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How to Build an Author Portfolio Website
By Lori Soard . Last Updated on November 22, 2019
As an author, you are the face of your brand and an author portfolio website introduces you to new readers as well as giving you a professional calling card for potential clients and publishers. However, as a writer, you likely don’t know as much about website coding or how to put it all together.
Fortunately, I am both an author and a website designer and I’m going to help you step-by-step in how you can create an author portfolio website easily, inexpensively and give you details on what to put in your portfolio for maximum impact. The best website design for writers is whatever showcases your work and you as an author, as your brand is who you are and what you pour into your art.
Q: Why you need a digital author portfolio?
There are about 45,200 writers and authors in the United States, but a mere 21% of full-time published authors make their living off of solely writing books. If you want to compete in the highly digital world of today’s publishing industry, make a website that grabs visitors and convert them into readers.
If you self-publish, your website serves as part of your Internet storefront. If you sell your books through a publisher, then your site might be more informational in nature. Your site showcases who you are as a person and why you write the books you do.
Q: What kind of writer portfolio website do you need?
The kind of site you need depends a lot on the type of work you do. Since many fiction authors supplement their income by working on freelance projects, you may need a site that reflects both sides of your writing personality.
There are different types of writer websites, and you may want to create more than one type to reach the most potential readers or clients.
A Simple Personal Blog
A Static Website with Personal Information
Writer’s Profile at Medium, Clippings.me, etc.
A Social Media Page
Ideally, the different listings work together so you reach the most people possible. You would link back to your blog from your social media site by posting links to new articles and snippets of news. You’d tie in your social media to your website by adding links to the social media pages on your website pages and so on.
Free Options to Create a Writer Website
If you mainly write in a single niche, then you can probably use a simpler design to show a few examples and offer information on how to get in touch with you. There are some free options and online builders you can use to get started, but these have a number of limitations and should only be used as a stop gap until you can afford to build a custom site that shows your unique skills as a writer.
WordPress.com – WordPress offers basic, free websites you can build. You won’t be able to work on the backend of the site or do much customization with a free WordPress site, but it can get you online and help you get the word out until you have the extra funds to build a site of your own. This is arguably the best website builder for authors because there is so much community help with this open-source software.
Writer’s Residence– Set up a simple online portfolio for free and then pay $8.99 per month. Again, you are limited with what you can do and that $9 per month price tag adds up over the course of the year when you could easily host your own site for less through a cheap hosting company.
Clippings.me– Do you just want a place to share a few clips of some of your articles and attract new clients? Clippings.me lets you upload 10 clips for free and then charges a small monthly fee for anything above that.
Contently– Set up a free online portfolio and get in front of clients on the site. This platform is probably better suited for freelance nonfiction writers, but you could also share some of your fiction and attempt to get ghostwriting gigs.
Remember, you may want to add a static website and blog at some point as well, but these are great starters.
How to Build Your Own Writer’s Portfolio Website
The free website solution above should be used on a temporary basis or in addition to a more custom solution. It doesn’t cost much time or money to set up your own online portfolio and highlight your writing. In fact, you’ll spend a lot less taking out some shared hosting and building a WordPress site than the annual fees of companies such as Wix. I am in the process of moving a family friend’s site to a server right now because Wix sent them a bill they can’t justify for the coming year. Squarespace and similar companies also charge high prices without offering the same benefits you’ll gain from your own hosting package through a hosting company.
If this is your first website or you haven’t created one in a while, you might wonder where you should start. Here are the steps to follow:
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1. Get a domain name
Start by choosing a domain name. For me, my name is fairly unique, so I was able to use LoriSoard.com. However, if your name is Smith or Johnson, you may find your domain name is already taken. In that case, you can try adding the word “author” or using the extension .author. Some hosting companies register your domain name through their packages, so check that before registering, but GoDaddy is a popular choice for registration. There are many domain registrar services out there, so choose the one that makes sense to you.
2. Pick a website hosting / builder
There are some hosting companies for small businesses or website builders that are inexpensive and offer a lot of bang for your buck. These are the best website hosting companies for writers or any small business owner. They also have excellent customer service and are open to beginning web builders.
This is the company I currently use and their customer service has been excellent. I consider myself a more experienced web developer, but there are some things I just don’t know and they are always happy to guide me through technical matters. They also offer some detailed tutorials and they are very reliable and fast.
