Having an author website is essential. Please don’t listen to experts claiming you only need a social media presence for marketing. Social media platforms change policies all the time. And they can go out of business, leaving you and your followers in the lurch. With a website, you are in control. Hosting a site with a reputable company ensures readers, media, reviewers, and others can always find you. A website helps you appear in searches and allows you to publish content over which you have control. It’s often said that a website and a regular newsletter are the two most essential marketing tools for authors.

In the last chapter, we looked at some reasons why an author might purchase a domain name that is the same one they use for writing. This is a good idea for writers of nonfiction books like the author of Moneyball, Michael Lewis, whose website is michaellewiswrites.com. If you are a celebrity or have a solid personal brand, setting up a website with your name makes sense. But let’s look at a few more examples to help you decide what’s best for your book.

If your book is your brand, the book’s name may be better. Let’s look at the example of Tim Ferris, author of The 4-Hour Workweek. When Tim first published, he wasn’t a household name. Because his book’s title was simple and memorable, a website with the book’s title, FourHourWorkWeek.com, made sense rather than a website that used the URL of Tim’s name.

Another example is David Allen’s book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. This book continues to top bestseller lists and became a system trade name and registered trademark with the Getting Things Done® branding and the GTD® Methodology website at www.gettingthingsdone.com. Using the methodology name as the website is sensible as the brand carries programmatic and training elements. Note the trademark symbol following the letters GTD®. If you’ve written a nonfiction book that introduces a new system or methodology, it is advisable to have it trademarked. This is the only way to prevent another author from writing a book with the same name.

Gretchen Rubin is the author of The Happiness Project and many other books. Gretchen uses her name as her brand but also maintains other websites tied to her different books that sell digital tools and products.

I’ve experienced how hard it is to keep tabs on multiple websites. It’s best to start with one site and expand as you add support systems and staff. With a book-specific site, it limits you for future titles—or perhaps a change in genre. For this reason, an author name site is a more straightforward way to start. But that doesn’t prohibit you from buying and holding relevant domain names. For example, often, an author will purchase the book’s title as a domain name and use it as a landing page for special promotions like chapter giveaways during a book’s launch.

If you’ve already established yourself as a writer with a blog or column demonstrating subject matter expertise, this can substitute for an author’s website. Famous biographer Walter Isaacson doesn’t have a website beyond his page at Tulane University, where he is a professor; visit isaacson.tulane.edu. Let’s say you are a traveling barista and have been publishing content and recipes online. At some point, you may decide to publish a book with recipes. It’s easy enough to add “Author of the book Bar Fly” to the tagline of an existing site or blog. Is there a “hook” that ties to your book that might make a great magazine, news-style website, or blog? In this case, consider a subject-specific or more generic website phrase as your domain name and for website content that can be sticky.

Let’s take a peek at how this might work. If your book shares expertise on a subject that interests you, or you are an academic, then a subject-specific website may benefit you. Use the book outtakes and extras you’ve written over the years to populate a blog or news-style website.

Websites where content is updated regularly, like a news site, keep traffic coming from searches. Fresh content encourages newsletter subscribers; you can even request article contributions from other writers who will link to your site. With regular traffic, you have the potential to partner with like-minded brands and secure advertising—which can supplement income from writing.

If your website concerns a subject or topic tied to your book, more opportunities exist to grow a business beyond selling books.

When considering the different design options for website development, the ability to post articles—often called blogs or blog posts—is a must. This is especially true for the author of nonfiction. Different website styles play to an author’s strengths and talents. Choose a design that dovetails with your work. A photographer will want an image-intensive site that shows off the work to entice buyers.

Fitness, health, and wellness authors’ websites provide good examples of information-packed sites that keep readers coming back.

The Proof Wellness (https://www.theproofwellness.com) is the site of Dr. Casey Means, the co-founder of Levels. Dr. Means publishes through Substack, a technology you might choose instead of a website. Though, my caveat of “you must have a website” still stands as publishing platforms go in and out of popularity, which can reduce discoverability.

Blog-intensive websites are great for authors and businesses in general. HubSpot reports that marketers who prioritize blogging see 13 times the ROI. (Pamela Bump, “31 Business Blogging Stats You Need to Know in 2021,” HubSpot, May 6, 2022).

Visually intensive websites tie in nicely with social media like Instagram and TikTok. Authors can post images on social media and share them on a website. This style is excellent for multimedia artists and writers.

