It seems like a forgone conclusion that every author needs a website. But with the free services that major retailers and social media websites provide, do these investments of time and money pay off by helping authors sell more books?
A panel discussion at a recent Digital Book World conference made a strong case for authors to question this investment. Social media—especially Facebook—seems to be a worthy alternative to authors trying to build and engage a community on their own. In fact, looking at results from our 2013 eBook Self-Publishing Survey they may have a point.
Frequent blogging is often cited as one of the best ways to attract and engage a fan base. It is also a proven tool for achieving high search rankings on Google—assuming of course that the frequency and quality of your blog posts is sufficient to attract the right visitors.
In this slide you see that while 90% of the 300 responding authors report they have a website, fewer than 20% blog more than 4 times per month and 50% blog 1 time or less per month. (Note: we are finalizing survey results for publication this coming week.)
What are some of the alternatives?
If all you are looking for is a place for people to find you and to share news and events then Facebook, Goodreads and Amazon's AuthorCentral will suffice. Other options such as Linkedin and Google+ are also free and easy for authors to establish a presence. But what sets these apart from setting out on your own is that they are part of a larger community of users. Everyone visiting Goodreads is interested in reading books—you can't say that about the Internet in general.
Each of these services allow you to add your books, contact information and post news and updates (posting on AuthorCentral is via Twitter if you don't have a blog). Each is free and the businesses behind them are well established. You don't have much control over design but on the other hand its one less distraction and expense.
2 reasons to second guess this strategy
- What if you want to sell eBooks or other products? This is pretty tough to accomplish on a website that you don't control—clearly this competes with Amazon and it wouldn't be possible with any of the other websites I mentioned. There are a number of inexpensive or free tools that can help you accomplish this and if you have a way to get people to your website it can be lucrative.
- A second reason is to build your mailing list. It's true that you can send notices or emails to Facebook friends and Linkedin connections but there are limitations. You also can't easily take those contacts with you if you decide to leave their online platform. You have access as long as you follow the rules and remain a loyal member of the network.
Which is for you?
I believe it comes down to your goals, budget and willingness to learn how to use these tools. New authors, or those with modest ambitions, might be better off learning how to use social media before committing to their own website. Take some time to learn and discover your interests. Blogging or selling books from your website may sound like a great idea but is it worth the effort?
But those with greater ambitions or who already have several books would find a website invaluable. You can still use Facebook or Goodreads for engaging a community and your website for building a mailing list and selling downloads.
Regardless you should own your own domain name. For less than $15 a year you have the piece of mind that your fans will never loose track of you. You can “point” the name to any location which means that if you start off using a free WordPress.com website you can launch a self-hosted WordPress.org website without the need to notify your fans. (Click here for a comparison of the two services.)
Need help deciding?
I have more than 20 years of website strategy and management experience and provide a free 20 minute consultation for publishers. If you find yourself wondering which direction is right for you, please don't hesitate to contact me: