WordPress for Authors and Writers: Our 2020 Guide

There’s never been a better time to be an author, and that’s due in part to WordPress and modern publishing tools like it. Platforms like WordPress have streamlined the process of marketing and releasing books of both physical and digital formats.

But the access to a worldwide audience that the web provides is a bit of a double-edged sword. While you can push your latest work to millions of readers in an instant, so can everyone else.

An author needs to develop an appealing and accessible website in order to stand out. Let’s take a look at the ways in which the most successful authors are using WordPress to drive sales and online engagement (and how you can do the same).

This guide to WordPress for authors assumes that you’ve already launched a WordPress website, even if you’ve not added any content yet. You can download our free WordPress guide to get up and running if you’re not already.

What are the best WordPress themes for authors?

Selecting a theme is a critical first step for any author new to the WordPress CMS. Your theme is the face of your website, and you’ll want to select one that aligns with your goals. And as an author, selling and marketing your books are likely among your top priorities.

  • Author Landing Page by Rara Theme (free with optional upgrades)
  • Divi Author Landing Page (layout pack for the premium Divi theme)
  • WordSmith by Mike Oliver (GeneratePress theme extension)
  • Blog Diary by Theme Palace (free with optional upgrades)
  • Author Pro by StudioPress (free to WP Engine customers)
  • Divi Ebook Landing Page (another Divi theme layout pack)
  • BookPress by ThemePerch (premium ThemeForest marketplace theme)

Your writing style and the audience you publish for will dictate your final theme selection. As you’ll soon learn, themes exist for authors of all genres and skill levels.

Author Landing Page

Author Landing Page WordPress Theme

You’ll definitely want to give Author Landing Page a look as you’re browsing the WordPress theme repository. It’s one of the most popular free WordPress themes for authors, and because it’s in the repository, installation is super easy.

Author Landing Page was built by Rara Theme and is a child theme of their Book Landing Page theme (which is also free). You’ll need to install that parent theme before installing the child theme, but the repository will guide you through that process if you’re installing from the WordPress control panel.

Divi + Author Landing Page

Divi Author Landing Page Pack

Not to be confused with the previous theme of the same name, Author Landing Page by Divi isn’t actually a theme at all. Instead, it’s a layout pack for the highly acclaimed Divi theme and page builder. All Divi subscribers receive access to this layout pack and more than 140 others like it.

The Divi theme, its layout packs, and the powerful Divi page builder are all made available as part of the company’s paid service. Authors can choose to sign up for a year at a time or to purchase a lifetime membership for a one-time fee.

While Divi’s layout packs are nice, the companion page builder is the star of the premium service. The Divi builder serves as an alternative to the built-in WordPress page builder and offers expanded drag-and-drop functionality, template packs (like the one featured here), and more.

GeneratePress + WordSmith

GeneratePress Homepage

As far as free themes are concerned, GeneratePress is among the best. The ability to customize colors, fonts, and the entire structure of individual elements from within the WordPress control panel is available to all authors at no cost.

But if you’re looking for more than what the free version of GeneratePress offers, you can upgrade to GP Premium, the theme’s premium version. Doing so will introduce features that can further expand WordPress for authors and writers alike.

Among these features is the site library, which allows you to apply a quick but dramatic facelift to your GeneratePress-powered WordPress website with a single click or tap. The GeneratePress site library is basically an ecosystem of themes within a theme.

It’s a lot like Divi’s collection of layout packs in that way. Webmasters can select any site layout to use as a base for their website design then further customize as needed. Authors can switch back and forth between all available designs without limits.

WordSmith is just one of several dozen designs available from the GeneratePress site library. The layout is very clean, and premium customers can replace the design’s default blues with any colors of their choosing.

Wordsmith GeneratePress Theme

Additional GeneratePress premium features include expanded color options, granular control of element spacing, and more. The upgrade won’t break the bank and will allow you to unlock premium features for multiple websites.

