Premium Deep Dive: Author Websites Part One

June 24, 2024

Do you really need an author website?

I know many people will read that question and think, “It’s the 21st century; don’t all creatives need a website?”

To which I say, yes, generally, but this is more important than that. In fact, your website could be one of your most powerful tools, which is why we need to talk about it.

And the people who didn’t think all creatives need a website might be dreading this topic. Don’t worry, we’re going to break it all down for you in a non-scary way.

This Dabble Premium Deep Dive is split into two parts—partly because, combined, we’re bordering on too long for a single reading session and partly because it gives you time to digest what’s here before we layer on even more. 

Part One will cover what some folks might consider the basics, including:

  • Why you need a website if you’re serious about writing
  • How to plan your author website out
  • The essential elements of a good author website
  • How to start putting it all together

In the second part, we will go into more advanced tips and things you can do to leverage your website. If you’re reading this live—in addition to being awesome—take the time in between to get started implementing these basics before we get into the advanced stuff.

To put this all into practice, this month’s Wordsmith Workshop will be all about building your author website so you can see what this looks like in practice. That’ll be on Wednesday, June 26, at 2:00 p.m. Eastern, and you’ll get a link to register soon!

And what is a Dabble Premium Deep Dive without a downloadable resource? Here’s a checklist for what you’ll learn in this article to see if you’ve included everything when you build your own site.

For now, let’s dive into author websites.

Why an Author Website Matters

We all just want to write our stories—I get it—but your author website is one of the most powerful tools in your writing toolkit. More than social media, more than a pretty book cover, your website has a ton of potential that largely goes untapped.

I could tease pretty lines about its efficacy all day, but let me show you precisely what it can do.

Control Over Your Content

There are no rules except the ones you make on your website. You have complete control over how your content is presented, which lets you maintain your unique style and voice.

Want to tease that steamy cover or excerpt from your romance novel? Go for it.

Have some creepy fanfic that isn’t appropriate for your grandma to see? It can live on your website.

Beyond Terms-of-Service-breaking content, you can create whatever you want with no character or formatting limits. It’s exactly what you want it to be.

More importantly (and perhaps most importantly), you have complete independence from social media

I’m not saying that’s critical because I dislike social media platforms, but because it means your website content is entirely under your control.

Social media is a great way to get discovered and connect with your fans, and I think authors should leverage at least one platform of their choice. But there have been horror stories of writers who only use social media and go from five- or six-figure incomes to almost nothing because the platform they use decided to change their algorithm.

That’s not hyperbole, nor does it touch on the oversaturation of everything on social.

TikTok is hot right now, especially for romance authors, and will sell books if you use it right. But what happens if it’s banned from the country with your largest audience? What if an algorithm change means all the content you spend hours making each week isn’t pushed to anyone willing to drop a dime on you?

Do you know where that doesn’t happen? Your website. You are the only one in control of this platform, and that sort of control is rare in this digital age.

Establish Your Online Presence

Piggybacking off that, your website allows you to establish who you are as an author. You can show the world who you are, what you write, what’s important to you, what you do for fun, and communicate with fans.

That means you have to work to establish your own author voice and branding, which is a topic for a future Deep Dive. It also means taking time to make your website align with that branding.

When you put in the effort, though, your website will tell everyone that you’re a professional author who takes your writing seriously.

Connect with Readers

Once your readers get there, your website allows them to connect with them in ways social media can’t. Blog posts, comment replies, and your newsletter email list can all feel much more personal to readers (and to us!).

This is also a great way to keep your readers coming back for more. When you use your website to post high-quality content like behind the scenes looks, cover reveals, chapter teases, etc., you’re giving your readers more reasons to connect with you.

And that translates to more sales.

Become More Discoverable

While search engine optimization (SEO) isn’t something you really need to worry about at the very start of your writing career—though you certainly can if you want!—your website is one of the best ways to make yourself more discoverable.

A website optimized for search engines increases your visibility, making it easier for potential readers to find you and your books online. You don’t need to keep going to them; they can start coming to you.

