Websites vs. BlogsBlogs are about connecting with like-minded peers that share similar interests. In the writing world, they offer a way to connect to the writing community and trade information (and support, of course!)
For the rest of your fans, you'll want to have a website where they can learn more information about you and the books you write.
When should I start a website?
If you read my post about your brand vs. your product, then you know that in the writing world your brand is the name you publish under and your products are the books you publish.
Author websites are no different than brand websites like Tide.com and Clorox.com. There are tons of places on the web consumers can go to for product info, but a brand website acts as a central hub housing info about all the products that fall under a given brand.
Some writers choose to start a website when they're on the hunt for an agent or publisher. In that instance, their audience is not their ultimate readers, but the agents and publishers they hope to attract. The content on their website should be developed with this audience in mind.
I have the utmost respect for writers who do this, and I do think it can be a useful way to showcase your marketing acumen and writing portfolio to agents/publishers. BUT I personally don't think you need to have a website until you actually get published. This is just my opinion, and I know there are others out there who can offer a different and completely justified POV.
Once you have a publishing deal a website is critical, because you'll need it to grow and maintain a fan base. Fans of your work will want to learn more about you and learn what other books you've written or when your next book will be released. While there are lots of other places readers can go for book info (Goodreads, Amazon, etc.) your website is the only ownable platform where you can establish your brand - you drive the content, and you control the message about who you are. It will also be the only one-stop-shop location with all of your product and brand info in the same place.
I should note that all of your public assets - blogs, Facebook, twitter, etc - are branding tools. The difference with social media is that the content, to some extent, is out of your control. For example, you can't control book reviews, and people can post negative comments on your blogs or mention you in tweets in ways you can't influence. But the content on your website is 100% owned and operated by you.
So why the hell did I just buy StacyStokes.com if I'm not yet published?
I promise I'm not talking out both sides of my mouth! But yes, I am a proud digital land owner even though I'm not yet published. The reason is because I know that some day my publishing dream will come true (do you hear that dream? You WILL come true!) And when that day comes, I will want a destination site for my readers to learn more information about my books. And I want to make sure that I can leverage my brand name when I do that.
There can only be one StacyStokes.com, but sadly there are many other Stacy Stokes in the world who may want the domain (That's right, I Googled myself...and may or may not have checked out the other Stacy Stokes...(Stokeses? Stokesi?)) Anyhoo, when I saw that my website name was available, I made a preemptive strike and chose to purchase it.
If you happen to have an unusual name you may not need to do this, but for the majority of us there is probably someone else in the world who may want to buy the same domain as you, and for that reason it's can't hurt to think ahead.
If by some chance your domain name is taken, you might want to consider something such as yournamebooks.com. For those of you who are fans of Lauren Oliver, this is what she did. The key in cases like this will be developing an SEO strategy so that you can ensure your fans can search and find your site. Although, to be fair, you should think about your SEO strategy regardless. My post on Blog SEO strategies can help, although with websites content will always be key for driving natural search (feel free to post a question if you want me to elaborate.)
How can I become a digital land owner like you, Stacy?
Remember all those awkwardly sexual GoDaddy.com ads that ran during the Superbowl? Turns out they're actually a viable and useful company that sells domain names. The typical cost to buy an unused domain is around $10-$20 per year. Not too shabby. I'd recommend going to their site to see if your domain name is available. If it is, it's a small annual investment to ensure you've secured the domain name you want when your magical publishing dreams come true.