On a budget? Don’t sweat it. Even the free version of GeneratePress is so customizable that it will probably suit your needs just fine. But if you want access to GeneratePress layouts like WordSmith, you should consider an upgrade.

Blog Diary

Blog Diary Below the Fold

Next up is Blog Diary, a free theme by the Theme Palace team. Like most developers offering free themes from the WordPress repository, Theme Palace makes a premium upgrade available to authors looking for additional functionality.

Blog Diary Pro unlocks infinite scroll, more menu locations, and greater control of theme fonts. For most authors and writers on WordPress, Blog Diary’s free offerings are more than sufficient.

Genesis + Author Pro

Author Pro WordPress Theme by StudioPress

In 2018, WP Engine acquired StudioPress, the team behind the Genesis theme framework and many high quality premium themes. As a leading provider of WordPress website hosting, WP Engine now includes access to dozens of StudioPress themes at no additional cost to all of the company’s hosting customers.

Author Pro is one such StudioPress theme. Designed specifically for authors using WordPress, Author Pro features a lot of solid colors, flat design elements, and super crisp fonts.

The theme was crafted for ultimate legibility and for quick access to all of your work. Its Book Page template showcases a single published work, complete with previews and purchase links. The Series Page template highlights multiple books from a single collection.

While Author Pro is available to new and existing WP Engine customers, authors who host elsewhere can still purchase the theme separately. Head over to the theme details page for purchase info and for a live demo.

Divi + Ebook Landing Page

Divi Ebook Landing Page Pack

Divi’s Ebook Landing Page layout pack is a bold alternative to their Author Landing Page pack featured earlier. Bold type, high contrast, and a liberal use of graphics are all par for the course here.

Also unlike Divi’s earlier entry, this layout pack’s placeholder content invites readers to purchase digital ebooks rather than physical books. Of course the very purpose of placeholder content is to be replaced with content of your choosing, but it’s hard to deny that the pack’s design better lends itself to a digital-forward author.

BookPress

BookPress WP Theme for Writers

Premium theme marketplace ThemeForest takes a different approach to sales than that of competitors like Divi and GeneratePress. Instead of selling access to a collection of layouts, ThemeForest sells themes like BookPress a la carte. More often than not, this results in a lower cost of entry to WordPress for authors.

ThemeForest’s BookPress theme encourages a single-page layout, and you should check out the theme’s live preview to see this in action. That’s not to say that you couldn’t add more pages to your author website. You definitely could, but you won’t be able to rely on the theme’s placeholder elements when building those subsequent pages.

If you hope to experiment with many layouts while designing your website, it may be in your best interest to pay a little extra for a Divi or GeneratePress plan that includes several variations of a single theme. If, on the other hand, you’ve found a single ThemeForest theme that meets all of your requirements, you’ll probably save a little money and time by buying a theme like BookPress from ThemeForest instead.

What about plugins?

As an author on WordPress, your plugin selection is just as important as your choice of theme. Because plugins can introduce missing features to your website, the right one can help convert new visitors into future readers. The wrong WordPress plugins, on the other hand, can negatively affect user experience or site performance and drive readers away.

Much of what you’ll need to do as an author or writer on WordPress can be achieved without a single plugin. Tools for laying out pages, crafting blog posts, uploading PDFs, and embedding media (like videos or podcast episodes) come standard. If, however, you require a feature that’s not available by default, you’ll likely find a plugin that offers it.

MC4WP: Mailchimp for WordPress (for Email Marketing)

MC4WP in the Repository

You’ll find a list of best-selling authors that rely on the WordPress platform ahead. Among the plugins used most frequently by these authors is the MC4WP: Mailchimp for WordPress plugin.

Successful authors and publishers know that they need to keep their readers engaged whether they have a new book to promote or not. Email marketing provides authors with a simple and natural way to achieve this.

Although Mailchimp is one of the top providers of email marketing services, their official WordPress plugin leaves a lot to be desired. Therefore, you should skip the official plugin and turn to MC4WP: Mailchimp for WordPress when integrating Mailchimp into your website. It boasts many of the same features as the official plugin as well as a few unique offerings.

