I’m an old salt when it comes to The Internet. To paraphrase The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, don’t quote the deep magic at me, bub—I was there when the first web pages went live. Back when I set up jeffreysomers.com, having a personal website was the standard—if you wanted an online presence, you had to have a website to launch from—and host a blog, which was also considered something of a necessity back in the day.
Things are a little different today, of course. Social media platforms perform many of the functions those old websites used to do for us, and it’s highly recommended that authors establish a presence on one or more—Twitter for your hilarious bon mots, Instagram for your visual content, TikTok for when you have the insane urge to dance. Every author does social different, but it’s become an essential part of a writer’s self-promotion and branding.
This has led some to assume that the old-school website isn’t necessary any longer. It’s true that a static website seems a bit staid in the modern age, but the fact is you still need an author website, even if you’re totally invested in a robust social media presence. If you’re wondering why you’re expected to live like it’s still 2005, I can give you 10 solid reasons why you should have an author website.
If you’re approaching your writing as a business (and you should), having a personal website adds a sheen of professionalism. Having a fast, polished, and up-to-date website implies a few things to everyone:
- You’re willing to invest time and money into your branding
- You take your career seriously enough to craft that brand
- You must be someone notable
That last point often gets overlooked: It’s true that some folks have their own website solely for personal use, but there’s still a certain glamour to having a bespoke domain for your website. The assumption is that you’re a pro. And heck, even if you’re not notable, why not let people think you are?
Also, there’s the added benefit of having a branded email. Instead of directing people to your Gmail (free emails aren’t exactly professional, and Alphabet and Google get plenty of free advertising as it is—why work for them?) or an email account you created when you were 19 that no longer seems quite as hilarious in retrospect (email@example.com, I am looking at you), you can have an email address that’s firstname.lastname@example.org.
Another consideration requires a little faith in yourself: If you someday become really successful and well-known, you may find that it’s too late to secure your domain, or that some ambitious person has snaked it out from under you and now wants a huge premium to turn it over. Considering how cheap and easy it is to secure your domain right now, why not grab it? Because being charged an insane amount of money to get the rights to your own name is bad enough—but what if the person who owns your domain isn’t interested in selling and instead uses it in sketchy ways? Like, say, selling a shady writing course, or using affiliate links to make money selling your books?
Sure, you might have some legal recourse in those situations—but it would be better to avoid the problem altogether. Even if you don’t want to set up a website, taking control of it prevents others from doing so without your permission. This applies to social media, too, by the way—you may think Twitter is a waste of time, but do you want someone else setting up an account that cleverly looks like you’re the one tweeting?
If you’re planning to write under a pseudonym, it’s vital to investigate the availability of domain names before you settle on a name and start branding elsewhere. Otherwise you might spend months establishing a pen name only to discover there’s a moderately famous author already writing under that name.
There are limits, of course. There are more than 1,500 top-level domains (TLDs) on the Internet (that’s the “.com” in a website name), so registering all of those in your name is probably not a practical idea. And you can’t think of and claim every possible variation on your name that someone could use to create a new social media account somewhere. But don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good here—setting up your website just to control it on a few of the most common TLDs might spare you some trouble down the line.
When you Google yourself, what shows up? Social media profiles are useful in searches, but only your own website offers people a clear, obvious starting place for finding out more about you and your work. Websites can (and should) offer a bio, a list of your books, and all the info readers need and industry professionals (such as a journalist) might want. And the static nature of websites—which can seem so boring in the age of rapid-fire social media and video content—is a virtue here because that information will always be there, passively waiting for people to come looking for it.
This is key for one simple reason: Holding people’s interest—especially in the early going—isn’t easy. If someone hears about your work, or you’re recommended to them and they decide to search for you it will be incredibly easy for them to give up and forget all about you. The easier it is to discover you and your work, the more likely they will at least click over and check you out.
Making it easy to discover your online presence also means having an information hub online. A website can help people find you because it’s a permanent spot they can refer back to, but it’s also a place where they can reliably find specific pieces of information. For example:
- Contact information, so folks can get in touch.
- A list of publications and/
or your books in order, especially if you’re working on a series.
- Links to everything else—socials, blog, buy links for books.
- A central place to announce events and appearances.