You can get a shared hosting website for as little as $2.96 per month. Not sure how to handle installing and managing WordPress? You can get a managed site for about $9.78 per month. For new authors, without a lot of experience in building websites, A2’s 1-Site WordPress Hosting for as little as $9.78 a month is your best option (price varies by term of contract and you do have to pay in advance to get the best prices). This package covers a single site and unlimited storage.
Weebly is a website builder rather than a hosting company. You use built-in themes and then drag and drop images and information into the builder to create your portfolio website. Weebly is very easy to use and features some templates for portfolios as well as online store features so you can sell your own books if you’d like. The site uses artificial intelligence (AI) to talk to you through the process of building a simple portfolio.
Authors should consider the Connect Plan for $5 per month because they get a free domain name, which they can connect to their site. If you plan to sell books through your site, then you'll need the Pro Plan so you can set up an online store and collect payments. Pro runs $12 per month. All prices or when you pay for the year up front.
InMotion Hosting is another hosting company that offers a variety of packages and prices very reasonable. You can go with their WordPress hosting plans and they even offer BoldGrid, which is a drag and drop site builder. There is still a slight learning curve to figure out how to build a portfolio with BoldGrid but it is a very intuitive system.
Some of the features you get with their packages include a free domain name, 40 GB SSD storage for only $5.99 per month and free SSL. The best package for authors is the managed WordPress hosting WP-1000s package. If you expect under 20,000 visitors per month, this site should easily meet your needs. You get a free domain name and one website for the price of $6.99 per month.
Hostinger makes our list because they offer such inexpensive options for first-time website owners or authors on a tight budget. As mentioned before, most writers have to supplement their income in some way. You probably don’t have a lot of money to spend on creating an online portfolio unless your name is Steven King and then your publisher is likely to commission it for you.
Hostinger also offers a fast website builder for those without much tech savvy. You'll walk through the steps, such as choosing a hosting plan for as little as 99 cents a month and creating a basic website by choosing from some preinstalled themes and uploading your own images and information. The site is pretty intuitive, but you might have to refer to their manuals here and there.
Those without a lot of technical know-how would do well with the single shared website builder hosting plan for .99 cents per month with 100 GB bandwidth and an easy website building platform where you can drag and drop images and text.
Whether you go with an out of the box site builder or you use a platform like WordPress or even create an HTML website, there are some elements every author site needs to be fully effective.
Understanding Audience – Make sure you understand your target audience. If you write historical romances, your audience is quite different than if you write science fiction. If you write nonfiction articles, your audience is different again.
Buyer Personas – Create buyer personas based off your different reader audiences, so you understand who you are talking to through your site.
Logo – You need a logo of some sort, even if it is just your author name in a fancy script. Your logo communicates who you are as a writer. Treat your written work as a business and brand it. Here are our free logos you can download.
About Page – People need to understand who you are and why you write what you do. Think about famous authors you know of, such as Steven King. You likely know details about your life.
Books Page – You need a page to list all your books. Even if you place them on your homepage, as I’ve done, you should also include more details on individual product/book pages.
Call to Action – What action do you want users to take when they land on your page? If you simply want them to sign up for your mailing list so you can continue to market to them, then focus on the wording, placement and conversion rate of your CTA.
4. Create an author website using WordPress
Personally, I like to use WordPress for my author portfolio website. I think it offers the most flexibility and I can mesh a blog with the portfolio portion of my site, offering updates when I’m in a hurry without spending a lot of time creating pages. In fact, WordPress is so popular that it's used by 34% of the websites on the Internet.
My page is customized a bit with a unique background and some other elements you won’t find out of the box. You can add unique features by using your custom CSS option or you can hire someone to tweak your theme once it’s completed. I’m going to walk you through the steps of using WordPress to create your author portfolio website.
Step #1. Install WordPress
I use A2 Hosting, which comes with ControlPanel. Adding WordPress to your site via ControlPanel is very simple. If you feel lost after reading through these directions, you can also pay for managed WordPress and have the server install it for you. I promise it is easy, though.
Navigate to your control panel and choose the WordPress installer (the W inside a blue circle).
When the page loads, choose the blue button that reads “Install Now.”
Basic configuration tips
Choose your installation URL. If you want the site in your root folder as I have mine (www.lorisoard.com), then you simply punch in yourdomain.com. If you want it in a subfolder or directly, simply name it as you'd like it to appear. Example:
This works well if you have a business website and you want to add on a portfolio for your work as an author.