More importantly, MC4WP provides a better sign up experience for your list’s newest subscribers. Less sign up friction results in more subscribers, and more subscribers means more potential readers for your next book.

The Events Calendar (for Book Signings and Speaking Gigs)

The Events Calendar in the Repository

The months following the release of your book are critical to its success. Established authors and ambitious writers alike will schedule as many signings and speaking gigs as possible all in the name of self promotion. Events like these can have a major impact on sales, but only if your potential readers know about them.

If you’re fortunate enough to be scheduled at a shop where readers frequent, your audience deserves to know. Free WordPress plugins like The Events Calendar allow authors to post dates and times for important events in a format that’s easy to digest.

Jetpack (for Speed and Search Optimization)

Jetpack Security Performance Plugin

The key to achieving success with WordPress for authors is no different than those for creators in any medium. You need to build a WordPress website that performs well and drives both engagement and shares. Jetpack, a plugin from the team in charge of WordPress development, can help with this.

With Jetpack installed and properly configured, website media will be served from a lightning-fast network, assets will be cached for quick access, and images will load only when they’re needed. Together, these measures can have an incredibly positive impact on your site’s speed and usability.

Jetpack even helps you optimize your website’s content for search engines. Authors can craft search-friendly page titles and meta descriptions from the comfort of the WordPress editor. Jetpack’s SEO features are more than adequate for those unfamiliar with keyword research, but authors looking to take their optimization game to the next level should have a look at the Yoast SEO plugin as well.

Contact Form 7 (for Custom WordPress Forms)

Contact Form 7 in the Plugin Repository

Whether you’re a budding author or a best seller, you need to provide readers and curious media outlets with a point of contact. Phone numbers and email addresses are fine, but why fuss with all of that when you can invite visitors to contact you without ever leaving your website?

WordPress forms make this method of contact possible, and Contact Form 7 is the most popular form plugin available. With it, you can build a contact form from scratch or simply leverage the form it’s bundled with. Once placed, your website’s visitors can use the form to send inquiries regarding your books, speaking opportunities, and more.

Premium form plugins like Gravity Forms allow authors to build advanced contact forms with greater ease. Gravity Forms features include a drag-and-drop form builder, conditional fields, and much more.

You can even sell books from a form built with Gravity Forms. And while the Gravity Forms license that unlocks ecommerce functionality is reasonably priced, the best ecommerce plugin is totally free…

WooCommerce (for Sales of Physical Books and Digital Ebooks)

WooCommerce Physical Digital Ecommerce Plugin

As an author, your books need to be everywhere. You should be selling from Amazon, from Apple Books, and maybe even from physical shelves depending on your goals.

Unfortunately, all of those platforms and stores serve as middle men between your books and your readers. If you require greater control of your readers’ buying experience (and hope to keep a larger cut of each purchase), you need to be selling direct from your website as well.

Authors and writers on WordPress can achieve this with the WooCommerce plugin. WooCommerce is free and allows you to sell physical and digital products (like books) from your WordPress website. When selling digitally, WooCommerce will even handle the distribution of your ebook to your paying customers.

Best of all, WooCommerce supports a wide array of currencies and payment methods. PayPal support is built in, and support for card processing services like Stripe, Square, and Authorize.net can be added with free extensions.

How can I improve my WordPress website as an author?

You’ve activated the perfect theme. You’re running all the right plugins.

Now you need to make sure that your WordPress website is performing to its full potential. Whether you’ve just launched your site or you’re trying to capitalize on existing traffic, there are several ways to improve WordPress for authors like yourself.

  • Create a mailing list and invite visitors to join
  • Publish snippets of the books you’re selling
  • Capture or generate high quality product images
  • Craft companion content and push it to your blog
  • Add a tracking tag to your Amazon links
  • Look to best-selling authors for inspiration

Some of these methods may seem obvious, but a few are regularly overlooked by authors new to web publishing. The information that follows should answer any questions you have about these strategies.

