The importance of your own place on the web

Jan 5, 2023

Ryan Cahill recently tweeted: “Processing some updates on my website and I stumbled across the stats differences from 2021 to 2022. 2021 had ~17k hits on my author website, ~5k visitors. 2022 the hits increased by 2.5 to ~43k, while the visitors tripled to ~15k. Websites are important.”

It is a really important point, especially with social media in the turmoil it is. Authors (or any other creative for that matter), your own central home on the internet is absolutely essential. As we’ve seen with the horrific Muskening of Twitter, it’s easy for a third party app to be absolutely fucked in pretty short order. Even if Twitter survives, engagement has dropped off a cliff and I don’t know if that will recover. I’ve talked to other authors who are worried as they’ve seen a significant drop in sales because they can’t talk directly to potential readers like they used to. There’s not a lot we can do about the loss of those promotional channels other than keep signing up for alternate social media sites and hopefully be around the next one as it grows into a main character in the social media landscape. We’re also almost certainly going to have to diversify and know that one site will no longer rule them all. But beyond all that, you need a website.

Twitter has for a long time been the main hangout for authors and readers. Being a primarily text-based interface, that makes sense. There are lots of alternatives out there, which I’ll get to later, but currently nothing compares to Twitter. And the imminent collapse of that site is what’s prompted this post. Any site can fail at any time, so if you rely only on social media for your online presence, you’re constantly playing digital Russian Roulette.

Get a website. Make it happen. Even a free one-page site with contact details is better than nothing. You can sign up today at WordPress or Wix or any of a bunch of other places and get a free site. Yes, there’s a chance that company could go under too, but those places don’t have the tenuous nature of social media and are unlikely to be bought and fucked by an alt-right manchild.

Ideally, you’ll have your own domain name (which isn’t too expensive) and paid hosting (which also doesn’t cost much for a simple few pages). It’s an important investment if you can afford it. That way you have control of your presence on the web. Whatever else happens, you always have a web address to direct people to. You always have something for people to find if they search for your name. Like this website right here. Mine is pretty big and complicated, but it’s been a work in progress for well over a decade. However, there are only two things you absolutely must have on your website:

ABOUT: This is just a longer version of any Twitter or Instagram or whatever bio. A decent chunk of information all about you and your work. You don’t need heaps of detail, but enough that anyone searching for you gets a good idea of who you are and what you do. This is my About page.

CONTACT: Here’s where you list at the very least your email address (or use a contact form widget that’s linked to your email address). People need to reach you. Sure, a lot of contact might be weirdoes or spam or whatever, but often it’ll be genuine fans, and that kind of mail is always awesome. And what if an editor wants to invite you to a project or reprint something of yours, etc. and they can’t reach you? They’ll go somewhere else. I’ve spoken to editors who have complained about exactly this – they wanted to work with someone, but had no way to get in touch. Here’s my Contact page. It lists loads of other stuff like my newsletter and Patreon and all my social media and stuff, but most importantly, right there front and centre at the top, is my email address for direct contact. (I have a separate email for “public” places like this and my more personal stuff, so that’s something to consider.)

After that, pages for your books, bibliography, etc. are all great, but About and Contact are essential. If you look around my site you’ll see there’s a page for every book, there’s a page about all my books, there’s a press kit for people to grab photos and bios, there’s free stuff, I even sell signed books directly through my site and more. Like I said before, my site has been a work in progress for years. But most importantly, if people Google me, they find my site. If they find that, they can learn about me and contact me if necessary.

And while you’re working on getting that site up, start an email newsletter to develop a mailing list. That’s a whole other effort, of course, but it’s something that’s proving invaluable as social media becomes more nebulous. I used to use MailChimp but I couldn’t get on with their interface and I use Substack now, which is great. It’s also a blogging platform, which I will use to some degree, but I’m likely to post all major blogging both at Substack and on my personal site. I know some people will stress about that as it’s potentially splitting an audience, but reaching an audience is what’s important. Substack is mainly for my email newsletter and it’s easy to get a widget for people to sign up, like the one I’ve got on the Contact page of my website right now.

And of course you can still have all your social media of choice. I’m still hoping Twitter survives the storm, but in the meantime I’m also on Hive, Mastodon, and Post as potential Twitter replacements. I’ve had Instagram for ages and I like that app, and I’m fairly new to TikTok, but it’s not awful. I’m still on Facebook, though I fucking hate that site and would drop it in an instant if I sold enough books, but sadly I need it still. And there’s also another free way to keep everyone apprised of all that stuff. Linktree is a way to have one link that provides all anyone needs to know about you, and you can update it and adjust it as much and as often as you like. Here’s my Linktree, and you can see I also have a Patreon for people to get extras and a Kofi account if people want to simply just drop me a tip, as well as merch and all kinds of shit. Honestly, there’s too much going on, but I tend to only focus on small parts of that list. Regardless, all of it is great and it all helps to keep my career alive. It also all distracts me from writing enormously, but that’s a balance we need to find in this modern age. But if everything died tomorrow, short of an EMP that wipes out all tech, I’ll always have my website, and that’s where people can find me and my books. That’s essential.


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