If you’ve not done this before (i.e. you’ve not built yourself any online tools for connecting with readers and selling books – and I’m excluding social media from this for the time being) you will need some or all of the following things:
- A hosting package
- A platform in which to build your website
- Tools to add functionality to the platform to build your website
- A platform to handle mailing lists
- A service to provide a physical mailbox so you won’t have to put your home address on mass emails (this being a legal requirement)
- A service to provide you with an inbox and custom email address
After much trial-and-error, reading up and experimentation I have created the following website: www.sammywoodford.com. It’s magnificent. It needs some “optimisation”, admittedly, but when the visitors come pouring in I’ll look mighty professional and they’ll buy all my books.
Let’s now examine the above handily bullet-pointed list.
Hosting package: in my case, Bluehost. It’s a big company, it offers cheap prices and it’s one of three hosting providers approved by WordPress. I wanted to use WordPress as the platform in which I’d build my site because it’s the one everybody uses. Not having done this before I thought that any problems would therefore be well documented, and I seem to have been correct in that assumption.
The hosting package I bought was a space on a shared server. That means I haven’t got masses of room (not a problem at the moment), and for all I know, if it ever got significant traffic it’d fall over (again, not currently a problem). For now it seems perfect. It included a few other things, things like domain registration. I was pleased to find that myname.com was, in my case, available, so went with that. Bluehost also provides me with cloud storage, which I haven’t used yet, and a custom email address, which I also haven’t used (see below) – i.e. it’s email@example.com rather than firstname.lastname@example.org, or somesuch. Remember… professional.
Now, WordPress is widely used and as such it has many tools, plugins, themes etc. that work with it. I discovered something called Divi, created by a company called Elegant Themes. Divi is a WordPress Theme, which means it’s the coat of paint you put on the blank site in order to provide stuff to click on, write in and picturefy. Divi is special, however; it’s a real-time front-end builder. You install it as a theme just like any other, but then, when creating new pages for your site, you can open the Divi builder and drop in modules with different types of functionality. It’s easy, powerful, and I highly recommend you check it out if you’re thinking of using WordPress.
Mailing lists. Any cursory research of the indie author ecosystem will flag up the mailing list as the supposed holy grail of self-empowerment. No serious author is complete without one, because if you can directly email people you control the link to your fans! There are, as always, a few options. When doing something difficult, new and potentially laced with a minefield of disappointment, I’ll take the well-trodden path thanks. MailChimp beckoned for the exact same reason as Bluehost, WordPress and Divi – they’ve worked for other folks in this situation. MailChimp pricing scales with list size, meaning that for fewer than 2000 subs you’ll be rolling for free. Go over that and you’ll be paying. That was an eventuality I decided to worry about down the line.
MailChimp allows you to build signup forms for your list, and Divi allows you to place a signup form on your WordPress site. There are about a million other ways of shelling this particular acorn, but as always I can only comment on what actually worked for me. This, incidentally, was the stage that took me longest to work out. If you go to my website and scroll to the bottom of the page you’ll find the signup form so you can see what I’m talking about.
Physical mailboxes. This was a head-scratcher. I’d not realised, until I tried to do it, that it’s a legal requirement if you’re sending out mass emails to attach the physical address of your business premises. Well, I’m not a business, and I’d rather the whole world didn’t have access to my home address. This is where a mailbox comes in. Depending on where in the world you live you can find a PO Box or a mailbox service for something between not much money and some money. Sorry I can’t be more help there. Just don’t sign up with a disreputable company. These are very much in evidence after just a simple Google search.
Finally, I also decided to splash out on the few pounds a month that a Google Apps for Business sub costs in order that I could make use of Gmail with my own customised email address. This is a matter of preference. I normally use Gmail, and wanted to keep with something reliable and familiar. There was a bit of configuration to do with my Bluehost control panel in terms of mail exchange routing, but Google’s setup procedure takes you right through the process, as do several good videos on YouTube.
And that’s it. A couple of weeks of slaving away and bingo! Then you can get back to actually reading and writing for people to see when they get to your site.