Do fiction writers need a website? Every so often I see this question asked over Twitter and the answers are usually a mixed bag. In this post, I wanted to give my opinions on the subject. As someone who works with website content on a daily basis as a freelance writer/website content manager, I thought I’d chime in with my two cents.
First of all…
Why are you asking? How are you asking?
I think an important starting point is to acknowledge that the “do fiction writers need a website or blog” question is asked in different ways.
A lot of the time, it’s asked in a way like “Oh god, do I really need a blog? Why do fiction writers need a website, shouldn’t they just write novels?”
Other people are a bit more enthusiastic although hesitant. They might ask something like “Do fiction writers need a website or blog yet if they’re unpublished?”
Which one do you come under? I think any advice for you personally will depend on that.
Those who don’t want to blog
This is for those that don’t really want a website or blog and are just considering it because they’ve been told that they’re supposed to. Having a solid online presence is indeed beneficial to getting seen as an author. However, it’s not a simple case of building a website and just leaving it. You’ve got to put the work into marketing it.
My advice would be either to find something you like about blogging or simply accept the fact that it’s not for you. You’ve got a few options here:
- Grin and bear it
- Don’t have a website
- Have only a simple landing page style website with no blog
- Get a website and hire someone to write your blog for you
In an ideal world, you’d love blogging and marketing and all that cringe-inducing stuff but the reality is that most of us are quite uncomfortable with it.
Those who do want to blog but are scared
If you’d like to put yourself out there and talk about fiction, your genre, your writing – whatever – then it’s a shame when fear gets in the way.
Living in your own fantasy world is one thing – you can be yourself behind the cover of characters and plot. But actually putting yourself *the real you* out there is really difficult.
Those blogs out there saying you absolutely must blog don’t help because then you just feel a bit inadequate. I’ve been there, trust me. Blogging was and still is to a degree, pretty difficult when it’s about yourself. I got used to publishing content out there because I’m a content writer by day but it’s on another level when the content is actually about you.
If you feel this way, you are not alone. I think you’d have to search very hard to find a blogger who isn’t or wasn’t scared as hell at some point.
The good thing is, if it’s fear holding you back rather than disinterest, you can do something about it. Unfortunately, the very thing you’re scared of doing is exactly what you should be doing. Sorry – but there isn’t a magic trick to stop you feeling terrified about blogging. The only way to overcome it is to get started and the sooner you do, the sooner clicking Publish will feel like nothing.
I’ve used the words website and blog interchangeably, but what I mean is a website is static page or pages of information, whereas a blog is a series of articles and posts that you write and publish regularly. You can have a website without a blog, but a blog will need to be on some kind of website to give it context.
Having a website can mean different things for different people. In this case, there are a few different options you could explore:
- Option 1 – A website and blog about writing/your genre/your stories – what I do
- Option 2 – A website that acts as a static landing page – somewhere you can direct interested people, but it won’t necessarily be found organically by readers
- Option 3 – A blog about your chosen subject e.g. romance writing tips – not necessarily about you as an author but the genre instead
There are no doubt other options out there of course. If you can think of any, please leave a comment at the bottom.
Which one is right for you?
Everyone has different needs and priorities. So, ask yourself honestly what you want a website for.
Do you want your website to be found by potential readers organically? – Choose Option 1
Are you interested in building an author brand/platform? – Choose Option 1
Do you want to build a website and not have to do much else to it? – Choose Option 2 (but for the love of god, check your website and update your plugins once in a while)
Do you want to simply write about something you love? – Choose 1 or 3
Would you rather write about what you love but not have your name out there? – Choose Option 3 (or maybe a pen name)
Benefits of having a website or blog
If you’re unsure about websites and blogs for fiction writers, I’ve put together what I think are the top reasons and benefits to having one.
Build your online presence in the writing community
The writing community is great and largely a positive, encouraging circle of people to get involved with. Twitter is a great place for it (#WritingCommunity or #amwriting). Having a website or blog is good because you can share helpful posts with others, but it’s also really important to engage with other people’s posts too. It’s not all about you! The more you post and the more active you appear on your website and social media profiles, the more visible you will become.
Appear more attractive to agents and publishers
Agents and publishers now seriously look at what you do to market yourself. If you have an online presence and are making progress getting readers, email subscribers and so on – you will be infinitely more attractive to represent or publish than someone who is not doing any of those things. Publishing is a business after all and you are more likely to make them money if you are already marketing yourself.
Having a blog is a good opportunity to write about something other than your WIP. It can become a good creative outlet that allows you to explore different writing styles.
Getting your face out there and online creates a certain accountability, especially if you build up a readership. It can help you push yourself to write, even when you don’t feel like it and even if you’re struggling with your WIP.
Reasons why you might not need one/shouldn’t have one
I’m not here to tell you what you should or shouldn’t do. I think there are plenty of important benefits to having an online presence as a writer, but if you simply don’t want to do it – then don’t. The World Wide Web is full of millions of websites and blogs that were set up in good faith or by people who thought they should set one up – only to abandon them because they got bored.
If the thought of working on a website in your spare time fills you with dread, then why put yourself through that? Some people prefer to have big social media presences, others prefer to just not. I think it’s probably harder to get where you want to be without a website or social media, but it’s not impossible.
Another thing, if maintaining a website is going to actually stop you writing, then it’s not worth it. I have at times been working on a website only to realise I haven’t written a bloody thing in ages. What am I promoting essentially if not my actual writing? If you don’t have the time or the energy to work on your fiction and maintain a blog, you certainly wouldn’t be alone. It’s hard work and it’s time-consuming. If you have a busy life anyway, for example, you have kids then it’s going to be even harder.
