One of the questions I’m frequently asked in my first conversations with clients about their new author websites is when should they have their new site ready. I most often talk with authors months ahead of their book launch, which allows plenty of time for strategy and creation, but the actual launch date comes down to a handful of considerations:

  1. How important is it to you to build a following (including search engines) for your project?
  2. At what point will you be publicizing materials with your URL on/in them?
  3. Do you have any sort of author brand or cover art complete?

I’ll break these down one at a time…

1. How important is it to you to build a following (including search engines) for your project?

Unsurprisingly, most people want to build as big a following as possible.  But sometimes when you talk with authors about what that might entail, they are less enthusiastic about the steps involved.

It’s a myth for most people that you can create a website, even a truly beautiful one with content designed to be searchable, and just drop it online and people will flock to you.  I suppose that’s true if you’re already a bestselling author, but if you’re just starting out or are looking to grow your audience, you need to have a strategy to connect with your target audience in a way that will resonate with them.  Perhaps it’s through blogging, or social media outreach, or videos, or some other content-creation mechanism — but regardless of the path you choose, it often takes months to establish yourself enough to notice a significant traffic increase.

Making yourself stand out in the crowd of other authors, and also the rest of the noise on the internet, requires dedication and perseverance.  Just like there is no “best” social media platform for authors other than the one you’re willing to use regularly, there is no “best” way to go about this — ultimately the best for you is whatever you’re willing to actually do.  Connecting with your existing and potential audience by creating content they’re interested in knowing about and sharing with friends is critical.

And you can start doing this well before you have a website, but it should be strategically integrated into your website to make it easy for you to continue on when the time comes.  Bottom line: start AT LEAST 6 months before your release date.

2. At what point will you be publicizing materials with your URL on them?

This might sound obvious, but I’ve talked with lots of authors who haven’t even considered this question.  If you have a publicist, make sure you know the date by which you should have an online presence.  And even if your full website won’t be available, it’s easy to create a temporary landing page with basic information on it and a message like, “watch this space!” that can act as a landing page in the meantime.

Your URL might go out to media outlets, or reviewers, or even potential publishers via Press Releases, social media outreach or direct outreach.  And if there’s nothing there when someone visits it, that’s bad news.

This also means you need to consider what your domain name will be even before you start to think about your website.  I suggest, at a minimum, that all authors own their name, and the name of their book (and add the word “book” to it if it’s unavailable).  Domain names are cheap these days so you can tuck them away for whenever you need them.  And any domain name you own can have a “permanent redirect” on it (for free) pointing anywhere — so decide which one will be your main one, and permanently redirect the others to it — which means you can use all of them however it makes sense to you.  And consider that URLs are highly searchable — so if  you buy domain names that have searchable terms in them (and by this I mean what people might search for if they don’t already know about you, like, “medicalthrillerbooks.com”) that’s helpful too.

3. Do you have any sort of author brand or cover art complete?

Before you jump into creating a website, you should consider your author brand, because what you decide should influence the shape your website takes (and not the other way around).  This doesn’t have to be particularly complicated — just give some thought to your target readership and what they are likely to enjoy about reading your books.  Maybe you bring unexpected humor, or you’re quite gregarious, or you’re a notorious introvert — jot down the themes that define you as an author, or what you WANT to define you as an author.

That information will allow you to figure out what kind of website you need and how you might promote yourself online.  This is especially important if you don’t already have your cover art finished as you can use visual elements (colors, fonts, graphics) that echo your brand ahead of showing your cover art.  If you do have book art complete, then you’re definitely within the time period in which you need an author website.

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At the end of the day, you really can’t start too early.  Even if you modify your plan along the way, at least you’ve gotten started.  And your website should always change along with you anyway.   Building an online audience can happen even if you only have a concept — the idea is to engage people and keep them interested — then when it comes time to launch your book you don’t have to start from scratch.