Writers need websites, end of story.
No matter what kind of writer you are—a novelist, a non-fiction book writer, a freelance writer, or even a brand-new writer without a clue—you need a website.
Before I get into the why, let me discuss the what.
Websites generally fall into two categories
A static website is a site that rarely changes or is updated infrequently. It provides information about an individual or business, but it doesn’t include a blog.
It could be an e-commerce site where various products are sold (think Target or Home Depot or, on a smaller scale, the average real estate site or a local plumber’s site). It could even be a writer’s website; Alice Hoffman has a good example of a static website.
Product or service offerings may vary from day to day, and sales or specials may be announced. But a static website rarely updates the basic information.
A website that features a blog, on the other hand, provides information pages and changes its blog content regularly. The blog might be updated daily, weekly, or monthly, but it changes, and it’s a focal point. That’s what makes it different from a static website.
Hugh Howey, author of Wool and other novels, has a great example of a website with a blog.
Stand-alone blogs exist, of course, with little information other than the blog posts and perhaps an author bio. But I don’t consider those blogs the type of website that writers need.
So why should writers have websites?
1. A website provides a professional online presence.
Whether you’re penning a novel or hustling freelance work, publishers and clients need to know who you are and what you offer. Where will they look?
A knock-out query letter isn’t enough. Editor and literary agent inboxes are loaded with queries, and they need to know more. Plus, you need to shine, stand out from the competition, and show editors you’re the perfect fit. You also need to show you’re up-to-date with technology.
How can you do that without a website?
2. A website gives potential readers or clients a way to find your book or services.
You might have a Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn presence, but your website provides the authority you need. It’s your “home base” and ultimate marketing tool (even if you hate marketing).
Plus, it’s just expected. Ten or fifteen years ago, you might be forgiven if you didn’t have your own website. These days, it’s almost impossible to be a writer without one.
And if readers search the Web because they want to know more about you, or if a local business is looking for a freelance writer, don’t you want them to find you? Don’t wait until you finish that novel. Get started now.
3. A website is critical to marketing success.
If you’re a book writer planning to go the traditional route—with literary agents and publishers—you need to establish an online identity. After all, publishers expect you to do a lot of your own marketing these days.
And if you’re planning to self-publish, a website becomes even more critical. Readers and fans need to know who you are and what you write.
Try this: enter “Stephen King” in a search engine. What comes up first? Try any other writer who’s at least somewhat successful. Even if their website isn’t the latest and greatest as far as design goes, they’re out there.
4. A website allows you to develop an email list.
Whether you’re writing your first book or your fifth in a series, you want to get the word out. Even if you only have a static website (with no blog), potential readers will want to be the first to know about your upcoming publication.
You can offer a free sample chapter or some other material as an incentive for signing up. And if you provide other services, such as coaching or copywriting, there’s no limit to what you can offer.
5. A website with a blog is a canvas for your best work.
This is especially important for new freelance writers. Even if you don’t have any clips or have only a few, your website and blog serve as evidence of your writing skills.
Even if you don’t have a blog—or you don’t update frequently—you can feature enough of your writing to show off your experience.
A website can also feature a résumé or portfolio.
6. A website with a blog keeps you writing or gets you started.
If you’re in between assignments, posting an update to your blog keeps your fingers tapping and writer-mind working. It’s not just “something to do in between gigs”; it gives you an opportunity to work on your style, voice, or any aspect of your writing you want to work on. It’s also motivation to keep up with a regular writing schedule.
If you’re a new writer, a website with a blog gives you a chance to practice your craft. Develop confidence. Get feedback from family, friends, and new readers who stop by. Meet other writers.
Plus, it helps you decide what to write if you’re not sure. Want to be a travel writer? Write about traveling. Want to write about healthy lifestyles or a sport you love? Go for it.
7. A website with a blog provides networking opportunities and builds confidence.
Whether you’re a novelist, a non-fiction writer, or a freelance writer, you need to meet people. You need to learn about other writers and see what they’re doing. You need to stay up-to-date.
