How to Build an Author Website
Build your author platform with a well-organized and informative website.
Have you ever googled your favorite author? Try it. One of the first things to come up, nearly every time, is a website under their name. This is the aptly named author website: your home base for building and maintaining your author brand on the internet. Having your own site is critical for any published author looking to boost book sales and grow their audience.
Don’t go running off screaming yet! I know the idea of building your own website can be incredibly daunting; it’s hard to tell exactly what goes on it, where it goes, and how to put it all together. Don’t you need years of programming and website design experience for that? Thankfully, no, you don’t, as long as you’re using the right tools.
Let’s break it down into smaller steps, and figure out exactly how to create a practical, functional, and fun author website.
What the best author websites needs to have
Before you build your site, you need to know what you’re going to have on it, and that means knowing what an author’s website should do for you.
Your website is the main hub of all your author platform-building efforts. It functions as the landing spot for all branches of your online presence - your social media, storefronts that sell your books, organizations you join, even the little “.com” that shows up on your business card. All of the people across all of these platforms are looking for all of your information, so to keep their hunting and fatigue to a minimum, you put it all in one place.
Here’s the basic rundown of what your site will contain:
- A homepage
- A bio
- Your books
- A contact page
- A blog
Now let’s look at those in more detail.
Your home page
The home page of a website is the first page that you land on when you click on or type in the base domain. So, for instance, if you type in “www.laterpress.com,” you get Laterpress’s homepage. From the homepage, you can access all the other dedicated pages on a website, which will have what’s called a “slug” at the end. To continue our example, if you click the “Getting Started” option under the Resources tab, you go to a page with the URL, “www.laterpress.com/blog/getting-started.”
Your home page should have your author name as the main heading, a catchy tagline to let people know what you’re all about, and information about your latest books and appearances. It’s OK to be minimalist. It doesn’t have to be flashy or have moving graphics or anything; all you really need is a clean, professional-looking, and up-to-date page with a good menu so that viewers can easily navigate to the next page of interest.
To really get a sense of what your homepage should look like, consider these questions from Your Writer Platform when you’re putting it together:
- Will people know what I write within seconds?
- Will they know what to do next?
- What does the site provide the reader?
It’s important to grab your viewers’ attention quickly the first time they lay eyes on your site; research suggests that you have about 15 seconds to get the interest of your website visitors before they decide to move on. So, put your most important information - your name, your projects, and why they should get updates from you - at the very top of the page.
Your author bio
Author bios are the bane of my existence. I hate writing them, but they are strictly necessary. Your readers, if they like your work or if they are curious about starting to read it, are going to want to know more about you. Not only that, but professional opportunities like speaking engagements, book signings, and appearances on blogs, podcasts, and other platforms will require you to have a bio available; after all, they want to know exactly who they’re working with and why they should work with you at all.
So, let’s make writing an author bio very simple. Here are the steps:
- Include a headshot or logo you want associated with you.
- Decide whether you’re going to use the first or third person. First-person bios are perfect for personal websites. Third-person bios are perfect for marketing and professional opportunities (other people can publish them!). I suggest having one of each.
- Grab attention with your quick title and, if you’ve got them, biggest award or latest release. “John Smith is a Nobel Prize-winning microbiologist and the New York Times bestselling author of The Microcosm: Into The World of Small Life.” Obviously, it doesn’t have to be that elaborate; you might simply say that you are a writer, or even a new author if this is your debut.
- Give a couple of relevant details about your life. Are you a professor writing about your area of expertise? Have you been working in this field or researching this topic for several years? This is where you share your credentials and explain to your readers why you write what you do and why you have the authority to do so.
- Add your next-biggest credential or endorsement here. Gotten any cool blurbs from famous people? Quote them! Won any contests? Say it here! Got a long list of publications? Give some stats! If you don’t have any of that, you can definitely skip this step; this is basically the icing on the cake.
- Leave it on a personal note. This is your bio, after all; it should tell your reader not just the facts, but a little bit more about your tone and the kind of writing they can expect to read.
