QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Starting Your Writer Blog or Website

As a serious writer who is or hopes to be published, you should have a website or blog. Websites and blogs are simple, effective ways to get your name out there, showcase your talent, and connect with other writers. Here are a few tips on getting started, plus some dos and don’ts.

1. Blogs
Cost: Free

Blogs are websites that look like journals, with entries displayed in reverse chronological order. The first ones began as personal online diaries, but the approach took off, and blogs have expanded into business, marketing, and promotional tools. The two biggest blog providers are WordPress (wordpress.org) and Google’s Blogger (http://www.blogger.com/).

Blogs require a commitment because they are, by their very nature, meant to be updated regularly. Nobody is interested in visiting a “dead” blog. Before you let that deter you, blogging is an excellent way to reach the public -- if you write about something interesting, people will follow or subscribe to your updates. And if your subscriber base gets large enough, you’ve started to develop a platform — name recognition. Platforms are increasingly important in the competitive publishing arena, even for fiction writers.

How To: One of the best things about blogs is how easy they are to set up and use. Just visit WordPress or Blogger, create an account, choose a template, and start blogging!

You have a number of options to help you update regularly. Here are a few ideas.
1. You can write about whatever strikes your fancy and relate it back to writing. Example: Elana Johnson’s blog is fun, funky, and a fantabulous example of great writing.
2. Use memes that catch your interest. A meme is a concept that catches on and is imitated by people who encounter it. Example: Work In Progress Wednesdays, started by Kate Karyus Quinn.
3. Work with a small group of colleagues or friends, taking turns updating the blog. Obviously, this is what we do here at QueryTracker Blog.  Both Blogger and WordPress allow you to set up blogs with multiple contributors. If you don’t feel up to starting your own blog or website but are interested in getting involved in one, consider contacting the owner of a blog or site you admire and asking if you can be a guest contributor.

2. Websites
Cost: Around $8-10/month (and up)

Websites can be as small or as large as you’d like them to be, and they can be more static than blogs, though they do need to be updated from time to time to keep people coming back. The benefit of a website is that you can veer away from the journal-like presentation of a blog.

If you’re trying to decide between a website and a blog, start with the blog -- it’s the fastest, easiest, and cheapest way to get started online. WordPress even allows you to add different “pages” to your blog to make it more like a traditional website.

How To: To set up a website, you will need to purchase space on a host server (unless you already have free server space, for example through a university or your employer). GoDaddy (godaddy.com) is a popular choice, and includes free site layout templates so you don’t need to be able to use a site-building program or speak HTML (the “language” of the web).  You can also hire a company to build your website; a few companies cater to authors.  For example, purplesquirrelwebdesign.com and americanauthor.com.

You will also need to buy a domain name. For example, Mary Lindsey’s website is http://www.marylindsey.com/. You can purchase your domain name through godaddy.com as well. Most writers buy the name under which they intend to be published, and it’s a good idea to reserve your name sooner rather than later so someone else doesn't snatch it up…especially since it’s so inexpensive to do so.

According to QueryTracker.net and RallyStorm.com creator Patrick McDonald,
GoDaddy.com is about $10/year for a domain name. At that price I recommend grabbing a few extra while you're at it. [yourname].com is the most important, but [yourname].net is also good to get. At godaddy, you can forward names for free, which means if anyone types in your .net name, it will automatically bring up your .com site. The extensions .name and .info, which are usually used in conjunction with someone's name, are also available, but they are not very popular and you probably don't need to worry about them.

Also, if your name has a common misspelling, you might want to get that too, just because people might spell it wrong and end up nowhere, or worse, in the wrong place. For instance, if I were to register my name as a URL I would want McDonald and MacDonald.
Have questions or comments about sites or domain names that I haven't answered here?  Or maybe you have ideas about ways to keep your blog fresh!  Hit the comment button below and let us know what you're thinking!


Stina said...

Great advice as usual. You can even register your Blogger blog as a website ($10/year), which is what I did in case I want to have a full fledge website later on. Now my name is truly mine. This was especially important to do because there are thousands upon thousands of Stina Lindenblatt's out there *wink*.

Carolyn Kaufman | @CMKaufman said...

