In this episode, Belinda Pollard, Alison Young and Donita Bundy discuss the pros and cons of author websites, including personal experiences, practical tips, and spiritual principles.
Scroll down for audio, video, and a full transcript, or find the podcast on Apple Podcasts here: https://podcasts.apple.com/au/podcast/gracewriters-podcast/id1519376330
In conversation in this episode:
- Belinda Pollard, author of mainstream crime novels, writing coach, accredited editor with qualifications in theology, and Gracewriters founder
- Alison Joy, romance author, former early childhood teacher and mother of 4 adult children
- Donita Bundy, writing teacher, preacher and author of young adult urban fantasy
Topics covered in this episode:
- What the research has to say
- Our experiences and discoveries
- A practical way to look at author websites
- The spiritual principles behind our websites.
(Some of these are affiliate links. We only ever recommend things we personally use and like.)
Our presenters’ websites for you to see what they’re doing:
- Belinda: belindapollard.com (fiction/creative writing site) and smallbluedog.com (writing, editing and publishing tips). Belinda has also just created a blog post about how she sets up her websites and the tools she uses.
- Alison: alisonjoywriter.com
- Donita: donitabundy.com
This is where the three presenters register domain names (the .com address of the websites).
- Belinda: VentraIP (because she needs .com.au domains for some of her websites and therefore needs an Australian registrar – you might find you need a local-to-you registrar if you need a .co.uk domain or similar).
- Alison: SiteGround – she has used NetRegistry in the past.
- Donita: she is changing soon, probably to SiteGround.
All three presenters currently use SiteGround to host their websites.
This is where they’ve got the design themes for their websites.
- Belinda: Studiopress on the Genesis framework.
- Alison: currently going through a redesign. Watch this space! 🙂
- Donita: The 7.
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Please use the sharing buttons at top and bottom of this post to share on social media or directly with Christian writers you know.
Belinda Pollard: Welcome to the Gracewriters Podcast – Christian Writers Changing Popular Culture. Find us on your favourite podcast player and at Gracewriters.com.
Today on the podcast, Do I Really Need a Website? I’m Belinda Pollard. I’m an author, editor and writing coach with a theology degree and 20 years in the publishing industry. Find links to my books, blogs, and courses at belindapollard.com.
Alison Joy: Hi, I’m Alison Young. I’m a romance writer and I live in Brisbane. I have four adult children and I’m a former early childhood educator. And you can find all my information under my penname alisonjoywriter.com.
Donita Bundy: Hi, I’m Donita Bundy. For the last 20 years I’ve been using my ministry and theology training to inform my preaching and teaching and more recently, my blogging and writing. You can find out more about me at donitabundy.com.
Belinda Pollard: So, our topic today, it’s the second in our Author Platform series, Do I Really Need a Website? We’re going to look at what the research has to say on this topic; our own experiences and discoveries; a practical way to look at websites; and the spiritual principles behind our websites.
Alison, you’ve been doing some research for us. What have you found? Do we really need to have a website? Is it expensive? Does it have to be difficult? And how are writers feeling about this whole glorious process?
Alison Joy: Goodness me, where do I start? In a word, yes, you do need a website. I think we need somewhere where you can set up your author headquarters so people can find out about you and find out about your books or your writing or whatever you’re doing. So, yes, that’s the short answer. You can do a platform and you can do it on places like Goodreads or Bookbub or Amazon or whatever but, essentially, you’re just renting the space. So, the landlord comes along and they change the terms. You could be out on your ear, no problem whatsoever.
So, it’s a good idea to get your own piece of real estate. Something that you own and that you can control, and you can decide what goes on it and how you present yourself to the wider community. So, you can do the other stuff, of course, and it’s probably good to have a presence on some of those other places but it all needs to point back to your main author website or your headquarters. Whatever you want to call it.
The first thing you should do is you need to get a domain name. Your address, where people can find you on the internet. So, for me I use my writer name. So, mine is Alison Joy and I’m a writer so mine’s alisonjoywriter.com. And Donita and Belinda both have their own addresses. We need what they call a hosting package. Like, excuse me! That means where your address hangs, your suburb maybe! Where it hangs out. Where your address is.
You need to design something, obviously. Yes, some of us are better at that than others. Some of us have got more money than others and can pay people lots and lots of money to do that. But probably, I’d say, the easiest thing to do, for a writer at least, is getting something like WordPress. And that’s what I have. I think you guys have WordPress, as well.
Belinda Pollard: Yes, I do.
