Why Authors Need a Website

10 Minute Or Less Read Time
Why you need an author website.

Building Readership, Avoiding Development Snares, & Reducing Cost, & Risk

You’re an author struggling for readership and have limited funds. I know the feeling. Trying to build an audience and web presence challenges even famous writers, but they have millions to spend on advertising, and we don’t, so our struggle is a bit more daunting. This challenge further clarifies when thoughts turn to website development, and we find many easy (too easy) solutions juxtaposed with expensive options. Looking at popular author websites, reviewing the various options, and realizing money limitations entices us to choose one of those seemingly easy solutions, despite knowing a catch awaits. Don’t do it! Those easy answers contain many pitfalls for the unsuspecting author, which upon learning, guides you to proper website construction, avoiding costly mistakes, perhaps even saving your life.

Avoiding the Development Snare

In 2007, the pursuit of my authorship dream began with a domain purchase, my first website constructed with Yahoo’s free website building tool and offering to write anything for a dollar. Already having some coding knowledge helped, but forged from no web design experience, the site looked horrible yet made money. Rebuilding the site in 2009, thinking I learned much in two years, produced a different but equally horrible-looking site that successfully expanded business enough to ditch my shitty job. By 2011 the enterprise outgrew Yahoo’s capability, needing new hosting and another redesign, which I performed, having acquired expert knowledge since 2009. Considerable time and money went to this endeavor, to which I scoffed,

“No big deal!”

The business made tons of money from writing web content, business research, and reselling academic papers. With time to poeticize and hammer prose from the keyboard, the dream of best-selling author ever neared, making life grand!

Blinded by hubris and inexperience, I sabotaged the website’s rebuild and hosting transfer with a simple mistake. At the same time, dramatic search engine changes occurred, which, combined with my mistake, stole all site traffic and $100,000 in annual revenue.

The disaster launched a bitter quest to learn search engine optimization (SEO) and web design, but earning the big bucks would not occur again until 2016. By that point, a nagging sense of SEO, social media, and digital marketing wasting time grew in ever longer work hours. Somehow learning about websites pushed me off course from my original authorship goal to become a freelance web developer and content marketer with less personal time than the first crap job I left. The great love of writing that launched a rebellion against nine-to-five became a six to seven-day workweek, ending only when a heart attack in 2018 caused debilitating congestive heart failure, forcing the closure of my business, requiring three years to recover, and costing a bazillion dollars.

Any description of this trap fails to convey the ease of ensnarement.

Making the same mistake countless people make in building a website, I allowed web development and SEO to distract me from my job — writing. Let’s be clear; I am not teaching you to build websites; I am teaching you to build an author website. I am not teaching you SEO; I am teaching you to optimize your author website. I am not teaching you to market your website; I am teaching you to build an audience using your author website. Following this approach, you will invest considerable time and a reasonable amount of money, but you will stay on target. More importantly, you won’t lose hundreds of thousands of dollars and need to eat low salt for the rest of your life.

Why You Need a Website

Every author needs a website because you cannot depend on anyone to provide you audience. Publisher and agent representation evidences the necessity to build a proper website since reliance on agents or publishers might form an impediment to digitally building readership. My negativity toward publishers may blind me, but looking at the websites of authors represented by large publishing houses tends to make me think publishers either have no knowledge of digital audiences or they don’t give a shit. Possibly they make enough sales using their distribution methods and advertising to not bother with internet audiences but visit any large publisher, look up their authors, and you will find many do not have websites or poorly maintained ones.

On March 14, 2022, I visited Random House’s website and investigated the nine books listed under their Featured Titles and found only two of the authors had websites of quality construction, with most looking outdated, abandoned, or shabby.

Random Books
From Random Books

Websites and my first impressions:

  • Dan Frey —Couldn’t find a website.
  • Ali Benjamin —Website — Okay, Poorly Maintained — Built on Squarespace
  • Jennifer E. Smith —Website — Looks Shabby — Built on Squarespace
  • Benjamin Gilmer —Website — Okay — Built on WordPress
  • Bob Odenkirk —Website — Horribly Outdated, Poorly Maintained — Built on WordPress
  • Delilah S. Dawson —Website—Outdated, Poorly Maintained — Built on Squarespace
  • Allison Pataki —Website — Looks Good, Could Use More Engaging Content — Built on WordPress
  • Jeremy Denk — Website— Very Nice, Engaging, Blog could use newer content— Built on WordPress
  • Hanif Abdurraquid —Website —Little Shabby, Needs More Content — Built on Squarespace

~Any author listed here who updates their site, please let me know, and I will update this page.

Of the nine author websites, only Jennifer E. Smith, Allison Pataki, Jeremy Denk, and Hanif Abdurraquid seemed to have active sites, and none contained any engaging content beyond announcements for books or related media other than Denk’s, which could have used some new material. Since people Google everything, reliance on advertising seems foolish, especially in light of millennials and Zs: two cohorts adept at recognizing and resisting advertising.

Keep in mind some authors listed are not exclusively writers by trade, such as pianist Jeremy Denk, and they may have little need for a website. Still, ignoring such a large audience channel seems ridiculous for anyone with a book. Publishers, in most instances, leave website responsibility to the author, and it seems unlikely they impart the site’s importance since so many writers share digital deficiency. The lack of a website becomes even more absurd, imagining the number of consumers Googling authors when presented books through advertising or word of mouth.

No one engages your audience for you.

More than a bookstore, your website serves as a digital base, similar to a multinational corporation’s headquarters. Your headquarters should engage the reader with writing beyond biography and announcements. Looking around at famous writers, companies, stars, musicians, and other celebrities might make you assume social media takes precedence over a website, which is a mistake. A variety of reasons make this thinking erroneous, but essentially, you are not a star with tremendous notoriety or a company with millions of dollars to create a social media audience. Social media works on popularity determined by algorithms, and if you have no fame or money for ads, these sites will not help you. This fact is especially pertinent for authors because of social media design and low conversion rates.

