Best platforms and website builders for authors and writers
As an author, you have more options than ever to publish your work and monetize it.
Now the next step is deciding which platform to use.
Here you will find the best website builders, CMSs, and publishing platforms for authors and writers.
I used my experience building websites and research to create this helpful guide.
Affiliate Disclaimer: some links are affiliates. This means that if you buy after clicking on one of those, I get a commission at no additional cost for you.
Summary of best platforms
If you feel that building a website is a daunting task, I know the feeling too. This is why Ghost is my top recommendation on this list!
As a writer myself, I wanted a powerful platform, simple to use and allowed me to focus on writing.
So, here are the best 5 platforms for authors and their best suitability depending on your objectives:
- Ghost CMS: best for focusing on writing and membership website.
- Substack: best for starting a newsletter without any technical knowledge.
- WordPress: best for customization and can do almost everything.
- Shopify: best for selling (physical or e-books). Easy enough for DIY.
- Webflow: best for beautiful, modern, and customizable websites easier than WordPress.
These recommendations are based on ease of use, pricing options, writing, and monetization tools.
Below you will find the motives and details of why these are the top-recommended platforms.
Start with the purpose of your site
Your goal for the website matters the most. Why? Because different platforms excel at different things.
So, the suggestions will change if you want to sell a book, start a membership website, or mix these options.
Also, an important decision is how much you want to invest in building your website.
By investing, I'm referring to spending time doing it yourself or money paying a professional. Also, you will have to decide on using code or no-code tools to achieve the goal.
Differences between Website Builders and CMSs
Website builders include everything you need to run a website. Additionally, they take care of the technical details, so you don't have to.
With website builders, you make changes with visual tools: drag & drop editors and templates.
Although, you won't be able to export your data quickly. This happens because most are closed source, and it's not good for their business to allow a seamless export option.
Website builders are appealing, but sometimes they can limit you if you want to do something, not on their feature list.
On the other hand, a CMS might require you to manage more technical details. However, this extra work allows a lot of customization, which is done by coding.
Don't get discouraged. I have good news!
Some CMSs like WordPress and Ghost have paid managed hosting plans.
This means that the setup and technical maintenance are taken care of in exchange for a small fee.
Suppose technical management of a website is not your priority. In that case, I recommend you go for a website builder or managed hosting from a CMS.
I would advise you to pick a CMS if one of these conditions apply to you:
- Know some code or are willing to learn some.
- Know your way around technology.
- Want to customize your website or hire someone to develop it.
I would advise you to pick a website builder if one of these conditions apply to you:
- Don’t want the hassle of maintaining technical details on the website.
- Don’t want to code or reduce to the minimum the need to use code.
- Want to build the website yourself.
- Don’t think of doing too much customization besides default options (Webflow allows lots of customization, so you can choose if you want to customize or hire a developer).
Build the website yourself or hire a professional developer?
I advise you to build the website yourself if you have more time or knowledge than money to spend.
There are platforms more focused on a DIY approach like Wix or Squarespace, but at this moment I don't recommend them over the others on this list.
Learning a technology requires a lot of time and effort. However, it's worth it if you're going to keep using the same technology.
For example, I have spent more than 300 hours learning about WordPress.
Although I'm far from earning a full-time income developing WordPress sites, this skill has allowed me to earn some extra income.
Learning is valuable to save or earn money and do things faster.
This is true, even if you pay someone to build your website because you should learn how to upload and publish content yourself.
Otherwise, you will be dependent on developers or team members to update the website.
The sooner you learn how to manage your website alone, the better the experience you'll have.
Best Website Builders for Authors
Just to remind you the criteria used:
- Ease of use
- Pricing Options
- Writing tools
Best for having online publication: Ghost CMS
If you want to focus on writing, set up a membership, and have a website you control: I recommend Ghost.
Ghost is free to self-host, but with managed hosting starting at $9/month, I don't see the point of doing all the extra work alone.
Writing in Ghost is great.
The editor is clean, supports markdown, and has cards (similar to WordPress Gutenberg blocks) to easily add functionality.
Monetization in Ghost is made primarily through memberships. This feature is available by default.
To set up the memberships just connect (or create) a Stripe account and define the prices.
Then, you should set a custom domain name. This can be one of the harder tasks in Ghost.
It took me some time and several tries to do it. But I kept following the documentation and it eventually worked.
