What Do I Do to Start Up a Website?
You'll need a hosting company. GoDaddy, 1&1, HostGator and many others are available at low cost for a simple website. We use totalchoicehosting.com. They also have tools to register a Domain Name for your website.
I Don't Have a Lot of Money. Can I Just Do a Simple Website?
Absolutely. WordPress is a great tool for a basic site with blogging support, with lots of templates and useful add-ons (mostly free or low cost) available. Most standard hosting plans should include WordPress and a variety of other open-source tools.
What Should I Have on My Website?
You can have as few as three pages: an introduction, about page (information about the company and contact information) and a sell page (where they actually go to buy the book), plus a blog. Include links to your social media pages (Twitter, Facebook, etc).
Avoid using pop-ups (ads or your own inventions), flashing lettering or pictures, unpleasant or hard to read fonts or color combinations (black on red, red on black, or white on red are some of the worst), or music (you may enjoy it, most people don't).
You will also want to offer buyers the chance to use Amazon or B&N.com. Please see the discussion on why I recommend this. The short answer is, most people don't buy off of strange websites.
Should I use PayPal to handle the mechanics of a website sale?
For a simple website, I suggest using PayPal to handle sales.
PayPal is a low-cost solution for entry AND mid-level websites, that supports both credit card and instant payment (ACH) transactions. They have a simple shopping cart and checkout system that provides all the functionality you need to capture a sale; all you do is place the buy buttons (paypal provides all the code) where needed and PayPal's cart does the rest. They give you a lot for free, including--my favorite--free transfers to people you owe money to, and their fee services are usually a better deal than you can get anywhere else as a small business. If you are interested, you can use their banking functions (including interest-bearing accounts) to have a complete solution. But this is unnecessary, and transfers to your confirmed bank account are at ACH speeds (usually 48 hours for us).
I'm Ready to Put Together a More Complex website. What Should I Have?
The possibilities are almost endless! I've seen a children's book website display a "flip book" that let's people browse many of the pages of the book. I've seen games, content related to the book but not in it, and all sorts of clever videos.
You should have a Media page that has everything you would include in a press kit (see the marketing section for details).
Make your website "content rich" by having information related to your book's subject. What is your book about? Obviously, you've spent a lot of time researching aspects of it. Chances are, you've come up with lots of information that you didn't use in the novel or non-fiction that would be useful to people interested in the subject. Put together a page of interesting and / or useful information on that subject that you "curate."
There are almost certainly other websites on your subject matter. Search for all you can find and have a webpage giving these links. Perhaps include a short description of these sites you've visited (don't pass judgement. If you thought a website was stupid or inappropriate, don't include it just to put it down). Again, you are the curator. Don't forget to include your own helpful website! These links and reciprocals increase your website's visibility.
There are usually many books on the subject of which you've written. Maybe you've used several as you did your own research. Compile a list of these books. Do small reviews, or include the short summary you find on-line. Don't forget to include your wonderful book!
Why Should I Send Customers to Amazon or B&N When I Sell My Book at Full Retail?
You can put up a website and have no affiliate links at all. You may even get a fair amount of sales. But you'll get more if you have those affiliate links, giving your buyers a choice of how to purchase.