So, you're still with me? Well done! With Part One and Part Two of this series, we covered your foundation: understanding web terminology, working with web professionals (or going solo), and the must-haves for your author website.
Now it's time to do the hard part: Execute!
Below I've compiled the ultimate Start Guide to get your site off the ground, including costs and resources, so that you can build your author brand NOW. You can add to or modify this plan, but it will help you launch your website as quickly and cheaply as possible.
We'll be setting up a basic WordPress-based website that you can use to promote your books (and yourself), using resources that I have personally used during my career in web design, and which you can employ knowing they've been put through their paces by the pros.
Let's get started.
Step 1 - Prepare Your Content & Research Some Inspiration
Follow the content plan in Part Two. Create your content document FIRST, so that you can simply enter it once you get your site up and running. If you build the site first, you'll find yourself staring at a blank screen wondering what to fill it with. If you start with content in hand, you will instead look at building your author website around what you want to say—and be done faster, and with a better product.
Find sites that you like that will fit your mold. They don't have to be author websites necessarily, but simply sites that can help you imagine how to arrange your site from a design and content perspective. If you like how Chili's arranges their homepage, and you can imagine your books in there, more power to you. Viewing and collecting comparables helps smooth your layout process considerably, and lets you borrow from the pros.You can also check sites like Awwwards and Unmatched Style to get some site inspiration from award-winning websites.
PRO TIP: Use Pinterest to save websites or parts of websites that you really love for later reference when you are building your site.
Step 2 - Choose Hosting for Your Author Website
In Part One of this series, we discussed hosting in general.
Hosting is the rental of computer space that can serve your author website to eager readers. Essentially, you get both a domain name and hosting package and put your website there when it's ready. The hosting provider loads it up for anyone that comes calling.
To get hosting, visit any of a hundred shared hosting providers (suggestions below), and purchase a low-cost shared hosting plan. They will usually run $4-10 per month and are very easy to set up. Once you have purchased hosting (rented space on a computer that serves the internet), you can get your website rolling.
You'll also pay for a domain name (about $15 per year), which is the human-friendly shorthand for the way that users find your site (i.e. bookworks.com) instead of typing an IP address, which is how computers identify websites.
Many hosting providers will even throw in a free domain with your hosting account purchase, so you can save that fifteen bucks. As you're checking out for your hosting, a screen will generally pop up asking you to claim a free domain. Note that this is generally just free for one year, and you'll have to pay around $15 per year to renew after that.
Suggested hosting providers:
- GoDaddy - The world's largest hosting provider, and has great personal support with real human beings. Free domain with hosting account. Economy hosting is about $4 per month for the first year ($8 per month after the first year).
- Dreamhost - Great low-cost hosting beloved by many web developers. Their support is email only unless you pay for a call, so it's not quite as good as Godaddy on the service side. Shared hosting is about $10 per month.
- A2Hosting - A newer outfit out of Ann Arbor, Michigan, these folks have been making a name for themselves for fast, low-cost hosting and great service. Economy hosting starts at about $4 per month.
- Network Solutions - Has been around forever, and has personal phone service for customers. A bit more pricey, but they are a great company to work with. Basic hosting is about $10 per month.
- 1&1 Hosting - Another long-standing hosting provider that offers a great intro rate of $1 per month for the first year for basic hosting. After the first year, it jumps to about $8 per month.
Step 3 - Choose a WordPress Theme (the Fun Part)
One of the great things about WordPress is that it is open source, and allows third-party designers and developers to create THEMES that they can distribute for free.
A WordPress theme is basically a fully-created website that just needs some setup and content added to finish it out. Finding a good theme is a shortcut that saves hours and thousands of dollars in professional website design and development.
There are plenty of great sites that sell themes perfect for an author. Many are even specifically tailored to authors and their books (though you can get a general theme also). The best part is that a theme package is a ready-to-go site, to which you simply add content.
Time to get your inspiration back out. Go back to your Pinterest board from Step 1 before you go to purchase a theme. Review what you've saved and keep them in mind while you shop for a theme. As you review, can you visualize your content fitting into that theme? Will you need a pro to modify it heavily to fit your desired look and feel? Finding a great theme that comes close to your desired site can save hundreds in modification fees, and weeks in setup time.
Where to Get Great Themes:
- ThemeForest - Always my first stop for themes to quickly create websites. 1000s of high-quality themes, fair pricing, and great support. Check out the author-specific BEBO and Preface themes, or use a stellar general theme like Enfold. Our studio regularly uses Enfold to quickly build websites that work and look beautiful.ThemeForest themes start at about $40 and go up to about $70.
- StudioPress - These themes are built for the Genesis framework (a framework is just a plain-jane Theme for WordPress, kind of a like a building frame that you can then decorate). StudioPress themes do require that you buy the Genesis framework, making them a slightly more costly option, but one with outstanding support and updates. The framework is $59.95, and themes for the framework run about $100 (the cost of the theme includes a copy of the framework).
Step 4 - Set up WordPress & Your Theme (or Have Someone Do It for You) On Your Hosting
Here's the challenging part: installing WordPress on your new hosting, and getting your theme installed. For someone without a technical background, this can be a daunting task. It requires pushing files via FTP and setting up a database on your host.
BUT YOU ARE NOT GOING TO DO THAT. I mean, come on. Instead, you are going to take advantage of many host's one-click installs of WordPress (for example, on GoDaddy). This service automatically installs WordPress and creates a database on your hosting account. The availability of this tool can make or break your hosting choice.
If you are wondering if your host has this, call or email and ask. They are generally happy to help you get WP installed on your hosting account.
There is also no shortage of tutorials, such as this YouTube video walkthrough on using one-click installs.
You can also find a freelancer on ThemeForest's parent company, Envato, (where you may have bought your theme) that will install and configure your theme and WordPress for as low as $50.
Step 5 - Make It Yours!
The final step is the most difficult, but also the most fun. You get to make the site yours by adding your content, books, blog posts, images and more!
But we've prepared you for this all the way back at Step 1. Review the tutorials above, create your desired pages, and enter your content.
If you've bought a professional theme, it will usually come with solid instructions on setting up the key pages and using its interface.
Need more help? Check out the Envato Studio for easy, cheap help setting the site up, or use a packaged subscription website service like Featherlight (full disclosure: I own the latter). BookWorks Premium members get discounts on those services along with other great perks.
We can't wait to see what you build! Share your author website in the comments.
If you haven't seen the new version of BookWorks, please check us out for more great content like this and join our community of indie authors, editors, coaches, designers, marketers, bloggers and other self-publishing pros.