Similarly, authors publish on Amazon and fail to build or upkeep a website, relying on advertising. Amazon pay-per-click ads will likely fail because advertising needs to be maintained for a considerable time, costing dollars that most authors don’t have. You can burn through thousands of dollars figuring out how advertising works — if it does at that cost.

Social journalism sites, like Medium, are also not a substitute for a website. Even if you are making money on a social journalism site, you still don’t have complete control, and you place yourself at risk. In 2009, I wrote articles on Associated Content and became the victim of censorship, killing most of my revenue when a creationist reported my articles for religious intolerance. Amazingly enough, Associated Content agreed despite the creationist’s articles calling people derogatory names and spreading lies.

Never trust any website except your own!

Website survival rates are low. As a writer, any site hosting your articles could shut down the next day. Worse than shutting down, these sites can rapidly change overnight, rendering them worthless. Many YouTubers felt the sting of change when YouTube began demonetizing many accounts by “tightening” advertising policies on the site.

All website terms of use are “interpretable” for the reason of getting rid of you when necessary.

YouTube loosely enforced content policies from startup until years later, when corporations began advertising. Needing to appease sponsors who did not want particular videos associated with their products, YouTube vigorously enforced rules. This problem is not new, and many social journalism sites and commercial writing sites failed due to growth, internal, financial, and other changes. Often just because of market forces. Even if you make money via social journalism, prudence demands a website even if it doesn’t make money in the short term because you need a fallback position for your content.

Let’s say you ignore everything said so far and decide, “That Vince is an asshole. I’m not paying for a website because I heard Medium is free and pays. I’m going there.” You sign up for a free Medium account, make a profile that forms the URL yourmistake.medium.com, and manage to get the required hundred followers quickly, publishing an article a day to earn thousands of dollars a month.

Life is looking good until five years later when Medium sends out a notification, “It’s been fun, but we’re closing the doors in thirty days.” You now have a problem having not prepared for this contingency. To clarify, free sites, like Medium, offer user accounts, but these profiles are not built on top-level domains (xyz.com), negatively impacting how the site ranks in search engines and worse yet removing your ability to control that authority.

By not connecting the domain yourmistake.com to replace yourmistake.medium.com, which Medium offers, you have a thirty-day window to buy a domain matching your profile, set up hosting, build a website, and redirect all the URLs from your Medium articles or pay someone to do it. (Think thousands of dollars!)

If you don’t do it this way, you lose all authority given your articles by search engines no matter where you republish them. No one will find you because your profile will be gone when people search and click on Medium’s dead links, until even they finally disappear from search engines. Worse still, Medium’s thirty-day closing will likely not give search engines time to index the new pages even if you managed to pull off the transfer of material.

There are many issues with this scenario that should horrify you, such as your amazing writing falling into the wrong hands. Every day someone steals someone else’s content and posts it somewhere. For example, one of my articles translated into French resides without permission on a foreign website, which occurred over a year ago when the article was on Medium.

International theft of copyright is next to impossible to fight.
International theft of copyright is next to impossible to fight.

Luckily, I transferred the article with authority so that this reprinting doesn’t rank in search or harm my website’s authority. There is no practical or cost-effective way to control this problem, BUT if you move your article away and don’t have a website, you won’t be able to properly redirect traffic and risk search engines giving authority to the stolen material. If you write good articles, people steal them, and as hard as companies work to stop theft, and trust me, they work hard because they want their site to rank high, it is impossible to stop article theft. That is just one of many terrible scenarios that could happen using free sites without a website.

You would be amazed how many prominent Medium authors have no contingency to protect their content.

Free sites are often more stringent with free accounts, like WordPress, which doesn’t allow advertising books. I had a free WordPress years ago and misinterpreted their advertising rule to mean only affiliate links, which I didn’t use, so I linked to a low-cost eBook on my site. WordPress unapologetically removed the articles, and when politely asked why, they responded, and I’m not exaggerating, “It’s our policies, and you were told.”

Any article can be reported at any time on a free WordPress.
Any article can be reported at any time on a free WordPress.

Free sites do not give you complete control, proving extremely problematic later, such as when I needed to upgrade from Yahoo. As time progresses and you add content to your site, moving that content later becomes a daunting, costly task. Control and many more technical reasons apply to Blogger, Wix, Weebly, or any free blogging platform, making an author’s website necessary.

An author website ensures you don’t suffer serious financial, emotional, and time-wasting consequences. This headquarters will also provide a central point for you to easily control your digital presence by providing a connection point for social media, other websites, and most of all, for obtaining readers.

Your Website Provides the Focal Point for Internet Search and Social Media

Your Website Headquarters
Your Website Provides the Focal Point for Internet Search and Social Media

Your Passion for Writing

We will further discuss ideas presented in this series, but for now, consider your seriousness with writing because websites come with a cost. While we can keep the cost relatively low, you still need to invest time to build and maintain a website.

Many authors lack the passion for improving and building authorship. Many internet writing stars exhibit this trait, having lucked into audiences with careless writing meant only to make a few dollars before their articles vanish into the digital ether. Besides poor, derivative writing, their lack of a website reflects uncaring. They likely won’t make the long run to success, or they’ll jump from one social journalism site to the next, hoping to repeat the digital formula. In a different article, I discuss the nature of these writers in more detail, and sadly they are the lucky ones. You roll the same dice as them if you lack the willingness to invest money and time into your writing career. If your craft provides the literary value needed to engage, then the time and money invested in an author website will yield readership.

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