How to Set Up a Website

A question I used to see a lot from aspiring writers when I was still working in publishing was Do I need a website? Do I need to get on Twitter/Facebook/Tumblr/Instagram/[insert social media platform]? What do agents and editors mean when they say “online presence”?

I won’t lie; whenever I received a submission from an agent, the first thing I did was Google that author. I wasn’t necessarily looking to see if the author had an enormous platform or following; I just wanted to get a sense of the person behind the words. For me, it was always the most helpful if the author had a personal website where I could go, read their bios, find their social media links, etc. Not having a professional website isn’t a deal-breaker, but these days, it would strike me as a little odd.

I’ve been coding and designing websites since I was in high school (does anyone else remember Geocities? No? Bueller? Bueller? Okay, I’m just old then.), so I’m pretty comfortable with this sort of thing, but I know this entire process bewilders a lot of people, so I thought I would write a tutorial for our readers (and some of our members!) to help them out.

Full disclosure: Here at PubCrawl, we use Bluehost, so the screenshots used in the tutorial will be of their website. We’ve been pretty happy with Bluehost in the five years we’ve been with them and would never endorse something we ourselves did not use or wholeheartedly support. There are a myriad other hosting options out there, but if you choose to go with Bluehost, we would appreciate it if you would click on the link we’ve provided, as it generates a little revenue for us at PubCrawl. We do what we love here for love and not money, but a little kickback would help us fund our giveaways and keep the lights on!

This is a bit of a long post with a lot of images, so the rest is under the cut!

1. Pick a domain name.

A domain name is your address on the internet, as it were. Ours is publishingcrawl.com, but as an writer, it’s best to have a domain under the name you’re writing under. (For example: Mine is sjaejones.com because I am writing as S. Jae-Jones.) The first thing I would do is check to see if your name is available. The easiest way to do that is simply type yourname.com into your browser and see if anything turns up.

If your name is already taken, then you can add -writer or -books to the end of your name, or else try .net or .biz, although .com is probably best for search purposes.

2. Select a web hosting plan and register your domain.

Most web hosting services will register your first domain for free, and for the sake of simplicity, I would recommend you do it all at once.1 Select your plan of choice. (For most writers who don’t expect heavy blog traffic, the most basic plans are sufficient. You can always upgrade later.) Register your new domain name with your host provider.

3-Domain Registartion

3. Install WordPress.

Okay, now here’s where things get a bit complicated. Think of a website as a piece of property: the host is the land itself and the domain is the address. If you want to live on that piece of land, you need to build a house.

If you know HTML, you could code that house yourself. (I’ve done so; it’s incredibly time-consuming and exhausting.) Or you could download and install a CMS, or Content Management System, like WordPress, Joomla, or similar. We at PubCrawl use WordPress (and I do for my own website as well).

Once you’ve set up your domain, you will prompted to set up a username and password for your host. Once you’ve done that, log in to access your Control Panel (usually called cPanel by most hosting services).

9-Bluehost login

Once you’ve been logged in, at the top navigation bar, you will see cpanel. Clicking on that will lead you to your Control Panel, which will look something like this:

11-cPanel-WP

Bluehost and other providers will often provide a 1-step installation for WordPress and other CMS builders. Under Website Builders, click on the WordPress logo and you’ll be brought to a page that looks like this:

12-Wordpress

Start a brand new install, select your domain name, and Bluehost will do the work for you.2 Set up your WordPress login with a username and password.

Once everything’s been installed, in order to access the backend of your website, type www.yourname.com/wp-admin/ and you’ll see this:

18-WordPress Login

Fill in your username and password and that will take you to your Dashboard, which looks like this:

19-Dashboard

Ta-da! Now your website has been set up. Time to make it look pretty.

4. Select a theme to install on your website.

The default WordPress theme is actually pretty decent, but if you want to put your own personal stamp on your website, I would recommend browsing the WordPress themes gallery. There are a lot of themes you can choose, many of them for free. You can also hire a designer to make your website more personal at this point, but to be honest, a lot of the free themes at WordPress are clean and professional, so there isn’t a huge need to break your bank account.