Under Site Settings, choose your site's name and a description. If you aren't sure yet, you can go into your WordPress dashboard under settings and change this info later.
For your Admin Account, choose a username you'll remember and a complicated password. You should also set an admin email. Some people recommend setting your website email here, such as [email protected] The problem I've found with this is that if your site gets hacked or goes down, then it is hard to access the email. I use an email from a different server for this, but the choice is yours. There are advantages to using a same domain email such as user recognition.
Once you've chosen your options, make sure you’ve written your admin name and password in a safe place and click the blue “Install” button.
You should be given the address to access your WP dashboard. Typically, it is
Step #2. Secure your site
Do not delay in this next step. You must immediately secure your site such as getting an SSL certificate and installing essential security plugins.
People love to hack into WordPress websites. WordPress sites account for 90% of all hacked content management system (CMS) sites. One reason is due to failing to update plugins and themes. However, WordPress has other vulnerabilities you should address as soon as you install the open source software on your site. At a minimum, you should install the following plugins:
Wordfence Security– This puts up a firewall and prevents brute force attacks. Of course, there are numerous such plugins. This is one I’ve found works well, but you can use whichever one makes the most sense for you.
Hide My WP – That login for your WP dashboard of yourdomain.com/wp-admin? Everyone knows it. You can change that login page with this plugin and make it harder for hackers to get in.
WordPress security authentication (SALT keys) encrypt the information you use to login to your site. You might feel unsure about changing the SALT keys because you think you need code and you can change them manually via a wp-config.php file.
Fortunately, there is an easier way to change them for those without coding knowledge. You simply add the Salt Shaker plugin and you can set it to change the keys every week or month, based on your security preferences. Set it and forget it.
To install Salt Shaker, go to your dashboard, plugins, add new and search for Salt Shaker. Click install and then activate.
Once it is installed, click on “Settings” under the Salt Shaker plugin listing. Choose the check box and then set the changes up for your preference (daily, weekly, monthly). Click on “Change Now” button.If you try one plugin for security and you hate it, just delete it and add something different. The great thing about WP as a website platform is that you have access to a wide variety of plugins and ways to customize your site.
Step #3. Find the right website theme
Finding just the right theme for your online portfolio isn’t easy. I actually purchased the theme I wound up going with because I liked some of the features and the layout of it. You could also hire someone to create a custom theme or use any of the many free portfolio themes available.
Start by studying authors’ websites and seeing what you like and don’t like about their portfolios.
Once you have an idea of the features you’d like, navigate to the appearances tab on the left-hand side of your WP dashboard and click “Add Theme” and then sort by features to find possible themes you might want to use. Click on “Apply Filters.”
You can further refine your options by typing in search terms such as “writer,” “books,” or “portfolio.”
Here are a few interesting themes I found that you might want to consider:
VW Writer Blog
Author Landing Page
One Page Portfolio
These are just a few themes to choose from. There are hundreds of available themes. Even though you are building a portfolio, you certainly don’t have to stick to a portfolio theme. You can choose from the free eCommerce themes if they are a good fit. The key is in the content you add.
Step #4. Build your pages and media library
Once you’ve chosen a theme, it’s time to decide what pages you want and add to your media library by adding book covers and other images. There are a couple of ways you can add books to your site.
Add books as pages with a featured image that is your cover and a description and buy links on each page. You can then place the pages in your navigation, as sub menu items or add it to content areas.
Use your posts for book announcements only and set your page up as a blog, so new releases appear on the front page. You can change what landing page users see under Themes/Customize or Settings/Reading. You can either choose “Your Latest Posts,” which will throw up your latest blog posts on the homepage of your site or you can choose “A static page” and pick a page you've created to serve as the homepage of your site.
If you don’t mind studying a new plugin and learning how to use it, you could also utilize a shopping plugin and sell books directly using WooCommerce or a similar plugin.
Step #5. Check for Errors
Once you have your site set up the way you’d like, you need to check it carefully for errors. You’ve probably heard all the buzz about user experience (UX) and how a bad experience drives customers away. Links that don’t work, forms that fail to send and 404 errors frustrate users.
Spend time testing every link on your site. Submit each form to make sure it arrives on your end and the user gets a confirmation message. Test your ordering process to make sure everything runs smoothly.
Make sure your site is mobile friendly. Around 73% of people will get on the Internet via only their smartphones by 2025. If your site isn't mobile-friendly, you're likely already missing out on a number of audience members who don't use PCs ever. Again, there is a plugin that can help make your site more mobile-friendly, but you should also choose responsive in your filters as you seek out a theme in the first place. Themes such as Twenty Seventeen and Twenty Nineteen are already created with a mobile-first approach.