Alison Joy: You can get a free version, or you can start off with that and then you can add more to it and you can get different packages. I’ve got no prior experience so, yes, it is a learning curve. It’s not hugely difficult but it can be challenging at times, if that makes sense. Using a lot of information from David Gaughran, our indie publishing guru: you should have your newsletter sign-up prominent so people can find it, you should showcase your books, and you should make it easy for people to contact you. So, that’s the three most important things that you need on your website. All the other stuff is just nice add-ons but they’re the three things.
First impressions count. Now, you can get themes from WordPress and other places as well, they have themes which you can use.
Belinda Pollard: A theme is not like a written theme. A theme is a design theme. So, it’s a kind of pre-set design that you can change some of the features on and make it personally your own.
Alison Joy: Somebody’s already done some of the hard work and given you design options and you go through and you pick a free one or a paid one. And you just go, “Okay, I like the look of that.” You’ve got to start somewhere and that’s what I found. So, my son’s a writer and he’s about to launch his first book into the wide, wide world and I’m in the process of trying to help him with his WordPress author website.
Belinda Pollard: You’re the webmaster for your son!
Alison Joy: No!
Belinda Pollard: It’s amazing what we end up being, isn’t it. It’s amazing what we end up being. Yes.
Alison Joy: I’m no expert. I’ve just got a tiny little bit more experience than he has.
Belinda Pollard: You’ve got experience.
Alison Joy: He’s got nothing; I’ve got next to nothing! So, I’m a little bit ahead of him.
Belinda Pollard: So, you’re ahead of him. Yes, excellent! So, what is, just briefly, your personal experience with setting up your website, Alison?
Alison Joy: Like I said, I’ve come from a base of nothing. So, it was challenging. It’s just trial and error. Time consuming, yes, but once it’s set up, I guess, it’s set up, and then you can add or take away things.
Belinda Pollard: And your experience, Donita?
Donita Bundy: First of all, I have to say I love my website; it is my home on the internet. And my first website, I was given some great advice, I was told to just spend time on the internet finding websites that I liked. It didn’t have to be writer’s websites. Looking for colours, like Belinda said, themes. So designs that had already been created and to find out what I liked and then jot down those things like colours, minimalist. What did I want to have represent me.
And my first website I bought a packaged theme. It was light. It was bright. It was quite simple but then that’s where I was at. I just needed a blog and that’s all it was. It was a blog that just scrolled every day and it had, like Alison said, my important information, how to contact me. At that point I didn’t have books but I had the opportunity to add those things later.
Then at the end of last year my whole website crashed and I lost everything. So, I had to build again but at the time it was heartbreaking because I had spent so much time building it. But looking back I could see that the timing was perfect. I was about to launch my new book; my first book. And I wanted a new look and I had learnt so much in those years of building that website and maintaining it and adding things in and deciding, actually, I would like a gallery. Actually, I’d like to have some other things in here, as well. And so, when I came to it again, like Alison, I started off with no experience and then I got next to no experience and then I got some experience. And then I decided, “Right, well, now I’m going to take that some experience and I’m going to push myself,” and I went through the process again finding things that I liked.
And then knowing I had changed and grown as a writer and my brand had expanded so I needed extra elements in there as well. So, I found the package that I liked. I got more advice about how to take it to the next level. So, I was able to step it up a little bit. And then I created a new space. And again, I love my website. I love it and I love being there. I’m there every day just checking on things and updating things and because this new one I can just add things to. So, it was an incredible learning curve. It was a painful learning curve and I was blessed to have people that I knew that had some experience and I could call and say, “What could I do?”
If you don’t have someone on hand, there are some great packages that you can get that are very simple to put together. I know some people using Squarespace and things like that. But my experience was I’m a hands-on person. I love to do it myself. I love learning and I just love the result.
Belinda Pollard: Fantastic. I started on the whole website thing in about 2010 when I realised that I had to have one for my business and I tried to learn a lot of things. At that time no one was going to the website, as yet, so it was actually a good time for me to be experimenting and changing things. I just changed things out there in public because it didn’t matter because nobody was going to the website. I didn’t have to try and do it off site. And then even once it was up, and a few people were starting to come to the website, I would still be just experimenting with it.
Now, I have a lot more visitors each day coming to my main website so I tend to be a little more careful when I’m making changes. And I do them in the background and then publish them. I’ve been a hands-on do-it-yourselfer with my websites as well. And initially that was because I simply couldn’t afford to pay anybody else to do it. That was at a time when I had just been retrenched from a job during the global financial crisis and I’d been working in construction. Not constructing, I was working in the ‘words’ angle of construction.
