Creating An Author Blog Site: From Simple To Sublime

close-up image of a writer creating an author blog site

You’ll find lots of advice suggesting that writers and would-be authors need a blog to help promote their work. But where do you start?

Writers have an innate desire to write, and we live in a time where the options for doing so in a public way abound. Creating and maintaining a blog is one way to publish your writing — you just need a place to host your words, gain a little visibility, and, if your chops are solid, build a following.

When it comes to creating a blog — from construction to hosting — there are a dizzying array of options. Let’s sort them into three levels:

    1. Basic (preferably free), with just enough customization available to establish your brand as an author.
    2. Moderate. With a modest investment, you get benefits that can include automated sales tools, code to embed your videos on other sites, and other perks that personalize and differentiate your blog site.
    3. High. If you shoot for the sky, it will cost you more, but you’ll have tools galore to help bring all your creative impulses to life.

Choosing a domain name for your blog site

If you don’t have a registered domain name — a unique place identifiable on the web associated with your site (e.g., bookbaby.com) — most hosts give you tools to select a name. This is often free for the first year. Beware: you may need to put some effort in to come up with a suitable, memorable, and available name.

If you don’t already have one, brainstorm and come up with a domain name in advance of signing up for a host. Don’t be surprised if it takes a few days to find one you like that is available. There are millions of web sites out there and even with new domain extensions (beyond .com, .net, and .org) being devised, it might be tricky to find the perfect domain name.

Choosing themes

Themes are a common accoutrement to every kind of website host and page builder. They provide a shortcut to formatting web pages, setting up a navigation system, and providing the visual appearance of a site — kind of a shortcut to site design, much the way styles function in Word or Pages.

There are tons of free themes out there, whether you’re running WordPress, Squarespace, or a different content management system (CMS), and many are quite good. Depending on the nature of the CMS, you may have more or less control over the features and appearance of the site. Decide early on how much customization you want: do you want to just put words on the screen in a basic, organized way or do you want to customize until you get exactly the visual impression you’ve got drawn up in your mind?

In either case, themes are a shortcut to certain stylistic and aesthetic considerations. There are companies that build their business around constructing elaborate themes with special features, and, in most cases, this is the quickest way to build a blog site.

Other writing outlets

It’s worth mentioning that there are other blogging options and viable tools where you can write and publish simply without doing any significant setup. Medium is one good option, and there are many other similar specialty sites that appeal to anyone from stamp collectors to astrophysicists.

Another, more elaborate, option with more personalization and customization is Ghost, which allows you to build a revenue stream by creating new media content. The idea is that you register, choose a theme, and start writing stories. The site itself provides the framework for your words (not unlike the simpler web hosts).

But I’m going to focus on writers who want to establish a deeper level of branding by hosting a blog on their own terms.

Basic blog sites for authors

Even at the most basic level, there is a rich spread of offerings to display your words in front of an audience. Note that there are free options, but many of them are set up to lure you into a long-term relationship, so read the fine print carefully.

WordPress

I confess to being a fan of WordPress, which has earned it stripes as a premier CMS, which is just a fancy word for a place to put audio, video, images, and words in an organized manner. WordPress is the granddaddy of the CMS world, with more than 455-million WordPress sites posted around the world. [Ed. note: you’re on one right now.]

The Do's and Don'ts of Planning a Book LaunchYou can get started with a free account and spend years developing it, adding a zillion different plug-ins to customize and add functionality. Plug-ins can provide specific functions, such as linking you with social media sites, giving you a better way to scale and manage images, and provide security measures to protect your blog site.

Plus, you can use the WordPress site itself as a free host, but that limits your choice of domain names. Still, this can be an excellent place to get started.

Issuu

Issuu is an interesting variation of the usual blog site model and has earned its place in the spotlight by finding innovative was to present PDF files as magazines, social media posts, portfolios, and more.