Step #6. (Future improvement) Hire someone to tweak your site
Once you’ve done all you can do, take a step back and look at what might be missing. Do you wish the background was transparent but can’t figure out the custom CSS code to make it so? Since you’ve done most of the hard work, it shouldn’t cost too much to hire a programmer to fix a few minor issues for you. You can outsource only portions of the work you aren’t comfortable completing or hire different contractors for tasks they are experts in.
Better yet, ask anyone you hire to explain what they did so you can learn and hopefully fix it yourself the next time. You can also find a lot of information online about more popular themes such as Twenty Sixteen and Twenty Seventeen. Here are a few resources that go over some of the more popular customizations for Twenty Sixteen and Twenty Seventeen:
Twenty Sixteen Support Forum – WordPress.org’s official forum for help with Twenty Sixteen Theme. Browse through posts or ask a question of your own.
Twenty Seventeen Support Forum – Also on WordPress.org, a list of previously solved questions and a forum filled with experts in how to use the theme and tweak it to your needs.
WordPress Forums – Go to the WordPress forums for general questions or ask CSS customization questions in the folder. You can also search by topic and see if your question has already been asked and solved. This forum covers more themes than just a single one.
Kinsta– If you aren’t afraid of digging into the files of your theme and changing your stylesheet, this guide offers some tips for truly customizing twenty-something themes. The moderator is also good about answering questions readers might have, so be sure to read through the comments and ask any questions you might have.
All About Basic – There are some typical customizations that users ask about time and time again. This guide goes through some of the issues people see with the Twenty Seventeen theme, such as the height of the header on the home page, removing the page title and the resulting gap and removing the “Proudly Powered by WordPress” message.
The more you work with WordPress, the more you’ll understand it and be able to make minor tweaks either via coding or through plugins that turn your portfolio into something highly personal and customized.
Creating an author website isn’t something that happens overnight, but something that builds over time.
Examples of Great Writer’s Websites
Janet Dean is an inspirational author located in Indiana. She writes for Harlequin's Love Inspired Line. Her website is a good example of an author portfolio because it lists her most recent books while still showing a bit about the author. Visitors can view all her books in her portfolio on the “books” link and also access photos of her at various events. One thing I particularly like about this page is her section geared specifically toward media.
Author Nicholas Sparks uses his author portfolio website to put the focus on his latest release and invites visitors to “Order Now” with a call to action button. However, as the user scrolls down they will see additional pages they can navigate to, such as links to stories and other work. You can also get updated about events and author news. A pop-up appears after you've been on the page for a short time, inviting you to sign up for his mailing list.
Suspense author Dean Koontz is a New York Times bestseller. He does a couple of interesting things with his author portfolio. First, you see the covers of the books in his latest series laid out horizontally at the top of the page. Then, if you hover over the navigation tab for books, you're given a number of options, depending upon which of his series you're most interested in, such as Jane Hawk or an option to pull up all his books at once. The navigation is very intuitive and meets the needs of different segments of his audience.
Emily Winfield Martin
Emily Winfield Martin’s website is probably one of the most interesting portfolios out there. She is a children’s author, but also an artist. When you initially land on her home page, you aren’t greeted with book covers, but images of her art. You have to actually navigate to her Books page to see information on her books. Even her online store breaks into the two sides of her work, with entrance to her art or her children’s books.
Get the Word Out
Now that you’ve created a beautiful, one-of-a-kind portfolio to highlight your writing, it’s time to get the word out. Tell all your family and friends and ask them to share your website address on their social media accounts. Put your website address on business cards, in your email signature and share it in ads. Team up with other authors and share each other’s websites in your newsletters.
Any little thing you can do to get the word out helps build interest in your site and in your books. Eventually, stand a chance to turn it into a business. You’ve built a gorgeous writer website – now it’s time to share it with the world.
About Lori Soard
Lori Soard has been working as a freelance writer and editor since 1996. She has a bachelor's in English Education and a PhD in Journalism. Her articles have appeared in newspapers, magazines, online and she's had several books published. Since 1997, she has worked as a web designer and promoter for authors and small businesses. She even worked for a short time ranking websites for a popular search engine and studying in-depth SEO tactics for a number of clients. She enjoys hearing from her readers.
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