Let’s get one thing out of the way before we get started. A blog is not exactly the same as a website. Some authors (usually ones who are already well read like Dan Brown) do just fine with a static website; a website where the content for the most part stays the same. Others, like Anne R. Allen, just have a blog (an award-winning blog at that). Still more, such as Seth Godin, do both. Presumably in Seth’s capacity as “America’s Greatest Marketer” he thinks that’s the best option. Either that or he just couldn’t make his mind up.
Let’s assume you want to start an author blog. What blogging platform should you choose?
We could leave it at that really, but in the interests of keeping you entertained, or at the very least informed, let’s explain why.
When you’re just starting out, you’ve got lots of options as to which blogging platform you could use. There’s Blogger, Tumblr, Typepad, SquareSpace, and many more besides. So why WordPress over the others? Put simply, it’s the world’s biggest blogging platform – more than 100,000 new blogs are set up there every day (so you’d be in good company). When things get to that kind of scale, lots of really intelligent (and some not so intelligent people) write about them and tell us mere mortals how to nail using them. As such you can expect plenty of free support.
Before you rush off to sign up, we should point out that there are two versions of the WordPress site – .com and .org. Both use the same version of the software and both are free to use (kind of). The .coms are ad-supported although you can pay an annual fee to go ad-free. You can also pay extra to have a custom domain name (authorname.com as opposed to authorname.wordpress.com). A .org site is a different kettle of fish in that it is intended that you download the WordPress software and install on your own site hosted with a third party. It sounds kind of tricky, but in actual fact, most decent hosting services will offer a one click install of WordPress without you having to do much more than the promised one click. After you’ve got yourself set up, you’ll have way more freedom than you ever would with a .com version. You might not think you would ever want to tweak the design of your site, but you might (one day). You might not think you would ever want to use a plugin, but you will (trust us on that one). Save yourself a future headache and go for WordPress.org at the outset.
In summary …
The process will go something like this …
1. Choose a domain name. Be careful this part doesn’t keep you stumbling around for days. If you’re a famous writer (or hope to be one day), you’re better off just going with your name. People will, you know, actually be able to find you that way. You could try to be clever and come up with some witty (and probably obscure) name for your site. So long as you’re happy to spend countless hours coming up with one witty name after another, only to find that someone pipped you to the witty stakes and has already registered it, away you go.
2. Choose a hosting plan. You’ll typically be looking at something called shared hosting which will set you back less than €4 a month (paid annually in advance).
3. Once you’ve chosen your name and hosting plan (and parted with your money), you’ll be able to get started in earnest. Navigate to your control panel where you can put your one click to good use and have the latest version of WordPress installed for you.
4. You’ll be directed to WordPress where you can set up your username and password. Don’t be scared – you’ll have your (cyber) hand held throughout and be gently guided through the process. A tip for creating your username is to use the name you wish to post as. You may well go by the nickname “fluffybunny” in your personal life. Use that as your WordPress username and that’s who you’ll be posting as. The same applies for using the default Admin username. Avoid.
5. Choose a theme for your blog. There are over 1,600 free WordPress themes to choose from; the most popular of which are twenty ten, twenty eleven, and twenty twelve. Presumably there may also be a twenty thirteen at some point. If you’re kind of picky and 1,600 themes aren’t enough for you, premium wordpress themes are an option. There are literally hundreds of thousands to choose from, but by the far the most recommended is a Genesis framework plus a child theme of your choice.
Starting your own blog you might need to think about creating a logo as well. Online services for creating a logo are ideal. With Logaster, for example, you can create a great logo for your blog or website completely free. You can also make additional elements, such as business cards, letterheads, fax covers and favicons for your blog in a matter of minutes.
6. You’re now free to start blogging!
Optional: If you’re curious about what sort of traffic your new blog is attracting (and you should be), you’ll want to sign up for a free Google Analytics account. You’ll be given a piece of code to insert into your WordPress site. That code will magically track all of your visitors and let you know where they came from, what search term they used to find you, what they looked at, and how long they stayed (among other things).
Also optional: If you’re interesting in finding out how to grow your audience by optimising your content for search engines, Hubspot’s free ebook, “Learning SEO from the Experts”, is worth a read. It’s aimed at online businesses, but the principles are the same.
You’ve got this far. Congratulations (and thanks for sticking with us). By now, you should have a good idea about how to set up an author blog. There is perhaps just one question that remains. Why on earth would you want to?
Karen Woodward, creator of the Starburst Method of writing, sums it up quite nicely when she says “A writer can produce the most riveting prose imaginable but if you don’t have readers you’re not going to be able to pay the rent. And paying rent is important. I have no desire to end up under a bridge trying to wrestle the good cardboard box from Big Martha. Of course, one doesn’t have to make a living through writing, but if you want to then you’ll need readers to buy your work. It doesn’t get more basic than that”.
You might also want to read Anne R. Allen’s post on the top 10 self-sabotaging mistakes of author-bloggers.