Web Presence 101.1 – Claim Your Name
Nowadays it’s generally considered vital for an author to have a web presence, and yet a lot of writers don’t really know where to start. I’ve been online since the mid-1990s, and a professional web developer for over a decade, so I thought I’d share some of my experience – what to do, and just as importantly, what not to do!
Once I started jotting down ideas, I realised there were a lot of things to consider, so this is going to be a multi-post article. First up: laying claim to your online identity.
Register a domain name
There’s really no excuse not to have your own domain name nowadays; they’re very cheap (as little as $5 a year) and they look so much more professional on a business card or email footer. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have a website yet – the important thing is to lay claim to your online identity so that no-one else can. Buy a domain the minute you’ve decided on the name you will publish under. Seriously.
You can buy a domain name from any domain registrar – a company that looks after domain names and handles all the techie details for you. In the UK, I recommend 123-reg, as they’ve been around for a long time. Although they aren’t the cheapest, they aren’t overly expensive, and when it comes to a cornerstone of your online presence, reliability is too important to scrimp on. Do some research before you choose a registrar, as there are plenty of cowboys out there! For starters, your registrar should offer the ability to forward web addresses and emails for free, not as a paid add-on.
Caveat: If you are planning on putting up a website or blog, I strongly recommend not buying your domain name through the company that hosts the site. About ten or twelve years ago I had a web host go bust on me, and it took weeks, months even, to get my domain name back. During that time I couldn’t use the address for email, and anyone following links to my site was presented with a holding page saying the site was no longer available. DON’T LET THIS HAPPEN TO YOU. A decade ago it was an irritation; nowadays it would be a disaster. Register your domain with a well-established domain registrar and host your website elsewhere.
Before you register a name, you have to choose what it will be! I recommend not registering the title of your book – or rather, not as your sole domain. Firstly, the title may change. My first novel, The Alchemist of Souls, went through several working titles before I even submitted it, then my publisher asked me to change the title I submitted it under. Secondly, you’re going to write more than one book, right? So you don’t want your web presence tied to a single title. I have registered my series title, www.nightsmasque.com, but I forward that address to this website rather than using it directly.
Of course if your chosen name is common, someone else may have already nabbed the .com address. (I got lucky – whilst neither my first name nor my surname is rare, the combination had not been registered.) In that case, you may have to try a different TLD (top level domain) such as .net or .info, or choose a country-specific one like .co.uk (they are often cheaper because there’s less demand for them than the generic ones).
Once you have your name, I recommend you start using it. If you’re not ready (or don’t want) to set up a website, forward the URL to your blog, Twitter profile, Facebook page – anywhere is better than your registrar’s standard holding page! Similarly, emails to “firstname.lastname@example.org” can be forwarded to your existing email account, and your mail client can often be configured to use the same address in the “From” field. No-one need know you’re still using Hotmail 😉
Claim your name on social media
I’ll get onto the ins and outs of social media in a later post, but right now I’ll just say that it’s worth at least trying out the various social media services. Some of them, like Twitter, allow you to use a unique name from the start, so it’s a good idea to claim your author name there if it’s still available. Twitter has a limit of 15 characters on user names, however, so you might have to be a bit more creative on that one (you can still display your full name in your profile).
That’s it for names. Really. Why are you still here? Go forth and stake your claim. Now!
Other articles in this series: