How to Make a Cheap Low Cost Author Website

How to Make a Cheap Low Cost Author Website

Hi! Hello! One of the first things that I had to do once I got my book deal was to create an author’s website for myself. This is apparently one of the most important things an author needs (aside from the book itself). I’m not at all computer savvy, and would’ve quite happily bumbled along, using Square Space or Wix or whatever’s out there, but fortunately, my husband Mike is a bit of a genius when it comes to these things, and kindly built my website for me. He then kindly offered to write a guide for other writers on how to build your own website, so here it is! *hands mic over to Mike* Ohoho, mic to Mike. I crack myself up sometimes.

Make a Website on the Cheap

Hello, Mike here! Having an author website is essential in the digital age. It is an online place that is immune from the ups and downs of the various social media platforms and for many authors forms the cornerstone of their author platform.  

In this article I aim to show you how I built the website you’re currently on. The Obsession (working title - see it on Goodreads) by Jesse Q Sutanto (hi, spouse!) is scheduled for a US release by Source Books in Spring 2021. That is still 18 months away and so we wanted to take a budget approach to creating this website. 18 months is a nice amount of time to help us build an author platform but it is also a long time to pay any monthly fees incurred from running such a website without having an actual book in the market. 

To be clear, the budget option can be quite technologically demanding, so it might not be for everyone. You will need to know basic HTML and CSS. Before we proceed, here are a couple of great alternatives if you’re not tech savvy: 

  1. You could use a drag and drop website building like Squarespace. I’ve used Squarespace myself some 5 years ago. You still have to build and design the website, but it is relatively easy to use and bug free. They offer a 14 day trial and their basic plan (which is probably sufficient for an author website) costs $12 per month. There are many pros and cons of using an editor like Squarespace (you can read this elsewhere). For me the biggest con is that websites created on Squarespace are not very portable. Moving it elsewhere would be difficult and possibly expensive. Also I wouldn’t take up any offers of a free custom domain. After the free year has expired the renewal fee will most likely be at an unfair price. Use something like Namecheap and then transfer the domain to Squarespace, you’ll save a lot of money in the long run.
  2. Probably the best option for someone who doesn’t want to make their own website is to purchase a professionally made website. Prices can vary wildly depending on what you require and who is making it. A quick online search suggests prices varying from $1,000 to more than $10,000. You should test any existing websites from the web developer’s portfolio, ask about any recurring monthly fees, and get an idea of the rough cost should you need to make any large changes to your website. Minor changes and the creation of blog articles (should you have a blog), should be done by yourself, but for this to happen you will need to have access to the backend of your website and be shown how to do this. 

If you decide to go down this route then we strongly recommend checking out Gail Villanueva’s website services. At the time of writing, she offers two packages, priced at $1200 and $2000. The advantage of going with Gail is that she is also an author (you can check out her book website here) and so she will understand your author budget and website needs better than most. Support your fellow authors!

Bored man - credit to hutomo abrianto - unsplashI really hope this isn't you right now!?

Still with me? Great! Without further ado...

The Basics of Building this Website

The only monetary costs of this website are $9.06 for the domain name (1 year) and $93.24 for website hosting (3 years). This works out at $3.35 per month during the first year.

Domain Name - This was purchased through Namecheap ($9.06 for the first year). I have not encountered any problems with using Namecheap. 

Website Hosting - I went with Dreamhost ($93.24 for 3 years). I looked at many web hosting comparison articles and decided that Dreamhost had the best balance of speed (important for SEO) and cost. They also offer a 3 month cancellation period should you decide that Dreamhost doesn’t work for you. Additionally they offer a one-click installation service for and Joomla, and a free SSL certificate. An SSL certificate is essential for website security and search engines will penalise you if you don’t have one. For example, in my country, my mobile phone provider inserts adverts on websites without an SSL certificate, a practice considered illegal in many countries. With Dreamhost I have only had one instance where I have needed to contact their customer support and they were both prompt and useful.

Coding a website - credit to christopher gower - unsplashThankfully making a website no longer requires coding.

My experience with - My initial intention was to use (free) to build this website, but unfortunately my user experience was not great. There are a multitude of templates and plugins to help create the website of your dreams. Nearly all the free add-ons and free trials of premium add-ons that I tried were buggy. It’s important to note that although the price of each individual add-on may be low, if you use many of them, the cost will become significant. Despite this, a significant proportion of the world’s websites are built using Wordpress. My guess is that the vast majority of those websites use the more user friendly but less versatile ($25 per month to remove wordpress branding), and those that use either create their own templates and plugins, or battle through and find a set that works for them.

Using Joomla to Make This Webpage - After 2 weeks (part time) I gave up with and one-click installed Joomla (free). I used the following add-ons:

  • Helix Ultimate template (free) - there’s less work to be done when you start with a template.
  • SP Page Builder (free) - adds additional functionality to your template.
  • JCE Editor - a more versatile html editor.
  • Akeeba Backup - a brilliant free plugin which allows you to backup your whole Joomla website at the click of a button.
  • Convert Forms - allows you to create a Contact Me form.
  • JComments - adds a commenting system to selected articles.
  • Mailchimp - not a Joomla plugin but it is a nice tool for all things mailing list.
  • Sourcerer - I couldn’t find a social share plugin that suited my particular needs and so I coded my own social share module. Sourcerer allows me to use php code within my module. The php code isn’t required for a social share module but with it I could make the module more user friendly.
  • JL Sitemap - this generates a sitemap which makes it easier for search engines to index your website.

Building the website in Joomla took me 6 weeks (part time). I would guess this to be somewhere between 100-120 hours. This includes the time to learn Joomla, figure out which plugins to use or not use (I probably looked at 20 or so plugins to get to the final list above), to build this website with some basic initial content, and even do one complete restyle of the website. I did however already know HTML, CSS, and PHP, the first two of which are absolutely necessary if you want to follow my approach. HTML is needed to have a stress free experience when editing content, whilst CSS is required to be able to style your website for both desktop and mobile. I also suggest that you use Unsplash, here you can find thousands of totally free images which you can use on your website.

Typewriter - credit to pereanu sebastian - UnsplashBefore computers, making a website was really tiresome.

Obviously time is money, and perhaps 120 hours is not a good use of your time and you would be better off with one of my first two suggestions for building a website. On the plus side I now have more knowledge, complete control of the website, and if I had to do it again it would take much less than 120 hours. 

Finally don’t forget to use two-factor authentication at all access points to your website assets. i.e.the website backend, website hosting, domain name provider, and Mailchimp. If you were to get hacked then you could potentially lose all of your hard work, not just your website, but also your hard earned mailing list.