That last one is crucial, actually—yes, you can blast your appearance schedule on social media, but it’s very easy for people to miss those posts, and very hard for them to refer back to them later. Having an Events Calendar of some sort that lives at a static URL is a very, very good idea.
Just as important as having a central location for this information so people can find them is maintaining this location so people can find them again. If you’ve ever tried finding an old tweet or Reddit post weeks or months after originally reading it, you know how difficult it can be. Your website serves as a static place where people can always come back to—even if you change social media profiles, email addresses, agents, or publishers, your website remains as a constant that can always be found. It can even be bookmarked in a browser, making it even easier for people to return to as needed.
When you’re using social media platforms, you’re on someone else’s turf. You’ve agreed to their terms of service, and you’re at their mercy when it comes to how things work. An extreme example of the downside of this situation would be Google+, which launched in 2011 as a major competitor to Facebook and other social media platforms at the time. Since it was backed by Google, it got some immediate traction, but then quickly faded because Google put very little into it. It shut down in 2019, and any writer who thought they were going to manage a robust online presence using Google+ had to scramble to find another way.
That’s a drastic example, but the fact is on someone else’s platform you don’t have much say in the tools, features, and policies that will guide your online presence. With your own website, however, you’re largely free to set things up as you like. Add a blog! An events calendar! Install Wordpress or some other engine—and change things as often as you like. When you get bored with the layout, install a new theme. With your own branded website you control every aspect of the experience, from the look and feel to the features—even to the decision to shut it all down.
The other side of this is that it’s trend-resistant. Sure, personal blogs seem quaint these days—but if you enjoy blogging like an OG Internet oldhead, no one should be able to stop you. If you want your website to be a time capsule, you do you.
Your brand as a writer is essential to your success—and control of that brand is essential as a result. While social media can definitely help establish and promote your brand, a website that you control is even better, for a couple of reasons:
- Space. A website gives you space to let your brand really breathe. You spent time selecting the colors, fonts, icons, and other design elements for your brand—an author website is where you can really get your money’s worth out of them.
- Depth. On your website, you can invite potential readers to take a real deep dive into your brand. Instead of relying on a pinned tweet and a graphic to communicate who you are as a writer, you can offer up literally infinite nuggets of content in all kinds of formats. Writing samples are a deep part of branding, as they give people the chance to experience your style and persona, and you can infuse your brand into a wide variety of other content with a website. Anyone trying to decide if you’re their type of writer will have everything they need to make that determination.
Having your own website also prevents the dilution of your branding. When you’re using social media platforms, you’re helping to promote their business, and you cede some control over your branding to them in exchange for support and convenience. These platforms want to serve you, their user, but they have their own needs. This is especially true of no-cost services—they need to grow their own audience and monetize your activities, which means that every interaction you have with fans or potential fans is diluted slightly by those other brands.
In short, a website offers you the opportunity to really sell your brand and pull people in to your content universe without the constraints you find in online platforms you don’t own.
Your brand may not necessarily play well with the restrictions found on social media platforms. Maybe your style isn’t succinct enough for 280-character tweets, or maybe you have no desire to make video content for Youtube or TikTok. On your own website you’re free to lean into the approach that works for you, enhancing your branding.
This element of control extends to every aspect of how readers and potential readers interact with you and your brand. You can change the look and feel of your site at will, you can add and remove features depending solely on your own needs. You can use your site any way that feels natural to you, or that has proved effective for promotion and branding for you.
Another aspect of control here involves comments and interactions—you are the ultimate authority on how people are allowed to respond to you or contact you. On social media sites and other online platforms you have to appeal to a third party if you want to moderate interactions in some way, and you’re governed by a Terms of Service agreement that may (or may not) limit what people can post or how you can respond to those posts. On your own website that you own and administer, you are the final authority. That means you can delete, block, and moderate as you see fit.
Like print books, the death of email is often foretold but never comes to pass. While texting and direct messaging have supplanted good old email in some ways, this old-school communication platform remains an effective way to communicate with a community of readers interested in your work. After all, you need someplace to send your newsletters, updates, and perks like coupons or giveaway links.