Your website also provides a central location for all information related to your writing, including book details, event schedules, and media coverage. A dedicated media/press kit page also makes it easy for journalists and bloggers to access information about you and your work, which will do nothing but increase the chances of media coverage.

Which is a heck of a lot of fun!

Market and Promote Your Work

Your website will act as a large part of your marketing and promotion efforts. Is it your only part? No. Social media, events, interviews, newsletter swaps, and a billion other things are still great for drawing in new readers.

But once you start drawing in readers and fans, you can use your website to direct them to the places where they can find your books for sale, events you’ll be at, and exclusive content gated behind your email signup.

Monetize Your Writing

Finally, if you want to make money from your writing, you can use your website to monetize it. We’ll chat more about this Part Two, but your website can be a place where you can sell your work directly to readers, set up a subscription system (sort of like Patreon), or sell merchandise to your fans.

Planning Your Website

Okay, so we know everything a website can do for us, which is all well and good, but how do we get from point A (no website) to point B (the bestseller’s website)?

We’ve got to put in the legwork. And that starts with planning out our digital home.

I know some folks reading this will skew more toward the pantser side of writing, and I love that for you, but we want to adopt a plotter mentality for our website. Otherwise, you’re going to put in a lot of that aforementioned legwork and have to redo it all—after being disappointed by the results of your hard work.

If you already have a website, don’t stress. I’m right there with you. Take what you learn in this section and start planning how you will revise what you already have. That might mean scrapping everything, but it could also mean polishing what’s already there.

Define Your Goals

This is the biggest part of planning your website. Eventually, we want a piece of digital real estate that covers all our bases, but that will develop over time. It’s far more effective to start with a single objective in mind and build on it, getting it done effectively instead of shotgun-scattering your efforts all over the place.

So, what are you building your website for? What’s your objective? Odds are it’s one of the following:

  • Reader engagement
  • Book sales
  • Mailing list signups
  • Event promotion
  • Search engine optimization

You might be able to come up with other objectives, but those are the big ones. Most authors will use their website for reader engagement, which could (and should) include mailing list signups. 

But more and more are using it for direct sales, discoverability, or as an information hub to promote events and new books.

So, what do you want to use your website for? If you’re just starting out or have a few books under your writing belt and can’t think of an objective, I suggest starting with reader engagement or building a mailing list.

You can also identify some secondary goals to include, like providing resources and behind-the-scenes content or showcasing your media appearances. Those won’t be the focus, but it doesn’t mean we can’t think about them.

Note: As I mentioned, you’ll eventually want your website to grow to include all those objectives. It will be a platform to engage fans, sell your work, promote your events, and increase your discoverability. 

But don’t stress about that right now. We don’t write our books 100,000 words at a time; we write them one word at a time. So let’s approach this career-spanning tool we’re building the same way.

Define Your Target Audience

Next, we want to figure out who this website is for. This is where many authors (myself included) make a mistake.

Let me explain how I started my website but didn’t understand this key detail.

When I first started taking writing seriously, I thought the best way to build my readership would be to include content about what I was already doing: writing. So, I aggressively created content about just that.

Story craft, characters, plot structure, etc. All the good stuff I now write for DabbleU.

I got some traction from fellow authors, and it eventually helped me get a place here, writing for fine folks like you, so I’m not complaining. But do you know what it didn’t do?

Sell my books. Nor did it build my email list or get more people to turn up to my events.

And why would it? My dark fantasy readers couldn’t care less about the three-act structure.

At the end of the day, your website will be meant for one of three groups of people:

  1. Readers
  2. Agents
  3. The media

Most of us are targeting the first group there, readers.

If your website is for readers, consider what they want to spend their precious time and attention on. They care about you and your stories, so your website should reflect that. Who are you? What do you write? Include some bonus content for the fans to indulge in. Post updates about your next book.

Heck, you’re a reader, so think about what you’d want to see from your favorite author!

And always think about how easy you are making it for them to buy your books.

If your website is for agents, treat it more like a portfolio. Brag (in a tactful way) about the awards you’ve won, honorifics you’ve been given, sales you’ve made, your social media following, or anything else that would set you apart. Include links to your work, news articles and spotlights about you, and your social platforms. Make it easy for them to look at you and know you’re a good bet.

