To build a perfect author website for selling your books online you should:
Choose a platform
Pick a domain
Create important pages (About, Contact)
Create a rich product page
Add trust signals (Reviews, ratings)
Link to different sources to buy books (Marketplaces)
Add a blog
Add social profiles
Build email list
This is an example of a general answer you can find on other websites. And that's a good answer!
But we have a problem here.
We are book writers, not designers or developers. We don't want to waste our time on website building. Some of us don't even know why authors need websites at all. We want to write books! Most of us don't even have an idea what the website for book writers should look like!
To help you out with this and to ease your pain talking to a web agency or a freelance developer, I analyzed two hundred author websites and pulled together the best practices that I found practical, reasonable, and easy to use.
I'm a digital marketer, a book writer, and an SEO practitioner. So I know some stuff about websites and selling books online.
In This Article
This is a pretty long read, so here's a table of content to give you a clue of what's waiting ahead and give you a shortcut
The Best Platform for Building an Author Website
There are plenty of them. Honestly, there's no perfect one. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. But here're the key factors that matter for book writers in particular. The perfect platform for your future author website should be:
code-free. You don't want to spend money on developers each and every time you need to make changes to the website.
easy-to-manage. From editing text on the button to creating a landing page — everything should be easy and intuitive.
cloud-based. Never deal with servers. Seriously. If something goes wrong, to fix it, it will be something between "very expensive" and "impossible".
free or close to free. At least in the beginning. When you're just starting, you have to keep your expenses as low as possible.
Here's a list of the most popular website builders that meet these requirements (of course, you can find more online):
Wix (has a limited free plan)
WordPress.com (has a free plan)
Weebly (has a free plan)
Google Sites (free builder)
Perfect Elements for a Perfect Author Website
Once you choose a platform, it's time to start building. Each platform has its own toolset, so it's useless to describe the process. However, there are essential elements that you should have on your website and best practices for implementing these elements.
Needless to say that your website should have a domain. And while your website builder can have a free plan, a good domain always costs money. Good news — very little money. It can start from $3 per year and go up to $5 per year.
What's the perfect domain name for an author website? Of course your name! Any combination of your first name and last name is perfect. Some variants could be:
Some well-known authors create websites with their own domains for the hottest books they sell just to make sure they dominate page one of the Google search or to run a promo campaign.
If this tactic inspires you, and you want to give each of your books a website with the title of the book in the domain — go ahead, there's nothing criminal about this.
When people come to your website, they need to understand where they are and where to go. So your website has to have clear navigation — top main nave, footer, comprehensive blocks in the body of the page suggesting to visit different areas.
However, you don't want to give visitors just any link to follow. You want them to see your books or to tell them your story. Usually, they come for these two reasons.
So make sure you place the link to your books and to your bio to the main navigation and to the footer navigation.
Plus, if you have only one or two books, don't be shy to provide links to them on the top level of your main navigation.
Add a link to your books directory to the main nav
If you have many books, you can list all of them in the footer to give them maximum visibility and links.
List all your books in the footer. This way it's easier for users and search engines to find them.
You can create a page named "My books" and list all your books there with the links to Amazon. But since you have a website, why not create a separate page for each of your books? This will let you tell so much more about it — why you decided to write it, your characters' background, readers' opinion.
The book page is your main product page. So everything that helps visitors to make a purchasing decision belongs here:
Links to marketplaces (other places to buy your book)
Other books you have
Everything you can think of.
However, you have to feel the balance. Don't overwhelm the visitors with too much content. You can easily distract them from purchasing your book.
Here's an example of what a book page may look like.
Almost all book writers have blogs. And since writers love writing, it doesn't seem odd. We have thoughts, we have plans, we have difficulties with characters and plot development we want to share, we have releases and tours. Authors generate many news and communication opportunities.
The best shape for this stream of outbound information is a blog. Sometimes it's not typical and looks like a news feed, but in the core — it's all the same.
But are there any other reasons to have a blog on your author website, rather than generate traffic? I'd say, traffic shouldn't be the highest of your priorities. Since your website has your name on the door, you can speak about anything that worries or interests you. You can:
Review what you read
Advice meditation practices
Share your favorite recipes
Write open letters to politicians
Admire your favorite music genres
And a thousand more other things.
