The domain name of your author website is a key element of your branding.
How To Reserve a Domain Name for Your Author Platform
The most important part of your author platform is your website, and the most important element of your website is its branding. The domain name you choose is both your address on the internet and your brand. It is important because it is how readers find you and return to your site, and you may also want to use it as your social media handle.
In this article, I’ll discuss choosing and registering a domain name, and why this is the first thing you need to do when you set up your author platform.
Why you should choose a domain name
I must admit, I had it easy. My name is uncommon enough, that, when I first registered mcelhearn.com back in 1995, it was simple. If I had been named Smith, it would have been more complicated. (smith.com was first registered in 1985.) Had my name been John Smith, I might have gotten lucky; johnsmith.com wasn’t registered until 1997.
Your name is your brand, and when setting up a website, you want readers to find you easily. The more common your name, the more difficult this is: partly because you may not be able to have a domain name that matches your name, and also because when a reader searches Google for your name, there may be dozens of other people who show up above you.
How to choose your domain name
At first, there were only a few top-level domains (TLD), such as .com, .org, .net, and several others. The .com TLD quickly became the norm in the US, and even internationally. Because of this, it’s very hard to find a .com TLD that is available for your name. If you don’t have a unique last name, like me, you may be able to register a combination of your first and last name. But over the years, the organizations that manage domain names have extended the number of TLDs to include hundreds, from .academy to .zone. And that doesn’t include TLDs from other countries that you might be able to obtain.
The first thing to do is to visit a domain registrar and check if the domain you want is available. There are thousands of registrars, and they all have access to the same domains (with some exceptions), but Hover and GoDaddy are good places to start. If your last name, or the combination of your first and last name are available as a .com, grab them. If you write under a pen name, and the full pen name is available as a .com, grab it.
If not, you can then move onto other options. For example, if your name is Stephen King - not that one - you might be able to register stephenkingauthor.com. (Actually, that domain is already taken.) A judicious use of hyphens might help, like stephen-king-author.com. While you don’t want a domain name that’s too long, combining your name with “author” is a good compromise. Unfortunately, Amazon owns the rights to .author, and isn’t allowing anyone to register those domains, at least yet.
You could use other TLDs. For example, several years ago, I started a podcast about photography called PhotoActive. The .com was available, but it was very expensive, so I registered photoactive.co. On the podcast, when I read out the domain, I say, “PhotoActive dot C O; we couldn’t afford the M.”
In addition to .co, you may find that .net is available for your name, or .me, a recent addition to TLDs. Or any of the dozens of other possibilities, though most of them, like .accountant and .cafe, aren’t appropriate.
If you are outside the US, you have other options. In addition to .com, you could, if you are in the UK, use .co.uk; in France, you can use .fr; in Germany, you can use .de. In some cases, you can use TLDs from countries you do not live in, and they might work with your name. TLDs like .fm, .tv, and .io all belong to countries (Federated States of Micronesia, Tuvalu, and British Indian Ocean Territory) that sell them to bring in foreign cash.
Another option, if you write a series and have a recurring character, is to use the character’s name as the domain. Author Peter Robinson chose inspectorbanks.com for his website, because of his character, Inspector Alan Banks. Since the author’s name is common, having a domain like this helps when people search for his books.
You may even want to reserve multiple domains, perhaps one for your name and one for a pen name. For example, I own mcelhearn.com, kirkville.com, and mcelhearn.me, each of which I use for different purposes. The Scrivener developer, Literature & Latte, has two domains: literatureandlatte.com and scrivenerapp.com. Domains aren’t very expensive, so don’t hesitate to reserve several, and make sure to keep renewing them; if not, when they expire, anyone can take them over.
Your domain name is an important part of your branding, and, ideally, you want to extend that branding to all your activities. It will be part of the email address you use to send out newsletters, and think about using it on social media as well. I use @mcelhearn on both Twitter and Instagram, because it is consistent. Think about reserving the same handles on social media services as your domain name, if you can.
If you’re just starting out as an author, take some time to figure out your best options for branding. Domain names and social media handles are the way you get discovered, and the way that fans keep up with your activities. If you’ve been writing for a while, nothing prevents you from changing your domain name to establish coherent branding. You can redirect the old domain name to the new one; any domain registrar can tell you how to do that. But once you develop consistent branding, stick with it. ￼