Before You Launch Your Author Website: How to Avoid Long-Term Mistakes

author website

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!

Possible exceptions

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.

Wordpress Reading SettingsTwo 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.


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Posted in Digital Media.
Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman

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 co-founder and editor of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors.

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. She also has a book forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press, The Business of Being a Writer (2017).

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.

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27 Comments on "Before You Launch Your Author Website: How to Avoid Long-Term Mistakes"

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[…] 3 ways to avoid long-term pain and suffering if you're preparing to launch your first author website.  […]

CMSmith

Thanks for this helpful post. What information does Google Analytics provide that WordPress stats don’t?

Alexis
I want to add – make sure you are going to be happy with and adore your domain name for years to come. This can be tough (because who knows what will happen in the future) and likely makes just going with your author name the safest bet. Why is this important? Because changing your name later is a painful and expensive process. I’m in the midst of doing this (necessary and unavoidable) to the tune of hundreds of dollars (for technical support, 301 redirects, graphic design) and likely a ~20% short-run drop in Google traffic (time will tell). As… Read more »
Jeff Emmerson (@Beyond_ADHD)

I’m sure glad that my wife happens to own a digital marketing agency right about now! Great basic advice, Jane! Thank you.

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[…] Before You Launch Your Author Website (Jane Friedman) 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, publishing consultant Jane Friedman provides three ways to avoid long-term pain and suffering if you’re preparing to establish your first author website. […]

Michael W. Perry
Good advice but for one glitch. Some of us are juggling so much what with writing, editing and publishing, we resent the burden of managing a website even with the benefits of WordPress, which I have tried. We want something less less taxing on our tired minds. There is good news for those of us who’ve grown weary of learning yet more technology, at least if your publishing side includes using Adobe’s Creative Cloud. Adobe’s Creative Cloud has had Behance from Day One and that makes it easy-peasy for those using their apps to post illustrations of what they’ve created… Read more »
michaelforesterauthor

Very helpful advice – thank you

betsymiller2013
I found WordPress too difficult to set up (even the non-technical version) because it’s menus are so text based. I used Weebly (www.weebly.com), which has a more visual drag and drop UI for building a site. If cost is a consideration, for a basic author presence, you might be okay using a URL that’s hosted through someone else. I use http://betsymillerbooks.weebly.com, which is free because it includes “weebly” in the URL, but readers can and do find me and contact me. I could buy betsymiller.com, but I haven’t. My readers don’t cross over much because I mainly write nonfiction children’s… Read more »
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[…] web is a valuable tool for marketing, but it is also fraught with pitfalls. Jane Friedman shows 3 ways to avoid long-term problems with your author website, Chris Syme explains how to avoid social media advertising scams, and Frances Caballo lists 11 ways […]

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[…] Before You Launch Your Author Website: How to Avoid Long-Term Mistakes […]

Cindy M. Jones

Hi Jane, enjoyed reading this post. I do have a question that hopefully you can help with. I have a small buisness where I offer professional writing services to other small businesses using my name Cindy m jones as the domain. http://Www.cindymjones.com.
As I am now writing fiction, I may use a pen name. Should I create a different website to feature myself as an author? Or should I just add a page to my existing website?

Thank you.

Cindy M. Jones

Thank you so much for your help.

Ani
Hi Jane, Not sure if too late to comment now or not, but here goes. I am sold on WordPress, so that is not the question I have. In fact, I will be paying a web designer with whom I am beginning to work in just a few days to build my author site. My quandary is how best to brand me and the site, i.e., how to weave together and present the dimensions of my work (and who I am). I have my first book coming out in a few months, (a work of literary, historical fiction), with more… Read more »
Victoria Felix
Ms Friedman, I have a question regarding author websites and the use of group pseudonyms. Specifically, if a person like myself uses a group pseudonym, that is a pen name or the equivalent elsewhere in the arts (such as Karen Eliot or Monty Cantsin), this will affect the visibility of the work: what are some ways that could work around this? (The question could also readily apply to cases where more than one author share the same basic name, such as Christopher Brennan, a name shared by an important Australian poet who died in 1932, and a contemporary US commentator;… Read more »
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