Authors: 5 Steps to Building Your Own (Professional-Grade) Website

Authors: 5 Steps to Building Your Own (Professional-Grade) Website

Some may say simple writers may not be able to build their own website, and have it look professional-grade. But I disagree. I think if you can structure a 80 – 100,000 word novel to lure a reader through a story to page 380, and you can bake a cake from a box, then you can build your own beautiful author website. It’s all about making informed choices, asking questions, watching tutorials, and knowing what sort of look you want to have to the Web World.

jenniferlynking.com new site homepage

jenniferlynking.com new site homepage

 

It’s 2011, e-book sales are climbing steadily, and the world increasingly looks to the Web for information, links, and ways to form virtual relationships. If you’re an author, you know you need a website, an inviting home on the web. It’s imperitive. But where do you start (that doesn’t involve selling your car, your dog, your yacht, and your kitchen sink to cover the initial website fees)? That’s where, since I’ve just gone through this process, I’d like to help.

Many web sites are free, like Blogger.com, Typepad, and WordPress.com, Facebook, Tumblr and more. But the drawback is that they also look and act free, and their sites have your content. On the other side of the spectrum, professionally-done websites can cost upwards of $10000 dollars per year to create, run, and maintain (see this testament by publishing house Chairman and author, Michael Hyatt). And while there are more options than ever, I do believe there is a middle ground — an option that doesn’t involve investing huge chunks of money into the process.

But: first, a disclaimer: I’m not a professional web programmer–I’m a writer and an author who just happens to have an engineering degree. And in the process of earning that degree, I learned a few programming languages and how to do a few things on computers. In 2005, I started my first self-hosted website. I’ve been learning ever since. I recently went through the heartache of switching web hosting services for my website. It wasn’t fun. And so, this post is my attempt to share a few learnings with you.

Following, my thoughts and advice on the process of starting your website on your own.

  • 1.  I highly recommend WordPress.org for running a website. It is highly flexible and once you learn what the menus do, your website will be easily self-maintained. So, assuming you go with WordPress.org to do your website and blog, start here: http://wordpress.org

At the bottom of the page, they have a list of three. Start with 1: Choose your web hosting provider. Click. Pick one. I chose DreamHost (because of their name). I had been with Yahoo for seven years, but they decided not to update some key techno essentials, and I wasn’t going to be able to use WordPress.org any longer without switching hosts. It’s too bad. But, that is why I recommend going with one of the WordPress.org recommended hosts for your website. Start with a good one.

The cost per month is around $8 for hosting, depending on which one you choose.

  • 2.  Install WordPress to the database you set up on your hosting service.

Usually, it’s a “one-click installation.” (Are you overwhelmed already?) Deep breaths. (You can do it. DreamHost happens to have dreamy customer support. So, take your time. Email them. Ask questions. They won’t laugh.

  • 3.  Login to your WordPress admin panel.

What’s an admin panel? The place where you do everything to access, work on, change, and beautify your website and blog.

“There is a steep learning curve,” as someone so nicely told me. But after asking many questions, and persevering through the technological maze, I have this to show for it: my website.To get to your WordPress essentials and to learn how to use them, use this handy guide.

  • 4.  Find a theme you want for your website.

This means that a professional web developer has already coded a website for you to customize. You simply upload one from the WordPress.org library, or choose a different premium theme.

In my mind, this is the most important step.

Only you know what you like in a website. Think of the websites out there that you like. What is it about them that you like the most? Are there author websites that you admire and wish to make one for your own?

The hidden bonus in picking out your own theme, if you buy a premium theme, is that the theme developer is usually very helpful, answers questions, has video tutorials, and will keep the site up to date with the latest version of WordPress. When I first started using WordPress, I chose a free theme. I soon learned that was a big mistake, because the theme developer didn’t upgrade the theme consistently — and things began to crash. So, I now know that we get what we pay for. I spent months shopping the web for a theme I liked this time. And after making a short list and observing the theme development for those themes, I found a few I recommend here:

Web Themes Groups, Pexeto and ElegantThemes.com. Pexeto and Elegant Themes both have wonderful video tutorials (I used every one). Both Theme sites make it simple to purchase the theme and download it. And, both Pexeto and Elegant Themes have a great support forum, where you can simply ask a question, and they help you solve it. Beautiful. The themes Pexeto has are:

The Cotton, Dandelion, Anthology (I chose Dandelion)…

Elegant Themes has a wonderful selection of themes, where you pay one price ($39) and have access to all of their themes. Which, I think, is a huge bargain. And, they’re diverse and incredibly beautiful.

