Author websites are an increasingly important tool, but one that can cause a lot of aggravation. While most people have a handle on the basic set-up needed, they can quickly run into issues when trying to level up; these days your Author HQ needs to be slicker than the cobbled together afterthought we got away with a few years ago.
There are a bunch of solutions out there, but most aren’t fit for purpose in one way or another — either too expensive, overly complex, or just not attuned to the specific needs of the modern writer.
GoCreate.Me addresses all these problems with a selection of free and premium themes designed specifically for authors. I’m using one of their themes here at DavidGaughran.com myself and it is wonderful — with so much cool stuff going on at the back-end which will make your life easier. And it’s just plain nice to use, which is big for me after previous struggles. These days, I only use WordPress themes which spark joy.
I have a big breakdown below of what I think an author needs today from a website, before explaining how Parallax for Writers from GoCreate.Me helps me tackle all that. Some of you won’t need all that detail though, so here’s the meat:
- 2017 For Writers is the free theme. It’s not so-named for its age but because it’s a child theme based off the WordPress in-house Twenty Seventeen theme. You can check it out here where all the features are explained and there is even a helpful video showing you the theme in action
- Parallax for Writers is the showstopper. This premium theme costs $199 for a lifetime license and that INCLUDES installation. I have a custom version of it powering DavidGaughran.com at the moment and I do love it so.
- GoCreate.Me was set up by indie author Caro Bégin — who works in multiple genres under several names, and gets all the various requirements that different writers have. She’s also a WordPress expert, a pleasure to deal with, and possibly some kind of sorcerer; I’m not exactly sure.
If you are sold already, check out the links above, or you can book an installation slot directly here. Fair warning: I told my mailing list about this a few weeks ago and Caro’s calendar is filling up pretty fast — there’s only a couple of dates left in March and April is starting to go.
For those who want to dig deeper first, I have tons more information for you below. Two quick announcements first:
- BookBub Ads Expert is done, and will be in your hands in a matter of days. If you are signed up to my marketing newsletter you already had a preview of some of the tips and strategies. Those lucky ducks will also hear about the release first AND get an exclusive launch discount. Sign up here today to ensure you get that email too. Of course, I’ll post about it on this blog at some point also, you’ll just miss that list-exclusive deal, and the free weekly marketing tips that come with it. There’s a sample newsletter below if you want to preview that content, but this book coming very soon is the main point, I guess. I’m unreasonably excited. Also about the accompanying sale on my other writerly books, he says, glancing at his thrice-underlined notes.
- Events. I’m not doing many this year but will be presenting at the Self-Publishing Day 2019 in London on March 9th – in just a few weeks. You can read the jam-packed schedule here (affiliate link). Speakers include multi-million selling author Rachel Abbott, myself, and hybrid author/impresario Harry Bingham. We’re covering everything you need to start a successful self-publishing career – from cover design and email, to websites and reader magnets, as well as Amazon algorithms and ads. Last year was the first time we did this event and it was a huge success. But if you’re unsure whether the knowledge level is suitable for where you, simply email me and I’ll try to guide you appropriately. For those on the other side of the Atlantic, I’ll be in OK City at WriterCon in August and then at NINC in St. Pete’s Beach, FL in September. Between those, back over this side of the pond, I’ll be at the Festival of Writing in (Old) York. And that’s probably it as I have all the books to write.
Author Websites — What You Need
When I started self-publishing, author websites had limited use. I know one particular self-publisher who didn’t even have a website until he had sold half a million books. Websites were essentially viewed as a kind of online business card — some limited info about you and your books. Maybe a contact form. If the writer in question was a real self-starter, there was a blog… which inevitably fell into disrepair after a few rudderless posts.
All that has changed.
I wrote about the increasingly important role that author websites play in a newsletter back in January. It was the first in a four-part series called How To Sell Books in 2019 that I did for my list over the last few weeks. I talked about author websites in the first part which you can read here.
(I don’t generally share newsletter stuff publicly, so if you want the rest, you have to sign up!)
