I have talked before about using Processwire or other content management systems, but what about hosting your website? Should you pay? Should you do something clever?
It is essential that authors have websites. As I have said before, they fill several purposes; they give the author a human face, they can allow interaction with fans via a blog, they become a central repository for book and links to book sites, and they allow for additional information about the books including maps, background histories and so on.
But creating your website is one thing, hosting it somewhere is another thing entirely.
When you first start out, you probably want something quick, easy and preferably free. It is not surprising that many authors use services like Wordpress.com, Blogger, and other services.
These are all well and good, but they have their limitations, and, of course, they carry advertising to support that they are free. Additionally, these might be fine for your chatty author blog, but not so good for a book specific site.
I have several sites. You are currently on my central site which is my blog and some bits about me. I run Google Ads on this site as well as my own ads for my books or other bits and pieces.
However, on my book specific sites, such as A World Called Dirt, I don't run ads. Why would I? That site is about everything to do with the Dirt fantasy. It is not a blog or a general site such as this one. The same goes for my site for The Stink, or my forthcoming Aelwen Jones books.
As soon as you are using websites to this extent, you probably want more control over how your sites work - you may even want to use a web designer or learn about web design yourself.
If you do that, you should also think about hosting.
But won't a web designer host your site? Yes, a lot of them will, especially in the Wordpress world. But I strongly suggest you resist this option. The simple fact is that any business relationship can go wrong, or wear out, or simply fall apart for reasons like people going out of business. If your hosting and access to your site is controlled by a lone developer and something goes wrong, you might find yourself cut off from your own website. So, here are two rules:
- NEVER let a third party buy your domain name for you, and
- NEVER let a third party buy and control your hosting for you.
Web hosting is cheap
There are a lot of companies out there who will host your site for you at a low price, securely, and safely. The most famous probably being companies like Go Daddy, who also sell domains.
I use a company called Kualo, and they have given me a solid service for the last few years. They offer starter plans from $2.99 a month for a single site or $4.99 a month for a multiple site solution. And if you want a more powerful solution where you can host audio, video and more complex sites, even that is only around $9.99 a month.
And other companies offer similarly priced offers.
What should I look for?
For me, the main criteria here is:
- Linux hosting running CPanel (the control panel software that does just about everything you need),
- PHP (the script that things like Wordpress and Processswire are built with),
- MySQL (the database solution for storing the info of your website)
- Free SSL Certificates (this is encryption and security for your website and can bee seen by the padlock in the address bar of Chrome)
- Good backup solutions (so your site is backed up regularly)
- Apache Web server (the software that actually serves out the site)
- Email (optional - I prefer to host email separately through things like Google)
To be honest, if you go for a host that uses CPanel, the rest will be there. However, some charge for backups and some include it. Kualo include it.
This is complicated stuff
I am not going to pretend that this is all dead easy, and you are going to have to learn some bits. But, unless you are designing and installing your own websites, it is not terribly complicated. You don't need coding knowledge to use CPanel and most things use step-by-step wizards that walk you through what you have to do.
If you are employing a web designer, then you will give them a login to your CPanel so they can upload your site, fine tune it, create the database, and everything else needed. All you will be doing, probably, is using the website through its own admin interface and logging into CPanel to run backups.
A friend of mine does exactly that - I put him a site together with Processwire and uploaded it for him. I haven't done anything else. He has worked out how to use the back up system, which was all he needed, and the rest he does through the Processwire Admin, which is easier to use than even Wordpress.
But he now has three or four sites hosted on there, has control over his own offering, doesn't have any adverts anywhere, and is as happy as anything.
Not bad for one of the most untechnical people I have ever come across.
So, yes, you will have to get your head around some concepts, but you won't have to become a web developer or server administrator. The hosting company is responsible for all the complicated server bits and the actual physical servers, so you are only worried about your own little bit of space.
Shared Hosting and other hosting plans
Really, we are only talking about shared hosting here, as that is fine for 99% of authors.
Shared hosting is where you have your own directory on a server that you are sharing with lots of other people and organisations. Each user has their own directory and has no way of getting into the directories of other users.
From the CPanel point of view, you just feel like you have your own server space.
If you suddenly have massive success and need a bigger solution, there are other plans available. All the way from VPS - Virtual Private Server where you have a full server solution but on a computer shared with others - to dedicated servers which is your own actual box, and then even to cloud solutions like Amazon Web Services, where you can scale your solution spread over hundreds of servers if needs be. And then there are combinations of all of those too, believe it or not.
At that point, you really will need to employ someone to manage it all for you, but hopefully, you have so much success by that time, that it's not an issue. Let's face it, most of us will never get there, so a shared hosting plan is fine!
So, to wrap up, when you first start out, you may be quite happy on an ad-supported system like blogger. But if you are serious about this, and you need more than one website, you will need to host everything somewhere, and at just a hundred or so dollars/pounds a year from most suppliers, hosting is hardly going to break the bank!
Big note here: Don't get talked into hosting with a friend who you know does some website stuff - go with a big established company. They have big back up systems, 24-hour support if things go wrong, and are constantly trying to prevent against hacking attempts and so on - Wordpress sites are attacked constantly!
Take a look at Kualo Web hosting - I have used several companies over the years, and they have probably been the most reliable with good support for idiots like me. They also sell domains and other useful things! It is available in both the US and the UK.