There are four basic costs involved in having a website. Before jumping in, you should be aware of what those costs are. (Next post: how to decide on a web designer.)
DOMAIN NAME: The first and simplest cost is that of registering your domain name. Prices range from $4 a year to $15 a year, with the average being $8-12. Beware of going with the cheapest because they'll offer lots of add-ons (for extra money) that may be included in a plan that charges more.
You can sign up for your domain name without even hosting a site. That lets you snag your name before someone else does. With writers, you should decide what your pen name will be. If your name is Jane Doe and you want all your books to say "by Jane Doe," then you'll probably want your domain name to be www.janedoe.com, but if it's taken, you could consider using your middle name, middle initial, or maiden name in your byline instead, especially if you don't have a book published yet. Jane Rita Doe, Jane R. Doe, Jane Whitmire Doe. If you don't want to do that because you already have books published, you could possibly use www.janedoebooks.com or janedoeauthor or janedoewriter. The point is that you don't want someone else to "steal" your domain name. A couple of good ones are godaddy.com and 1and1.com.
HOST SERVERS: Another necessary expense for website upkeep. After your site is created, the domain and all it's attached pages will need to have a place to live online. That's called a server, or web hosting. Without it, your site could not be live. Prices range from $5 a month to $20 a month, with the average being $10-15, for an annual expense of $120 to $180. The top 5 web hosting services are hostgator.com, godaddy.com, 1and1.com, fatcow.com, and dreamhost.com. If you make your own website, you can probably host it there as well (Wordpress, Yola, Godaddy, Weebly, etc.).
If you hire a professional, you may have a couple of options: to continue (or begin) to host on your own, or let your web designer host it for you (for a fee - usually $10-15 a month). This could be a benefit if you pay your designer for updates, then you only have to pay one entity instead of two separate ones.
SITE CREATION: This is by far the most expensive cost of getting a website, but it's a one-time payment, unless you hire someone a second time to get a completely revamped web design later on. Fees typically range from $700 to $7,000, with the average being around $2,500. The range is widely varied because of individual needs, the number of pages, the skill of the designer, how customized the site will be, etc. I highly advise this option as it will be a much cleaner and um, well, professional site.
UPDATES: If you create your own site, then this will be FREE. If you (wisely) go with a professional, there could be a couple of options. Some designers create your site using certain tools that will allow you to update your own text, photos, etc. Be sure to ask. If you don't feel like fooling with that, most designers charge around $25 an hour for updates. But really, how often does an author need to make updates? And how long will it take? Maybe 2-3 hours per year, if that. It totally depends on how fast you publish books and how many changes you want to make. This is really not that large of an expense, when you think about it.
So, in the end, is it worth the expense? You betcha! If you consider yourself a professional writer, then having a professional website is like handing out free business cards to every one who has read your book and having them hand out cards to everyone else they know that they think will like your book too! It's just plain old good business sense. Just remember what makes a good website, and that it's totally okay to make your own before you're published. Happy writing!
Keep on keepin' on...