPress site using some free tutorials I found online, at http://www.wp-bff.com. They were brilliant. I built my site on my laptop while I watched Shannon build hers. The bonus is I know how I did everything, which means I also know how to update and change things.
One thing to consider in the do-it-yourself versus hire a webmaster is the cost of making changes and additions.
*I’m doing more than just writing new blog posts. I add new items as pages to my Roman site every week. I shift things around in terms of how the menus at the sidebar are laid out. Often I upload a pdf file that can be downloaded from the site. (Want a Latin wordsearch or crossword on slavery or chariot racing? Click my name here. No Latin needed to work the wordsearches and very little for the crosswords if you pick the version with the word list.)
I work on my sites for free (or a cup of tea that I make myself). A webmaster has to charge you based on the amount of time needed to maintain your site.
You’re right again, Carol, though with experience even I have learned how to do some of that.
I meant to put that in the original post, I’m constantly on my website adding things, changing things, restoring broken links, watching for mysterious readers from Uzbekistan and so forth. I bring up in the morning and leave it on all day–monitoring and checking things.
It really is like having another child.
I don’t have Uzbekistan yet, but United Arab Emirates and Estonia have paid me a visit.
One post a week for the author blog site, something new for the Roman site, and writing on a novel. That adds up to 3 children constantly tugging at my sleeve. At least they’re all fun to play with .
Jennifer Zarifeh Major
I did a bunch of research before I set mine up, and I bought the domain name http://www.jennifermajorbooks(dot)com , mostly because the very nice Jennifer Lynne Major I found on mugshots(dot)com kind of took care of me adding a bit of ‘me’ to the equation.
The very upstanding and law-abiding me.
Also, there’s the ‘books’ aspect of it, which makes it obvious.
I built my website with Wix and I’m really pleased with it. WordPress confused me and I got too frustrated with it.
I also have an analytics tracker on my website, but I chose to make it invisible. Which is good, because I have one visitor who is somewhat unbalanced in the amount of visits per day to my website. Sadly, I know exactly who this person is, and yeah, the tracker is worth it. Unfortunately, one cannot block an ever changing IP address, not on my paygrade, anyway.
One thing I did do was set Mondays as my blogging day. That way, I can keep to a set schedule, and be accountable to my readers.
I’m not familiar with WIX, I generally stay with whatever we use at Books & Such to keep my technological life at least a fraction simpler!
The set schedule is necessary for your readers.
I read you post this morning, as a matter of fact. 🙂
Janet Ann Collins
I have a GoDaddy website and don’t want to change it because I LOVE the template. But it only links to my blog on Blogger. I’ve blogged twice a week for about nine years and don’t want to loose those posts. People keep telling me I should change to WordPress, but I like what I have.
Damon J. Gray
Oh, then you absolutely stay with what you have. This is kind of one of the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” scenarios. Right?
What example you are to all of us, Michelle. Thank you for sharing your wisdom.
*I have my own website, soulsunderconstruction dot com. I also own shirleeabbott dot com and Shirley Abbott dot com, but I haven’t yet linked them to souls.
*I took a class on building a WordPress site. It isn’t as hard as you might think. Google a question and WP has the answer. It is tedious. I built our church’s site too. More bang for the training buck.
*I blog M-F which sounds like a lot. But my five for the week = most people’s one. My brand is short (less than 100 words), pretty much contained in a single screen. I have several once a week readers.
*WP lets you schedule the posts, so I can write ahead.
*I also post my Bible studies, but that may end soon–might have a publisher interested.
*I find my blog posts to be my writing exercises. Like a muscician rehearsing for the big concert. Not yet ready, but I am working on it
Exactly, writing blog posts is like a writing exercise–however often you write them.
I’ve realized recently, however, that I write in very short paragraphs on my blog, in part because of the way it looks, but I should probably write paragraphs with more than one or two sentences in my books! 🙂
Damon J. Gray
My day job is in IT and software development, so I build/built my own site from the ground up, doing the most recent remodel in January of this year, so there is still work to be done. In this sense, I’m my own worst enemy, because I’m not a 90%er. It has to be pristine, or I am not happy, and that is a hungry black hole for my time. My son, the more pragmatic-minded of us, keeps pulling me to accept the flaws and foibles, and just focus on what will meet my audience goals. I know he’s right, but… I have actually considered abandoning the self-built site in favor of a WordPress site, but have not reached that point just yet.
I took Kathi Lipp’s Leverage Speaking course last summer and one of the things she advised folks was to launch and make mid-course corrections. There’s nothing set in stone on a website, changes can easily be made.
That encouraged a lot of people who were uncertain about even starting!
Me? I went home and made corrections . . .
I’ve also been advised to consider putting together a media kit for specific projects. I’m working on an Oswald and Biddy Chambers media kit–focused on that book and providing additional information not needed in my current kit.
I see I need to rework it as well–too long with too much information. See? We’re all learning and adapting!
That’s one of the things I love about a website – the only thing that’s set in stone is the website name (well, even that can be changed).
Everything else can be changed and upgraded as I learn new skills (like how to better optimize blog posts for SEO). I can change colors, fonts, and styles as I go. I can add or delete pages and blog posts. I can fix the inevitable spelling mistakes (proof that no one can edit their own work!)
Stephanie Grace Whitson
One thing I had to realize early on in my writing life was to accept my own limitations. That meant I very quickly became amenable to the idea of paying someone to design and maintain my web site (and do my taxes LOL) instead of trying to learn how myself. Could I learn it? Yes. But every minute I spent doing that was a minute I wasn’t writing. Of course the “big picture” means we each have to decide what works for us and our budget, but I just wanted to chime in to say it’s okay not to “do it all yourself.”
Excellent point, Steph, thank you.
Michelle, yo gave me an idea! I’ve been blogging from my own website for almost 6 years. But I’ve never tweeted old posts (or old “click to tweets”).
Tweeting old posts brings new people to my website daily. The other handy device is a plugin that appears on the bottom of my blog suggesting six other related posts.
I don’t know the name for the plug in but I love it!