When it comes to websites for non-fiction writers, I likely have a head-start on most of you reading this post. You see, my first website went up in 1997 (it was butt ugly but it was online.) It was my nursery website as well as my non-fiction site (for gardening) and I built that first one myself. I’ve used that site ever since in one form or the other and it’s been an integral part of my writing life and creating a writer’s platform.
An author platform isn’t comprised of just a website even though it acts as your home base. The platform is better defined as everything you do online that helps you sell books. Note your platform also includes things such as 1) social media 2) videos 3) podcasting and 4) whatever puts your name, ideas and book title in front of readers.
WordPress: The One Constant Factor
The one constant factor in creating my author platforms has been WordPress software. While there are other options out there (and lots of people trying to sell you on their solution) WordPress allows you to know absolutely nothing and add features as your audience and book sales grow to require more advanced tools.
Starting with WordPress allows you to grow within the same software environment and will make your writing life so much easier.
I’ve been there, screwed that up. I’ve run several other content management systems, straight html websites, newer “easy” solutions for free, and every time I’ve come back to WordPress.
Option Number One: WordPress Dot Com
The simplest platform is to use WordPress.com It’s free. It’s easy. It gives you a limited set of publishing tools but far more than you’ll need. There are authors I know who’ve run their entire career on this system and find it more than adequate for everything they do.
Your Unique Address
Get your own URL – your own name for your platform. In an ideal world, you’ll get your name. I own Douglas-Green.com (Note the hyphen.) The name without the hyphen wasn’t available. Use your intitials – DGreen.com or expand it to something like Yournameauthor.com. I used DougGreensGarden.com for my main garden website. Get your name into your address.
Do this at the beginning of your writing career (or tomorrow) because this same domain name will travel with you as you grow and develop your platform.
Get the .com version as the majority of the web uses .com as a standard address. Ignore funky country or topic codes if possible as readers tend not to think of them as a primary URL.
While the free site will work, your URL will be YourName-Wordpress.com (hardly a professional address and not one that moves well) To eliminate this and create a transferrable address for your future expansion (see above for URL suggestions) purchase one of their WordPress plans ( $10/month) and they’ll handle all the address details for you.
Option Number Two: Self-hosted WordPress
Your writing career is all grown up and you’re getting hundreds to thousands of readers a day onto your basic site. You want to sell your books yourself by making pdf’s and selling them as a direct download. Or, do you want to run training seminars?
My best advice is to take a deep breath. Ask yourself if you’re prepared to handle the technical demands of running your own site? Do you need that social media plugin? Do you need that funky design? Or sliding image header? Do those things add to your writer’s income line or the expense line?
In the majority of cases, they add to the expense line. You’ll make more money by selling more books on Amazon than you will by selling them on your own website (after deducting the costs of hosting, backup and security services not to mention that fancy template you think you need.) Running your own site also means you are tech support and when something breaks (note I didn’t say “if” something breaks) you get to fix it.
I note there are companies that provide tech support to self-hosted websites. The lowest price I’ve seen is $100/month for a minimum of three months.
But yes, a self-hosted WordPress site is a good way to expand the range of author options. If the author has enough traffic and enough book sales to warrant this expense and time.
If you followed my suggestion above to get your own URL, it and your content all easily move.
Option Number Three: A Supported WordPress Site With Features
At some point, you decide to host a community forum for your readers. You even consider running courses by a membership site. Your self-hosted WordPress site can handle just about anything you can imagine.
There’s what they call a “plugin” for that. Install, activate and you have a community forum or seminars/courses.
Well, maybe not. Sometimes plugins don’t work and play nicely together and your entire website will crash. (Yes, been there, done that.)
In my case, I got a courses plugin installed and was running gardening seminars (readers paid me) but when I tried to install a forum plugin, the site died. In a strange, unknown way the plugins fought for control of the main database. And I fubared my site. Luckily I had backups (a good backup system is a necessity – I use Vaultpress) and recovered all the content.
Three full days of work and frustration led me to conclude I was better off writing and creating great content than I was spending my time on tech problems.
I went to a company called Rainmaker. They specialize in high-end WordPress hosting and have a fully featured WordPress environment. They moved my site, solved all the issues, got me running again in a matter of hours and I rebuilt the lessons (and expanded them).
I write and produce garden content. Rainmaker provides the technical resources.
Some authors say this kind of solution is too expensive. By the time I calculated the costs of the advanced plugins, the sales pages, the mailing systems, security, backups and several other premium plugins, I was further ahead spending the money on Rainmaker. This is not counting the very real value of peace of mind there’s somebody there to call.
As I write this, (May 2016) the security plugin Securi that handles my small self-hosted author WordPress site at Douglas-Green.com is emailing me telling me I have malware on my site. Securi is cleaning it up for me as part of their service but it’s a pain in the anatomy dealing with this kind of issue. Securi costs me US$199./year. Three hours of to and fro with support and they determine, it’s false positive on their part. But I lose three hours of writing/creative time and get myself in a knot sorting out and deleting other “possible” causes/plugins etc.
Update: October 2017. The Rainmaker platform folks (used to be known as Copyblogger in the old days) now have a hosting site for regular WordPress installations under the StudioPress name. They install your software, give you one of the Premium StudioPress site templates, back up the site and give you very fast hosting.
I’ve moved all of my self-hosted sites to this platform so I don’t have to mess about with any backend stuff. I can install almost any plugin I want (bonus!) and I’m a fan.
A Platform Creation Continuum
That’s the continuum. Start the website part of your platform on the simplest and least-expensive WordPress system. Then move up the chain as your readers grow and you make more money.
If I were doing it again, I’d skip the middle stage. I’d develop my readership to where I had enough readers to sell them other products (courses, community, personal answers, whatever..) and then I’d move to a Rainmaker system.
But if all I ever wanted to do was write, I’d never move from WordPress.com
What Do You Do On Your Website
You write. You answer questions. You invite comments and respond to readers. This is your author “home”. Do what you do in your own home with friends. Only you’re doing it online on your website author home.
You post videos, pictures, or whatever media attracts reader attention.
A common bit of advice (see above) is “invite comments and discussions.” This is fine if you have 100 readers. When you have 10,000 it’s possible to spend hours answering every question or comment.
Social media and websites don’t scale for authors. You can interact with your existing reader base or continue writing and making money. Trying to do everything is a contributor to author burnout. And yes, been there, done that.
The flip side of this is that answering questions is a great way to develop a reader base. The questions can be a source for content. It’s a tricky and winding pathway from too few comments to overloaded with comments. But there are solutions to this.
For example, if you get a question don’t write an answer. Take a few minutes and make a quick video (less than two minutes) right off the cuff answering the question as you would if you were doing it in person. Use your cell phone and do it as a selfie. Post the video on Youtube and link to your website. Send the website link to your reader.
- answered a question,
- posted the answer on Youtube for others to see and perhaps run ads on it and
- generated content for your website.
Another option is to write an answer and post it onto your website (and refer the next person with the same question to your website rather than write it again.) I suggest you keep a record of all of these links in a file so you don’t have to remember the URL of each posted answer.
My option was to create a paid Premium level where I answer questions and maintain a Free website level where I do not. The comments section on the Free level is turned off.
A Final Note:
Some writers will want a platform or website even if they’re writing a different topic with every project.
Use WordPress dot com and continue writing. Keep it simple.
After you have an audience.
Get a home base, update it with book posts as you progress and put affiliate links to your books.
You’re better off financially creating content rather than creating a platform for multiple topics.