Great point, Stina. And though you have a particularly unique name and were probably safe, better safe than sorry! I thought my name was unique, but since the invent of Google I've realized there are a few other people sharing the same name. Better to grab the domain you want and pay a few dollars a year for it if there's a good chance you'll use it than to let it go and be kicking yourself later. (Trust me on this, guys.)

Stilton Jarlsberg said...

Another money-saving tip: many of the service providers like GoDaddy and 1and1 will give you a limited "free" site (5 pages or so) included with the cost of your domain name registration. So if 5 pages (of any length) is all you need, your fee of $8-$10 for annual renewal of the domain name is all you'll pay - no monthly fees at all!

Angela Ackerman said...

Great post. I've been thinking about a website for some time now and I've heard good things about GoDaddy. Some really big websites use them as well, like The Critique Circle, so I think they must be well set up to take care of any sort of need.

Stina, thanks for the info on registering a blog--I didn't know you could do that.

Amanda Bonilla said...

This piece, as usual, offered great advice! From personal experience I can attest to the fact that blogging works. It only takes one follower to link you to other followers and before you know it, your name is out there!

Janet said...

Great post - and great info in the comment section, too, thanks.

We decided to do a group blog - 5 women, 5 days; so we only have to worry about getting a writerly post ready once a week. We've recently added a Guest Blog Saturday so that our readers have something to look forward to. Our guests give us a glimpse into their call to publishing and perhaps a tidbit of writerly advice.

Our experience has been great - and we've met some wonderful people over on the comment section. And all 5 of us are glad we made the committment.

We've also started a private blog for our writing group to post stuff for critiques and writing exercises. Of course, this does nothing for promotion, but it does help with our quest to be published.

Janet (on behalf of the Prairie Chicks)

Carolyn Kaufman | @CMKaufman said...

More fantastic thoughts -- thank you all for taking the time to share! Stilton, wonderful tip about free pages. Google Sites is another one people can check into.

Used to be free sites were all supported by advertising, but with bandwidth being so plentiful, that's not necessarily the case anymore. People also often get free space through their ISP (the company that you pay for your internet connection). Try visiting your ISP's website, or give their customer service a call.

Janet C. -- I think group blogs are becoming more common, and once you're part of one, it's easy to see why! We love doing ours, too, and are so glad to have joined forces.

I'm enjoying reading everyone's comments! :-D

Stilton Jarlsberg said...

A quick followup on my earlier tip: while some of the "free" websites (included with domain name registration) from ISPs will carry an ad (usually for the ISP itself), 1and1.com doesn't put any advertising at all on your 5-page website (which could be a concern, since we all want to look as professional as possible).

Paul W. West, Author said...

All this is wonderful information. Thank you.

I have just one question. You said we could post excerpts of our writing on our blog sites. What happens if we do that? Is that considered "published" by any prospective editors, and they will have difficulty accepting it for their publication?

Just wondering. I'd love to post some stuff, but I'm afraid to do that because I've heard that once it's posted for the world to see, itis considered published.

Carolyn Kaufman | @CMKaufman said...

Hi Paul -- It is considered published if you put up an excerpt, but as long as it's only an *excerpt* and you're not giving away most of the story for free, you're okay.

Mary Lindsey had the first few pages posted on her site and those pages have garnered interest from people she's awfully glad to have made contact with!

So think like 5 pages.

I am working on a nonfiction book, and I'm drawing some of the text (mostly Q&A answers) from my archetypewriting.com website. We just stipulated in the contract with the publisher that I was only taking x small percentage of the book from my own website. Not a problem.

Michelle D. Argyle said...

Fantastic information for those starting out! I have a blog already and plan to get my website up and running soon. Thanks!

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Kate Karyus Quinn said...

Thanks for mentioning the WIP Wednesdays!

I have been thinking of getting a website started too, but have no idea what I would actually put on it. Any suggestions there?

Carolyn Kaufman | @CMKaufman said...

Kate, I think that sounds like a good idea for another blog post. I will work on it!

Chas Hathaway said...

Very well said. I found that as soon as I started updating more than once a week, more people started coming to my blog. They like regularity.

For a short time I was doing daily, but my entry quality was going down, so now I do two to four entries a week, and for me that seems to be a good balance.

- Chas