So, suddenly I had lots of time and very little money. So I spent that time learning how to do it. And I’m glad I did, because today I think I have four websites, possibly five if you count one that I’m helping someone else run, and I’ve set them all up myself and I just go and play with them. And I’ve become brave through trying. Because initially I was terrified, people, I was terrified! So, you just need to try and don’t worry so much about it. Just experiment and play with it and work out how to do it.
I attended a self-publishing guru – Joanna Penn – I managed to attend one of her workshops, I think it was in about 2011. And it was packed full of information on how to market yourself online but the most important piece of information that I harvested from that day was that your website is your online hub. Everything else needs to point back to your website. Don’t go building a city on a hill on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter because it could be gone tomorrow. You don’t own it. And it’s the same as you were saying, Alison, you don’t own that piece of real estate.
Put it on the one that you do own. Use the others to direct people. And she had this graphic, I remember the graphic, it was like the spokes of a wheel and all the different forms of social media and all the other things were pointing back in to that website. It can just be a static website if that’s all you can manage to do. It can be a blog. It can be a lot of different things.
Another interesting thing, too, is that I was at a writer’s festival a few years ago listening to a bunch of publishers on a panel and they were saying when they see a good manuscript come in, the first thing they do is google that writer’s name.
Alison Joy: Yes.
Belinda Pollard: So, it really matters that you have an online platform and it really matters that you own your online platform. So that it is your website, hopefully, that’s coming up at the top of the results. Google your name today and see what comes up. Okay. And then have a think about what you would rather, perhaps, was coming up.
A little bit of a practical way to look at getting started with a website. Last week we talked about platform and what it is and I talked about, perhaps, not building a platform so much to elevate ourselves but a bridge to connect with other humans. And our writing not being about creating a rocket to propel us to stardom and power but an airliner to lift others where they need to go and, figuratively at least, closer to God. So, with that, in terms of the philosophy behind a website, I’m trying to think about my websites being a bridge, connecting me to other people, to other writers and readers and working on trying to be transparent and real and be myself.
It’s been a process of learning to be myself and which one of my selves to be on my different websites! And I know that sounds a bit weird but we’re all different people. I mean, if you were meeting the Queen of England you’d probably speak a little bit differently than you would if you were talking to someone over the back fence.
And that’s what I mean by which of my selves to be. Trying to figure out whether I wanted to be formal or informal. Whether I wanted to be funny or silly or whether I wanted to be more serious. It’s all of those types of things. Working out who you’re going to be. And I’ve changed that over the time. So, it’s okay if you want to change those things and think about that.
I think a website can also be a bridge connecting us to opportunities. To people of influence, whether they be literary agents, conference organisers who want us to speak, potential clients for our writing of various types. So that website can be a really valuable bridge and it’s the bridge that you own.
And from the airliner point of view what’s the overall theme of the website? Does it honour God? Does it lift people? Does it focus on not so much me, me, me, me, me but you, you, you, you, you! How can I help you? Do you see what I mean? It’s just a matter of a little bit of a philosophy shift.
My websites are on WordPress, and the same as the others, it was a real learning curve, quite a steep learning curve initially. I didn’t know what anything was called or how to do anything, but over time I gradually learnt.
I found it worthwhile to buy a purchased premium theme. The theme being the design feature which then you can change certain aspects of and customise it to make it unique to you. I use Studio Press themes on the Genesis Framework and I find them really quite easy to follow now I’ve got into it. And I change my themes from time to time. Every couple of years I might change the look of a website and I can just go and get another one of these themes and they will operate a similar way. So, I haven’t got to start from scratch.
What I found with the premium paid themes is that they have support. So, you can go and ask questions. They have instruction manuals online, step by step by step, to lead you through it. So, to me that was worth paying about $100 for. And we’re all different. That might not be worth it to you but you can figure that out.
I’m a bit wary of free websites because free websites you don’t own. So, you don’t have that control over it. Free websites often feature advertising. What’s in the advertising? And you don’t even know what’s in the advertising because everybody who looks at your website is seeing different advertising because that’s the way that kind of advertising is served up. And it might even be advertising that is directly opposed to what you’re trying to present. If it’s free you have less control.
So, a website can be a great location for you to get some writing practice, to get some connection-with-readers practice, to grow into your voice and your online person. Who it is, how you want to connect with people. As I said whether it’s that talking to the Queen of England or over the back fence. All those different aspects of how much you want to show of yourself. How you want to present. How you want to connect with people at a deeper level.
Donita, there are spiritual principles underlying this whole issue of how we use websites. Can you get us started on thinking about those, please?
