Mixed messages are everywhere and the information coming to new or aspiring authors is no exception. One of the biggest of these involves self-promotion and websites.
Almost everyone recommends authors have a web presence through their own site as well as social media like Facebook and Twitter. The social media pages are simple to set up and most of us already make use of these pages in our daily lives. Setting up a website from scratch? Not quite as easy.
When I started my first website sometime in 2007, I used Microsoft Office Live. Not only did this service (at the time) offer free webhosting and free simple design software, they gave you a free domain name! It seemed perfect and, for a first website, it was. I attempted to have a blog on that site simply by adding text to a page with dates, but the format annoyed me pretty quickly. A few months after I started the website, I started a Blogger blog and, for a while, cross posted everything on both sites. Eventually I stopped cross posting and simply added notifications to the website that new content had been added to the blog. But then I dropped of the face of the interwebs for a while. When I finally resurfaced this year I looked at my website and realized I hated it. The webhosting was still free, but I had to pay for my domain name. The design software was still simple, but it was annoyingly limited. Then I looked at my blog. Most of my interesting content was already hosted on my blog and in the intervening year Blogger had added a really cool new tool called Pages. This featured allowed me to create static pages with whatever content I want. How awesome is that? It didn’t take me long to decide to scrap the Microsoft site entirely and bring my domain name over to Blogger.
For me, Blogger works as a site. In a few years once I actually have some books published and my promotional needs change, it might not work as well. For now, however, it’s perfect. I like posting content about writing because not only does it help whoever happens to stumble across the post, it helps me keep up to date on the ever-changing industry. There are a few people who have been following me ever since the beginning of the blog and even came back after my long hiatus, but for people who are just discovering my corner of the internet there’s a wealth of posts for them to browse through.
As easy and convenient as Blogger (and similar sites like WordPress) is, it’s not for everyone. If you don’t plan on posting much or find after you start that you can’t keep up the pace, having a blog-centered site might actually hurt your promotional goals: having no website is better than having a bad website. However, there is hope!
If you’re a die-hard do-it-yourselfer, there are a few websites you can check out that list the most common mistakes author websites make and how to spot and then avoid them. Jane Friedman talks specifically about Blogger and WordPress and the problems of using a blog-centered website. Designer Karin Bilich goes into detail about the design issues she faces working with authors on their websites. Last but not least, The Creative Penn hosted a guest blog by founder of Writing Forward Melissa Donovan about common mistakes authors make on their websites. All of these posts provide useful tools and tips that won’t hurt and may help your website.
If you don’t mind asking for help, there are a wide range of services available online from the cost-effective to the full-service luxury packages. Different designers will specialize in working with different hosting services, so if you don’t already have a site established, find a designer (preferably one who has worked with authors before) and listen to their input. That is, after all, what you’re paying them for, right?