But why would you do that?
The best practices say that writing on various topics gives your website lots of buzz and generates backlinks. Bloggers and journalists are constantly searching for opinions of authoritative and respected resources and people. And since your website is both (it's a website carrying your name), and you have an audience of readers who trust and respect you, you can easily get featured in big media. Which will pay you back with traffic and higher brand (or name) awareness.
So keep writing!
Social sharing buttons and social profile links
Needless to say that mentioning your social profiles on your website is important to build trust and give readers another touchpoint to communicate with you as an author.
But what is the best place for them? The best practices say that the best place for sharing buttons is the top of your blogs. Blogs are the most shareable content. Product pages can be shared too, but colorful social sharing buttons can distract visitors from the "Buy" button, which is not something we want to do.
The best place to list your social profiles is the "About me" or "Bio" page, or "Contact me" page. It makes the most sense to start following you after reading your bio.
However, behavioral patterns demonstrate that website visitors usually scroll down to the footer if they want to find links for your social media profile. So make sure you have them there too.
Reviews are a must-have for your website. In the book writing industry, reviews mean the world, because they mean emotions. Discovering new emotions is precisely the reason why people read books.
The best place to showcase reviews is your product page, somewhere close to the "Buy" button. Usually, below it.
One of the unique features of an author website is a sample of your book. Your future readers want to make sure if the book inside is the same as outside. This is especially important for the new authors that don't have fans.
The sample doesn't have to be big, but long enough to captivate readers and make them want to read more. There are several options to add a sample to your website, and each of them is good as long as it doesn't take the reader far away from the buy button.
add a sample as a downloadable PDF near the buy button;
add a sample as a massive pop-up on the product page;
create a separate page for the sample and link to it from the product page.
Places to buy (options)
There're so many ways to sell and buy books online! For example:
on your website
on Google Play Books
on Apple Books
There're services, like BookBabe, that can add even more sales channels to your array. And this is amazing!
However, many authors forget to list these options on their websites, enabling readers to buy (and usually read) the way they prefer.
So try to list your primary sales channels on the product page. You don't have to give them too much space, because they can distract attention, but they should be there for those who will be searching for them.
Provide links to online stores and marketplaces where people can buy your books. Source: Veronica Theme
Book format types
Every new author's journey starts with an ebook these days. Meaning, ebooks are easier to publish and monetize than printed versions. Plus, they cost less and don't need space to store. Readers like ebooks and buy them more often.
However, it doesn't mean no one buys printed books anymore. They do! And for those, who want to have options — to buy an ebook or a printed book (paperback or hardcover) — you have to feature these options on your perfect website.
One important thing to know: even if you have a button "Buy on Amazon", you can modernize it to say "Buy ebook on Amazon" or "Buy a printed book on Amazon". Or provide additional links to Amazon but with book formats in the anchor at least to make the choice visible.
About author page
My gut feeling is telling me that I don't need to write a long explanation why this page is important — readers like your books, they like you, they want to know you better, your story, etc.
I'll skip that part and will highlight some points, coming from best practices, for you to consider:
Add a photo of yourself at an actual age. Your website is an official resource about you and its public. Journalists, media, and regular people may use your website content for their purposes. For example, your photo. And they will use the photo from your website because it's an official resource. So make sure you have a photo, it's good enough for the media, and it has good quality.
Write a short brief about yourself. This thick is very helpful for journalists and search engines. Plus, it's engaging for the visitors because they quickly get hooked by the highlights and want to continue reading. Some of the highlights may be:
Date of birth (not the age because you'll have to change it every year)
Country of residence
Family status: wife/kids or single
You can add anything you want to this list, depending on what you consider the most important information about your personality.
Write your story. The hardest part, but we need it. Start with your childhood and continue writing. I know that sometimes it's hard to share your memories and emotions about these memories, but you have to go through this. And if you don't want everyone to know too much about your past, don't post it! Write your story and publish only those parts that you think are appropriate.
Add more images illustrating your key life periods. Usually, it's a gallery with captions. Looking through this small photo album, readers' emotional connection with you and your books become stronger. They start feeling very close to you.
Social profiles. A short, but very important note here: add social profile links to your "About me" or "Bio" page. Thus your readers can follow you and stay connected.
