In Article 3 for Self-publishing from Scratch, I wrote about platforms. If you missed it, it’s here. All posts are organised under the drop-down menu above: Self-publishing / Self-publishing from Scratch.
Article 4 will focus on one particular platform: a professional website. Professional as, this is a business website, not a rant and rave page where I alienate readers on petty topics and post pictures of my weekend out with the boys, getting drunk and stuck in the mud.
Why Build a Website?
I’ve been asked this many times in the past ten years. It’s often followed by, “I already have an author Facebook page (or another social media presence); I don’t need a website.”
Yes, you do.
Remember, I’m giving this advice to my younger self, the one who wanted to self-publish her book back around 2006. Due to writing friends discouraging her from taking that step, saying it would “ruin” her career, she put off self-publishing until 2010 and by the time she had enough experience to do it well, she had missed the easy boat. By 2015, it was more difficult to get books noticed, and she swam in a sea with millions of other hopeful writers.
Let me throw this out there: she didn’t have a fiction writing career to ruin, and her friends’ advice was based on nothing more than their opinion, which they had gotten from traditionally-published writers, who looked down on those who took the reins and drove their own wagon. Perhaps they were fearful of doing it themselves.
Anyways, this quote that came to me years after that rings true.
“Don’t let anyone who has done nothing tell you how to do anything.” Robert Downey Jr.
In this instance, that translates to “Don’t let anyone who hasn’t had a book published in any form or who doesn’t know anything about self-publishing tell you what is best for your publishing career.”
Since I am giving this advice to my younger self, I won’t mince words. I’m direct to me; I don’t want fluff and hesitation. I want the truth laid bare like a gutted deer hanging in the shed where I grew up. Just give it to me as I see it.
Stop Messing Around – Make the Website
Diana, you need a website for many reasons. The first is to have a home on the Internet that you control because you are a control freak. You need to be able to name the URL. You don’t want a gate keeper like Zuckerberg, who decides which ads show up for your audience to see, who bans people and puts them in Facebook jail because they posted something he disagrees with, who controls the layout of your content, who regulates who sees your stuff and who doesn’t. Fuck Zuck; he’s more of a control freak than you are.
While upgrades happen to everything on the Internet, Diana, you will still control what content goes onto your page if you own it. You can have a blog if you want. You can post every day (though that’s annoying, and you know it) or once a month. I suggest once or twice a week. This will keep you in touch with your audience, not annoy them and give you plenty of time to write because that’s what you really want to do: write.
The second reason you want a website is whatever you post, your audience will find easily. If you want to highlight a specific post or page, you need only share the link. That means the post you made about starting a fire before matches were invented – Harry Couldn’t Light a One-match Fire – nine years ago, is shared just like that.
Blogs are great for keeping readers updated, and static pages are awesome for keeping certain information upfront and centre, such as your About page or a page containing your books (Romance Collection)
How Big Should My Website Be?
Good question. I’ve seen ones with only two pages, no blog. I’ve also seen ones with more than a hundred pages and hundreds of blog posts. What size is right for you depends on what you want and what you write.
Diana, the bare minimum you should have is two pages: the home page with the book you’ve published, details about it, perhaps a review or two and links to where to buy the book, and an About page, to let readers know who you are. No need to get personal. You can just say you love to write fantasy novels, you own a donkey and dream of living in a peel castle by the sea.
Diana, listen closely. Create a blog only if you love writing short pieces on a regular basis. Short as in a piece between 200 and 600 words. It’s known longer pieces aren’t read as much as shorter pieces. I’ve also read that blogs don’t sell fiction.
Take a deep breath and think about that before you dive into spending oodles of time on creating a blog. Yes, you’ll sell the occasionally book from your blog, but you won’t sell any great number. That’s a hurtful fact I learned after five years of blogging.
If you choose to write consistent content on a topic that generates repeat visitation to your site, and if that content correlates with your books, you may be more successful than the average fiction blogger.
For example, if you write fantasy novels, you could write about castles, weapons from the mediaeval age, healing herbs, magic and myths. Those interested in these topics will learn about your book and may buy it.
If I had known this when I started my blog, I probably would have taken it in a different direction. Writing about writing doesn’t generate readers for novels. At least not in any great number. However, the years have taught me that creating this blog was certainly worth it. I’ve learned a lot and shared a lot and helped other writers find their way. And, after all, this is not my fiction writing name.
Understanding this, my Diane McGyver blog doesn’t talk about writing (not in the writer’s sense of it), publishing or marketing. Instead, I focus on gardening, camping, hiking, growing food, recipes and mediaeval topics such as castles and magic. These topics relate to my books in one way or another.
Writers who write non-fiction books are said to sell more books through blogging than fiction writers do. Readers become confident in the writer’s skill on the subject and want to learn more, so buy the book.
For example, if I was writing a gardening book, my website would contain tips and tricks for growing a garden. That would be my focus. I’d talk about nothing else. I’d give readers enough information to want to learn more, so they’d buy my book.
There is more to consider about building a website, but this post is already past my 600-word limit, so I’ll save that for another time.
But before I go, let me leave you with this short story. About eight years ago, I saw a book advertised that looked extremely interesting. The author was having a signing at Chapters in Dartmouth. That was a 40-minute drive for me. Limited on money, I wanted to know more about the book to see if I really wanted to buy it before I invested $15 worth of gas and the price of the book. Along with my time.
I searched the Internet to learn more and found nothing. Nothing more about the book; nothing more about the author. All that was available was a few sentences that described the book (ones I had already had read) and reviews stating how great it was. Telling me it’s great and telling me what it’s about are two very different things.
Knowing I had better places for my money and learning nothing more that encouraged me to buy the book, I didn’t go to the book signing. I never bought the book.
If that author had a presence on the web, I could have learned more about him and the book. Because he didn’t, he lost a sale. Perhaps I would have learned the book was not what I had expected and wouldn’t have bought anyways. I’ll never know.
Lesson learned: Have a home on the web and have information about your books posted there along with the first chapter.
The best time to self-publish that book was ten years ago; the second best time is today.