If your website is for the media, highlight your media kit and make sure your events page is up-to-date and filled with great photos. Consider hiring a professional photographer for headshots or to cover an event or two. If this is what your website is for, odds are you’re an established author already, so lean into that credibility.

The Essential Elements of an Author Website

Great! So we now know why we’re making this website and who it’s for. What is it supposed to look like?

Here are the must-have pages on your site and what you want to include on them (at a minimum). Technically, we’re still in the planning stage, so consider making some jot notes for each page you read about.

Home Page

At the risk of sounding like I’m stating the obvious, the home page is your website's introductory or default page. It acts as a sort of hub—or, dare I make a book joke, a table of contents—for your online home.

But, as authors, we want it to do more than that.

Your home page is likely what people will see when they visit your site. That means you want to put your best foot forward and really nail your author brand so it looks cohesive.

A home page is also where you can feature content like new book releases, sales, upcoming events, or blog posts.

Most importantly (and I almost capitalized and italicized that in addition to bold), your home page needs a strong, clear call to action.

What this call to action looks like is up to you and the overall purpose of your website. If you’re looking to grow your email list, the first part of your homepage should be a catchy graphic and some lead magnet with a newsletter signup form.

If you’re trying to convert visitors to readers, your CTA should push them towards your books or a sales page for whatever work you’re focusing on at the moment.

For someone looking to woo media personalities or agents, show off your accolades and reviews before sending them off to your media kit or contact info.

Your home page isn’t just flashy and fun. Be intentional. Choose what you’re using this website for and gear (at least the initial part of) your home page for that.

Consider checking out non-author websites and analyzing their home pages, too. We think, as authors, we need to be artsy and avoid sales at all costs.

But for most of us, your website is a sales tool. So look at how other people sell products and consider how to make that appropriate for your brand.

About/Bio Page

This seems like an innocuous page, but more people than you might think visit your bio when they’ve never heard of you.

Again, take some time to think about the purpose of your website. If you’re here to prove you’re worth an agent’s time, highlight those relevant credentials, awards, and achievements.

If you’re looking to attract new readers, consider sprinkling in some of those accolades (i.e., bestseller, 10,000+ five-star reviews, etc.) at the beginning of your about page for social proof, but then don’t be afraid to share your background, writing journey, and inspiration. Readers want to connect with an author, especially these days when, quite frankly, online media has provided avenues for parasocial relationships between fans and creators.

I’m not saying you should lean into that or aim for it, but I am saying people want some sort of connection with superstars like you.

Finally, if the budget allows, consider getting some professional photos done that align with your author brand and writing. This will help with that personal connection while making you look professional.

Books/Works Page

Obviously, this page has to be on your website. That’s the whole point, right? We’re here to write books, so let’s show off our books!

There are a couple ways to go about this page, and what you can or should do is determined by how many books you have.

Let’s say you have three books. Two are in one series, and the other is a separate standalone novel.

Your books page can have all three of them with detailed descriptions of each, including cover images, blurbs, and purchase links.

But if you have twenty books spanning four different series and a couple novellas, that will be a long, convoluted page. In that case, you can organize them by series, helping with navigation and hopefully pointing them to your best work.

With that in mind, you can also create individual pages for each series or novel and link out from the bigger books/works page. Treat it as a hub that sends a reader off to a sales page that contains a catch description, reviews and accolades, and a link to where they can purchase your work.

That last part is the most important, whichever route you take. We’re here to get more eyes on our books, so don’t make it more complicated than it needs to be to buy them once you’ve hooked a potential reader.

Blog/News Page

These could be two separate pages or combined into one. Essentially, this is where you will update fans or attract visitors.

If you’re updating fans, your blog can offer those behind-the-scenes looks and teasers I’ve mentioned. It can also be where you announce events you’ll be at and share photos or stories once those events are done. 

Alternatively, your blog can act as fuel for discovery and search engine optimization (SEO), hopefully ranking your site high in Google searches. We’re looking at SEO in Part Two, don’t worry.