Create a mailing list

This was touched on during an earlier plugin recommendation, but you should absolutely build a mailing list. This applies to almost everyone creating content, but it’s especially true for authors.

Believe it or not, email is still one of the most effective marketing methods around. By maintaining an email list and inviting users to sign up via forms on your website, you can promote an upcoming or just released book to your audience using a medium that complements your skill set: written word.

There is no shortage of great services that will enable you to test the email marketing waters for free. Mailchimp is one of the most popular, and the MC4WP plugin will allow you to quickly add opt in forms to some or all of your site’s pages.

Mailchimp 2020 Homepage

Like your website, your mailing list should aim to provide value to your subscribers above all else. Book sales will follow.

Consider providing your list’s subscribers with insights into your writing process or use your emails as an opportunity to ask readers for feedback. Be sure to follow best practices when building and sending your email campaigns.

Publish snippets

Who doesn’t love a free sample? By providing your website visitors with snippets from your books, you set the tone for your story and pull the reader in. They’re left wanting more (and knowing exactly how to get it)!

There are many ways in which you can publish book snippets or previews as an author on WordPress. Many authors will export a PDF containing a single chapter (usually the first chapter or a prologue), upload it the built-in Media Library, and link to it from the book’s sales page.

Alternatively, you could copy and paste the text for your preview chapter directly to a new WordPress page. You could then link to the new page as you would a PDF. Be sure to provide a purchase link or two throughout snippet text so that readers can quickly take action if they like what they see.

Generate product images

As a consumer, it’s hard to deny that there’s a certain magic to picking up a product and studying it before buying. While it’s still not possible to recreate that experience as an author selling online, it is possible to mimic it.

High quality product images provide your visitors with an idea of what your book will look like in person. If you’re selling a physical book, it’s easy enough to snap some photos of your product and add those to your website. But what if your book is a digital one?

Mockups to the rescue! Product mockups are highly realistic, computer generated images that illustrate what a product would look like in the real world.

CoverActionPro is a bundle of product mockup templates for Adobe Photoshop. After opening a template and placing your book’s cover art in a predefined space, CoverActionPro will automatically generate lifelike images of your book.

CoverActionPro Book Mockups

The purpose of these renderings is not to trick visitors into thinking they’ll receive a physical book if you’re not selling one. Instead, book mockups create an even playing field for digital publishers without physical books. Mockups generated with CoverActionPro are often indistinguishable from real photos and can be used to spice up sales pages, social media posts, email campaigns, and more.

Craft companion content

Have you noticed that actors seem to visit talk shows only when they have a new movie to promote? It’s not coincidence, and they’re probably not there because they enjoy small talk. The actors, actresses, and studios know that the more interest they can drum up for a movie, the better it’s likely to do when it’s eventually released.

The same principles can be applied to book releases. While most authors will never appear on the Tonight Show, nearly all of them have the ability to generate buzz with companion content.

This is actually one of the great advantages of WordPress for authors. Because the platform is built on a solid blogging foundation, you’re free to create and post companion content of any length or quality as often as you’d like.

Companion content can be pushed to your WordPress blog in many forms. If you’re releasing a novel, consider writing a short side story for one of your work’s characters and releasing it to your audience over the course of several blog posts. An author with an upcoming recipe book might publish a few recipes that didn’t quite make the cut. Any blog post that generates interest in your book can have a positive impact on future sales.

Because Amazon is the #1 retailer of books, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be selling through them. But did you know that you can build special Amazon links that will earn you a commission on any additional products your visitors purchase?

Amazon Associates is the company’s referral program, and it allows webmasters to earn a cut of any sales that they refer. Here’s how it works: after signing up for the program, you’ll receive a tracking tag or ID. You can use the program’s tools to build special Amazon product links that are tagged with your unique referral ID.

Tag Amazon Referral Links

You can tag not only your book listings, but also links for any products in the Amazon catalog. When a visitor clicks one of your tagged links and purchases anything from the retailer within 24 hours of the click, you’ll earn a small commission on each purchased product. Referred customers do not need to buy your books in order for you to earn a commission.

