Many authors today maintain their own websites, although a number of us prefer to use social media to promote our work and engage in online conversation. If you do have a website, you’ve likely faced issues about which domain name to register and how to secure a domain name you want if someone else has registered it first.
The good news is that with sophisticated search engines and SEO (search engine optimization) strategies, the actual domain name you use isn’t as important as it might have been some years ago. However, many search engines still include domain names as part of their search algorithms so it can benefit you to have a domain name that reflects your name or the title of your work.
On that first question: your name versus the title of your work. . . ?
Most authors will want a website that reflects their own name or, if they write under a pen name, their pen name, or both. It’s easy and generally inexpensive to register multiple domain names and have them all resolve to the same website.
The limitations of having a domain name that reflects the title of your work is that you’ll find you need multiple websites and domain names if you write lots of different things. If you do have a big-selling main title that you want to promote, it may be worth registering that title as a domain name and having a dedicated website for it. It’s a judgment call for you.
What about the string of letters after the dot? Do you want to register in the “.com” space? It’s probably still the most desirable, but it’s the one where most of the names you might want are already taken, even a lot of personal names. After all, lots of people have the same name, and there are lots of cybersquatters and domain name speculators out there (people who register domain names in the hope of making money by later selling them to someone with the actual name).
There are lots of other options: “.org”, “.net”, and even “.name”.
Of course, if you use blogging software like WordPress for your website, you can typically insert your name in a WordPress website, like <[yourname]Wordpress.com>. That way you don’t even have to register a domain name at all. You simply use the blogging software’s domain and take a “second level” domain through the blogging service when you sign up. A lot of authors find that easier than setting up their own website from the ground up.
What do you do if the name you want is already taken by someone else? There are several options depending on the circumstances, but none of them is as easy as finding another domain name, unfortunately.
You can try to contact the registrant and see if they’ll agree to give you the name. Usually they’ll want you to pay them to give you the name. If the name is registered to a domain name speculator, they may want to negotiate a relatively high price to transfer the name to you (often around $1,000) because that’s how they make their profits. If someone else is actively using their name for their own business, they may not want to transfer it at all. In either case, it’s often wise to look for another name rather than getting into a fight over it.
There are few options for authors who want to use the law to attempt to secure a domain name already registered to someone else. Most of the options revolve around trademark law. Both regular trademark law and the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (the online arbitration system set up by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) require the person who wants to secure the name to prove they have a trademark right in the name. Because it’s actually quite difficult to establish trademark rights in a personal author’s name, authors aren’t likely to have much luck here.
There is one provision of American federal law that enables you to sue someone else if they register your name as a domain name with an intent to profit from selling it to you or anyone else. This law may work for a number of authors, although it would be expensive to hire a lawyer and bring an action in federal court, so again it might be just as well to find an alternate name if possible. If, for example, a domain name registrant is asking $1,000 to transfer the name to you, litigation will likely cost more than that. You could potentially threaten litigation and see if the mere threat of legal action encourages a registrant to drop the price, but it’s probably easier to seek an alternative domain name.