Because Issuu is built around PDFs, you can use the tools of choice — Word, InDesign, Pages, Google Docs — to generate content. Issuu provides the tools to share and embed the results. Even the basic level gives you sharing capabilities, and you can examine the paid monthly posting options to gain greater exposure.

Wix

One of the perennial stars in the blogging world is Wix, which offers a limited, free level in exchange for a branded stripe placed at the bottom of your pages.

Wix is an all-in-one host that can get you set up with a distinctive domain, provide various payment options, and offers several different tiers to expand your site options with an array of enticing add-ons. This host repeatedly gains awards for its simplicity and ease of use and will help you get set up quickly without any programming. You can keep it simple and get quite a bit of mileage out of the free options available.

Mid-level blog site: Squarespace

When you’ve advanced beyond the beginner stage, or you want quicker access to high-end features, there are a fair number of available tools that don’t require you to understand programming. One that I’m familiar with and comfortable working in is Squarespace.com, whose claim to fame is a diverse assortment of well-designed templates.

Spend a bit of time sorting through templates you can use as a starting point and you’ll get a sense that Squarespace is positioning itself by emphasizing polish, design, and professionalism in expression of the creative arts.

Squarespace also has an assortment of integration features that make it easy to expand your site, add links to your favorite accessories (Unsplash for free images, Twitter for outreach and quick communications, Google Maps for location data, Dropbox for easy file sharing). This level of integration can elevate your options as a writer, providing impactful imagery for your posts, allowing you to link to sample chapters, and more.

storybits: author blog siteAs an example, I built Storybits.works in Squarespace as a simple way to present audio of poems and stories in an appealing visual format. The theme I choose makes it easy to maintain a running blog with video poetry readings and other kinds of related content.

Choosing a web host

If you elect to take a DIY approach to creating a blog site, you may end up needing a full-featured web hosting service. There are a ton of them out there, and deciding on a host for your CMS is a better topic for a separate blog article. Whether you decide to go with WordPress or a competing CMS (Joomla or Drupal, among others), you’ll need a host to run it on.

A typical web-hosting service (Bluehost, FatCow, and GoDaddy are prime examples) supports the full range of CMS software and may even provide shortcuts for accessing CMS content directly. Most of these hosting services offer sweetheart deals up front and then ramp up the pricing over time. You will also pay extra for more elaborate back-up plans, heightened security, and other features, so be sure to understand what is included in the base plan and what the costs will be over time.

You can even choose to go with a public cloud environment and use Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, or Google Cloud and have far greater control over your web presence. This level of effort is best directed to those with experience as developers. There are rewards, including a tremendous degree of control, but unless you enjoy the diligence and complexity of computer programming on a fairly complicated level, you’re better off with a simpler approach.

Blogging for authors: The sky is the limit

It’s nearly impossible to write an article of this sort without including built-in biases based on personal experience. In my case, it’s the combination of WordPress (with its portfolio of useful plug-ins) with one of leading theme designers and stylists: Divi, by Elegant Themes. There is a reason why it’s one of the most popular WordPress themes, with many visual elements and modules that let you edit pages completely in visual fashion.

It does take a bit of effort to gain full access to the tools, but if you’re serious about committing to the business of blogging, consider investing the time to become a master of the Divi craft and create extraordinary web pages.

ePublishYourself: author blog siteI use Divi on another of my sites, epublishyourself.us, and appreciate the ease of adding audio and video content with access to a wide range of modules. With a bit of effort, I was able to create a Newsstand feature that automatically updates links to author sites, news from the e-publishing world, and opinion pieces from luminaries in the trade, daily.

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This is the proverbial 20,000-foot view of the blogging world. Everyone has their favorites and there are many gems out there as new companies create simple tools to help you make an impact as a blogger.

Please, share your favorites with the BookBaby readership, relate your experiences blogging, and offer tips and advice of your own.

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1 COMMENT

  1. I have written & published my book, “Tails of Oreo “, but haven’t developed my website. I am sooo bad at technical set ups & who to use. As a very untechnical person, can you recommend the easiest to start ?

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