Shipping and return/refund policies
If you sell physical books, you have to ship them. This means, just like any other online store, you have to have a shipping policy. It doesn't have to be complicated, but it has to describe the rules that you follow shipping the book and the rules the buyer has to follow to get this book. Thus, everyone will know what to expect and what to do.
Even if you sell only ebooks, having a page with a short description of what's going to happen after the purchase, will give your website some extra credibility. If a buyer will get a link to the PDF file with the ebook — say so and that will do.
Things get more complicated when it comes to returns. Legally, physical books are returnable. So hypothetically, readers can buy books, read them and return asking for a refund. That's why publishers and authors are allowed to manage their return and refund policies individually, based on their business model and community standards. You can accept returns, but decline refunds, offering coupons instead. You can offer a refund with another book. Or, you can restrict any returns and refunds, like it usually happens with digital products, like ebooks. Just because you can't guarantee it wasn't copied.
Whatever works for you as an author, stay transparent and tell your readers how you ship books and how you work with returns and refunds — create specific pages for each process and add them to the footer, a place where all websites place their policies.
Email subscription box
A subscription box is an element of a website that lets visitors provide their emails to get your news, blogs, or special offers directly to their inbox. It's convenient and keeps everyone connected.
Authors need to collect emails because it will be easier to launch another sale (would it be a new release or a special event) by sending out emails to the people that are waiting for them and are interested in what you have to offer.
The more emails you have — the more successful your release will be. Even if you don't use your website to sell books and drive people to your Amazon page, it's still beneficial to collect emails with your website. Because you can send your audience straight to Amazon. Big amount of purchases will trigger Amazon algorithms and your book will jump on top of Amazon search and recommendations, which will double the impact.
Design and Layout Advice For Book Writer Websites
Now, when you know what elements you can use to make your author website convenient and effective, time to talk about design and how to place these elements on the key pages.
The colors create the mood. And this mood has to match your style. This means that if you are a horror writer, using light blue color for your website background and pink for the buttons would be something odd. Instead, you'd rather use black or dark gray for the background and red for the buttons. This color combination would create the correct mood for your visitors and make their experience comfortable.
I'm not a designer and won't teach you color theory, but my advice would be:
use 3-5 colors throughout the website and avoid any other colors
use the most conspicuous color for the buy buttons
give your main nav and footer the most inconspicuous one
don't focus on colors until you have all content you need on the website
try to use your website platform default color schemes if they provide them
Usually, the homepage of any website gets most of the traffic, unless you run ad campaigns that send potential buyers to the product pages.
Your homepage is a hall of your online house. From there, visitors should be able to get to the most important sections of your website. Our task is to give them directions and help them make a decision.
Give them the books right away
If you're not a world-famous writer, people will come to your website to find your book. The reasons may vary — they read one of your books and search for more, or they are looking for a better price. So, why make them wait?
Place your books (the covers and the links to the product pages) right at the top of the homepage. Make the shopping journey for the visitors shorter.
Have you recently released a new book? The top of your website homepage is the best place to tell everyone about it and promote it.
Claim the website or introduce yourself
If you're a well-known author, especially in the non-fiction industry, you may want to start your homepage by welcoming online surfers on your official website. Add a top block with your image on the cover to let people know they found the right place if they want to learn more about you, claim your website is official.
However, the best practices say that if you sell books, not courses or services (as an author), placing books first is more beneficial. The second block of your homepage is perfect to introduce yourself and provide a link to your biography page.
If you have more than one book, it's time to show them here. Especially if you decided to showcase only one (the best or the latest) of them on the top.
Add a gallery of your books in this block and make sure they link to product pages or websites where people can buy them.
Interesting fact, but sometimes people buy books not because they liked the author or another book by him, but because they liked the reviews about the book! And that's not a rare thing.
On your homepage, find a spot to showcase what people say about your books. Choose the most emotional and descriptive. And don't forget to add a link to the book which was reviewed. Many authors forget to link reviews with the books, I hope you won't. This tiny trick is very helpful for the readers that don't know much about you, and hesitate, yet are interested.
News or blog
Depending on your approach, you may have a blog or public news on your website. Regardless of your strategy, it's time to reflect that on the homepage.
