Photo by Hal Gatewood on Unsplash
A few weeks ago, I was catching up with one of my writer friends. We became close when our novels were published by the same micro-press. Their marketing was non-existent (more on that later), and an interview I’d done with her after its release was one of its few pieces of publicity.
But she wasn’t bemoaning non-existent sales. In fact, she primarily works as a translator, and she’d recently been nominated as a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Translation. “Congratulations,” I said. “Put that on your website.”
“I don’t have one,” she replied. “Sometimes I post stuff on Facebook. Do you think anyone reads it?”
My inner marketer flung up her hands in horror. Target audience. Ideal reader. Building your list. Establishing authority. My friend was spurning these tenets to a writing career? But my inner artist was impressed. Damn, you can get this far without a website?
Now that I thought about it, her email signature had no hyperlinks, no cute icons, or cursive flourishes. But I’d been reading her next project, a thrillingly experimental memoir, and told her she had to have a website before she sent it to agents. She agreed that when she finished the manuscript, it would finally be time for one.
How long can you go?
My friend has been working in the writing industry for decades. She’s an acclaimed translator who supports her family with her work. and let’s say it one more time—she doesn’t have a website. Yes, she’s often paid by the project, not in royalties, but she also has her novel and future writing projects to think of. However, it has never been imperative to her success to have her work compiled on a website.
All of us humans, and especially us writers, have limited time and must decide how we spend it. As intimidating as it can be to leave the website field blank on QueryTracker, would you rather have poured all your precious resources into the query and manuscript? Or siphoned that energy into cobbling together a website?
Later, there might be a clear directive. Say you’re self-publishing your work and need a platform to connect readers with your books. Or your book has been traditionally published, and now a marketing team is telling you to make an author website. Depending where you are in your career, you may oscillate between writing and the business of being a writer. Unless, of course…
You truly want a website
My author website came at the inception of my literary career. A decade ago, I started reciting poetry at an open mic my friend ran out of his bookstore-apartment in Manhattan. At the time, I was working at a hectic start-up and composing poems in my head on my bike commute. Sometimes, I would even finish them on the subway ride to the poetry salon.
At the end of the night, as us poets got drunk enough to mingle, occasionally someone would ask where they could read my work. The answer was nowhere. I didn’t have time to submit to lit mags, much less find one who would publish my angsty bike poems.
There was a fairly easy solution to this problem, and one that I was eager to explore. I signed up for Squarespace, created a three-page website, typed up my poems on my typewriter, and posted them there. I chose Squarespace because they were hip, and we worked with them at my desk job. Also, my brother is a computer programmer, so I had a 24/7 tech support, plus he could do custom coding and make my site subtly pretty.
My inner artist has a strong sense of aesthetics so the design aspect was important. Though mostly, I loved the independence of knowing that I could guarantee my poems a place on the internet. For the first few years, I didn’t check website traffic and had no traditionally published work to link to. Yet as my writing career has evolved, so has my site.
Note: Besides the annual subscription, I didn’t invest any money into my website until its eighth year when I hired a photographer for headshots and product photos. Also note: I wasn’t paying myself or my brother for the hours we spent maintaining and beautifying it. If you’re not ready to invest the time or money (or you don’t have a nerdy family), consider these other options.
Expand your definition of website
An author website has the benefit of being an online storefront—a multifunctional space where you can sell books, compile your publications, write blog posts, and build your mailing list. However, there are other simpler and cheaper places to have a web presence where you can do much of this. One caveat is that you’ll have less autonomy, especially when it comes to building an email list, and in a worst-case scenario, could lose access or data if your account is compromised.
Here’s a short list of website alternatives:
- Carrd: A quick, one-page site that’s mainly your bio and social media links.
- Substack: The lit community’s seemingly new favorite newsletter service with archives and paid subscriptions.
- Patreon: A storefront to sell any self-published work, share writing, and receive donations from subscribers.
- LinkedIn & Facebook: Your profile page can serve as a compilation of your publications, and you can connect with other writers.
- Instagram, Twitter & TikTok: The classic platforms for photos, videos, and blurbs promoting your writing and any other endeavors or updates.
- Linktree: a single page to list your latest links. Works well when paired with other social media.
My guess is if you’re vying for a book deal, having thousands of followers on a social platform is more appealing than maintaining a glitchy website. Or, if you’re like me and my friend, and you’re published by a press that doesn’t do marketing, having any platform will help in selling your book.
Find your why & check inside
Before you start cropping profile pictures and twittering away, take a moment to find your why. In these moments of introspection, I often turn to journaling, walking, sitting quietly, or communing with a pet.
When I first made my website, I didn’t do any of that. My why was already clear: I wanted a place where I could share my writing. Eight years later, I’ve added links to published pieces, workshops, and resources, and my why has shifted. Now it’s to have an internet storefront which represents my writing, offerings, and helps others. It’s my way of joining the writers on the block and promising to sweep my section of the sidewalk.
Once you have your why, do another check inside. What’s the easiest way to start working toward this inner reason? and does the thought of creating what will get you there spark joy? Or is there a heavy dread that you’ll never figure this out?
Listen to your body’s reaction as you consider your options and choose one that doesn’t evoke hopelessness. Be as realistic as possible about the time, energy, and money you’re capable of investing into this endeavor. This planning and reflection will help your site’s longevity and let it be a project you sustain, rather than discard like a half-baked draft.
We can’t have it all
As I wander the rabbit warren of the internet, amidst the lush writers’ sites, I find arid, abandoned ones. The contact pages are blank, links don’t work, or there’s a lone mention of a novel published years ago. A website is a virtual garden—it requires maintenance, pruning, and consistent care. Yes, we all want to be authors with exquisitely crafted novels, flawless headshots, all the followers, and a pristine website to pull it together. It’s up to you do decide what you have time for and prioritize that on your writing path.
I hope this has been helpful as you consider your options. and I would love to hear from other writers–when did you decide to start to build an author site? and what’s your why for having a web presence?
Additional reading suggested by Jane (biased toward having a site):
Grace Bialecki is a writer, literary coach, and workshop facilitator who teaches for The Bridge and Hugo House. Her work has appeared in various publications including Catapult and Epiphany Magazine where she was a monthly columnist. Bialecki is the co-founder of the storytelling series Thirst, and the author of the novel Purple Gold (ANTIBOOKCLUB). In addition to writing, she’s completing her Mindfulness Meditation Teacher Certification through the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley.
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