You can find an awesome template for building a great author bio here.
One of the most important things about your author website, if not the most important thing, is having purchase links for your books. You are an author - you want people to buy your books! That’s the whole point of all of this!
So, you need a page that is dedicated to advertising and selling your books. Each book should have its own little section with
- Its title (and maybe genre, but that’s optional, especially if you’re including a description)
- Show off your amazing book covers!
- The purchase link displayed prominently
- Compelling sales copy to encourage viewers to buy
- While not required, it can be helpful to include snippets of reviews / testimonials, as social proof people are reading and enjoying your books.
Liam Fitzgerald, a professional designer who’s worked with top authors like Anthony Horowitz and Eoin Colfer, says in a conversation with Reedsy that authors should present options for their readers without overwhelming them - up to three retailers and a choice of format at purchase.
In terms of the copy, you can use the back cover matter for this if you want to, or you can craft a shorter, punchier version of the synopsis if you’re focusing more on images than words. I use the back cover matter on my page, as my website’s theme is aimed toward reading rather than visuals.
Your contact information
This feels fairly obvious but it’s a portion of the site that’s frequently missed: you need contact information on your site.
People go to your author website to learn more about you on both a personal and professional level. At the professional level, if they want to offer you an opportunity to speak or work together, they need to be able to get to you somehow. At the personal level, your readers will want to keep up with you for your latest releases and little behind-the-scenes snippets, so they’ll want a place to follow you.
So, you need at the very least:
- A business email or contact form
- Links to your social media
- Your email newsletter registration form
You might also choose to include a business phone number, such as one run through Google Voice or a similar service, that you can keep separate from your personal phone, though that’s entirely up to you.
This page is a great place to put previews of your social media feeds, to encourage curious viewers to become engaged followers. That’s the same reason you’ll want an email signup form readers can use to opt-in to receive emailed updates from you. This helps with building your follower base and gives yourself another marketing avenue.
It’s worth adding a little bit of information about what viewers can expect to find on each of your profiles. What’s the best way to access you? Where are you the most active with updates? Let them know how to streamline their following.
According to recent research from Hubspot, websites with blogs on them tend to get around 55% more visitors than websites that don’t. This is because, in extremely basic terms, blogs encourage brand new content and internet algorithms LOVE new content. There’s a lot more to it than that - keyword boosting and internal link building and authority establishment and all that - but it’s way more complicated than we need to go into here. It’s enough to say that running an active, regular blog will help you get noticed quickly by your target community. It’s social proof that you’re active and engaged in the world of writing, and provides you a chance to show you know your stuff.
Now, notice that I said an active and regular blog. The point of a blog on your author site is to give search engines new information to pull up for you; having one post from three years ago isn’t going to do that. Pick a topic you love that’s related to your brand - reviews of books in genres you write in, writing tips and tricks, ornithology, whatever it is - and create content around it. Release that content on a regular schedule, monthly, weekly, or even daily if possible. This will register your site as active and get you showing up in search results. It’s also great to have this content to share on social media; if people are interested enough to click through, you’ve got a better chance of getting leads out of them.
In a completely different vein, running a blog can be a benefit to you as a writer! It offers you a space to practice and receive feedback more immediately than in your books so that you can improve your technique, style, and voice over time. You can work on small stories or topics that are interesting without investing as much time and energy as you need to in order to write a novel. Think of it as a warm-up space. It also lets you interact with your community more directly and find out exactly what they want to hear from you, which is great!
When running a blog, remember a few tips:
- Format your blog posts correctly! You’ll want a clear title and headings for different sections, as well as shorter paragraphs, to give your readers’ eyes a break.
- Images are your friend! Try to include at least one image (the “featured image” that displays in previews) to each post. Remember to add credits to the source of the image and alternate text for those who use screen readers.
- Your metadata is important! Each post should have a short description and URL slug (the bit that comes after “.com/”) that’s easy for a person or a machine to read.