The difficulties – realities of running a website and blog
It’s important to highlight that running a website and blog is not an easy task. Many people think the hard part is getting it all set up, but it’s not. The hard part comes from maintaining it, writing consistent content, promoting your website and so on. It’s the consistency that’s the hard part, particularly when you have plenty of other things in your life to do.
So, when asking the question of do fiction writers need a website, it’s important to consider what running a website involves:
- Building, designing and maintaining the backend of your website
- Regularly updating plugins
- Writing blog content every week/month
- Creating graphics or sourcing images for each blog post
- Writing and tweaking/updating website copy
- Promoting blog posts and services over social media every day
- Interacting with other bloggers and people on social media
I’d love to say I do all of these things as much as I should be, but it’s hard work and I fall behind quite often. Plus, I have to do this for another website too. How people with kids manage to do all this and raise them, I have no idea.
What do you need to set up a website for your fiction writing?
This section has a couple of affiliate links. Help a writer out guys.
If you’re still here and you’ve decided it’s finally time to set up a website and blog, this part will help you get started.
Free website vs Self-hosted site
You could get a free website. However, I think if you’re serious about your online presence, I would recommend against that. If you can invest (it’s not too expensive) then this will always be better for you. A free site gives you limited customisation and control.
But, if you don’t have the cash to spend or are too afraid to spend some at all, then a free site will do for now.
In either case, I’d recommend WordPress. It’s what I use for all my websites. It’s relatively easy to learn, it’s customisable and you can really make it your own. When I first built websites, I used the free version: WordPress.com and later moved to WordPress.org which requires some investment (more on that in a minute).
WordPress.com is a way to build a free, basic site. You have limited design control and can pick a basic pre-built theme. Your URL will look something like www.[yourname]/wordpress.com. Doesn’t quite slip off the tongue when you say it does it? You can purchase a domain from WordPress to change your URL though. WordPress.com is a good introduction to website building and handy if you want to just try it out. You can set a site up in just a few minutes.
If you’re happy to invest and want to make a site that’s your own, then WordPress.org is the way to do. This is free to download, but you will need to buy a domain and hosting to run it because it will be a self-hosted website.
Self-hosted websites allow more creative control, customisation, and it also means you really own your website (not WordPress). I’d absolutely recommend this type of website for anyone serious about their online presence, who eventually wants to sell books and so on. WordPress.org allows you to download plugins that will improve your site, allow you to sell things, help you set up an email list – all that good stuff.
If you’re leaning towards self-hosting, then I’ll give you some information about domains and hosting next.
Whether you have a free WordPress.com site or want to go self-hosted, you could benefit from your own domain/URL. For free WordPress.com, this is entirely optional but for a self-hosted website, it’s essential. Whichever option you choose, it’s the first thing I’d recommend. It only costs around £15 a year at most.
You can usually buy your domain when you buy hosting, or through WordPress.com directly.
Hosting is a magic place where all your website files are kept on a server somewhere. With WordPress.com, they host all your files and therefore pretty much own them. With self-hosting, you pay a company to hold them, so you own them technically. You can also up and leave and choose a new host if you want to switch.
Hosting can cost as little as $3 or £2 a month. It can cost way more, so some research is in order.
However, an important thing to note is that most hosting companies ask you to pay a year upfront. I think that’s a tad misleading because they rope you in with insanely cheap hosting. It’s a price of a latte a month after all – but you end up paying a bulk price instead. In a lot of cases, the numbers mysteriously rise too. That £2 a month doesn’t have VAT on it for one, plus all the other extras they try and chuck your way and then a domain on top of that. So – be careful!
I personally wanted a hosting package I could pay each month rather than yearly. Part of the reason for this was I didn’t want to commit to a full year and it was also more affordable for me at the time. I also wanted a package that could run more than one website because I also have a freelance website and a couple of others.
I did a bit of research and came to A2 Optimized WordPress Hosting which allows you to pay monthly or annually – it’s up to you. Most hosts don’t let you.
A2 Hosting isn’t the cheapest on the market, but it’s also not the most expensive one you’ll find. I pay a total of £12 a month including VAT for unlimited websites. I’ve got about 4 on there at the moment and don’t have any issues.
You can find a cheaper plan with them if you only intend to host one website.
If coding and designing your website from the ground up sounds awful, then themes are your best friend!
You could choose a basic, free theme from WordPress – there are plenty to choose from. The problem with free themes is that they typically don’t offer great support for them or regular updates.
If you want more design control over your website, I’d recommend a page builder theme/plugin. I use Elegant Themes’ Divi Builder Theme which is a great option for those who want more control over the design but lack the technical know-how to do it. You can build a page using blocks like text, image, header, blog, plugin and so on to create a page.
The good thing about it is that you can choose an annual plan or a one-off cost to have it forever. You can also use it on however many websites you want – good if you need multiple for whatever reason like me.
Building a website sounds pretty complicated, but trust me it’s not as hard as it sounds. There is set up involved, but trust me it’s worth it to have a space online that’s just yours.
If all of the above filled you with dread and fear, then I get it and I’m sorry I couldn’t ease your mind about it!
If you want an author website but don’t want to build or manage it, I can help. I’ve built plenty of simple websites like this and can build yours for you too. I don’t charge premium rates because I prefer a simple approach to website design. I’ll be able to get you up and running for a low cost and leave you to it, or I can manage it on your behalf too for a little extra per month.
I can even help you with content, whether that’s website copy or regular blog posts. Feel free to get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org for more information or an informal chat.
Good luck website-builders!
I hope this post has helped clarify a few things about building a website as a writer. Having a website isn’t for everyone, but it’s something I would highly recommend personally. I’d love to hear everyone else’s thoughts on it – do fiction writers need a website? Is blogging something you want to try? Please leave a comment below!