As I said there:
This is your Author HQ, on a domain you control, and at minimum it should have some basic information about you and your books, along with links to where they are on sale, and — most important of all — an effective way of collecting readers’ email addresses. Any other presence you have scattered around the web should point back to this Author HQ.
A good Author HQ can fulfill a number of roles today. It’s still a place for readers to find out more information about you and your books, but can do all this stuff too:
- Optimized squeeze pages for newsletter sign-ups
- SEO-boosted blogging architecture for content marketing
- Book-specific landing pages with geo-redirects to global retailers
- Pixel tracking for Facebook ad custom audience remarketing
- Smart follow buttons for social media platforms
- Private areas with bonus resources for book purchasers
- Customizable temporary promo pages optimized for conversion
- Responsive layouts which are viewable on any device
But how do you get that all set up? What’s the best way to go about it?
To get the most options in terms of features and customization and ease of use, you really have to go with WordPress. It’s #1 for a reason. Some people like alternatives like Wix and Squarespace, and while they might appeal to those looking for a more drag-and-drop approach, I think going for WordPress and a self-hosted set-up will stand to you over time, even if there is a bit more of a learning curve.
You can start with the simpler, free version at WordPress.com if you prefer, but ultimately you will want to transition to self-hosted WordPress to get the full feature set, access to lots of cool plug-ins, and a much bigger (and better) selection of themes.
Which WordPress Theme?
This is usually where we start reaching for the turpentine. There are just so many and choosing one can be impossible. I’ve made several missteps on this front. For example, I bought a highly rated theme a few years ago — the X Theme — which had more features than an archive of Sunday papers. And every time I tried to build the most basic page it would leave me clawing my face in despair. It was just so complicated — and this is coming from someone who knows a little HTML.
The end result is that I built the most basic website possible, never incorporated my popular blog (that was still mooching around over at WordPress.com) and missed out on quite a few marketing strategies because I was just too frustrated with my website to tackle it, quite frankly.
It’s hard to find a good theme. None of them — until recently, at least — seemed designed with authors in mind, or could comfortably be adapted for our purposes without running into a wall (usually when you had the least capacity to deal with it). And there are just so many themes.
Even if you go to a recommended site like ThemeForest, you’re still going to be faced with over 40,000 themes. How can you possibly find something suitable? You’ll probably make the same mistake I did: look for something recommended and hope for the best.
Yeah. Doesn’t always work out, let me tell you. Which meant I was delighted when Caro Bégin told me she was working on some WordPress themes which would be designed from the ground up, specifically for authors. She approached me and a bunch of other self-publishers to get feedback on the themes, and also to see what kind of features we would like incorporated, what kind of needs we had, and so on. Because everyone runs their business a little differently and requirements vary a lot.
The end result — Parallax for Writers — has allowed me to revolutionize my Author HQ, and has given more than enough space for future growth too. Let me point out some of my favorite features, and explain why they are important and why this theme does them so well.
Key Features of Parallax for Writers
- Responsiveness. The majority of traffic is now mobile which means you simply must optimize for mobile devices. This means having a responsive theme. You can see how responsive Parallax for Writers is by viewing this site on various devices, or simply manually making your browser window smaller. You’ll see it scales beautifully and is perfectly navigable at any screen size with menus that adapt for mobile also. If you don’t have a responsive theme, you’ll lose over half your customers. This is non-negotiable.
- Killer Book Pages. I don’t need to tell you how important this is. I personally wanted something which placed the book covers front-and-centre. Could handle links to all the retailers without looking messy. And something we just looked pro — I think book pages often look messy on author websites. I love what Caro did here. Here’s an example of what my non-fiction pages look like. And here’s an example of what my fiction pages look like — the latter have things like excerpts while I didn’t want those for non-fiction. It’s really simple for me to add new books or edit any of the old info too, or put in a nice review quote. I can also put in series information at the top so readers can click on that to jump to the related titles further down. If I decide to enter Kindle Unlimited, I can nix the other links with a couple of clicks. And then if I want to add new retailers, or more formats, that’s a doddle too. Oh, and the best part: if someone clicks on one of those Amazon links, for example, the website will detect their location and direct them to the appropriate Amazon store globally AND insert the requisite affiliate link for that local store. Pretty nifty. (That’s Amazon OneLink by the way, which can be incorporated in any site, with a little fiddling.)
