Self-published authors wear lots of hats and spin many plates. They handle everything from the creation of their book through to publication, promotion and sales. And they’ve invested lots of time and money into their project. It’s a huge undertaking!

They often have to determine where it makes sense for them to invest in learning how to do something themselves vs where it makes sense to outsource to an expert. And even when outsourcing something to an expert, they need to know enough about what they’re asking for to be able to ask the right questions.

As a web designer for authors, I help guide my clients through the considerations of what shape their website might take and why, but if you’re just starting out and don’t have the budget to hire a professional, it’s absolutely possible to get a great website by doing it yourself.

There are lots of options for creating a website / landing page yourself, like Squarespace, Wix or Weebly — or the more book-focused Booklaunch.io. Here’s why I don’t suggest those: it’s important that you have real control over your website. Services like those do everything for you — they host your site, they control what features you can use and provide templates for how it can look, they keep their platforms updated to the latest standards, and they provide a login to you to administer your site. And that’s one of the reasons they’re so successful — they take lots of decisions off of your plate and streamline the process of creating a site so that it’s easy. But what happens if all of a sudden they close up shop? (a reality of life on the internet) Is there an easy way for you to move your site elsewhere? What if there’s a widget or feature you want to add to your site but it isn’t supported by the platform?

Now, you may not be worried about any of that because your site has a limited life expectancy and those services offer more functionality than you need. In which case, great! Choose the one you like the best and you’ll have a great site in no time.

But if any of that concerns you because you’re in it for the long haul, consider a self-hosted WordPress site instead. You’ll have complete control over your domain name, your theme, your content, and your site’s features — you can easily export content from it or import content to it. You can use as many or as few features as you want, but it’s always nice to know you have the flexibility to change things if you want to add something new. And WordPress is an open-source platform, which means it’s developed by hundreds of people all over the world — it’s not owned by a single person or company that might go belly-up.

If you’re interested in a self-hosted WordPress site you’ll first need a hosting plan (read more about that here: https://www.outboxonline.com/domain-names-web-hosting-organized/) and most good hosting companies offer a super easy WordPress install feature. Once you have WordPress installed, you’ll need to choose a theme to install, and there are lots of great free ones: https://wordpress.org/themes/browse/popular/

When you’re ready to move forward with building the site, here are my top tips for self published author websites:

  1. Keep it simple.
    One of my favorite mantras that I often share with clients is: “The more complicated you make something, the more complicated it will be.” And that’s always true with websites. As a self-published author who may already have a day job, you don’t want to be spending lots of time with complicated website features and layouts. Choosing a very simple theme or template will not only make it easier for you to create and keep updated, but also for your site visitors to use. What’s the minimum you’ll want to include?: Your book’s title, a short description explaining benefits to reading your book, an image of the cover, a purchase link, the author name, links to your social media sites, and contact info.
  2. Choose an easy purchase model.
    Sometimes, choosing to let someone else manage the purchase and fulfillment of your book sales will save you time and money in the end. If you’re only selling digital (ie: ebook) products that’s less important, but for physical copies consider that if you’re selling and fulfilling yourself you’ll need to store them, manage communication with the customer about shipping, and manage getting them sent via your favorite mail delivery service — all of which takes time, organization & effort. You can easily integrate PayPal for purchasing physical or digital copies of your book via a shopping cart on your site: https://wordpress.org/plugins/wordpress-simple-paypal-shopping-cart/ — or you can use a service like this and link to the purchase page from your website: https://gumroad.com/sell/books (or, of course, Amazon.com)
  3. Engage.
    Social media will be the way you’ll most likely get the word out about your project. The best social media platform to choose is the one you’re committed to using. It’s no use having a social media platform you’re not using, and it might even send the message that you’re no longer interested in the project to have a dead feed. So choose the one you like the best, and ideally where your target audience is, and contribute to it regularly. You can either put the feed from your social media platform on the site via a widget, or you can just link to it — the goal is to encourage people to follow you to engage in what you’re doing and share it with their friends. The benefit of showing the feed is that it shows your site visitors that you’re engaged in the project and allows people to follow you without leaving your site. It can also allow you to announce things and invite people to participate without you doing anything to the site itself — and anything where a single effort can have compound benefits is great. In addition, consider adding a mailing list signup to your site. MailChimp.com makes that very easy to do and is easy to use. You can then share things with your mailing list and your social platforms to maximize engagement.

How To Know When to Bring in an Expert

If you’re reading this, you’re someone interested in a DIY book platform, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t want to work with a professional in the future — perhaps once your project takes off. Here are some tips on how to know you’re ready to hire help:

  1. You’re totally overwhelmed with your options.
    There are undeniably lots of choices when it comes to launching a book and creating your platform. If you have trouble weeding out what you don’t need and narrowing down what you do, consider consulting with someone who will help you create a strategy that will work for you.
  2. You don’t have enough time.
    Whether your day job requires most of your time or managing all the plates you have spinning means that important things are falling behind, figuring out how and when you can delegate will help you regain time for all the things you need to do to be successful.
  3. What you’ve done is no longer working.
    A good professional will not only design and develop an attractive & easy-to-use platform for you, but will also strategize with you about what to include for your project, and most importantly, why. Someone with experience can help you think about your project in a different way and make suggestions you may not have thought of to make sure you’re focusing on what will help you meet your goals.