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Guest post: Author website tips

This article offering author website tips is our second guest post from Irish children’s book author Avril O’Reilly, who I met when she took one of my book marketing courses. (Be sure to read her first post, “Use surprises to get media attention.“) Awesome Avril, the author of A Fairy in the Family Againis currently building a website for her book using WordPress. Connect with Avril on Facebook and Twitter

Author website tips

By Avril O’Reilly

Creating a website to promote your work (and yourself) is scary! There’s no doubt about that.

Authors worry about the cost, the content, the how, and the when – there’s a lot to consider.

We might take a look at author websites in the interests of research. That’s when panic sets in, Looking at the huge, sprawling sites belonging to the likes of Lee Child, James Patterson, or Karin Slaughter can be downright intimidating.

I have been speaking to the people at Frequency Designs, the firm behind Anthony Horowitz’s very smart website. Based on Ireland’s scenic South coast,  Frequency Design created this and many author sites.

I picked up some insights from designer Liam Fitzgerald. He talked me through Horowitz’s site — you might be surprised to learn how much you have in common with this published author. Fitzgerald shared some lessons for authors at all levels.

First the bad news

I was shocked to discover that writers have to pay for their own websites. The publishing houses do not pay. An author, if lucky, might get a page on the publisher’s site.

And what about updating a site? I imagined the PR company would add news about events and new titles. Not so. And Fitzgerald says that publishers offer no help with “the technical nonsense.”

“There has been a transition over the past 7 to 8 years,” he explains. “In the past, the publisher would have done a marketing-led site for the duration of the book launch, and then abandoned it. The strategy was ‘Hit ’em hard, hit ’em fast.’ The site was never updated then it would be abandoned. Now writers are left to their own devices.”

So, Horowitz has to shell out for his own site and update it himself. Not so different from us self-publishers then.

Now the good news

Author website tips 3A few years ago, authors showed how professional they were by the quality of their book covers. Writers had to decide between paying an expert or having a DIY cover. Now it seems that we are facing the same tough choice again when it comes to how we look online.

Still, websites are much easier to develop and manage than they used to be. Website platforms such as Weebly, Wix and Wordress allow people with no design or coding skill to use ready-made themes to put together something good-looking.

You might decide to go it alone with a WordPress theme. Themes determine the design of your site. Spend some time seeing what is available and what it will cost you. Quality costs.

If you can afford a web designer, they can show you how to maintain the site yourself. They can also offer a wider range of themes.

What are the costs?

Google local prices for these costs:

  • Hosting (monthly or annual fees)
  • A domain name
  • WordPress themes
  • A designer

First steps

If your mum is launching her knitting book in the library, then a free Weebly site might be acceptable. Long-term success demands more.

Think about how you would fill these pages well:

  • Home
  • About (with pictures)
  • Contact
  • My books

Author website tips 4

Register your name

Once you have a sense of where you want to go with your site, you need to register its domain name — your site’s URL. There are many good reason for registering your author name as a domain – quickly.

  • It looks professional.
  • It is what the big name authors do.
  • It makes you easy to find when journalists or buyers look for you. They will check Facebook, Twitter, and online. Be ready.
  • It will last longer than a site based on a single book title.

Fitzgerald describes a worst case scenario when a writer becomes known and an online casino, or worse, steals the name before the author can reserve it. Then the writer ends up having to buy an alternative address — avriloreillywritesbooks.com or something similar.

He says, “If you do nothing else, at least buy your name as a domain. Spend on that.”

Hiring a web designer

Authors have to think about how they want to spend their time and as Fitzgerald knows, “Time gets eaten up on website learning.”

He advises hiring an expert. “The free themes can all look the same. That adds to the home-made look.”

You do want to stand out from the crowd — and always in the best way possible.

Ask your questions about author websites by commenting below. 

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  1. I wholeheartedly agree that spending money on your domain is a priority. I lucked out on GoDaddy when there was a sale and got a great 10 year deal so I don’t have to think about it for a while!

    Every platform has a learning curve and that was the hardest part for me. There’s so much going on that you really owe it to yourself to look at how much the extras cost at each company. You’ll not always be a newbie and when the day comes that you want to really upgrade things, will you be in a position to DO it?

  2. Thanks, Avril.

    “Fitzgerald describes a worst case scenario when a writer becomes known and an online casino, or worse, steals the name before the author can reserve it. Then the writer ends up having to buy an alternative address — avriloreillywritesbooks.com or something similar.”

    Fitzgerald didn’t mention another scenario: A disreputable “legal representative” claims that someone in another country is registering avriloreilly.cn, for example, and tries to extort money from you to block the registration. Of course, because this will be done through lawyers, it will be expensive.

    Sure. I’ll jump right on that.

    1. Hi Mark,
      Your site has a very clear mood and atmosphere. I think that all the different elements make sense together. The genre links them and so does the style of the site. I think you’ve made it very clear what you stand for.
      Thanks for sharing,
      p.s. Have you seen this site that Frequency made for Darren Shan?


  3. @Kathy Steinemann
    Yes, sadly there are so many different scams related to domain registration. As Sandra said the best thing is to ignore those emails.

    Another point that we didn’t get tome to discuss is the whole subject of responsive websites. If you use WordPress then most modern themes are already responsive but I have noticed that a lot of the cheap sitebuilders are still using non-responsive templates which is a complete fail in this day and age, particularly if you have a YA audience.

  4. Thanks for posting, Avril and Sandra! I’m into year 3 with my author website. Absolutely agree to start with a free site, like Weebly, but then I upgraded and got my own domain name and email address (a must now as email providers discourage sending subscription newsletter posts from their domain). Building an author website is a slow, iterative process, but totally worthwhile. I am always looking for ways to notch up my website!

  5. I’m just going through a learning curve, but it seems to be working, I can’t say enough for wordpress and fiverr…Once you go paid it’s likely the easiest way to get a website running and easily upgrade – I toiled away with a more complex system for years but just couldn’t get updates done easily. WP is the best paid system. They have great designers, coders, artists, all the works and you deal direct.

    1. That’s encouraging to hear, Danielle. Your site is a credit to you. It really does what it sets out to do. Very clear navigation. I think WordPress has really worked hard to let everyone have a good website without having to learn coding. As writers we have enough to do besides writing. Anyone who provides a well-designed short-cut deserves credit. Thanks for sharing.

      Today I found a theme that I love. There are so many out there that I can see why people get bewildered. Only today did I experience what it feels like to get a crush on a theme! I think that it is wise to pick a theme that you will enjoy looking at day after day.

  6. I appreciate all these great tips. Your website is a huge gift to me.
    Since I’m using different pen surnames, I grabbed a domain with my first name only. tonyawrites. I hope that choice proves effective.
    Not being tech savvy, I went with Wix for my website. They have a neat artificial intelligence program that will design your site based on your input. You can tweak and customize within the template.
    Now, how to drive readers there….sigh. ?

    1. I’m glad you have a solution that works for you, Tonya. I haven’t heard too much about Wix. Are you happy with it?


      1. Overall I am. They are proprietorial about their content. Ex. I can’t link my blog to Facebook ( if I wanted to) or use any of my site’s content or graphics designed by them elsewhere. I got my domain thru them so that made things seamless. I will renew my contract gladly this spring because Wix makes having a website easy.

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