- Tags are a great tool! Having a tagging system for your work - where your posts can be categorized by subject matter - will not only help your readers find what they want to read about but will also definitely help you not go insane looking for older writing samples when you need to reference them.
The process of building an author site
So that’s what goes into an author website. It gives you a good idea of what the final product is going to look like. But what about the actual building process? How do you go about actually obtaining and maintaining a site like that? Here are the basic steps:
- Pick up your domain
- Choose a platform
- Customize your theme
- Drop the content in
- Share it everywhere
- Tweak and update
Easy, right? Here, let’s look at each one and I’ll highlight how to do it.
Step 1: Pick up your domain
Your domain is the bit that comes between “www.” and “.com.” The absolute best thing you can do is have a website where the domain is just your name; that makes it very easy for Google and other search engines to connect you with your site. It’s also the easiest way for your site to be the first result in a search for your own name and to look legitimate, letting your readers trust that this is really you.
Some authors opt to use the name of their book or book series as their domain name. While that can be good for book marketing, it’s not the best choice; it doesn’t tell your reader who you are immediately, and it limits your marketing to that one book or series, not allowing you to branch out and write or promote other things without making an entirely new site. If you want to promote a specific book, then you might create a landing page for it within your website rather than using it as the domain. That way, the page URL would look like “www.yournamehere.com/yourbooknamehere.”
You’ll have to purchase your domain in order to start using it for your site. This is going to run you between $9 and $15 a year, as it’s an ongoing renewal. Sometimes, though, the cost of a domain name can be bundled in with the cost of your web hosting service. More on that in a minute.
Step 2: Choose a platform
Okay, you’ve got a site name picked out. Now, how do you get things to show up when you type that name into your browser? You pick a web hosting platform. This is the service that’s going to hold all of the contents of your site and let it run.
If you do happen to have some programming knowledge, or you’ve hired a website building professional, then you might go with a practical and basic web hosting company. These companies will hold the files for your site for a monthly fee, and may even allow you to move your site in from another service. PC Magazine recommends HostGator, Bluehost, and InMotion, among others.
If you don’t have any prior experience with web design and you’re looking to build it yourself, whether that’s for creative control or budget reasons, you might choose a DIY website building service. These services bundle together hosting, design template and customization, and domain names, as well as other services like marketing and SEO tools, so that you’re paying a single yearly or monthly lump sum and can do the work for yourself without needing to program anything. They have simple drag and drop customization options that you can explore and experiment with to get the site you want.
I personally recommend Wix, as that’s the service I use for my website. They offer a range of pricing plans from individual use to small businesses, with a great number of benefits for a reasonable price, as low as $16 per month (paid all at once for $192 yearly). You can also get fantastic results with WordPress, starting at $15 per month (paid all at once for $180 yearly), Squarespace, starting at $14 per month (paid all at once for $168 yearly), or the fairly new Pub Site, starting at $20 per month (not sure if this is billed monthly or yearly). Pub Site is specifically designed for author websites, which you may find to be an advantage.
Step 3: Customize your theme
Your website theme is essentially the visual aesthetic part of it. What fonts will you use? What color scheme? What will the pictures look like, and where will they be? Luckily, most site builders have premade, customizable templates you can use to standardize your theme across pages.
Make sure that you’re sticking with a relatively simple color palette and using only one or two fonts total. This will help you build a more cohesive brand that your visitors are likely to remember and associate with you later on.
The exception to this is theming your book pages. Lots of successful authors theme their landing pages around the cover art of the book, using the same colors, images, and fonts, which is a great way to work within the book’s specific branding without going too far overboard across your site.
Step 4: Drop the content in
Your site is themed and ready to go - now it just needs to say something! Populate the pages with your content as discussed in the first section of this article. Make sure that everything is polished and proofread, with no spelling or grammar mistakes, and that all of the images are high quality, with citations and alt text.
