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March 14, 2013

Do Authors Need a Website and Blog?

Blackboard with http://www and question mark with text: Free? Paid?

Today I’m opening two workshops to help beginners set up websites and blogs. With that in mind, I want to go back to “step one” and review why authors might need a website and blog.

Years ago, authors could get away with pounding on their typewriter in seclusion and never interacting with the public. Now the expectations that go along with 24/7 connectivity mean we don’t get that choice. Our choice instead is: How much interaction do we want to have?

Do we want to keep it to a minimum, or do we want to build an online network? Do we just want to play with other writers and soak up the atmosphere? Or do we want to connect with others who can help our writing become a business that provides income?

As with many things, there’s no “one right answer” to how far we should emerge from our writing caves. The best choice for us will depend on our goals.

Are We Serious about Our Writing Career?

If we’re serious about our writing career, especially about making it a business, there’s one answer that’s close to a requirement. We at least need a website.

Yes, I’m making a statement and saying that as soon as we’re serious about becoming a career-focused writer, we should make two decisions:

It’s okay if we each put that “I’m serious about writing” line somewhere different. Some of us will know we’re serious as soon as we obsess over a story idea. Some of us won’t know until much later.

But by the time we’ve completed a manuscript that we’re submitting to agents or editors, we should have an online presence and be Google-able. Of all the different ways to create a Google listing, only a website makes us Google-able and gives us an online home with minimal maintenance.

Whether we take that website one step further and add a blog depends on our goals once again. Either way, using our author name (pen name, if applicable) in the URL (the http://ourname.com web address) will help people find us.

Goal of a Website: Make Our Author Name Google-able

Being Google-able is one of the most important goals for writers who treat their career as a business. Published authors use a website to be Google-able so their readers can find more stories to read. Unpublished authors use a website to be Google-able to other writers—and to agents and editors.

Wait…Agents and editors might Google our name, even when we’re a “nobody” unpublished writer? Absolutely, especially once we’ve completed and started submitting a full manuscript. They might search on our name to see if we’re professional, understand the industry, or have other stories they find interesting.

Goal of a Blog: Make Our Author Name Show up in Related Searches

The main difference between a website and a blog is that a website has several “static” (rarely changing) pages and a blog has a single page with the most recent post on top. If we simply want to be Google-able in case someone searches for our author name, a website is enough. If we want potential readers to find us when they search for things related to us, a blog will show up in wider search results.

The best way to make our website—and thus our author name—show up higher in search results is to attach a blog to our website. Like the proverbial squeaky wheel, Google pays attention to sites that change more frequently, such as those updated with regular blog posts.

If You’re Going to Blog, Do It Right

Some writers want to blog for personal reasons, like an online journal. Personal blogs that aren’t about building up their author name can be run as the author sees fit (to a point). But if we blog to help spread our author name and/or improve our Google-ability, we have to learn which techniques will produce the best results.

For example, some authors have blogs on Blogger or another platform and a website somewhere else. That set-up doesn’t help their ranking in Google as it would if their website and blog were integrated.

The stand-alone blog’s traffic, no matter how high, won’t help the unrelated website rise in the search results. In many cases, visitors to the blog won’t know the author even has a website, so they won’t be tempted to click around and discover what the author has to offer. My website and blog are an example of how they can be connected, giving readers more to explore.

Another issue to watch out for is that a bad blog—unused/abandoned or unprofessional—can be worse than no blog. Google likes seeing regular updates (new blog posts), and agents and editors like seeing a writer who won’t be difficult to work with.

So if someone with no experience decides they want a website and blog, where do they start?

No Experience with Websites or Blogs? No Problem

Last summer I presented the workshop “Develop a Free Author Website in 60 Minutes (or Less!)” at the National Conference of Romance Writers of America. At the request of Kristen Lamb, I’m bringing that workshop, along with a twin workshop, “A Newbie’s Guide to Building a Self-Hosted Blog or Website,” to WANA International for two separate live webinars.

These two workshops are designed for people who have no knowledge of WordPress, websites, or blogs. People should sign up for only one of the workshops:

Readers of my blog can get $5 off by using the promo code: Jamisave. (*psst* My newsletter subscribers will receive a special code for twice the savings.)