The Amazon Associates program is not available in all states, territories, or regions. But if you’re eligible for the program, you can leverage it to further monetize your author WordPress website.

Look to best-selling authors

None of the above methods for improving your author website are new. In fact, the world’s most successful authors are already using these strategies on their own WordPress sites.

Look to your favorite authors for inspiration when aiming to improve your WordPress website. You’ll find that many of them are already utilizing the tips and tricks that have been covered here, but you’ll probably uncover some brand new strategies during your research as well.

Take note of any practices that you feel could further improve WordPress for authors. Test these strategies on your own website and gauge reader reaction. If these tips and tricks are working for the best-selling authors, there’s no reason they couldn’t work for you too. Speaking of successful authors….

Which authors are already using WordPress?

Authors can download and install WordPress for free, and that’s a big part of the reason for the platform’s popularity. But if you think WordPress is strictly for authors on a budget, you’re sorely mistaken.

Sure, a WordPress website is an incredibly cost effective option for authors, but the most successful authors are building with the CMS too. For many of these authors, money is no object. They’ve chosen WordPress simply because it meets their very specific needs.

Tim Ferriss

Author Tim Ferriss WordPress Website

You’ve probably heard of writer and podcaster Tim Ferriss if you’ve spent any time exploring self-help books. Most of his published works are compilations of life hacks, and his best sellers include The 4-Hour Workweek and Tools of Titans, among others.

Given Tim’s background in internet marketing, his trust in WordPress says a lot about the platform. The successful author takes full advantage of the blogging features built into WordPress while promoting his latest books and podcast episodes alongside written content.

Guy Kawasaki

Guy Kawasaki Website

Like Ferriss, author and venture capitalist Guy Kawasaki has a strong background in advertising and technology. His bibliography includes more than a dozen published books, and most of them focus on areas of marketing and entrepreneurship.

Authors who hope to create a WordPress website like Mr. Kawsaki’s should be able to do so without any outside help. His website is built on the readily available Avada theme, while a few specific features have been introduced by Jetpack, Yoast SEO, and the premium Smart Podcast Player plugin.

J.K. Rowling

Author J.K. Rowling WordPress Website

The massively popular Harry Potter book series has turned J.K. Rowling into a household name. Without a doubt, the author could have requested a site built from scratch or with any competing CMS. Rowling’s selection of the platform is further testament to the fit of WordPress for authors.

Unlike Kawasaki’s website, J.K. Rowling’s WordPress website uses a custom theme. It offers very little in the way of nonstandard functionality, so plugins are used sparingly.

John Grisham

John Grisham WP

John Grisham released his first legal thriller more than 30 years ago. Since then, his bibliography has grown to include roughly 40 published novels. His works have been adapted to feature films and to a Netflix television series, The Innocent Man.

An author website like Grisham’s would be easy enough to recreate. Mr. Grisham’s WordPress website uses a custom theme, but the slider and Facebook feed featured on the homepage are powered by Slider Revolution and Smash Balloons Custom Facebook Feed, respectively. The author’s publisher is using WP Rocket to automatically compress and cache pages and media files for improved load times.

Janet Evanovich

Janet Evanovich Website

Janet Evanovich is a legend in the genres of suspense and mystery. Her writing career spans more than three decades, and her books in the Stephanie Plum series consistently debut at top spots on best sellers lists.

While her website isn’t likely to win any design awards, it succeeds in growing her audience. Evanovich uses the Zelle PRO theme, the Nivo Slider plugin, and the Mailchimp email marketing platform to highlight new releases and to secure subscribers.

Conclusion

Given the wide range of writer-friendly features and plugins available for WordPress, one can’t help but wonder if the platform was built specifically for authors. Whether or not that’s the case, there’s no doubt that the popular CMS can be used as an effective tool for selling books and attracting new readers.

So what are you waiting for? Install WordPress if you haven’t already, head to the control panel, and start putting these tips to WordPress for authors to good use!

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