Either way, get familiar with the blogging part of your website builder and produce quality content people will want to read. Don’t just post for the sake of posting.

Consider organizing your content by tags and categories (i.e., book/series, topic, event type, etc.) and enable comments if you’re willing to monitor and respond to them.

Contact Page

This one is pretty straightforward: a page with a contact form for folks to get in touch with you. Most website builders have some sort of template you can use that connects to your email.

I’d also suggest including links to your active social media pages. This will make it easy for fans to connect with you in a more casual way without needing to search for it.

What I suggest avoiding is putting your email address on the page itself. While this might be preferable for folks to reach out to you, it is way too easy for website-scraping spam bots to grab your email and send you phishing emails or annoying junk.

Media/Press Kit Page

If your website's objective is to share your media or press kit, this might include the contact form and social media links we just discussed. But it will also contain more than that.

Specifically, you’ll want a downloadable press kit that includes your official author bio (usually longer than what you’ll find at the back of your book), high-quality images of your work, and current press releases.

Essentially, you want to make it as easy as freakin’ possible for media personalities to share you and your work. The less friction you make for them, the more likely it will happen.

You also might consider including a plugin or link to a scheduling service like Calendly if they want to book interviews or something else with you. 

Events/Appearances Page

If you make this separate from your blog/news page, make sure to keep it up to date. Provide detailed information about upcoming events, book signings, and appearances, including date and time, venue, dress code (if applicable), itinerary or what’s going on, and a link to ticket purchases (again, if applicable).

Consider some sort of calendar, too. This can be an image, a plugin, or just a tidy list with headings for each month for easy reference.

Header Menu

This isn’t really a page, but it is a critical element of your website you want to consider. The header menu will appear at the top of every single page on your website, so at the risk of sounding repetitive, be intentional about what you include in it.

You should really only include menu items that people either expect or to pages you want to drive them to. That could consist of any pages we’ve discussed so far, but not necessarily all of them. You might have a media kit, for example, but you’ll just confuse your reader if you include that in your header.

Many website builders or templates include an option to highlight a single menu item in a button or border, so make sure you choose the option that aligns with your goal.

For someone wanting to sell books, your books page will be this highlighted option. If you’re trying to build your email list, maybe “Free Novella” in a callout box in the header menu is the way to go, linking to a page to capture emails in exchange for that free novella.

Footer

Another constant across all pages, your footer is more a navigation tool than an information hub. Here is where you’ll repeat the important links from the header menu but also link out to other pages that are important but maybe not header-important.

You can also include a condensed newsletter signup form, social media icons, and copyright or other legal disclaimers.

Building Your Website

So those are the big pages; now we need to put them together. To be clear, there will be some other pages you’ll want to include, but those are the ones we want to consider at first. Here’s how you start bringing them to life.

Choose a Platform

There are a ton of different options out there for us to choose from, and that doesn’t even count people who have the technical know-how to code their own sites.

Because most of us don’t have that skill, I will go over the four big players in the game that are user-friendly and, in some cases, drag-and-drop with templates. I don’t expect you to go master a technical skill like HTML, CSS, or Java just to have a website.

The Best Website Builder Options for Authors

WordPress - By far the most popular website builder in the world, even for authors, WordPress is highly customizable with a vast range of themes and plugins. There are plugins for virtually anything you want, though most are paid. WordPress is less user-friendly than the other options here but is far more customizable (and can be coded if you have some understanding).

Squarespace - This is my personal favorite, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best (I could just be used to it). Squarespace is silly in how easy it is to set up a beautiful website, and they have a bunch of awesome templates. It’s ideal for someone who wants an all-in-one solution and can come with integrated email marketing and direct sales capabilities.

Wix - Probably the easiest to use on this list, Wix is a drag-and-drop editor with a lot of flexibility in its design options. It has come a long way since I used it back in high school while maintaining how easy it is to put a website together quickly (without looking terrible).

Weebly - More barebones than the other options, Weebly is simple and straightforward, but comes with good e-commerce integration. If you’re looking for a base of operations to sell your books and not much else, Weebly might fit the bill.

