One of the questions I see all the time, usually on Facebook, is:
“Do I need an author website? I already have an author page on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, <insert social media name here>.”
The answer is yes. Authors do need a website.
But why, if they have social media communities? It’s because you own your website and all its content, unlike your content on social media sites. Social media sites own your author pages, and can change the rules at any time without any warning.
You don’t own your social media sites
For those of you who might be a little new to using social media for promoting books, the landscape has changed drastically in recent years. Back when I first joined Facebook, people could start Pages for a business or a project, and anything you posted on the page would show up in newsfeeds just like personal posts. Lots and lots of authors have Facebook pages. A few years later the way Facebook managed pages changed, switching to a much more locked down version of pages in an effort to get people to pay to get their pages noticed. The same thing has been happened over on Instagram in recent years. Posts used to be sorted in chronological order, so anything you posted would show up in your followers’ timeline. Not anymore. Now Instagram posts are shown to you via an algorithm nobody understands, and posts are interspersed with ads and “suggested posts.” I personally don’t use TikTok, but if it follows the same trends as every other social media platform, they’ll probably also start to try to monetize posts from people trying to build their platform or selling things.
The message I get from both of these scenarios is that both Facebook and Instagram now prioritize having people pay to get their posts in front of people. But even more important is that you don’t have any idea how any social media platform will change in the future. For example, I just read that YouTube just released a new rule (without telling anyone) that demonetizes videos that include swearing within the first fifteen seconds. Even if you’re not a sweary person, the idea is that when you post content on a site you don’t own, they can randomly change the rules at any time, for any reasons, and their changes can affect your reach and your income. When you rely solely on social media sites to get the word out about your books, you really don’t have control of your own content on those sites.
Your social media sites may disappear with no warning
Another scary situation is an increasing number of reports of Instagram disabling or deleting people’s accounts and not telling them why, then not providing any way to find out more or protest the decision. Here’s just one video by a real estate agent talking about discovering her Instagram account was disabled and her complicated process of figuring out how to get it back. It also sounds like there are a lot of scams out there–people reporting your account to get it disabled, then those same people reaching out to help you get it back–for $2,500.
These examples are just to point out that you don’t actually own your social media accounts, and if they get disabled or deleted, or if the social media site decides to implement crazy rules that affect your business model, you don’t have much recourse. What do you have control over? Your own website (and your own email list, which we’ll discuss in another post).
Your website can be a powerful tool for nonfiction authors
As a nonfiction author, your website really is a powerful tool to get your content out there, and also to sell your books directly from your website. I encourage nonfiction authors to blog about the topics they write about, because it’s a great way to build your brand and build a following, especially if you use search engine optimization (SEO) to drive traffic to your website. After writing a blog post, you should definitely share it on social media, but if you have a solid strategy of building your content on your website and blog first and distributing material from there, you’ll have much more control over your marketing and your author business.
So I hope you now agree that you need a website. What should you include on it? Different authors include different things, but the core elements that I suggest you include are:
- A detailed bio of you and your expertise related to your book topics
- A way for people to buy your books directly from you from your website
- A blog covering topics related to your books–this will drive people interested in your books to your website
And just a note on what to include on your blog–resist the temptation to blog about topics not related to your books or your brand. I used to fall into that trap a lot, I’d blog about a fun vacation, or my favorite recent books, even though those topics didn’t have anything to do with my business. Blogging for fun is totally fine, but just do that elsewhere, not on your author website.
That’s pretty much it. There’s not a reason to have a super complex website for your books, but create something.
Can you just use a free WordPress blog?
I don’t recommend this. For one thing, you can’t use a custom domain like www.yoursite.com. Instead, it will be yoursite.wordpress.com. Also, on the free WordPress site, your options will be extremely limited. For example, you can’t set up a custom email address, or integrate a newsletter signup button, or sell your books on your site. It’s better to choose a domain name that you can use for your author business, then you can use that domain with a variety of web hosting tools if you decide to switch hosting companies or website tools.
If you want a blog just for fun that’s not related to your author business, a free WordPress site is a good option.
What about blogging at Substack or another blogging platform?
This is actually a good idea and will increase your exposure. But, you should post your blog post on your own website’s blog FIRST, then repost on Substack or another platform. That way, your own website will be ranked in Google first and allow people to find your website. I have a SubStack blog and report all my stuff over there. But my first priority in my website here.
And again, I don’t recommend only having a SubStack blog. It’s a company external to your business, and just like Facebook and Instagram, there’s no telling how they’ll change their business model in the future. Maybe they’ll start charging you a fee or change the way the platform works. Since it’s not yours, you’ll have no control over what happens. Same with other blogging platforms like Medium.
So where should I host my website?
There are tons of different options for website hosting, with some requiring more technical expertise than others, and some costing more than others. I’ll have an entire blog post soon about website hosting, but some of the options you can investigate include:
WordPress (not the free blog option): You can visit website hosting companies like BlueHost (I use a company called Skystra), buy a domain, then set up hosting. This is all pretty cheap. Domains are usually around $10/year and you can find hosting for between $3 and $10 a month depending on what you want. Then, after you’ve signed up for hosting you can install WordPress on your site. There are lots of templates you can get that will automate a lot of the formatting for you. Do NOT get free templates, there might be nefarious code in them and there’s no technical support. Only get WordPress templates from reputable businesses. I’m partial to StudioPress (that’s what I use for this site). This option requires some technical skill and you must feel pretty comfortable using software that isn’t the most intuitive thing in the world.
Website builders like Shopify and Wix: These are just two of the tools out there for creating an attractive website without having to know anything technical about how to set up a website. These are much better options for people without the technical skills to use WordPress, and no desire to learn. Long ago I set up my husband’s website using the WordPress option described above with StudioPress, but it was pretty unwieldy. I switched his site to Shopify a couple years ago and we love it. It’s fairly easy to set up, there are lots of tutorials on how to set up a blog, online shop, and anything else you want. I know a lot of authors also use Wix, but I don’t have any experience with that platform. They both have free trials, and also walk you through all the steps required to set up a website, blog, and store. These both cost in the mid $20/month range.