OLD POST ALERT! This is an older post and although you might find some useful tips, any technical or publishing information is likely to be out of date. Please click on Start Here on the menu bar above to find links to my most useful articles, videos and podcast. Thanks and happy writing! – Joanna Penn
Your website is one of the most important things to get sorted if you're taking your career as an author seriously.
It's how readers, agents, publishers, journalists, bloggers and podcasters judge how professional you are.
It's where you can start to build an email list of readers.
A free site is not good enough if you want to take your author career onwards and upwards.
But your own site doesn't have to be a big deal. It's not expensive and it won't take long to set up.
In this video, I take you through why having your own site is important, how to get a hosting account and set up your wordpress site, as well as using an example theme and how to start your email list.
You can watch the video below or here on YouTube. There are also step-by-step notes after the video.
[Please note: The links in the text and the video are affiliate links, which means I receive a small percentage of the sale but at no extra cost to you. With the hosting, you even get a discount if you use my link. I hope you find the video tutorial useful enough that you will consider using my links so I can continue to provide free information. Thank you!]
How to set up your own author website video
Step by step guide to setting up your own author website
Follow this step-by-step guide and you'll have your own author site set up in no time 🙂
(1) Why go self-hosted? [1:40 on video]
Plenty of authors use free websites. There are a lot of choices and you don't pay a thing. But here's why I believe you should have a self-hosted site.
- Control. If you own your site, no one can take it away from you. Free sites are built on the goodwill (and marketing) of companies who own the real estate from which you are promoting yourself and your books. What if that company decides not to continue the service anymore? Also, if you're an indie author, you understand that control of our own assets is one of the reasons we're indie in the first place. So why wouldn't you want control of your own site?
- More functionality. If you use a free website service, you don't have access to all the cool functionality you would if you self-hosted. For WordPress sites, this means you get to use awesome plugins which enable you to do so much more than the free sites.
- More professional. Just as a book IS judged by its cover, so are you judged by your website. Readers, agents, publishers, journalists, TV producers, bloggers and podcasters will all visit your website – and they can tell a free site instantly. How seriously do you take this author career if you don't invest in a pro looking site?
The good news: It doesn't have to cost you much anymore to have a professional looking website that you control with all the functionality you need. Let's get into it!
(2) Get a domain name and a hosting account [4:01 on video]
A domain is your address on the internet – usually your author name or business name e.g. JFPenn.com or TheCreativePenn.com. You can get domain names at lots of places (I use GoDaddy.com) but you can also use the hosting site as I go through below as part of the setup which is the super easy option.
Hosting is basically a way to store and run your website on the computers of a specialized hosting company. You essentially rent space so people can access your website from all over the world.
There are lots of options for hosting but I recommend Bluehost for my author clients and I've even built my parents' sites on it, so I can vouch for it personally.
Why choose Bluehost? [5:14 on video]
- Great 24×7 support by email, online chat or phone
- Reliability – up time average of 99.9%
- Ease of use – so no tech headaches
- WordPress officially recommends 3 services and BlueHost is one of them
- No limits – unlimited disk space, bandwidth, domains, email accounts – so your site can grow
- Affordability – a few $ a month depending on which plan you pick – and you can get a discount off the advertised price through the link I share in a minute
- Plus 30 day money back guarantee, so if you change your mind, no worries.
How to set up your account on Bluehost, claim your domain and install WordPress [7:44 on video]
Click here to go to the Bluehost site, so you can get your reduced hosting plan.
The first page will give you an option – either you have a domain or you need to get one. In my example client setup, I chose to get the domain from Bluehost.
Then set up an account. It doesn't matter which country you're in.
Next, choose your account plan. The page will show a reduction if you use my affiliate link, TheCreativePenn.com/bluehost. I recommend the Plus plan, mainly because you are likely to want to build other sites and have a scalable account. But of course, you can start small and upgrade later. Once you choose the plan, you will need to enter your payment details.
If it all goes through, you'll get a confirmation email saying your account has been created and your domain has been assigned if you bought one through the site. You can now set up a password for your account on Bluehost. This is your administration password so keep it secure.
Now you can install WordPress software and Bluehost makes this super easy. You will either get a pop-up which says Install WordPress or you can click the icon on the Control Panel. Seriously, you just click the button 🙂
Once it is installed, you will be given your login details. Keep this safe as it is the Administration access to your new website.
Congratulations! You now have an author website! [15:37 on video]
But it's not exactly functional yet as you need to add content and also install a Theme.
The Theme is basically the design, the look and feel, or the ‘skin' of the site. What's brilliant about WordPress is that you can change the Theme over time, but the content remains. I've changed Themes four times on The Creative Penn in 6 years and it's a perfectly normal part of developing your online presence on the internet.
This is also why I don't recommend paying someone thousands to set up a custom design, because inevitably you will change it anyway!
You can get a Premium theme with SEO (search engine optimization) and Mobile compatibility for under US$100 and you'll get a guide on how to configure your own site.
[If you're scared of techy stuff, I would really urge you to give this a go. It is incredibly empowering to get to grips with your own website and it will save you a LOT of money and time going forward.]
I use and recommend StudioPress.[18:26 on video]
I use the Author Pro theme for JFPenn.com and Beautiful Pro for TheCreativePenn.com. But there are tons to choose from – just search WordPress themes and you will come up with many 🙂
My suggestion is to spend an hour looking and then make a decision. Don't let this lead to procrastination! You will likely change it anyway, so just make a decision and get building.
But whatever Theme you choose, you download it as a .zip file onto your computer and then go to Appearance -> Themes on your WordPress dashboard and upload it. Activate the Theme and then you will need to customize it. Each Theme comes with a guide for how to make it look like you want it to.
I spent 34 minutes doing a demo on the video, which included book cover design for my example client!
Then you add your information to the site. Here's a quick overview (and in the video at 23:34 mins, I take you on a whizz-around my sites!)
Pages are the static pages like About, Contact and your Book pages. Posts are used if you are blogging or podcasting, but that isn't necessary for authors. It's only if you want to produce regular content. Widgets are used for the front page, sidebars, top and bottom area and are important for the extra links you want to show. Plugins are extra little add-ons that let you do cool stuff e.g. add social share buttons.
For more WordPress tutorials, I recommend WP101.com, which will guide you through everything you need to know.
Or you can just muddle through with trial and error, as I did, and still do to some extent! As long as you're happy to play around and you back your site up (Tools -> Backup), you'll be fine.
Book Marketing: Start building your email list [30:01 on video]
One of the most important things you can do to market your book is collect emails from people who might be interested in buying it.
You can start this as soon as you have a website, or if your book is available already, you can start now as well. It's like that old saying about ‘when's the best time to plant a tree?' It's years ago, or it's today. Every day you wait is another day that goes by when you're not collecting interested people's email!
Not starting an email list early is one of the top things that people regret, so definitely put it on your list!
There are two services that most authors use: I use and recommend Aweber. You can also use Mailchimp. Either is fine.
Each site will enable you to create a form on your website by copying and pasting some code. (It's easier than it sounds and there are plenty of tutorials at either site.) Then you can start collecting emails.
Just having a simple form on your site is a good start, but if you want to really build your list, you will need something that makes people want to sign up.
For your freebie, it needs to be some useful or inspirational for non-fiction and entertaining for fiction.
There are lots of options, but there are definitely ways to supercharge your email list signups.
I recommend watching the free video training series from Nick Stephenson on building your first 10,000 readers.
So there you are.
You now have your own author website with a professional looking Theme and you can start capturing emails of interested readers.