Even if you’re the biggest introvert in the world and shy on top of it, maintaining a blog gets you—and your writing—in front of people without actually getting face-to-face. Sure, you might be way out of your comfort zone. But if you want to succeed as a writer, maintaining a blog is a great confidence-builder.
8. A website with a blog can help you develop additional sources of income.
If you’re writing a novel or working as a freelance writer, you might need some form of additional income. Your website can provide the platform from which to do that.
Take a look at Joanna Penn’s site. It’s a great example of a website with a blog where she features her novels and courses as well as consulting services.
My own site is based on the same concept though on a much smaller scale (for now). Behind the scenes, I’m doing my freelance editing and writing work or writing a blog post. At the same time, I also help other writers develop solid writing skills through my course and coaching.
9. A website is a great way to announce book events and special sales or fundraisers.
Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen is another great example of a writer’s website.
He sells his books from the site, he announces his tours and book events, and he also advertises special sales and fundraisers.
Johnny B. Truant is another example. He used to run a site here which he still uses to promote his novels. Now that he’s switched gears a bit, he’s operating from a new website called Realms and Sands. (Grab some freebies!) Book sales, testimonials, upcoming events, a blog—it’s a great example of a writer’s website.
Bonus #10. A blog on your website helps your search rankings.
Let’s say you’re a freelance writer just getting started with travel writing.
If someone searches for “Your Name” and “Your Website,” your static website will most likely show up first.
But if someone does a keyword search with “freelance writer” and “budget travel,” your site might show up after a few dozen other sites. If you’re lucky.
If you maintain a blog, however, and update it regularly, chances are much better that search results will place you higher. The reasons are complicated, and it’s dependent on other factors, too. But the main thing is that search engines like Google regard a larger, frequently updated site with well-written content as more valuable and, therefore, rank it higher.
Your own writer’s website—if you don’t already have one—doesn’t have to be fancy.
In fact, it can be very simple, and you don’t have to spend a lot of money.
You could go with a free site from Blogger.com, WordPress.com, or any other company, but I don’t recommend it. You have to pay anyway ($99 on WordPress.com) if you don’t want the company name in your URL, like this:
http://leahmcclellan.blogspot.com or http://leahmcclellanthewriter.wordpress.com
Why not get a self-hosted website that you control right from the start?
Of course I recommend using WordPress—the free software from WordPress.org—since I use it and know it’s the best, most popular platform on the web. WordPress.com is related, but it’s different because you’re basically sharecropping. You’re setting up shop on someone else’s website.
It’s not too hard to get your own domain name and set things up.
Here are the basic steps:
1. Visit WordPress.org and read around to get familiar.
2. Set up an account with a web hosting company. This is where your website data will live; it’s kind of like renting space on a giant computer that’s connected to the Internet. I use Media Temple (aff) and I recommend them. Why? They’ve been in business since 1998, lots of big companies use them, they’re WordPress specialists, and they have great customer service. All their customer service representatives are in house—they’re not outsourced. That means they’re highly trained and have a lot of dedication and commitment to their company and its customers.
3. Register a domain name if you don’t already have one. This is the URL of your website (mine is http://simplewriting.org). It’s fairly easy to do through a good webshosting company. You just enter the name you’d like to use to see if it’s available. If you’re in luck, you can buy it for around $10-$15. If it’s already taken, you might need to brainstorm a bit. Tip: stick with .com, .net, or .org if you can.
4. Find the “One-Click WordPress Installation” tool on your webhosting dashboard. If you can’t find it, use keywords one-click wordpress installation in the search tool. Or watch this video tutorial I created a few years ago (I’ve since got much better with videos, but heck, the information is solid).
5. That’s it! If you have some tech skills—or you’re not afraid to learn some—you can set up your site with a free theme in a few minutes. Of course, you’ll probably want to browse around and choose a theme that suits you perfectly, and that can take some time.
Later, you might want to make things a bit more sophisticated. If you have time and inclination, you’ll find plenty of information online to do it yourself. Or you can find inexpensive help on Fiverr.