People will tell you getting a website is a simple and cheap process. Other people will tell you only amateurs do simple and cheap. There are more facts and opinions that you can possibly sift, and nothing authoritative or neutral ever gives you anything specific enough to work from.
So I will do this for you. Over the next several posts, I will tell you how to get your website up and running. I won't cop out and say, "look for something like this." I will give you actual company names, and while I won't guarantee they'll be the best choices for you, they will be good choices for most authors and I am in no way compensated by any of them. I'll give you the pros and cons of using pros and shortcuts and hybrids of the two.
But first thing's first. Do you need an author website? I've been re-reading what blogging agents have to say about it (see pubrants web-related posts for example). It comes down to this:
- If you are a published auther: YES. You need a professional author website for readers. (Wait wait wait, you say. Professional? Is this a sales pitch? No. I'll explain what I mean by professional further down, and it doesn't mean you have to pay someone to design it.)
- If you have a book deal: YES. You need a professional website for advance readers/sales/publicity/etc.
- If you are querying agents: NOT REALLY. If they like your query or meet you at a conference and see you have a website, they might take a look. If they do, it had better make a good impression, so the real answer is: ONLY IF IT'S PROFESSIONAL.
- If you are not yet to the querying phase: NO. It really can't help you at this point, but it can hurt you if it's unprofessional - even if you take it down, because a cached version can show up in a google search down the road. Don't fret if you have one, though. Cached google results are unlikely to be a problem as long as you replace a bad site with a good site by the time you need a good one.
- It is functional. It is clearly organized, easily navigable, there are no broken links, and it looks and behaves the way you expect it to on all major browsers.
- It is well-written. For the love of God, have it proofread.
- It is current. By this I mean that content is up-to-date. If nothing has changed in a while, that's OK, but be careful when listing current and future dates. Your site mustn't look frozen in time, all aflutter about your book release coming up in October 2008.
- It has all the content it needs to have. It tells about you, about your book(s), how to buy your book(s), cites reviews and interviews, lists appearances, and includes contact info. It is targeted toward readers who already like you or are positively disposed to like you.
- It has none of the content it shouldn't have. It has no offensive content, nothing off-topic, no inside jokes, nothing that would embarrass your agent or publisher, no dirty laundry, no crazy, no anything that would make your readers feel they've stumbled into an awkward conversation between you and your demons. If your blog has these things, think twice before linking to it.
- It has your own domain name: janedoebooks.com as opposed to janedoebooks.wordpress.com or janedoebooks.wix.com. This isn't because your own domain name makes you seem more important or is easier to remember or just looks better. You need your own domain name because only by owning it can you take it with you when you want or need to change hosts. I'll talk more about this later.
Check out Part II: Choosing Your Path.