Donita Bundy: Sure, Belinda. We’ve been using a lot of analogies when we’re talking about platforms. So last week you said a bridge and an airplane and as Alison was pointing out this morning it’s like our street address in our suburb. For me, the website, my website is my online home and when people come to my website, I like to think of inviting them into my home. So, everything that is there, I’m hoping, is welcoming, is pleasant and there is a sense of hospitality on there.
And it’s like when people come into our literal homes we, again, regardless of who’s coming whether they’re best friends, acquaintances or people we haven’t met before, people can tell a lot about us by looking around our houses, around our homes as they come in. What books are on the bookshelf? How do we treat each other? What are our relationships like in the home? So, I like to think of my website as my online home and I think, regardless of who your audience is or who’s visiting, they will be able to pick up a lot about who you are by how you’ve presented and what you’ve presented.
And as Christians we shouldn’t be ashamed of presenting ourselves on these websites. I know we’ve talked before, Belinda, about there’s this, like, “It’s me, me, me. It’s all about me and I’m promoting myself.” But then there is that element that we need to overcome because in reality we are unique, individual creatures – creatures, sorry, people – some more creature-like than others! – who have been handmade by God. And a verse I’d like to reflect on today is Psalm 139:13-14:
For you created me in my innermost being. You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I’m fearfully and wonderfully made. Your works are wonderful. I know that in full.
In essence this verse is of the sense that we are not on a production line. We have been handmade and crafted. We have been knitted together. Each of us are a work of God and the Psalmist then goes on to say, “Your works are wonderful.” Each one of us has something wonderful to offer. Each one of us who is a child of God has a gift to give. We talked about that last week, as well, the gift of our writing, the gift of transporting people.
So, it is not a shameful thing to promote who we are and what we’re doing as long as when we’re promoting ourselves that reflection is pointing to God. Whether that’s subtle, like the example I used last time about the missionaries overseas. It might be a subtle reference or glorification of God or it might be blatant and open. If you’re a Christian writer with a Christian website you’re free to promote and glorify God as much and openly as you’d like.
So, I think it comes down to: (1) we shouldn’t be ashamed of who we are and what we’re doing; (2) what we’re doing is glorifying God whether it’s through the gracenotes softly written or blatantly written, and (3) we are glorifying God by our space when we welcome people into our home on the internet. And as we’ve said last time and this time and we’ll probably keep repeating, we are people who change and grow and develop and that’s okay. We learn by our mistakes and there will be things that we do online that don’t make people happy, that do offend people. But if we’re teachable and humble of heart we can take on board that feedback. Is this something that I do need to change about my website, my platform or is this something that you stand by? Yes, you might be offended by what I’ve done but this is who I am and I’m true to God in doing this.
So, always above, during, and after, we pray. How, God, am I honouring you? How can I honour you better? How am I going to meet my audience face-to-face on my website? And how do I do that in an honouring, gracious, compassionate way? So, I think we are unique individuals handmade by God, but we learn through copying others. So, when we start our website, we will go to people who have done great jobs and we will copy some of the things they do but in time that website and our platform will become more unique reflecting who we are as creations.
Yes, I think just honouring God, praying and being teachable is a good place to start.
Belinda Pollard: I think we might, on the Gracewriters website where this podcast appears, we might actually include some links to the different hosting providers and domain registrars and all the rest of it that the three of us have used. Because that will give people somewhere to start, if they wish. So, we will put that together.
Alison, have you got anything else you’d like to add?
Alison Joy: Yes, I think it’s just we do need a website, we need an author headquarters, we need some presence where people can come and find you and, as you said Belinda, people come and check you out. If it’s an agent or a publishing house or something, they’ll come and check you out. See what you’re like. And as Donita said, looking around seeing what your house is like. Seeing what your online house is like and making a decision whether they want to connect with you based on what they can see on your website. So, yes, it’s important that you take the steps to ensure that you have a presence, a website presence.
Belinda Pollard: Anything quick to add, Donita?
Donita Bundy: Just that you’re not going to learn if you don’t give it a go. So, give it a go and once you get over the fear and the terror of actually starting you may actually enjoy it. So, jump in and be prepared to have fun after the terror! It’ll happen.
Belinda Pollard: Great advice. How about I pray for us and for the Gracewriters.
Heavenly Father, we thank you that websites are not a mystery to you even though they’re often a mystery to us. We thank you that you can help us, that you can guide us and lead us into how to put these things together. How to use them in ways that honour you. How to make them useful and connecting and lifting. Please help us when we have that fear and uncertainty. Please give us peace and courage and wisdom and lead us to those who can help us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Donita Bundy: Amen
Belinda Pollard: Thank you, Donita Bundy and Alison Young. I’m Belinda Pollard and we will see you next time on the Gracewriters podcast with our next in the author platform series.
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