This means you need a place to gather those emails, and a website is an ideal place to host a signup form. Think of the scenario: Someone searches on your name, finds your website, and finds themselves charmed/
And here’s the thing about an email list: It’s invaluable. You’ll be using those emails for the rest of your professional life. Sure, some people will unsubscribe, or emails will get shut down and bounce back at you. But because your website is always there passively collecting those emails, you’ll have an evergreen and consistently-refreshed list to hit every time you have something to announce, promote, or otherwise engage your audience with.
You know you’re a terrific writer, your mother (probably) knows you’re a terrific writer, but when someone comes across your name somehow they might not be so sure. Time is precious, and reading time doubly so. As a result many potential readers are pretty careful about spending time and money on a new writer without doing some due diligence.
Your website can serve as a way for potential readers to easily sample your work. Social media is a different kind of writing than your fiction or other long-form work, usually, so letting folks take a relatively deep dive into a novel or other work gives them the information they need to decide if they want to see more—which usually means converting that interest into a book sale. While most book platforms like Amazon offer the ability to read a sample, those interfaces are always a bit clunky. On your website you can control the experience, from what samples to show them (most of the “look inside”-style samples on book selling platforms only show the beginning of a book; on your site you can pull out a stronger chapter from the middle, for example) to how that sample is delivered. You can even have a free eBook available for download with a free story, novel, or collection of samples.
And if your samples entice someone and they want to read more, your website will have a lot of convenient purchase links for them to click.
Here’s a secret that I can now reveal: A lot of freelance journalists are lazy. Certainly, I am. The easier you can make it for me to find basic information about you, the more likely I will include you in whatever piece I’m writing. It also guarantees a greater amount of accuracy, because the harder I have to work to locate basics the less time I’ll have for fact-checking and deep-diving into your work. So finding a Media Kit is a godsend.
A Media Kit is a section of your website where you collect everything a journalist or interested platform would need to write about you. Typically a Media Kit includes:
- sample chapters
- author bio & photos
- a “sell sheet”—a single page that includes everything a book store or event organizer needs to know about your book(s)
- press releases
- contact information
This stuff might live elsewhere on your website as well, but collecting it all on one page and calling it a Media Kit will help journalists, podcast, radio, and TV producers, and book reviewers get everything they need to write about you and book you for events and programs. Without a static, central location like a website, people would have to either dig that stuff up from a variety of locations or contact you in order to get them—and the simple fact is, the more hoops someone has to jump through just to get basic information about you, the less likely they will bother.
‘Stickiness’ in terms of the Internet experience doesn’t get the focus it should. Stickiness refers to the persistence of evergreen content. A lot of what’s out there on the Internet is transient and ephemeral. Imagine someone reading something about your book and thinking, oh, that’s kind of interesting! And then trying to find that tweet or random bit of content a week or a month later. Expert Googlers can usually find older content, but the vast majority of folks will just give up.
Your own website, on the other hand, can be a deep well of evergreen content. Blog posts I wrote 15 years ago are still easily accessible, and will continue to surface in response to the right keywords for years to come. Pair some of that content with buy links for your book and that content will drive sales forever. The key? Only publish content that your audience would actually want to read.
Evergreen content turns up over and over again in searches. Someone may not know who you are, but if they’re interested in the subject you wrote about, or they’re a fan of another writer whose work is in the same genre wheelhouse, your sticky blog posts and chapter excerpts will keep turning up in their searches. Eventually, they decide to see why, and make that first click over to your site, and maybe become a new fan.
Of course, it’s also vital to keep your website fresh by adding new, up-to-date content on a regular basis. Search engines penalize sites that go stale, and if your blog and events calendar were last updated in 2015 people will assume you’re not active, and wander away—probably never to return. And it’s also a good idea to cull your old content from time to time—if no one is landing there, if the content is outdated, or if it no longer represents you or your brand as a writer, ditch it.
An author website is a vital tool for any writer, whether you have a book to promote or you’re still working your way to a finished project. We writers need every possible advantage—it’s a crowded field out there, in case you hadn’t noticed—and so any platform where we can capture some eyeballs and make a case for our work is kind of a necessity. Like every other promotional tool out there, a website isn’t a magic bullet, but it certainly can’t hurt your efforts to promote yourself and sell your books, making it a very, very good idea to have one.
Finally, consider this: Why not have an author website? You’re trying to sell books and establish (or enhance) your writing career. A website is relatively easy and cheap to set up and maintain. Even if it doesn’t have much impact, you’ve really got nothing to lose.