Pros and Cons of Each Website Builder

WordPress

Pros: Highly flexible, extensive plugin ecosystem, SEO-friendly

Cons: Requires more technical expertise to get exactly what you want, needs ongoing maintenance and updates

Squarespace

Pros: Easy to use, elegant design templates, excellent customer support (you don’t know you love this until you need it)

Cons: Less flexible, least amount of third-party plugins, more expensive than some of the others

Wix

Pros: Intuitive drag-and-drop interface, versatile design options

Cons: Limited scalability, less robust SEO features

Weebly

Pros: User-friendly, good for small-scale e-commerce

Cons: Limited customization, fewer overall features and options compared to the others.

Domain and Hosting

Once you’ve chosen a website builder and played around a bit, you’ll need a domain. First, we’ll want to avoid free versions like “authorwebsite.squarespace.com” since that sets an amateurish tone.

So let’s pick your domain name. For the most part, you’ll want to go with your author name. Otherwise, here are three things to consider:

Relevance - This is why it makes most sense to go with your author name. You can use a book or series name, but that won’t be relevant if you plan on writing more.

Simplicity - Not dougsbooksandthoughts.com. If you aren’t using just your name, Keep it simple, memorable, and easy to spell.

Availability - If you have a common name or pen name, you might need to adjust based on domain availability. Check for trademarks, too.

Choosing a Domain Provider

I don’t want to bog this article down with the nuanced differences between domain providers (and, honestly, most of the differences aren’t even applicable to us or our author websites). Because our platforms aren’t very dynamic and don’t require much beyond the basics of a decent site, I don’t think you need to stress too much about where you buy your domain from.

Some website builders offer domain purchasing built into them. They might even include that in a pricing tier. Others require you to purchase a domain from a provider to use, or a third-party provider might even offer a better deal than a website builder.

If you’re going third-party with someone like Bluehost, SiteGround, HostGator, or WP Engine (for WordPress), look at reviews to determine which is best for you. Going with an obscure domain host is just as sketchy as going to a little-known anything else, so always do your research.

Design and Layout

As you’re putting your website together, you must consider how your design and layout comes across. Your website represents you to readers and fans, so any lackluster or gaudy design or complicated layout will only diminish their experience.

Using a website builder like Squarespace or templates for WordPress will give you a leg up here. There’s no need to add unnecessary stress to your life when you can leverage someone else’s design expertise.

That said, you need to understand the basics if you want to make the best use of these features (or develop them yourself).

First Impressions

As the old saying should go, everyone judges a book by its cover. The same goes for your website. When someone lands on your digital home, research shows that we have 0.05 seconds before they already start forming an opinion.

I can’t even think “0.05 seconds” in 0.05 seconds, but our neurons are instantly firing. Other research has shown that 94% of website first impressions are based on design.

We’ll dive deeper into what you need to know about design, but always consider what someone’s first impression will be like. Ideally, think about:

Visual appeal - A visually appealing design attracts visitors and keeps them engaged. Use high-quality images and a consistent color palette.

Professionalism - A clean design reflects professionalism and credibility, which are both crucial for establishing trust with your prospective audience.

Readability - Ensure text is easy to read with clear fonts and sufficient contrast against the background.

Get feedback as you consider and implement your website design, too. I’m talking about both first impressions and larger-impact stuff, like…

Brand Consistency

Like it or not, if you’re an author trying to sell books, you are a brand. You are a business with a product and a particular vibe (if the cool kids still say that).

When I say brand consistency, I don’t mean every image or post you put out in the world needs to undergo seventeen different checks against a brand style guide. But I want you to put some real thought into developing and maintaining your author brand.

For website purposes, this means:

Colors - Choose a color scheme that fits your brand. Dark colors for horror or dark romance, bright colors for children’s books, soft colors for fairy tales. Colors are an easy way to subconsciously reinforce your brand identity.

Fonts - Most website builders will help you with this, but select 2-3 fonts for headings, body text, and accents. Ensure they are legible and complement each other.

Visual elements - Use consistent imagery, icons, and graphics that align with your author brand’s tone and style. If you write urban fantasy set in New York, filling your website with images of the forest will be weird. 