In future posts, I’ll share more information to help the undecideds figure out whether they want to take the path of a free website or a paid website. As I said at the top of the post, it all depends on your goals. *grin*

Those of us online tend to forget that a huge percentage of writers aren’t online. Many local writing groups are filled with writers who don’t have a clue. People who attended my workshop at RWA last summer thanked me for making the information clear and non-intimidating. With your assistance in spreading the word, I hope to help more writers embrace their online potential. Thank you!

Do you have a website or blog? If you have one and not the other, what made you decide on that approach? What goals do you have for being online? Are your website and blog connected? Do you know writers who would benefit from a beginner’s level workshop like this?

What do you think?

46 Comments on "Do Authors Need a Website and Blog?"

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Taurean Watkins
At present, I only have a blog, which I’ve had to put on hiatus since late last year, for LOTS of reasons, but I can assure you, Jami, not caring was NOT one of them. Now that I have a book coming out (Not this year, far as I know) I know I need a website, the problem is what I write has changed a lot since I started my blog. I wanted my niche to be “Animal Fantasy for any age and stage” and to highlight books and authors who don’t follow the popular models often accosciated with this kind of story. I still want to carve that niche, but since Dec 2010 when I started my blog, I experimented with other genres, So I’m currently trying to work out how to bridge three key facets of my author image- Animal Fantasy Books outside the “Animal Fantasy” niche Thoughts on writing and other writers Frankly, I think it’s HARDER for writers who aren’t singular in what they write. Some writers JUST write picture books Some writers ONLY write readers and chapter books Some ONLY write MG Some ONLY write YA or Adult Those are just specifics regarding readership, then you add genres and things really get complicated, if you write MORE than one type of story. Ideally, I’d like to have one site, but separated in portals, so people can see there’s more than one side to me, and go to the parts they most relate to or are… Read more »
Kerry Gans

I have both (actually, I’m a regular on 2 blogs–one personal, one a group). I do have a link from my personal blog to my website and vice versa, but they are not integrated as you suggest. My problem is that I do not want the landing page of my website to be my blog. I want it to be my home page so people can know immediately what I’ve got to offer, not just a blog.

Carradee

I have both. I do believe writers need at least one of them. But both? Not necessarily.

But I have both because I’m a chatterbox, and my blog gives me somewhere to wax poetic about things I want to say, somewhere that the only folks reading it are (probably) interested in what I’m saying. 🙂

Rhenna Morgan

Good advise as always, Jami. (Wish I’d read it about a year ago…but, oh well! You guys are getting me on track now.)

Melinda S. Collins

Thanks for all the advice, Jami!

This is very well-timed since I’m getting my official author site underway and got hooked up with WordPress. 😀 I agree that the days of the authors with little to no online presence are fading quickly.

These days everyone is online, and everyone is seeking a personal connection. With so many options for books, movies, TV shows, etc., it’s the personal connection to the brand behind the product that decides whether or not a person will purchase and remain loyal to a brand (I see this in action every day in the insurance industry, too). And not only purchase and remain loyal, but also share the brand with their friends and family. So an online presence *is* getting to the point of becoming a requirement for authors.

As for the site, I’m not entirely a *newbie*, but I am still learning the ropes and playing around with everything. I can’t wait to get the site set-up to a point of “I’m okay with this for right now.” 🙂 I’m sure it’ll be a WIP for a while, so that’s not holding me back. I just want to be more comfortable with the site and its innerworkings before launching.

It’s also kind of hard to spend some time on it because then you get sucked into the project and the next thing you know it’s 3am. LOL! 🙂

Thanks again for another great post, Jami!

Amanda

Psst, Jami, I know PLENTY of writers who would benefit from your class 🙂

Anyway. I have a blog, and I learned something interesting: typing in my name without my middle initial (K) brings up tons of references to actress Amanda Bynes. Apparently Google thinks I’m mispelling my own name. But if I type in Amanda K Byrne, my blog is the first thing that pops up.

Which actually brings me to two questions: when I query, I don’t use the K in my signature, but I DO include my blog address. Do you think it’d be a good idea to start signing those queries Amanda K Byrne? I’ve got this sneaking suspicion I’ll end up having to use it anyway once I’m published (because of the aforementioned Google problem). My other question is I recently changed the name of my blog. The top search result is the old name, and I don’t want that coming up in searches anymore. Do you know how to get rid of it? You can click on it and it still takes you to my blog, but it might confuse people because the blog name is different.

