If you’re an unpublished author, do you really need a website? Like so many things, the answer is, “It depends.” Here are three situations you might find yourself in, and strategies you may be considering:
Are you looking for a publisher? If so, having a website will allow you to demonstrate that you understand your audience and that you know how to build a following. At this point you’re selling to publishers, not readers, so your emphasis should be on community building. You might leverage a newsletter, a blog, social media, or some combination of all three to achieve the level of community you’re looking for. There is no “right” answer for which social media platform to use, or whether a blog or a newsletter is “better” — it’s really about how you use them. If you love writing newsletters and your following is increasing steadily, then that’s a great option for you. If you find yourself constantly posting to Instagram and you’re gaining followers there, then that’s what works best for you. At the end of the day, the number of subscribers or followers you have will influence whether a publisher wants to gamble on your first writing project, so study what your followers love the most of what you’re doing, and do more of that.
Are you going to self-publish? An initial focus for many self-published authors is building an email list and encouraging subscriptions by offering great content. A robust email marketing list allows you to connect directly with your audience and that’s a level of access you want in your back pocket. Similarly, building a social media following gives you a chance to regularly remind your audience what you’re up to so you’re not too far from their thoughts. That means when the time comes to let them know they can purchase your book, they’re not like, “Who is this again?.” There is no “right” platform other than the one you’re committed to using regularly to engage with your audience.
Do you already have a publisher, but it’ll be awhile before your book is released? Lucky you! You still want to build your audience on social platforms and your email list, but you also want to build momentum for your book launch. Your website should make it easy to get in touch with you to book appearances and events (even virtual ones), and show examples of gigs you’ve already done (if possible).
It’s unlikely that readers will purchase your book from you directly, but you certainly want to point readers to where they can easily pre-order your book from their favorite retailer (once that option is available). Simultaneously, your website is a place you’ll start pointing people to where they can learn more about you and your book, so make sure to include information that both readers and press will enjoy. A press kit for your book launch is a great solution to providing information that makes it easy to write about you, and your readers might enjoy a behind-the-scenes look at your pre-launch activities and some teaser content to get them excited.
Even if you’ve established your email newsletter with new regular subscribers, and have a growing social media following, having a website allows you to be discoverable to a new audience through search, to curate and archive your content over time, and removes the barrier for readers who may not use the social media platform you favor.
Additionally, your website allows you to control your content and how its displayed. If Twitter or Facebook have a PR disaster and are suddenly revamping how their platforms work, you don’t have all of your eggs in their basket if the end result doesn’t work for you.
For new authors there are many things that need to be done to grow an audience, and one of the smartest things you can do is to create a space you control with the flexibility to grow with you over time.