Author Websites: When to Launch Them, When to Fold Them

I should start this post by pointing out that my job is to build and maintain websites for authors. Which means that I have a personal, vetted interest in making sure that all authors build websites, and they never decide to shut them down.

All of that said, there are also some very good reasons why authors should agree with me on this. Here’s my expert advice on when to launch a website (it’s never too soon) and when to shut down a website (hardly ever).

When to Launch an Author Website
In short … now!

You see, one thing that authors tend to forget is that the web is not like print. The web is evergreen. A site that you build will continue to live on — and grow — for years to come.

Here are a few facts to keep in mind:

  • A site can take months or years to grow to where you want it to be.
  • It takes weeks after launch for the site to start showing up on search engine results.
  • It can take months to climb those search engine results.
  • It can take years to build the email list that you may want to have to promote your book.

So what does all of this mean? Well, it means that you need to look at your online marketing very differently from your offline marketing. Sure, you don’t want that NY Times ad promoting your book to appear long before the book is available. But you can build the website months — or even years — before the book is available. In fact, the longer your site is active before your book is available, the more email names you will have collected and the higher your site will be ranking on the search engines. That’s all the more people you will be able to reach with your book announcement.

When to Fold an Author Website
Authors are a hearty bunch. They have to be. After all, an author gets rejected more than he or she gets published, so authors have to be able to dust themselves off, get back up, and figure out another way to accomplish their goals.

That’s why it always surprises me when an author says that their site just isn’t doing what they wanted it to do, and they are calling it quits (a.k.a. shutting down the site).

Just like it’s never too soon to launch a site, there’s really hardly ever an instance in which it makes sense to shut down a site. The cost of web hosting is so minimal (and, in fact, can even be free in some instances), that it’s baffling when an author wants to quit instead of working to figure out why the site isn’t accomplishing their goals, and adjust it accordingly.

For example, if the goal of the site was to sell books, and the books aren’t selling at the rate the author hoped, I would recommend the following:

  • Restructuring the site a bit to promote the book more.
  • Trying additional marketing tactics to drive traffic to the site, like a blog tour, search engine optimization, or joining online groups, clubs, etc… to promote it.
  • Asking other authors to take a look at the site and offer feedback on it.

Finally, if an author just doesn’t want to do it anymore and decides to shut down their website, they should at least set up a free, one-page site for themselves and redirect their old URL there. After all, even if it takes 10 minutes to set up the redirect, wouldn’t that be worth it if you sold just a few more books after the fact?