Add a gallery of the most interesting posts from your blog or a list of the latest news. Usually, three blogs or news is enough to catch attention. Also, place a link to the blog itself or the page with all news somewhere nearby. Just in case.
Navigation is important to help visitors to get to the desired location from any page of your website. It should be clear and contain the most important locations. Good news — author websites usually don't contain many pages. It means you won't struggle too much thinking about how to organize your main navigation (the one on the top). However, the navigation in the footer is different. Due to its location, it can contain more links and illustrate the hierarchy of your website in a more comprehensive manner.
For the main navigation:
Link to the homepage, to the page with your books, to the bio, to your blog, and (if you have it) to your "Contact me" page.
Make your main nav sticky. Some platforms allow the main nav to hide while scrolling. But best practices prove that always showing navigation is more efficient.
Don't use a 100% transparent background for the main navigation. The text that goes beneath it while scrolling may make it hard to read.
Even if you have a small website, think of adding a search box (or an icon activating an on-site search) near the navigation.
Do you have a logo? Put it to the header near the main nav and use it to link to your homepage
For the footer navigation:
Display not only the top-level directories but the sub-directories.
Link to all books that you have (whether to the product pages on your website or to Amazon).
If you're a non-fiction writer and have an office, use your footer to reflect it.
Add social profile links to the footer — people look for them there.
Reflect the date (or at least the year) of the last website update to help visitors and search engines to know if the information on your website is actual
If you have words of appreciation or want to give someone a credit for helping you with the website or its content, you can use the footer for that purpose.
Pro Tips For Authors Selling Their Books On Personal Websites
Now you have your website ready to go live and generate traffic. However, it's only the beginning of the game. A fascinating journey of marketing your books online awaits!
Let's go through several key points of selling books online.
When you sell books on marketplaces like Amazon, your readers can enjoy your books for a fairly low price. Especially their printed version. Amazon can afford that because they have special book printers that can produce books on demand. For you selling books on your website it will be easy to compete with Amazon prices unless you order a huge pile of printed books — 1,000-2,000. This way you'll be able to decrease the cost per unit. But shipping will kill your margins anyway.
Another story is the ebooks. That's when the juice comes. Even if you set your price as low as one cent, you will still have 100% of the profit. So on this battlefield, Amazon can't beat you. So here's some advice:
When you sell ebooks on your website and send out copies, make sure you have the lowest price on the internet. This will make people come to your website and buy directly from you, instead of buying on Amazon.
When you sell printed books on your website, make them special. They must stand out from what people can buy somewhere else. For example, they can be signed or have extra materials — images, unique cover, etc. Thus, even with the higher price compared to Amazon, they will have more value and "humanity" if you wish.
Did you know that selling books is not the only way to pay for a living if you're a book writer? Instead, you can give away your books for free, but only to your paying subscribers. Yes, you can add subscriptions to your website and generate recurring revenue from your subscribers. To thank them for supporting you, you can reward them with exclusively written short stories or books. In fact, if you write short stories, they can be a core subject of subscriptions. It would feel like subscribing to a newspaper or a magazine.
The negative side of this monetization model is that you'll have to maintain the writing and publication schedule pretty tight.
This is probably, the real PRO feature for the author website. Because readers pre-buy books only from well-known (professional) writers. If you're one of them or want to look like them, add an ability to buy your book while you're still writing it.
The most important thing here is to collect the emails and addresses of the buyers. And finish the book, of course!
Why I Picked Google Sites For My Personal Author Website
OK! Now we know so much about building websites to sell books. We know what elements are important and why. We know how to control the traffic flow through your website and direct it the right way. And we know a few tricks with pricing and extra ways to monetize your writing talent.
But, I guess, the question of choosing the platform is still open. You'll have to spend some time doing your research and find the one you like. Like I did.
Researching existing website builders I found out that one of the easiest platforms to use and launch a website was Google Sites.
Here's a shortlist of reasons why I picked Google Sites:
it's free. The only thing I have to pay for is my domain
it doesn't require coding or design skills
it's cloud, so I don't need to deal with servers
it's mobile-friendly and my website looks awesome on any device
it's a part of the Google family! So I don't need to deal with other services
Learn more about why Google Sites are awesome for building an author website.