5. Fill your website with content.

In your WordPress Dashboard, you’ll see an option on the lefthand navigation bar titled Pages. This is where you can create different pages for your website: an about page, information about your books, a blog, a contact page, etc. As an editor, I didn’t need all that much, just a place to contact you. Readers may like a lot more extra content, so include as much information about your book as you please!

That’s all for this post. Hope this was helpful for everyone who’s looking to set up a website and didn’t know where to start. If you have any further questions, leave them in the comments and I’ll try my best to answer, although each case will be different, of course. 

  1. If only to avoid the headache of having to go into your domain registration page and point the DNS servers to a different host, etc.
  2. As opposed to having to set up an FTP login, finding an FTP client, access MySQL databases, fiddling with wp-config.php files, etc. I’m an old hat at this, you guys.
     

15 Responses to How to Set Up a Website

  1. Anna Jordan Jan 11 2016 at 9:21 am #

    My WordPress.com site doesn’t allow things like Rafflecopter which yours seems to. Is that because you host through Bluehost?

    • JJ
      JJ Jan 11 2016 at 9:22 am #

      Huh. WordPress shouldn’t have an issue with Rafflecopter regardless of who the host is. Could it possibly be the theme you’re using?

      • Anna Jordan Jan 22 2016 at 8:54 am #

        It has something to do with WordPress.com which doesn’t allow JavaScript and WordPress.org which does.

    • Chris Owens Jan 11 2016 at 6:50 pm #

      I came across a similar problem recently. Sites hosted on WordPress.com won’t allow you to post scripts on your blog posts. Self-hosted sites that use WordPress to construct the site can use those scripts.

  2. Abigail Jan 11 2016 at 10:46 am #

    This post came along at the perfect time for me – thanks so much! Are there any web hosts you would recommend for people who are new to this?

    • JJ
      JJ Jan 12 2016 at 7:49 am #

      Obviously we use Bluehost for PubCrawl (as do many of our contributors!), so that’s a hosting service we recommend. There are many others, AN Hosting, Squarespace, even WordPress will convert a free blog, I believe. There’s a lot of shopping around you can do. 🙂

  3. Ed Jan 11 2016 at 11:24 am #

    This puts me in a bit of a quandry. I do see your points a valid (if I google myself, I get the website of a NYC based artist with the same name whose works are…”unique” to say the least, so I would have to use a pen name if I get published), but I would have nothing to say as I don’t use social media in my day-to-day life. I’m damned if I do, and damned if I don’t.

    • JJ
      JJ Jan 11 2016 at 11:26 am #

      You don’t have to say anything or blog! Some websites are very simple: just a single page with a photo of the author, with a paragraph or two about the person, etc. Not having a website isn’t a dealbreaker; it’s just that more and more, people are using websites as a sort of online CV.

  4. Jess Jan 11 2016 at 7:53 pm #

    Great post, super helpful – thank you! Would also be interested if you guys have any insights into how to blog as a published writer, from a marketing/branding perspective.

    • JJ
      JJ Jan 12 2016 at 7:52 am #

      That’s a very good question. To be honest, I’m not sure if anyone knows how to blog as a published writer, so it’s probably best to blog about what you like best. Having a large blog following does not actually translate/correlate into book sales (unless you’re a user-submitted/themed blog like Humans of New York or Post Secret. Blog about whatever you choose!

  5. Kate Jan 12 2016 at 3:35 pm #

    Hi JJ, what’s the theme that Pub Crawl use n WordPress, may I ask?

    • JJ
      JJ Jan 12 2016 at 6:22 pm #

      Hi Kate: I coded it, using a design created by PubCrawl alumna Erin Bowman. The base theme I used was Canvas by Woothemes. (It’s not a free theme, unfortunately.) Hope that helps!

      • Kate Jan 12 2016 at 7:09 pm #

        Thanks JJ! Appreciate it 🙂 A friend has asked me to help her set up her new yoga website this coming weekend, and I thought yours was on a great template 🙂

  6. Eugene Jan 13 2016 at 1:22 pm #

    Ha ha, I remember Geocities! My first website was terrible, but most of them were back then.

    Great post, JJ!

  7. Abigail Welborn Feb 5 2016 at 12:48 am #

    Heck yeah I remember Geocities. Enchanted Forest 4EVER!

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