Websites for Writers

And then there was one.

Updated March 2022

One of the questions I get asked a lot by new authors, and even experienced authors, is how they should design their websites.

The first thing I tell authors is this: Your website is your personal representation on the internet. Thus, your website is a high-stakes representation of you.

At the same time, it is a living creation that you have to maintain and nurture. In order to maintain it, it must be simple enough that you can maintain it, most likely by yourself unless you have money to burn on a web consultant. Even if you can afford a web consultant, learning to maintain your own website is very empowering—it also means that you can keep your website up-to-date and accurate faster.

Websites are thus a delicate balance: a high stakes representation, but one that is constantly evolving. For this reason, if you’re not careful, your website will suck a lot of your time. Planning well at the beginning will head off a lot of that time-suck later. Let’s work through some of the questions that you should consider as you plan your website design or redesign.

Big caveat: This column represents my philosophy about author websites. From other people, you will see advice that directly contradicts mine. I still think I’m right, even after all these years since I first wrote this piece.

Should You Have Multiple Websites?

Many authors ask me whether they should have multiple websites, especially if an author is already full-time freelancer in some other capacity. My advice, almost always, is that you should have a single website.

Reason Number 1: Maintaining multiple websites is hard, and you will likely fail to do it well.

This is a question of simple practicality: You do not want the hassle of maintaining multiple websites — or of writing multiple blogs. (Remember, writing blog posts is the best way to drive traffic to your website.) It’s hard enough to post once or twice a week. Posting that much on two or three blogs? No way.

Reason Number 2: YOU are your brand.

Your brand is not your book, or your editing services, or your consulting work, or your hand-made books, or your photography, or anything else that you do for love or money.

Sidebar: If you have trouble thinking of your writing self as a “brand,” you might need to work on that. Of COURSE you are a brand. Readers buy books from authors they like. From authors they think are neat-o. They want to know about your life, about your favorite jeans, about your fedora collection, about your pet lizard, about how your spouse can’t sort the utensils properly, about who you are as a person. Because you are your brand.

Thus, the most important reason to have a single website is to give a full picture of you so that your readers can relate to you on a person-to-person level.

Reason Number 3: Having a single website makes it easier for you to make money.

A single website connects all of your income streams and allows them to cross-pollinate.

It’s a given that (most) authors have multiple income streams. Few of us earn enough from our books to sit on our hands the rest of the day. We do other work for money. Some of us teach, some edit, some coach, some tutor, some design websites, some illustrate books and design book covers. I have heard so many different work descriptions from my author friends.

Authors are such creative people. We need websites that encompass the fullness of our creativity — and make it easy for clients to hire us. A reader may come to your website for your books, but that reader may be an aspiring author as well. If she loves your books, she’ll hire you as an editor or writing coach. Or, she might love your books, and that love will bleed over into a love of your art or photography.

What don’t want to do is make it difficult for you to make money. And sending people to multiple websites is difficult for them. They have to click more links. They have to learn a new website with new navigation. They have to figure out how the new website relates to the old website. Don’t make your readers do that. Keep all of your work in one place online.

Website Software?

I’ll be brief.

I use Wordpress, hosted by my own account in Siteground (that is, self-hosted), using the Divi theme. This setup is not for beginners.

Wix, Squarespace, and Weebly are all user-friendly, drag-and-drop website builders.

The drawback of these builders is that you are locked into their platform once you build your site there.

Here’s a solution: save your site text offline as a backup (like, in a Word document or Scrivener), and if you ever need to change hosts or builders, you’ll lose your SEO, but not your content.

An Example Website: The Artist-Novelist

So what does a single website look like in action? You’re welcome to take a look at mine, but let’s use a client’s design process as an example.

This client is artist, a writing consultant, a workshop leader and teacher, and a novelist. She told me that she needed help designing a website for her novel series.

She already had a thriving business with her work as an artist and had taught artist workshops around the country. She sells her work in her online store and it hangs in museums and galleries. Her artist website also has a blog about her art and about her burgeoning writing career. (At the time she hired me, she had written the first three novels in a series, and is working on the fourth.)

When she asked me what to do about her website, I told her she had three choices:

  • Create a new website for her novelist identity that would be separate from her artist identity.
  • Create a new website for just her novel series, i.e., a book site.
  • Expand her existing website to encompass her novelist identity and books.