Thanks for your help, Jami! And in response to your question about blog vs. website-for the time being, I’m happy with just a blog. I may never go the route of a website. The WordPress templates are easy to use and I can maintain it myself, which I love. Why fix something that isn’t broke?

Gloria Oliver

Hi, Jami!

I have a website and a blog at both blogger and wordpress.com. Weirdly enough I find that different types of people hook up differently on the two platforms, which is why I’ve kept both up.

I do think you should look at blogger again. I own my own website http://www.gloriaoliver.com and I was able to (for Free!) reroute my blogger blog to http://blog.gloriaoliver.com Even better, blogger and wordpress.com allow you to add tabs with extra pages to your blog. So I have my novels on a tab and I also have a tab for my website. On blogger, touching the tab will automatically take you to my site. On wordpress.com the tab I made shows a link, which can then be clicked to take people to the site.

I am always amazed at all the extra stuff both of these blogging sites provide. New capabilities show up all the time!

Good like with the seminars. I know you’ll knock ’em dead. 🙂

Gloria Oliver

Wow…”Good like” Wow. Okay…I’ll try again… Good LUCK with the webinars!

Rinelle Grey

My website and blog are both set up through wordpress. Easy to use, but with lots of functionality if you know what you’re doing. I’m still setting it up, and adding new features, but I’m pretty happy with how it is now. I definatly noticed my blog posts coming up higher in google, so I think having the two together is the way to go.

Kimmydonn

Good article, Jami. I recently (okay like 18 months ago) quit my blog to shift to my website. It doesn’t have a separate ‘blog’ but I can post articles to the main page, but it has tabs to my books, buy links in the margins, etc. etc. My penname doesn’t have a webpage, just a blog. I don’t really want to make her a webpage for the reasons you’ve listed here. Again, I have pertinent information in the margins/header so people can find the information they need.

I’m a terrible blogger. I’m not consistent and I’ve never had luck coming up with a ‘theme’ that keeps me going. Right now, I’m participating in BlogFlash which gives me a prompt each weekday. I don’t know what I’m going to do when the month is over. Probably my page will go without an update for a week or two. *sigh* My penname has no problems! She interviews on top of having four weekly features. She’s set. I only wish my non-erotic half could get the ball rolling. 🙁 I haven’t had the same lucky finding non-sexy features that repeat weekly.

Vanessa
Vanessa

Hi Jami,

I have heard from several agents that it’s recommended that an unpublished author should have a blog and a goodreads account along with social networking on twitter. There really isn’t a reason for an author not to have a Goodreads or twitter to interact with authors. Following authors on Twitter and asking them things? Like How many books did it take until you got an agent? Is small press or self publishing the way to go. I have a blog and when I get something published I will make a website. Even a blog can get your online presence in the foot of the writing world. Plus a website can get a little expensive for an author just starting out.

Thanks for letting me comment!

Linda Adams - Soldier, Storyteller

I have both. I had the website before blogs become popular. I’ve had some professional graphics experience, which means the site looks good, but I don’t have enough skills to qualify as a professional web designer. I also have made an effort that both my site and my blog are accessible to screen readers for the blind. I’ve seen a lot of disabled fans at cons, so this is more common than people believe.

For the blog, I recently abandoned all attempts at platform. It’s tough for a fiction writer come up with topics for a “platform” and I sucked at it. I could never figure out a way to connect to readers, and after 2 years of this, I decided I was better off blogging about writing. Yeah, everyone says not to blog about writing, but it’s the one area where I can connect. The most important thing to me is to make sure my relatively common name ranks high in the search engines.

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Kyla

I’ve recently started writing on a new blog rather than the one I abandoned. I hope to use it to get myself in control and make this writing career a reality instead of just a dream.

Thanks for another great post, sorry I’ve taken so long to write you again, and it’s good to see you’re still going strong!

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It is so important for any business to be online and have a presence. Authors are no different, but because of our trade people are likely to be more critical. It means the blog needs to be top quality.
Great post, thanks!

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