I recently researched the cost of a “typical” author website and was startled by the range of estimates I found. In some scenarios, you get what you pay for. Certain best-selling authors (those who can buy a new home on the proceeds of each book released, for example) understandably have sophisticated websites, and these don’t come cheap. But there are plenty of beautiful websites which have been designed on a tight budget, and an even larger number of underwhelming sites, where the author paid more than they spend on groceries in a year.
Please don’t assume you have to dig painfully deep into your pocket for your author website. There are great options available now at all price points. Don’t accept the first quote from a design firm you meet at a writing conference. Ask both friends and Google for top recommendations. Your website cost is more within your control than you might realize.
One rule of thumb
For starters, try this rule: If you haven’t yet earned more than $1000 from book royalties, your author website shouldn’t cost more than this either. (If you got an advance from a publisher, that doesn’t count: I’m talking about books sold.)
I’ll stick my neck out and suggest you might even apply this rule at the $500 level, too. Your options will narrow slightly, but my basic philosophy is that making money as an author today is hard. You’ll shoulder other costs in bringing your work to market, and if you’re treating your writing as a business rather than a hobby, it’s in your interests to control expenditure carefully.
Different website costs you need to consider
Many website plans have ongoing costs as well as the first year investment you’ll make. And the cost of switching, once you’re committed to a platform, will be high in both time and money.
So watch out for:
- Cost to register a domain name (such as authorname.com), not only in the first year but for renewals, too.
- Cost of hosting. Think of this as the online storage space for the files which make up your website.
- Professional expertise to create your site. This could be a fee you pay a designer, or the cost of purchasing a “theme” to give your website an attractive out-of-the-box look. On some platforms you also need to budget for extras, often known as “plugins,” to deliver functionality that doesn’t come as standard.
- Stock images, fonts and logos. The cost of these will vary with individual preference, not with the platform you choose, so I’m not including them in my analysis here.
- Maintenance cost. What will be necessary to keep your website up-to-date and secure? Will you be able to handle it yourself? Remember how some printer companies would sell you a cheap printer, but then replacement ink would cost a fortune? This is similar, so be careful.
- Time and stress. If you plan to look after your website yourself, know that you will still pay in terms of time, and possibly stress. The “cost” if, for example, your site gets hacked, could be significant.
The big players: a rough idea of website cost
Time for some numbers! Don’t rule out “free” plans, especially if you’re just getting started, but you’ll need another round of research to understand exactly what you get, and how much advertising or branding they’ll add to your website. (I love Carrd’s free plan – here’s why.)
However, for this scenario, I’m assuming:
- You’d like to use your own domain name. This is a step up from the free packages offered by providers such as Wix, Weebly and Carrd. You might still see their branding visible, though, so check that, if it’s important to you.
- You’ll want some professional help in getting your website up and running.
- You don’t need a sophisticated shopping cart, but instead will point visitors to Amazon and other stores where your books are available.
I had to make assumptions and estimates here, so please treat these numbers as a guide, not a hard and fast amount. I researched them in September 2019:
|Domain name, per year*||Hosting, per year||Initial Expertise||Ongoing Maintenance||Your Stress|
|WordPress (self-hosted)||$12 from Google domains, first year and subsequent.||$60-$100||$400 – $2000||$15 – $100 per month, or DIY||high|
|Wix||Free for first year, then $14.95.||$156||$400 – $800||$35 per hour, or DIY||medium|
|Weebly||Free for first year, then $19.95.||$60-$144||$400 – $800||$30 per hour, or DIY||medium|
|Carrd||$12 from Google domains, first year and subsequent.||$19||$450 – $700||$50 per hour, or DIY||low|
|Strikingly||Free for the first year, then $24.95||$96||$450||DIY||low|
|Squarespace||Free for first year, then $20+||$144+||$1000 – $4000||$60 per hour||low|
* I’m giving the cost of a .com domain from Google, as other domain sellers typically give you one cheaper year initially, then charge more in future years.
- If you can keep your website simple and don’t need a blog: Carrd is a clear winner. See my packages here.
- If you love playing with technology, want lots of features, and lots of control: WordPress might be worth the inevitable time you’ll put in.
- If you want something for a burgeoning author empire, with little effort from you: many graphic designers now favor Squarespace for sites which want to “play big” in their niche.
How to keep costs reasonable
To keep your costs reasonable, don’t assume you’ll have to design your website yourself. Like many authors, web design probably isn’t your best skill. You’ll likely find yourself floundering in a seemingly impossible project that you never finish, or your website will end up looking amateurish. There’s nothing to stop you trying the DIY approach but, much like book covers, be open to the idea of hiring help if your efforts fall short.
To keep your costs down:
- Screen out larger firms, design agencies and “branding specialists”. There is wonderful work done in this sector, but it will come at a much higher price.
- Look for solo web designers. Those who work primarily with authors have streamlined their process accordingly, which saves their time and your money, especially in the discovery phase of deciding what you want and need. They’ll ask you better questions about your project, too.
- Use sites like Upwork, 99designs and Fiver with extreme caution. In order to make a living from their work, most designers on these platforms are forced to work at breakneck speed. They’ll either churn your website out in the minimum possible time, repeat a recent design done for someone else, or your low initial price will escalate fast. What’s more, it’s often impossible for you to verify they haven’t infringed copyright in the work they present. If you investigate these marketplaces, please do your research thoroughly.
- Go for fewer features, not more. Most readers will visit your website as an informational stop, not for lengthy engagement. To keep costs low, forego a blog unless you’re dying to use this as your key communication method. Unless your strategy includes selling products directly from your own website, you don’t need a shopping cart, either (point people to Amazon instead). However, do check that your platform offers a website that has more than one page; on the lower level Strikingly plan, for example, you only get a single page to work with.
- You don’t need a highly sophisticated design for the website to feel special and personalized. As long as you can control fonts, colors and images, you don’t need custom animations sweeping across the screen.
- Ask lots of questions about what you’ll get, and what’s involved in the design process. Here are some good example questions.
- Remember to ask about ongoing costs and support, if you suspect you won’t want to handle updates yourself. Even if you’d like to try, you should know what the position will be, if you get stuck. And I definitely advise against a website purchase where you are required to pay your designer for every small change you need.
If your author website cost is still unclear, remember that, if you’re just getting started, it’s better to aim for a simple website and get it up and running, than to delay indefinitely hoping for sophisticated brilliance. Today’s technology is cheaper and easier than ever before: I truly believe a beautiful, affordable website is within reach for every writer and author.
If you’d like help with your own website, contact me here.
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