There are beautiful themes available on the marketplace, several of them for free!
If you want to customize the theme, you can download it and code the changes. Alternatively, you can have someone do it for you.
I'm using Ghost and I recommend it over WordPress. It is cheaper, easier to use and allows to focus on writing more than other unproductive tasks.
I'm confident to say that you will find Ghost a joy to use if you want to focus on writing.
Best for newsletter with membership: Substack
Substack grew in popularity for the ease of setting up a paid newsletter.
I recommend it if you want to focus on writing, have a membership to get paid by readers, and don't want to create a website.
It is simple to use. With Substack, you will have everything ready in minutes without the need for any technical configuration.
There isn't a lot of customization available in terms of page structure, but this will work like a charm as a newsletter platform.
It is free to use and only takes a commission of the payments you receive from members.
The text editor is straightforward and effective. There are options to add text styling, buttons, and other options.
Monetization is made mostly with memberships. Still, a trend is emerging with more companies focusing on newsletter advertising, so you can explore it by adding ads in the body of the newsletter.
Best for a content website with customization and selling: WordPress
Used by around 40% of all websites in the world WordPress (WP) is a Jack of all trades.
It's an open-source CMS and highly customizable, which justifies its popularity.
WP is not easy to use as website builders, that's why I don't recommend it to everyone.
But with page builders plugins, you can create pages with drag & drop, similar to website builders.
This solution is not the most efficient for the performance of the website but allows millions of people to have cheaper websites and is easier to maintain.
WP is free to self-host, meaning you will be responsible for maintenance.
Have in mind that it will probably be more expensive than you imagine at first because of the themes and plugins required to add functionality to the website.
You most likely will have to pay for themes and plugins on top of developer costs (if you have them).
The total amount will be around 30$ to 60$ per month for hosting and software (themes and plugins).
WordPress also has managed hosting plans available with the parent company: Automattic. This way you don't have to configure and maintain the technical side of things.
The default text editor is called Gutenberg.
It works with blocks so you can easily customize, move things around, and have granular control of elements.
It is very complete and popular despite the initial reaction of the community because it was so different from the classic editor.
WordPress can do almost everything. And allows you several monetization options, like display ads, creating a store (with WooCommerce plugin), and paid memberships (with plugins).
Best for selling: Shopify
This is the best website builder for authors that want to sell their work.
Shopify is the biggest e-commerce platform in the world and is used by companies of all sizes.
It is easy to use, even if you are a beginner.
You will be able to create the store yourself and optimize it over time. Or you can find a professional to help you on Shopify or on third-party websites.
If you need to add some functionality lacking by default you can also rely on Shopify apps.
As there is a huge number of apps to help better run your store and take it to the next level.
Shopify pricing is good for the features included but not great if you're starting now. The lowest plan starts at 29$ per month.
My advice is to only create a store if you have already built an audience (followers on social media or mailing list).
This existing relationship you've built with your audience will help you sell more than if you are starting now as an author and help pay the store costs.
Shopify isn't known for content websites, so bear in mind that this route will be about creating a store, not a blog.
Besides the focus on selling and the abundance of features in that area, there are apps for memberships. This opens the possibility for selling courses or creating a "club".
Best for beautiful websites: Webflow
Webflow is one of the new cool and trendy companies around that shouldn't be overlooked.
This website builder has an intermediate level of difficulty to use. It is not hard to use and modify, but you should understand HTML and CSS to create something beautiful.
As a writer, you don't need to learn all this. You can focus only on writing and have someone create a stunning website for you.
Pricing in Webflow is a bit confusing at first. It depends if you want to set up a store and the number of pageviews per month. With prices starting at 16$ per month.
Webflow allows integrations with several tools and companies, including Zapier. This makes it powerful and customizable to the needs of several users.
Using these integrations, you can set up a paywall for a membership, have display ads on the website or create a store.
In this guide, you found the best platforms for authors to show their work and thrive online.
As you could see, each platform has different strong points, and you are now equipped with the knowledge to make the right decision for your needs.
Ghost and Substack are the easiest platforms to use. WordPress and Webflow are better for customization. Shopify is better for selling.
If you have any questions or want to talk, just contact me or find me on Twitter @TiagoSilvaHQ. It will be a pleasure to meet you.
Now go and make your words kick-ass!