This is the first of a four part series, to be published every Friday. This week will focus on the technicalities of setting up an author platform, from choosing a good name to hosting options.
So, you’ve made the decision – you’ve researched your favourite authors and seen what they all have in common: a website, or a ‘platform’ as it is more suitably dubbed. Joanna Penn has one, David Gaughran has one. But where do you start? What’s all this technical rubbish about domain names, self-hosting, blah blah?
Fret no more – this series of posts will act as a guide on your journey from anonymous author to someone with a thriving platform.
Setting up a platform may seem overwhelming, but believe me, it’s a lot more simple when you have someone to help you through the process. That’s what I’m here for.
I’d recommend reading this post before starting the process, by the way. I’m more of a tip-sharing, give you the freedom to do what you want, sort of teacher.
So, shall we begin?
What is an author platform?
An author platform is the foundation upon which everything else is built. It’s the web that brings social media, book purchase links, contact info, and blogging together in one place.
You can sell your books via your author platform, you can reach out to readers via your author platform. It’s yours to do what you want with it.
Currently, lets say you use your Facebook page as your primary source of focus. That’s cool, but really, how do you expect others to find you? Y’know, the people who use search engines to find blog content, and those who still resist Zuckerberg’s empire?
You want something that is yours. Although unlikely, Facebook could collapse any second now. If you’ve invested everything in them, then your entire web presence goes crumbling down with them. Is that a risk you want to take?
Plus, risks aside, having a website of your own looks much more professional than just a Facebook page. A Facebook page should complement your website, and vice versa. If you have a website, you’ll look like you mean business.
What do I need?
An author platform can consist of a number of core ingredients, but here are the basic three:
– A website
– A blog
– Social media accounts
Today, we’re going to focus on the technicalities of setting the website/blog up, killing two fat birds with one hefty stone. The idea of setting up a website is still a mammoth decision in the minds of many, but sites like WordPress make it rather simple.
First though, I want you to ask yourself a question.
wordpress.com or wordpress.org?
WordPress is the biggest open-source blogging tool in the world. Professionals and amateurs alike use it, primarily due to its customisability and simplicity. I know there are competitors out there, like Blogger, but WordPress is just a personal preference. I’ve tried Blogger, and felt a little ‘boxed in’, but by all means give it a shot if you want. Google ‘set up blogger’ and you’ll be met with a list of helpful links.
Now, back to WordPress.
What is the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org?
WordPress.com is free, and a breeze to use. You simply register a yourname.wordpress.com account, sign in, fill in a few boxes, pick a snazzy layout, and everything is in place. If it’s ease of use you’re looking for, I’d highly recommend using a wordpress.com website. Even if it’s just to play around with the options, give it a shot and see how it goes.
WordPress.org is a little more complex to set up, and there are costs, but once everything is in place, it’s just as easy to use as wordpress.com, and infinitely more effective. The main difference is that WordPress.org is software, which you download and install on the ‘web host’ of your choice. WordPress.com, on the other hand, is all online. WordPress.org’s benefits? It’s more customisable, there are more layouts on offer, and there is simply more you can do with it. It’s your WordPress.
Really, the decision comes down to a few things.
Are you looking for complete ease of use? Do you not mind being limited in your layout and sidebar options?
Give wordpress.com a spin. It’ll help you get the hang of blogging, and you can always switch to self-hosted in the future. I did, and despite some reported horror stories, it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Once you go self-hosted, you never go back.
If you want to give WordPress.org a shot, then there are few things we’d usually have to talk about. We’d have to go into the technicalities of signing up for a hosting website like Bluehost to hold your files, amongst other things.
Fortunately, one website shortcuts this whole process. They are called outstandingSETUP, and I found them myself through Duolit’s great piece on building an author website. Basically, they do everything for you – set up a domain name, host your WordPress site, choose a theme. For $19 a month, I’d say its well worth the investment. If I’d known about outstandingSETUP when I signed up, I’d have gone with it, 100%.
If you don’t want to use outstandingSETUP for whatever reason, then you’ll need to get a little more technical.
Firstly, head over to WordPress.org and download the software.
Then, head over to BlueHost.com and register for a hosting account.
Once you’ve done that, all you need to do is watch this helpful video tutorial, and you’ll be flying. I’m going to talk about domain names, etc in a moment, so don’t do this just yet.
