The Digital Reader

How to Save $39,000 When Choosing a Domain Name for Your Author Website

It is a truth universally acknowledged that an author in possession of a book must be in want of a website. They need a home on the web to call their own, one safe from the fickle whims of Facebook’s algorithms.

That home will need a name – but what to call it?

Like the Chinese word for crisis which is erroneously described as consisting of the words “danger” and “opportunity”, choosing the domain for an author website comes with both great risks and high potential rewards. It is a way for authors to brand themselves online.

So what are your options?

Some authors choose to go with the perfunctory choice, but others choose a domain of a more personal nature, or a whimsical one.

The Mundane

Well, you could go for the obvious and staid choice such as the author’s name, book series, character name, or book title. Those options usually work well – the author name is a great default that brings all (most) of an author’s work together on a single site (but it might exclude pen names), while naming the site after the book series or main character might add a small boost to SEO.

Edit: Some will insist this is the only way to go because if the author's name isn't in the domain then it won't be found in search results. This is simply not true; the right SEO will make sure that a search on an author's name will lead to their site.

I named my blog The Digital Reader because it referenced the topic I wanted to cover :digital reading, in its many forms. It is a decent choice, but it is not without its problems. For a number of years people kept confusing me with a competitor who hs a similar first name and blog name. (If I had realized that would be an issue, I’d have chosen a different name.) Also, I never did get the domain I wanted – I had to go with the-digital-reader.com because domain squatters were demanding exorbitant fees for the domains DigitalReader.com and TheDigitalReader.com.

One of the domains would have cost me eight grand, and the other is listed at $39,000. (In fact, I just got an email asking me if I were interested in the domain, hence this post).

I feel paying $39,000 for the domain would be a huge waste of money, which is why I have never gotten those domains. A lot of web people agree with me, but if your favorite domain has already been registered, and you can get it for a fair price, you might want to spend the money.

The Topical

If you don’t want an obvious title, you could go for a more topical title. Rather than use a domain that explicitly references an author’s work, the author might choose a domain that is in some oblique way connected to the work.

For example, when I considered launching a site that reviewed the Chinese takeout places in my area, a friend recommended that I use the name TheOysterPail.com. This domain references a little known fact that the little white boxes that Chinese food comes in were originally created to hold shucked oysters, and were called Oyster Pails.

I ended up using the domain for my humor blog after I was told that NO, I could not buy and review that much Chinese food.

Speaking of that humor blog, did you hear about McDonald's buying the domain EIE.io?

Another way to come up with a topical title is to use the “And Method”. This is a trick for coming up with unique names where you combine two otherwise unrelated words, and in this situation an author might choose two words that hint at their work.

Swords & Sorcery, to name one obvious example, suggests a D&D-style fantasy, while Coffee and Corpses hints at police procedural, or detective stories. And then there is Death and Texas, which is both clever word play and possibly a topical reference to for author whose mystery novels are set in Texas.

The Whimsical

But you don’t have to go for the topical or staid choice; you might instead go for the whimsical or the personal.

When it comes to the personal, you might use your online handle as your domain name – a suggestion I have made to a number of Twitter users. The benefit here is that you get to build your author identity on top of your established online identity, giving readers a feel for the person behind the name.

Edit: Chris Meadows mentioned in the comments that Googlewhacking might be useful here. This was a game where you try to find a pair of words that gets only one a single Google hit. if you can find that pair of words, it would make for a unique domain name.

Edit: Over at The Passive Voice, PG writes that he has found a site called Nameboy helpful for locating good domain names.

On Nameboy, you type in a primary word and, optionally, a secondary word. Thereafter Nameboy generates all sorts of possible domain names based on those words. It lists them in a table that shows you which of its generated site titles are available as domain names and which are not.

Or, you might choose a name that references the work of your favorite author – for example, borogroves hints at Lewis Carroll – or you could come up with a whimsical name by combining random elements. For example, 3 Pugs and an Octopus is both unique and funny enough that it begs for people to ask about the story behind the name.

Any name that inspires questions is a great name because it is a conversation starter, and I can confirm that from personal experience.

I can’t tell you how many times I have been asked about the name Valiant Chicken, my WordPress business. As I explained in a blog post last year, I thought up the name while inventing new variations on the porn star name game.

I tell people that their first tech company should be named after their middle school name and their last meal, and that their Batman villain name is their profession plus the color of their socks, and use that spiel to establish a memorable first impression as a creative professional.

I have been told that I should get rid of the Valiant Chicken name because it has no connection to WordPress services. Authors will receive similar advice that they should choose a domain that brands them as an author, and that advice is just as bad for authors as it was for me.

The sky is literally the limit.