Domain of One’s Own by Erin Elizabeth Long

March 26, 2013

Every writer needs a website. This is non-negotiable, and especially critical for indie authors. Even if you don’t have web design expertise (or a publishing house willing to build a snazzy site for you), you can create an attractive, effective site in a weekend for less than $20.

Choosing a Domain

A .com address is best. It’s the oldest and most common top level domain; most people assume that a website is a .com. You can purchase one for less than $12 a year from somewhere like Godaddy.com.

Try to get yourname.com or as close as possible. If your name (or pen name) is already taken, you may have to get slightly creative. Example: belindawilliamsbooks.com.

WordPress/Blogger or Self-Hosted?

I started off as girlnone.wordpress.com. Then I shelled out $18 for a custom URL and became girlnone.com. Then I got tired of ads and a lack of custom plugins and switched over to self-hosting with Bluehost using the wordpress.org platform. There are tons of articles weighing the pros and cons of self-hosting, and I won’t try to replicate them here.

It comes down to how involved you want to be with the technical aspect of running your site. I like to tinker, and I don’t like being limited in what I can do with my own site. During  the Discover Indie Authors blog hop, a couple of the participants were frustrated because they couldn’t embed the rafflecopter giveaway directly into the post. WordPress.com blogs don’t allow you to embed custom HTML or Javascript.

If you’re not particularly tech savvy, your best bet is going through wordpress.com and adding on a custom domain. You can still make your site look like website rather than a blog (check out YA author Brenna Yovanoff’s wordpress-hosted site), remain plugged into a network of other bloggers, and allow wordpress to do all the heavy lifting.

Elements of a Great Author Site

The Bare Minimum:

  • A list of your books (including reading order, if you write series) and links to buy them on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc.
  • Your picture and a short biography
  • Other ways to connect with you (Facebook, Goodreads, Twitter, etc)

Even Better:

  • A regularly updated blog that gives readers a glimpse of your everyday life and creative process without verging into TMI. Nobody wants to peek behind the curtain only to learn about the Great and Powerful Oz’s bunions.
  • A digital press kit with high-resolution images of your book covers and author photo, a sell sheet for each of your books, sample interview questions, reading guides, etc.
  • Contests, giveaways, or free content for fans such as advance chapters or short stories.

Design Tips:

Aww, look! The dolphins are friends!

Keep it simple yet aesthetically pleasing.

Fit in with your genre. If you write sexy urban fantasy or erudite historical thrillers, then your site shouldn’t look like a Lisa Frank Trapper-Keeper.

Integrate design elements or color palettes from your most popular book or series.

The navigation should be easy to find (a bar at the top of the page, for example) and intuitive to use.

Feature your books prominently; don’t make visitors dig.

Common Mistakes

Amateurish design. If your site looks like a relic from the mid-90s, it’s probably time to redesign your site. If you don’t know how, hire someone to do it for you. Check out this gallery of terrible fantasy author websites.

Too many bells and whistles. Flash animation looks cool, but it can also take a long time to load or fail to display at all. The longer visitors have to wait for something load, the more likely it is they’ll simply leave.

Don’t add sounds, music, or videos that auto-play. People hate that.

Excessive self-promotion turns people off. You should offer value to your visitors–insight into your life, news about upcoming events, freebies related to your books, or information related to the subjects you write about. If all you’re saying is BUY MY BOOK IT’S AWESOME BUY IT NOW!, you’re more likely to lose readers than gain them.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Author Websites

Oh dear. I know that Suzanne Collins–author of The Hunger Games–or her publisher can afford a better site than this, so the question remains: Why is her site so dreadful?

Stephen King’s website is very clean, professional and easy to use. My only complaint is that it’s not, well, scary.

Eclectic and vintage-inspired without being fussy, Rachel King’s website is a nice balance of aesthetics and functionality.

Philip Reeves’ site looks amazing but the amount of flash animation makes it difficult to navigate and slow to load.

Mega-bestselling author Patricia Cornwell’s site looks cool, but it’s hard to navigate and it makes lots of annoying noises.

I really dig Lesley MM Blume’s site with its eclectic typography and Erte-inspired illustrations.

Fantasy author Garth Nix’s homemade website is…not good. The publisher-created sites for his series are much more professional.

Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin’s website is embarrassingly dated and inexplicably periwinkle.

Kami Garcia’s site perfectly captures the Southern Gothic charm of Beautiful Creatures series she co-authored with Margaret Stohl.

Leigh Fallon’s site is lovely, simple, and easy to navigate. Then again, I’m a sucker for anything with a crow on it.

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You can find more information about the author and the original post on Erin Elizabeth Long’s website.

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6 thoughts on “Domain of One’s Own by Erin Elizabeth Long

    • =D Have you looked at our services page? We may be able to help you out. I’ve redesigned several websites. I’m not a programmer. I’m more of a look, content and ease of use facilitator–and promoter/manager.

  1. It is probably totally the wrong way to look at things, because I know how important a website is, but I was hoping to get better known before I started spending. It is always a conundrum. If I am totally serious about writing then I should splash out on a website and promotion, but I was just holding off a little :). I have, however just shot up the rankings for “Games of Adversaries” so improving my website might be something I should do soon here. I will look at the services page 🙂

  2. it still amazes me how some well-known and big authors have such dreadful websites. George RR Martin’s site blows my mind whenever I visit it. And it’s not just fantasy authors with bad sites – I’ve seen some sites for BIG romance authors and I can’t wait to get out of there.

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