Of course, I suggested option number three.

Note that many new authors choose #2 — the book-centered website. Unless you only plan on writing one book, this is a terrible idea. And even then, I don’t recommend it. The book isn’t the product. YOU are the product. And what happens when you publish your second book, and your third? You’ve created a whole website for a single book, and now that website has become irrelevant.

Sidebar: Get URLs, all of them!

However! I am a fan of purchasing URLs/web addresses for your books. I own a zillion of them related to my book titles. URLs are like real estate; unique, and a limited resource. For example, I own the following URLs, and this is just a sampling:

And so many more. At $15/year, these are worth it to me because I can control, by changing the redirects, where they point, without having to change a press release or the page at my speaker’s bureau. If you’re interested in getting some URLs, use a reputable company (as in, not GoDaddy imho). I use Siteground.

Sketch the website

After she agreed she only wanted one site, I pulled out a piece of paper. I asked her, “Tell me all of the things you do. All of them.”

And I drew this:

I didn’t even have to say the words. She saw it for herself. Those bubbles pointing at “You” became the top-level navigation for her website (along with an “About” page, of course, because you should always have one of those).

It clicked once she saw that the website was about her, not about the stuff she did. She was the focus. And that’s as it should be.

Top-Level Navigation: Who Are You?

After my client and I drew this sketch of her identities, we used these identities to design her top-level navigation menu. Let’s learn what that means.

On a website, the top-level navigation menu is the menu, usually at the top of the screen, that helps a user navigate around the entire site. It appears on every page of the website. It is also called a “persistent” navigation menu because it persists — appears — no matter what page you are on.

Two important notes before we proceed:

  • First: Your website WILL have a persistent, top-level navigation menu. Full stop.
  • Second: Your website will only have ONE persistent, top-level navigation menu. You don’t get two. So choose your top-level navigation items with care.
  • Second, part b: Okay there are exceptions to the second item on this list, but they’re beyond the scope of a person designing their first website.

In my client’s example, taking the items from my sketch, we had the following items across the top of her website in her persistent, top-level navigation menu:

BLOG | ABOUT | BOOKS | ART & DESIGN | CONSULTING | TEACHING

The “About” page contained her biography, a professional portrait, and contact information. You must have an “About” page. You can put “Contact” on a separate page if you would like, or your contact information can be on your “About” page.

Once you have designed your top-level navigation, you have designed the main architecture of your website. Congratulations. Now, if you wish, you can create sub-pages that branch off of these top-level pages. That’s up to you.

Make it easy for people to contact you

Regarding your contact information: You can also put it in your header (as I do on my site) or in your footer, both of which appear on every page and are easy for people to find.

The important rule is this: Make it easy for people to find you.

My nightmare scenario happened because I did not have my contact info easy to find. An editor invited me to write a small piece for The New Yorker, but the editor couldn’t reach me because I didn’t have my email address on my website. Instead, she messaged me via Twitter. But I didn’t get the Twitter message until it was too late for my piece make it to press.

I literally missed an opportunity to write for The New Yorker because I had crappy contact information on my website.

Don’t do what I did. Put a real email address up there, one that you actually check. If you’re worried about spam, you can create a separate email address for just your website and other public venues. But you HAVE to check it! Don’t be me! Don’t blow a chance to do something great because of poor contact information.

And never, ever use those terrible contact forms. I never, ever fill them out. If someone I want to work with has one on their website, I work with someone else. Strong opinion? Yes. Am I the only one who has it? No.

Your Blog: Creating Relationships

No, blogs are not dead.

Back when I was talking to my client about whether to maintain multiple websites, I asked her if she wanted to maintain multiple blogs. She was horrified by the suggestion. Maintaining one was a ton of work already.

She’s not wrong. Blogging well is hard. But, if you are a writer seeking to build relationships with readers, writing thoughtful blog posts and sharing them on social media is a good way to do it.

When you write a new blog post, you (had better) share the heck out of that blog post all over social media — Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, whatever you use. The blog post then drives traffic to your website.