“But wait!” you say. How can I make an author website out of these themes? Don’t they look too graphic? I’m not a photographer … (well, I am) … but …

  • 5.  Organize your site.

The more I’ve thought about these website layouts, the more I realize that they would be optimal for an author website. Technology is evolving rapidly, and the days of the non-interactive static author websites are numbered. Or they’ll prove the static sites are the age of tech dinosaurs. The trend seems to be turning from the jumble of words mixed up on busy blog front pages to a simpler more graphic design. I recently read stats proving that people respond more favorably to less words, more images. I know I do, too. So, with the designs, above, what if …

  • An Author homepage had 7 slides,
  • Each one with a photograph that you love to represent these 7 headers:  About, Books, Blog, Reviews, Tour Dates, News, and Contact.
  • Or, even better, if you have a stack of books that have been published, you could have one slide for each book, showing the book cover and offering a link to the website page for the book.

Obviously, websites and the work put into building  a great one is an infinitely complicated topic. But the reason why I wanted to do this post is because I believe it all looks and sounds much scarier than it really is. And, just think, as an author treading along a really geeky side of life, you could use what you’ve learned from it all to create an authentic new character in your next novel: the girl or guy who is glued to their screen, obsessed with tweaking their clients’ websites.

That won’t be me, the geeky girl obsessed code … I am so glad to be able to get back to novel writing. But before I forgot everything, I had to share what I’ve learned, in hopes that it might help one of you. In the end, if you follow the above, you will end up spending around $130 per year for your website.

If this has helped, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below …  And, every year, I’ve helped a friend to create their own website. In the continuation  of that tradition, I’m offering to choose one author out of the people who leave a comment, and to lend a helping hand to them building their own website.

Question for you (leave a comment below): What do you think? Do you have a favorite website (author or otherwise) that you would love for yours to be like? Do you already design / maintain your own website and blog? What are the things stopping you from moving from Blogger / Tumblr / and other free blogs?

4 Comments

  1. Alright, I have already done the WordPress.org web site but you are encouraging me to clean things up a bit! Thanks for the inspiration, Jennifer.

    • Hallie,
      I think your website is already great! I love the desktop theme, and it’s perfect for the work phase of writing. Maybe don’t let your website work take you away from your manuscript. Websites can be a huge time-suck. Unfortunately, I HAD to do something with mine, so it was a good time to switch themes, etc. But, thanks, Hallie!
      -Jennifer

  2. After reading this post I’ve taken the plunge and have my very own very rudimentary WordPress website at sjcrown.com, which still needs lots of work. Just finished my first novel, THE VICTORS CLUB. Starting to market my writing as I look for an agent. I believe the Dandelion theme layout will work nicely for me, though instead of a photography page I plan to have a page dedicated to my novel, and I envision some other differences. If you’re still looking to offer advice to someone, please throw my name in the hat. If you wish, you can check out my writing credentials at withpaintedwords.com, which has published two of my flash stories (Nov ’10 and Apr ’11) and at apollos-lyre.tripod.com, which published another of my stories in June.
    Thank you for inspiring me.

    Stan Crown
    West Plains, Missouri
    stan@sjcrown.com

    • Hi Stan,

      I am so glad the things I’ve learned and shared have inspired you to tackle your own. Wonderful! Congratulations. I encourage you to keep plugging along, and watch the tutorials (it takes time, but there aren’t any other ways around the learning). Step by step, you’ll get there. And I’d love to take a look when you’re much further along. Again, congratulations!
      Sincerely,
      Jennifer

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