Once the content is all there, you’re going to want to organize it into an easy-to-navigate pattern. Have a central menu, either at the top of the page or hidden behind a popout button. This menu should ideally have about five main items on it and only up to seven. If you have more pages than that, it might be a good idea to try and sort them into nesting categories, so that your menu doesn’t appear overwhelming. Label each page clearly so that your visitors know exactly where they’re going when they click.
As a final build step, make sure that everything works! Open your site up, either as a preview or fully published but before you share any links. Note how long it takes to load; you want it to be fast. Click every link, and make sure that it takes you exactly where it should - be especially thorough with your purchase links. Test your contact form and your email registration forms and make sure you can retrieve the information that’s input. If anything isn’t working, fix it before you publicly announce your site.
Step 5: Share it everywhere
Once your site is live, share it! Pin the announcement to the top of each of your social media profiles, make it the link in your bios across platforms, and update any membership or professional resource profiles you have (such as author clubs, Amazon author pages, etc.). People can only get to your site if they know it exists, so make the announcement of it a big deal.
If you’ve previously used independent landing pages or a different blog, consider setting up redirects - a system that tells browsers to go from one URL to another instead - to pull old traffic to the new site. You can also advertise your website on Facebook, Instagram, and other social media for relatively cheap; this is a pretty good way to drive new traffic.
Keep in mind that your site isn’t going to get popular instantly. That’s just not how the internet works; when it comes to websites, age is power. Expect your traffic and leads to grow over time as your site climbs the ranks of search engine results pages (SERPs).
Step 6: Tweak and update
Your site is live, but your work isn’t over. You’ll want to keep an eye on your site and update it regularly. Keep your contact information current, and be on the lookout for broken links. Tweak the wording of your content, try new blog formats, and make sure that the piece being displayed prominently is your latest release. Update your website regularly to reflect who you are now; if you leave it alone for too long, eventually, the information in your bio and works pages is going to become obsolete.
When checking your site, go through some basic questions:
- Do the pages load correctly?
- Do the links all work?
- Is my contact information correct?
- Is my latest release prominently featured?
- When was the last time I published a blog post?
Check your site as often as you feel is necessary. I check mine about once a week, though I don’t always need to do anything. Some authors check their sites monthly, and some every few months. Find a pattern that works for you and stick with it. This will help your site stay fresh, clean, and productive.
How to publish your books directly on your author site with Laterpress
Of course, I have to give a shoutout to Laterpress here. Laterpress is a great platform to use to sell your books directly to your readers from your author website.There are many options for how you can monetize your books, such as a one-time fee, chapter bundles, or creating a subscription to your work. Laterpress takes a 5% cut of each sale, meaning they only make money if you do, and charge no extra fees.
You can even set up a customized domain; all you have to do is edit the domain to the one you own under the “Details'' tab for your collection or book.
Now, I should note that it needs to be a subdomain, not a full domain. That means it has to have something in front of it, so it looks like “yourbookhere.yournamehere.com” rather than just “yournamehere.com.” For example, planargates.nategillick.com.
Even if you’re not using Laterpress to sell your entire backlist, you could still use it as your reader magnet base. Put up the first book in a series, short stories, previews, or whole novellas for your readers to enjoy through a platform designed for online reading. Beyond that, Laterpress’s upcoming community features will provide additional avenues for a more interactive experience between readers.
When using Laterpress, you don’t have to worry about any rights issues or losing any work. You own everything you upload and your customer data - including the email list you build, and subscriber data, which other platforms often don’t make freely available to authors. This means that you are 100% free to transfer it all elsewhere if you decide you no longer wish to use the platform.
Laterpress is a convenient way to release serialized fiction or new books online. It’s a great way to start building an audience or grow the one you already have, which makes it a perfect supplement to your online presence. You can learn more about how Laterpress works here.
Having a polished, professional author website is a great way to let the world know that you’re serious about this whole writing thing. It’s a place to show off the work you spend so much time creating and the accomplishments you’ve won throughout your career.
By dedicating some time to making a site that attracts, informs, and retains an audience, you can make the leap from hobby writer to professional author all that much easier. It’s all just a few clicks away.