Ease of Navigation

We’ve all experienced a website that is difficult to navigate. Usually, this results in us hitting that big ol’ X in the top right corner and vowing never to return.

We don’t want that! We want people coming back for every book, right?

This is where a coherent header menu comes into play. Keep it simple and sparse. Remember what the basics are and why you want people on your site. 

Use dropdown menus to keep navigation accessible and understandable. “Books” in your menu might drop down to your different series.

Find a place (usually in the header or footer) to include a search function, too. This will get visitors to where they want to go if they can’t find what they’re looking for.

Consistency

This is an easy one: don’t switch things up on a whim. Format all your book pages the same way. Keep your header at the top and your footer at the bottom. Don’t suddenly make one page only tiles of YouTube videos.

That last one would be weird, but nothing surprises me anymore.

No matter what page your reader goes to, they should feel like they’re still on your site.

Call to Action

I mentioned this before, but you want a clear call to action for website visitors to take. Don’t make it vague (“Click here for a surprise” isn’t fun.), and make it worth their while (free teaser, read the latest book, etc.).

Make sure your call to action is in a prominent location, too. This could be the top right of your header menu, which makes it available on every page, or as the first section on your home page.

You can also include calls to action at the end of blog posts or on book pages to prompt visitors to do something (like “Buy Now!” on your book page).

Contrast your CTA’s design, too. See if you can put it in a box in your header or as a big, bold button under an email signup form.

Mobile Responsiveness

If you’re using Squarespace, Weebly, or Wix, odds are your website will automatically format itself for mobile devices if that’s what a visitor uses. They will have mobile responsiveness baked into any templates or features they put out.

WordPress can be a bit tricky with this, though. If you try to do any custom coding or use a plugin or template that hasn’t considered mobile devices (which, believe it or not, still happens), your website won’t be suitable for those users.

Once you build your website, test it on multiple devices: phones, tablets, Chromebooks, Macs, laptops, etc. Also, check it out on different browsers to make sure nothing funky is making it look wonky on Microsoft Edge because you built it in Chrome.

Visual Elements

Even though we’re writers, our websites need more than text. In addition to using high-resolution photos of yourself and your book covers, ensure all images you upload are high-res, too.

Make sure you have the rights to those images; if you aren't paying for a stock subscription, look for a CC0 or Creative Commons license on photos.

Videos are another great way to promote your brand and your books. Using book trailers, embedding interviews, or filming some behind-the-scenes content can establish who you are while engaging your fans.

Newsletter Forms

Every author needs to build their email list. That’s genuinely not up for debate if you want to find success in the 21st century.

To that end, we want our newsletter signup forms to be frictionless and attractive.

Again, most website builders will have this feature so it looks like the rest of your site. What I want to quickly mention, though, is to make sure you have the name field enabled or included.

Yes, asking someone for their name when signing up for your newsletter is an extra step, and some people won’t want to do it. That said, having someone’s name will lead to more personalization options and create a stronger bond when you use it in e-blasts.

If you can, just ask for “Name” or “First Name” so they don’t need to give you their last name if they don’t want to.

Get Started on Your Author Website!

That concludes our first part of the Premium Deep Dive into author websites. If you take this information and play around with a website builder, you have ample space to get your creative groove on.

In Part Two, we’re going to get a little wild with what we can do with our websites, including content creation, SEO and discoverability, monetization, and more.

For now, let’s get something up and running. If you haven’t already started building an author website, treat it as your homework to get going on one. Pick one of the website builders and play around a bit, crafting the essential pages we covered here while keeping in mind all the design and layout tips we talked about.

If you already have a website, use this Deep Dive to audit it and determine whether you’re maximizing the fundamentals.

Don’t worry about being perfect yet; between our next Deep Dive and the free Wordsmith Workshop you’ll get access to on June 26, you’ll refine what you make until it’s exactly what you want (and need it to be).

And guess what? You can use this free downloadable checklist to make sure you’ve hit everything you need. Click that link to download it, then get building.

We’ll see you back here for Part Two soon!