What should I name my website?
One of the most common technicality questions, and a place where many stumble, is naming a website and author platform. Should I name it after myself, or my book? What if my name is already taken?
Firstly, I’d name your author platform after yourself, unless you want loads of websites for all your books, which I wouldn’t recommend. It’s also okay if your book sort of is your platform, say if it’s a series or whatever. Stuart Meczes is a good example of an author who has used his HASEA Chronicles series as the basis of his platform effectively.
Otherwise, I’d check to see if yourname.com is taken via this domain name searcher. If it is already taken (mine was), try adding yournameBOOKS.com or yournameWRITES.com. Play around and see what you can come up with.
Okay, so lets just run through that briefly so we’re all ready to go next week. Homework, people, is:
– Decide whether you want a WordPress.com or WordPress.org website
– WORDPRESS.ORG ONLY: Sign up to OutstandingSetup/follow tutorial on setting up WordPress site
– Choose a name for your website
Now, after this, you should have a basic looking website in place. Congratulations, that’s all there is to it!
Next week, we’ll focus on turning the skeleton of your website into a blossoming author platform. We’ll talk about the sorts of pages you need on there, as well as the importance of picking a good design theme.
Have a great week!
Are there any setup advice tips you’d like to share, or is there anything else you’d like to know? I’d like this series to be constantly evolving and am looking to add to it as necessary, so please drop a comment if there’s anything in phase one you’d like explaining!
Image of platform courtesy of johnharveytolson via Flickr/Wordpress logo courtesy of Adriano Gasparri via Flickr
“What’s all this technical rubbish about domain names, self-hosting, blah blah?” Haha!
Very informative post, Ryan. Especially for those of us who are new to the writing and publishing game. I was also on Blogger for about six months. It was okay, but I wanted complete freedom with my online home. Not to mention I didn’t want yeseniavargas.BLOGSPOT.com as my website. I feel like it makes you seem a bit less professional.
One day in May, I stumbled across exactly how to set up a self-hosted WordPress site on my own, and out of an impulse, I did it. Best. Decision. I. Have. Ever. Made. You’re right. You’ll never go back! Having a self-hosted site is more work and requires more know-how, but honestly, I enjoy learning from my mistakes and from online tutorials. I’ve always been a DIY kind of person.
The website I stumbled across is an AWESOME resource for anyone who wants to set up their own self-hosted WordPress website. The tutorials are completely free, and she’s even revamping the series right now. There are videos and step-by-step instructions and she’ll answer questions on her Facebook page. The site is called http://bloggingwithamy.com, run by Amy Lynn Andrews. I highly recommend her for anyone who wants to set up the most important part of their platform: a self-hosted site. I hope this helps!
Thanks for the comment, Yesenia.
Interesting to hear about your experiences with Blogger. I agree regarding the professional look of the thing, although there are some fantastic sites that still keep the .wordpress/.blogspot extension, so I guess content is king. But I agree with you – just a personal preference more than anything, really.
Thanks for sharing the fantastic resource, too. I’ve had a little look through and it seems like there are some great things on there, so I’d second your opinion. New bloggers/writers – check it out!
I have a WordPress.com site for a personal blog I started years ago. When I wanted to start a second blog I went with Blogspot. Nice thing is that if you do & change your mind, WordPress offers a plugin to import content. When I hired someone to do my new author site she used the free WordPress. I then paid the $18 to get my domain. Since I work with computers all day I don’t mind the limitations. I just want to do these very simple things.
Thanks for the comment Mary. It’s interesting to hear your input. I wasn’t aware that WordPress offered an importing option, so that’s really cool if anyone were to change their mind.
You’re right about using the free WordPress then paying a bit extra for your own domain – that’s a route I’ve gone down before with a music site I ran in a previous life, and it worked great for me. I guess really it’s about asking yourself what you want from your website. Blogger/WordPress.com/Blogspot are all very effective and do a great job, and if you’re happy with the limitations, then that’s cool.
At the end of the day, WordPress.com still offers nice site designs, and some good sidebar widgets, so it’s hard not to recommend WordPress.com as an option. I personally prefer the freedom of self-hosting, but again, it’s all about content. Content is king!
great post! thanks, I hope that I will be able to implement your advice and build a great author platform! Thanks again!
Chidinma Stella Onuoha