Insta Poet, artist, and performer Rupi Kaur combines her love for words with a fashion sense and stunning photography at rupikaur.com.

The website for author LJ Ross is a good example of a basic author site. It consists of three to six pages that describe available books, how to connect with the author, an appearance and tour schedule, and a newsletter sign-up form. Visit the website ljrossauthor.com.

With patience, those with a little tech know-how can open an account with a web hosting company that uses WordPress and publish a simple website in several hours. But I think it’s less frustrating to hire a freelancer on Upwork, Fiverr, or Behance. Another way to find website developers is to check the credit line at the bottom of some websites. Website designers often include their company name at the bottom of an author’s site. If you visit an author’s website you like, contact the design team for a quote.

Most designers will be familiar with hosting companies like GoDaddy and Network Solutions. They can open the account in your name or manage it under their agency. I prefer to have everything registered to me or my company. Once development is complete, the designer or developer can access the backend as an editor to make regular updates.

Ask around for website designer recommendations. Before hiring, get references. In addition to the two hosting companies above, I’ve recommended Bluehost.com and SiteGround.com (my hosting provider) to many clients.

For authors with minimal technical know-how who want a quick and easy website, a provider like SquareSpace.com or Wix.com can have you up and running in a day. You will need to have most of the website elements you need in a file and ready to upload. These two services offer many design templates and drag-and-drop technology to build a site quickly. One downside is that the software is proprietary. You won’t be able to migrate your website if you change website hosts unless the company you migrate to says they can convert the code from Wix or SquareSpace.

I’ve worked with many clients who have used the Wix platform successfully. Another advantage to Wix and SquareSpace is that it’s easy to find website designers who know the platform and can design a functional site quickly and inexpensively, often for $500. To see a great example of a website designed on Wix, visit children’s book author A.G. Allen’s site at agallen.me. Note she chose the domain extension dot me, which works well in this example, as her name was not easily available as a domain choice.

I build my websites with WordPress. WordPress as a framework allows me to choose a theme or “look” for my site and add functionality as needed. It’s simple to add contact forms and email integrations. WordPress can be a steep learning curve for some. For that reason, I’m making my Website in a Weekend class available free to anyone who purchases this book. It can help you build a website quickly, and you’ll learn how much website development costs and which development platform is best for your book.

When deciding where to host a website, I choose a hosting provider based on the level of technical support provided and whether they perform regular site backups automatically. In reviewing the different pricing packages, the cheaper ones often do not include regular backups. You will also want to be able to add integrations like Google Analytics to track visitors, a link to a newsletter provider, and some form of e-commerce integration like PayPal.

Look for a host that doesn’t nickel and dime you for add-ons like backups. The most basic author website will let you insert links to where visitors can purchase books through an online retailer like Amazon or Barnes & Noble. But if you plan to sell books directly—like autographed copies or bulk quantities—you will want to be able to accept payments directly.

My go-to e-commerce solution is PayPal. It’s been around the longest, and everyone uses it. And I appreciate that they have phone technical support if you need it. As you evaluate website builders like Wix, Weebly, SquareSpace, and others, be on the lookout for extra charges and add-ons whenever you add integrations like email or payment processing. Finding a good website hosting company can be like shopping for airline flights. You can choose a low-cost carrier where you pay extra for everything, or go with Business or First Class. Start with what’s easy and migrate to a more robust service as your business grows.

How to Accept Payments

As you read website documentation about how to accept payments, you’ll inevitably run into discussions about shopping carts. You won’t need these expensive solutions to run your author business. Simple buttons for one purchase clicking are easy to embed into most websites using PayPal or Square.

PayPal makes it easy to create and add payment buttons to websites. Some buttons can even include a simple drop-down menu. Buyers are directed to the PayPal site, where they use funds in an existing account or pay with a credit card.

PayPal calculates the sales tax, takes mailing information, calculates shipping (based on your inputs), and sends confirmations to the buyer.

You, the author, will receive the sale notification and be obliged to deliver the merchandise.

I think it’s essential to understand how PayPal works as you’ll be reporting this income to tax authorities. And be advised that PayPal must sync to your bank. While a website developer can certainly set this up for you, ask them to demonstrate what they’ve done. You’ll want to understand the percentages that PayPal deducts from each sale and how to process shipping and returns. You won’t need a payment integration if you don’t plan to sell books directly. Publishers will send royalties to you by check or deposit them directly into your bank account.

