I am by no means a marketing or design or website expert but, luckily, I happen to know someone who is. When I or my editing clients need assistance, she is my first (and only) point of contact. That’s how good she is in my opinion.
Through my professional relationship with her, I have distilled some (hopefully most) of the key points to consider when developing a website for your book.
The first decision is what you want to call your website. If you have only written one book and don’t plan to write any more, you may prefer to set up a website in the name of your book for maximum exposure. If you’ve written more than one book or plan to write more in the future, it might be better to set up a website in your name to promote yourself as much as the books. Of course, you could always call your website something completely different (John Birmingham’s is called Cheeseburger Gothic – no idea why). As long as you have a good reason and it doesn’t make you and your book very difficult to find (which defeats entirely the purpose of setting up a website), then why not?
The next choice is the domain name extension. If you’re planning or likely to become a worldwide sensation (and who isn’t?), then the .com extension is the way to go. If you prefer to focus on your domestic market, then using a country-specific extension tells people you’re a legitimately local website (.com.au in Australia, .co.uk in the UK, .co.nz in New Zealand and so on – note that the .com.au extension in Australia requires an ABN; other jurisdictions might also have additional or different requirements and it’s up to you to find out what they are). There are also a slew of new extension options like .book and .author. Costs for these options vary.
Once you’ve decided which way you want to go with the website name and extension, you will need to check if it is available. As much as I would like to be the only Louise Truscott in the world, I’m not. So if one of the other Louise Truscotts out there needs to promote herself, she may have already bought it, even if she’s not using it. So it’s best not to get too attached to just one option – have a few ready, just in case.
Using a Template or Designing from Scratch
Now that you’ve got a domain name, you can start making decisions about how you want your website to look. There are thousands of templates to choose from – WordPress and Wix are two of the most popular template providers and they are also hosting sites (see the next section for more information on hosting), so you might be able to kill two birds with one stone in that respect – and many of them are free or available for a small charge.
Be aware that you can’t use a WordPress template with Wix hosting or a Wix template with WordPress hosting so if you have your heart set on a particular template or a particular host, make sure you don’t tie yourself up in knots attempting the impossible.
The other alternative is to design your website from scratch. Unless you have design skills yourself, you’ll have to hire a professional to accomplish this and it can be very, very expensive. I’m talking tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands, depending on how much time goes into it. You really need to consider whether it’s worth the investment. Unless you’re guaranteed to be the next JK Rowling, it generally isn’t.
Once you’ve purchased your website domain name and decided on your approach to design, you’ll need a host. A hosting website provides the background infrastructure – the stuff that a website needs to run but that most of us don’t know the first thing about – like storage and… well, that’s about as much as I know about it. I just know it’s necessary.
There are so many companies that provide this service, although you may be able to cross a few off the list based on the type of website you want (template choice) and cost. There will be a monthly or yearly charge but, depending on the level of hosting you choose (simple, low traffic all the way up to complex, high traffic), it’s generally inexpensive.
And now it’s time to start building your site by deciding what pages you want and creating the content for them. The following are the generally agreed upon minimum requirements:
*About the author page
*About the book page
*Purchase links page
*Contact me page
The main page is the first thing visitors to your site will see so it needs to have some visual impact. The template or design you choose will contribute significantly to this. It should also have links to all your social media platforms – Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Instagram, whatever else you’ve chosen to set yourself up on – so that each marketing tool feeds into the other.
One of the most important things to include on your main page is the cover of your book. It sounds obvious but because there’s a page specifically for the book, we might put it on there and then forget that it can (and should) be used more than once.
You may want to include other images – some you may own, some may be professional photographs that you need to purchase. If you’ve already purchased some to use on your book cover, use the same ones – for consistency and so you don’t have to pay for more.
About the Author Page
Selling a book can be as much about selling yourself as the physical product. And readers love to get to know the person behind the talent. So here’s the place to really do yourself justice. However, writing your own biography can be hard. Just ask me. I’m boring. I still haven’t written a biography for myself that I think is any good. But I’ve written hundreds of them for other people and each person I interviewed insisted they were boring and not worth the space… until they saw what I wrote about them. Everybody can be interesting. It’s just about how you approach it.
And don’t forget your author photo. If you don’t have one, get one taken. My marketing, design and website expert took mine (and photoshopped it a little because I had a slight double chin and make-up on my jacket) – she’s also a terrific photographer. These days, most people are selfie experts so you can keep snapping away until you have one you’re happy with or you can enlist a friend to help out.
About the Book Page
You’ve already written a blurb and it’s perfectly acceptable to use it here, too, but you can write a slightly different version if you want to mix it up a little. Sometimes it can be good to use another option. The blurb will be on all the websites where the book is available for sale, it will be on the back of the book, it will be on Goodreads and a lot of book review sites will grab and use chunks of the blurb to limit how much work they have to do. So to lessen the saturation slightly, a modified description can be very welcome.
And don’t forget your book cover. You want people to be able to recognise it on sight so it’s almost impossible to overuse your book cover on your website. Almost.
Sample Chapter/Excerpts Page
Many of the websites where your book is available for sale will have a certain percentage of the start of the book viewable as a sample. Samples are great for giving readers an insight into the story and your style of writing.
But you might want to use a chapter from the middle of the book or excerpts from a range of places throughout the book to highlight several areas. This is the place to do it.
Testimonials will come with sales but you’ll need a few before then for your testimonials page. Ask your partner, your mother, your beta readers, your editor. Most people will be happy to help.
Purchase Links Page
Every website or bookstore where your book can be purchased should be listed on the purchase links page. Depending on where and how you have published this may include Amazon, CreateSpace, Smashwords, Kobo, Apple, Barnes & Noble and a variety of others. Don’t make your potential readers have to search high and low for a place to buy your book.
Contact Me Page
Lastly (but certainly not least), set up a page for readers and fans to be able to contact you. The best way to do this is by using a submission form. It requires your readers to provide their email address and then there’s a free text box so that they can type their message to you and a button for when they’re ready to submit.
When you set up a domain name and hosting for your site, you are usually provided with a generic email address that can also be used on your website such as email@example.com. But (and this is really important) you should never list a private personal email address or phone number on your contact me page. As much as we would like to imagine that everyone who wants to contact you will be pleasant, there is always the potential for inappropriate contact or spam and the only way to protect yourself is to be in a position to choose who you will respond to and who you won’t.
A Few Other Things to Consider
Your Facebook, Twitter and other social media pages should have a theme consistent with your website. If you’re going to invest all this time and energy into creating the website, then make sure it is used to its full potential.
Your Facebook, Twitter and other social media pages should also be publicly available, even to people who aren’t signed up on these social media platforms. Otherwise you are limiting your reach.
Or Maybe Just Hire a Professional
If you’re unsure about any of this, if you’re lacking in confidence or if all of this is just too much for you in spite of or maybe because of all the overwhelmingly helpful advice I’ve provided, then there’s no shame in hiring a professional. In fact, your results are likely to be a lot better because you’ll have access to lots of advice and expert execution in a much shorter time frame.
Of course, it costs money, just like hiring the editor and the book cover designer and buying the ISBN and the website name and paying the hosting fees. It’s another investment in you and your book.
And if you’d like a recommendation, I know just the person.