Do you need a writer's web site? — building the brochure site

Earlier I discussed the “brochure web site,” my term for a simple web site writers can use to show off their books and direct readers to where to purchase them. They’re also good for announcing new releases, book sales, attracting ARC (Advance Reader Copy) readers, staying in touch with fans, and generating a little buzz.

If you’re a writer in need of such a web site, how do you go about building one?

Building the perfect beast

If you’re unfamiliar with building a web site, there are services out there which can help. They offer templates and word-processor-like user interfaces for fleshing out your page. It might take a little work, but it can be done on the cheap, and even for free. Such services include wix.com and weebly.com. booklaunch.io is a web site builder dedicated to authors’ needs. There are other such services out there, so spend a little time shopping around. (One good place to start is this review of free web site builders.)

Most of these services will let you get started for free and only charge you when your site begins growing beyond a certain number of pages, or if you want to add features. Almost all of them will require a payment for hosting a custom domain name (so your web site is joesmith.com and not joesmith.wix.com). And they will most likely also charge you to set up a shopping cart on your web site, so you can sell books and merchandise directly.

Here’s my advice regarding build-your-own site services:

  • Shop around, look into prices, read reviews of the web site building services you’re interested in.

  • This is important: Make sure the tool or service you’re interested in will host your web site. If not, you will have to find a web hosting service as well. This is additional cost and a maintenance headache.

  • Go free at first. Build a few pages. Make sure you’re comfortable using the page creation tools, and that the service you’re using is friendly enough for you.

  • When you feel comfortable with what you’ve built, ask yourself if the free plan is sufficient for now. If not, spring for the basic plan.

  • Register a top-level domain name (i.e., joesmith.com) and have the service use that for your new site. Be sure the domain name is registered to you, and not the service or company.

  • Tell the world!

It’s like wading into a cold pool and letting your body acclimate before you start swimming. Almost all of the web creation services out there will let you add services and features as-you-go, so you don’t need to pony up all the money at once.

A word about “free”

I’ve been asked often about building a writer’s web site. The inevitable second question is, “Do I have to pay for it?”

You can build a brochure web site for free. This is one reason I like this model and advocate for it over the simpler “megaphone” (social-media-only) approach. But like all things free in this world, there are catches.

For example, Wix and Weebly offers limited free plans, but they will host ads on your web site—ads for their services, ads for other services, and potentially ads for other authors’ books. BookLaunch only offers free accounts a page for a single book, which may not work if you have more to offer. Also, free web site services will often put their logo and banner across the top of your web site—this can make your site appear a bit amateur.

When it comes to “free,” it’s all about what you’re willing to accept, what you’re willing to forego, and how much of your own time and effort you’re willing to expend.

Do’s and Don’t’s

Don’t bother with a shopping cart unless you’re absolutely intent on selling your books directly—it’s a bigger pain than you might think. Some authors sell merchandise on their site. There are plenty of merchandise web sites out there that will generate T-shirts, coffee mugs, etc. with your graphic design, handle the payment and billing, and ship the merch directly to your reader. I highly recommend looking into these services before you consider selling directly.

Don’t obsess over site ranking. It’s easy to get sucked into the SEO (search engine optimization) quicksand, beating yourself over the head trying to figure out how to reach the tippy-top of Google’s search results and drive eyeballs to your site. I’ve heard of authors so desperate, they considered paying to advertise their web site.

Don’t do it. If you’re going to pay for advertising, advertise your books, not your web site. The brochure web site is a means to an end: Growing your readership.

Finally, yes, you could pay someone to build your web site. I strongly advise against it, though. Even a so-called static web site has to be maintained. If you publish a new book, you’ll need to edit the home page, add a new page for the book, and edit a few other pages to indicate it’s available. If you want to promote a book sale, you need to make changes in the appropriate pages, and so on. Far better that you are able to do this yourself than have to call a consultant for every little edit, who may or may not still be in business, and who may have upped his or her rate.

… and a confession

My web site is a brochure site with some extra features (I’ll discuss that in the future). So: Which web service do I use?

None of the above. I’ve been building web sites since 1995 and am comfortable with the nuts-and-bolts of running them. That “maintenance headache” I mentioned earlier? That’s the approach I’ve taken.

My site runs Wordpress with a tweaked template and a handful of add-ons. It’s hosted by a company which provides disk space, network bandwidth, and a database. I’m fully responsible for this rig—I perform my own backups, I register and pay for the domain name, I upgrade the software, etc.

My experience is that most authors don’t want to deal with this, and I can’t blame them. I also know building a web site can be daunting, even frightening, to some, which is why I recommend looking into the easy-to-use all-in-one services above.

But I can’t recommend any of them, because I’ve never used them beyond a quick test run for this article. Caveat emptor.

If you decide to build a brochure web site, let me know how it goes.

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