How to Integrate Digital Downloads and Consultations

Although PayPal does not fulfill digital downloads, it is the payment processor for some services listed below. Direct digital download of PDFs is popular with teachers who sell worksheets to colleagues. Entrepreneurs and consultants sell course workbooks and worksheets in this same way. With direct digital downloads, you can sell PDFs that are booklets or tipsheets and make money from these smaller digital assets. Creators also sell music, sound, and video files through sales platforms not exclusive to book publishing.

I sell consultation services using the SquareUp.com platform and also through Upwork.com. In this case, I need an account with Square and a direct deposit arrangement with Upwork. A client I work with sells digital downloads for teachers. She uses Sellfy for the downloads as it integrates with PayPal.

Different e-commerce integrations serve some purposes better than others. Because of this, you may find yourself working with several companies and payment processors, depending on whether you are selling a digital or tangible product.

Remember that all e-commerce solutions you use will charge transaction fees. Be sure to read how much the different applications and services charge you. Whenever you accept a credit card, there’s a fee involved, and it can get complicated. Some services help you to calculate shipping and handling fees. Otherwise, be sure to build these fees into your fulfillment process.

Here are a few examples of the top sales platforms and how they may be used depending on the product or service being sold:

Authorize.net: One of the first online processors working with credit card companies worldwide. Mid-sized businesses and larger ones often use it.

e-junkie: This straightforward service lets you quickly create buy buttons with a custom domain. They can even provide a mini shop for your brand within minutes.

Shopify: There’s something for every kind of sale with this product. Shopify is the most complicated to learn of all the e-commerce solutions mentioned here. It may be used for online stores and digital downloads like graphics, videos, and music. It also has POS or point-of-sale options.

Teachable.com: Best for courses and coaching. The site is easy to navigate with affordable pricing that can grow with your business. Authors can upload and sell courses directly on Teachable. While it’s possible to embed Teachable into your site with third-party extensions and APIs, it’s not necessary.

Square.com: Best for “point-of-sale” or “POS” and in-person “swipe and tap” sales of books, as in when you may be selling at a library. Square needs a card reader attached to your phone (for older models) or a stand-alone table unit. The online version of Square, called SquareUp, is also excellent for online appointment booking and accepts credit cards for authors and entrepreneurs offering consultations.

Sellfy: I find this site convenient for printables like those teachers use in classrooms. But authors can sell products of all kinds, including PDFs, ebooks, on-demand videos, and subscriptions. Sellfy runs on the Software as a Service (Saas) model, which requires monthly subscriptions to use the interface. They don’t charge transaction fees because you pair this with PayPal, which means fees are deducted inside the PayPal dashboard.

Stripe: This is another POS or point-of-sale solution that can be used for in-person purchases. They are a financial services company with varied integrations depending on your needs.

How to Ship Books

As an author, shipping a book here and there seems like a no-brainer. But as you learn about selling on consignment or bulk purchases, it pays to research in advance. You’ll need padded envelopes and a postage scale to avoid trips to the post office whenever you need to mail books.

The most economical service for mailing books from within the United States is the United States Postal Service (USPS).

Media Mail is the least expensive service and only allows books to be mailed. While customer service representatives say it can take weeks for books to arrive to the buyer, that has yet to be my experience. If tracking is not included with the basic fee, pay extra. Buyers feel more confident with sellers who send a tracking number.

Priority Mail Flat Rate provides free envelopes and boxes if your book fits within the standard sizes for one rate. With this service, there is no need to calculate the weight.

Priority Mail is usually a good choice and can sometimes be the least expensive, depending on where you are shipping. With this service, it makes sense to have a scale to determine the postage price. Calibrating weight yourself means you can print postage and labels at home or work without going to the post office.

Always remember to pass along postage and handling fees to buyers. Buyers expect they will be paying for shipping for tangible goods.

Choosing where to host your website, how to accept payments, and whether you will sell books directly are difficult decisions and involve significant investments of time and money. A wise choice is to sign up with a website host that enables you to add more services as your business grows.

In my class “Website in a Weekend,” I take authors through the steps of setting up an email, buying a domain name, and building a website quickly and in an organized way. As the course says, the project can be accomplished on the weekend.

There are also many classes in creating websites for authors, and I highly recommend you take one. The magazine Writer’s Digest has a good reputation and reasonably priced courses that are designed specifically for the writing craft and business needs of authors.

Key pages for an author’s website:

Home page

Dedicated page for each title (if more than one)

Contact page

Bio page

Blog page