- Customizable Home Pages. To show you how different I can make my home page look — even while keeping the same/similar branding that I use in the fiction and non-fiction halves of my business — check out the difference between my non-fiction homepage and my fiction homepage. The former is a bit more sales-y so I wanted a personal message up top to soften that a little. That’s actually a slot for a slideshow though, so if you wanted something to showcase various books or series in that space instead, you can do that too — as you can see from my fiction website. Note: that fiction site is a little sparse at the moment, but I’m focusing on that side of my business this year so big changes will be coming there too.
Please note that I’m running a custom version of Parallax for Authors. There are certain things built in to my particular website that aren’t included with the theme. For example, DavidGaughran.com is essentially two separate websites under the same tent, and that’s not a standard feature. My fiction domain is actually DavidGaughranBooks.com and that redirects to a separate half of this website.
There are very few links between the two halves of my site because I want it that way, for Also Bought reasons and so on; they are two distinct audiences with no natural crossover anyway. But this split also allows me to do other cool things, like have two different Facebook Pixels for each half of my website. Facebook Pixel tracking is built into the Parallax for Authors theme, just not the capacity to handle two — although that’s a pretty niche requirement.
More of you may require a blog though, and there are some key differences I should point out there — as my needs were quite different to the average author, given the sheer volume of content on this site, and the amount of traffic both feeding in every day, and the levels it can spike to when something goes viral.
I’ve made that great seething mass of content much more discoverable by categorizing all posts and making those categories easy to navigate via icons and tags and crisp buttons scattered hither and tither. A cool feature, no doubt, but not one bundled with the regular version of Parallax for Authors, and not one that 99% of you will need, quite frankly.
Some of my favorite new blogging toys aren’t custom features though — they come from using a free plugin called Yoast, which I can’t believe I went so long without using. It analyzes posts on the fly for SEO optimization, and nudges you to fiddle with titles and sub-headings and HTML slugs until you are maximizing the discoverability of each post on Google. I’m already seeing a difference on that front.
Yoast will also optimize social sharing too. If you drop one of these posts on Facebook, a special preview image tailored for that platform will be used, and I can have a custom headline and description too, if I wish. But if you drop one of these posts on Twitter, a different sized image will be used there, one more tailored for Twitter. Again, I can have a different headline and description there, if so desired. All very powerful stuff.
But back to the theme. If you want to see how the regular blogging set-up looks, check out Pete Bauer’s blog (and his website is here if you want to just see how the theme looks with different branding again). Just note that Pete has gone for quite a minimal blog look to fit with his branding, but you can populate the sidebars like I have, if you prefer, in the usual WordPress way. Just for completeness, the bloggy parts of my homepage are also custom to my site, but then most of you won’t care anyway — my reasons for needing that are relatively unique, and if you want a section on your homepage for news or upcoming events or whatever, you can do that easily.
Maybe a couple more examples of the theme in action will be useful. Here is the website of Sarah Woodbury, who has adapted the theme with a nice historical vibe to reflect her work. And here is Cidney Swanson’s website, with her branding reflecting her work in speculative YA of various shades.
I’ve only talked about some of the features I like most. I didn’t even tell you how you can customize the 404 pages so that if someone hits a broken link, you don’t totally lose them.
To see the full, considerable feature set and specifications, check out the page on GoCreate.Me for more. As I said up top, the price is $199, which amazingly includes installation, and as part of that process, Caro will work with you to get fonts and branding suitable for you site nailed down. Which is a steal, quite frankly.
In case you need more convincing, here’s a video from GoCreate.Me walking you through the theme. I’ll leave you with that while I go prep for a launch…