The blog post generates website traffic and aslo readerly goodwill. You are a writer, and likely a good one since you are an author or aspiring author. You are writing fun and engaging blog posts and giving them to your readers for free. I love free stuff! So does everyone else.

Ideally, you are also giving readers a glimpse into your life (as much as you feel like sharing your life with the world on the internet), and you are creating relationships with readers. (Check back around here soon for advice for authors on blogging.)

And because you have, through blogging, created a readership for your website, and you have earned their goodwill, you won’t need to “sell” your books and other services. You blog readers will want to buy them because of their good relationship with you.

Now, that good relationship I just described won’t develop overnight. It also won’t develop unless you put yourself out there on social media and get people to come to your blog and read your posts, learning about you as a person and engaging with you. If you throw a (blog) party and no one comes, then you can’t make any friends. You have to invite folks to come read. (Yes, this is why social media is important for authors.)

Alternatively, if your website and blog are “dead,” then people have little reason to visit it. A regularly updated blog means your website it alive. It’s living. It’s regularly updated.

What should you blog about? Blog about you. Your life. Stuff that interests you. Whatever you are geeky about. You don’t always have to write about writing. In fact, most of the time you shouldn’t.

Furthermore, you don’t always have time to write a new substantive post. That’s okay! I bet you have a backlog of things you’ve written and never published. You are a writer, right? Old poems you’ve never published? Flash fiction? Photography? Every once in a while, post from your backlog.

If you are publishing text, always include a riveting image. Either use one you’ve taken, or use one from a free stock photo site such as Morguefile.com or Pixabay.com. Images are essential to attract people to your blog posts and your social media links that you will post to invite people to read your blog posts.

Your Books: Where Do They Go?

Whether you have one book or twenty, you need to have a top-level navigation menu item that says “Books” or something like that. I’ll use my own website, katieroseguestpryal.com, as an example here because it shows how you can handle a book situation that’s a little complicated.

I write novels, commercial nonfiction, and academic nonfiction. I’ve published nearly 15 books. For me, at first these different types of books represented different facets of my identity. But then I took my own advice: I am one person, one brand. I had to come up with a way to present myself to the world in a way that tied everything together. I came up with some taglines that I use depending on the context, and you’ll see them on my site:

  • “No matter what I’m writing, I write books that shine light on difficult subjects with grace and humor.” (I write about mental illness, sexual assault, and other difficult subjects, in both my fiction and nonfiction.)
  • “Katie Rose Guest Pryal, J.D., Ph.D., is a lawyer and rhetorician — an expert in public discourse and how it influences policy — whose main focus is mental illness and neurodiversity and making the world more accessible to all people.” (That’s the first sentence of my bio. It focuses on me, rather than on my books, and ties together my education and my writing.)
  • I use words to change the world.” (That’s the biggie that you see right there on the homepage of my website. With every book I write, that’s the goal.)

I spent a lot of time coming up with these, and if they suck AND if you have suggestions for improvement, please email me and let me know.

The point is, I took a look at my body of work and figured out how to bring it all together.

When designing my site, I knew it had to be easy to maintain. So I created a single top-level navigation item for “Books.” And on that books page you will find the following:

  • Brief text about who I am (including a tagline), contact info for my speaker’s bureau, and info for how to reach me for book clubs and classroom appearances.
  • A purchase link for my books (all of them) that links to a site where you can get my books from any retailer.
  • A list of book awards and recognition I’ve received.
  • My trade nonfiction: Description of my nonfiction writing in general, some great blurbs, and the covers. The covers link to purchase pages.
  • My novels: Same as trade nonfiction.
  • My law books: Same again.

All of this is nicely designed with headers and such, and it isn’t overwhelming with text (or at least I try to keep it that way). And on one page, a person can find ALL of my books. My entire author identity in one package. For me, as the website maintainer, I only have to deal with one page for my books, instead of many individual pages.

The simplicity of it makes my heart sing.

I’m constantly looking at author websites to find things I admire and ideas I can use. Once you’ve built your site, I recommend doing the same.

-Katie

If you liked this story, please clap so others can see it.

You can find more Pryal on Writing columns as I update them and write new ones starting in 2021.

To support my free writing, please leave me a tip (paypal.me/krgpryal). Even one dollar helps support the free writing I do for writers, disability rights, and more.

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