Monday, 18 October 2010

Designing an Author Website: Website Basics

So, you have a blog and you're wondering why you also need a website.

The biggest difference between a blog and a website is that blogs are generally about current, up-to-date information. The most current of that information always comes up immediately when visitors log in.

Websites are generally more static, offering semi-permanent landing points for visitors who want to learn more about you and your work. Traditionally, the homepage is the only page that frequently changes. And for people like me who have a blog and a website, it's easy to use the blog as the homepage to the website, then use the website itself for the semi-static information. More about this later.

First off, here are the top ten reasons why you need a website —

1) Compartmentalization - By setting up dedicated areas for specific things, visitors to your site can click into that section and find everything they're looking for in that topic in the one place, such as all of your books or to learn more about you.
2) Easier Navigation - Compartmentalization allowed for easier navigation. All of your links are together in an easy to understand format.
3) Selling Point - It gives your readers a place to buy your books.
4) Promotions - Offers a primary place for visitors to find out more about your newest releases, enter your contests, and learn about special or short-term discounts that may be offered on your books.
5) Additional Web Presence - Anyone Googling your name on the internet will come up with results for all of your sites — blogs and websites.
6) Additional Marketing Tool - With more places to find you on the internet, the higher your search engine rankings. Also, it's one more place where readers can find you, as well as potential publishers and agents.
7) Information Sharing - A website offers you a place to share tools of the trade with your peers, such as links to areas of special research, cross-links with your peers, etc.
8) Full Customization - Even more so than blogs, websites are completely customizable and gives your creativity free reign. You can also add applications that post your Facebook and Twitter posts, lists your bookshelf at Goodreads and Shelfari, post your book videos, etc.
9) It's expected - When you discover a new-to-you author, what's the first thing you look for? Usually it's a website because that's where authors list all of their previously published works, promote the latest book, and give fans a sneak peak into their work in progress (WIP).
10) Because it's fun! - Let's face it. We're all about the fun!

While every website suits a different purpose for each person, as authors we need to remember that even though we enjoy the craft of writing, publishing and making a living at what we write is a business. And a web site is a selling tool.

I spent about 25 years in retail so the best analogy I can give you is this one: Our website is essentially our store. Like every retailer, we rely on customers (readers) to buy our products (our books) so we can stay in business (continue write).

There are two basic structures working together on a website — site structure and page structure. First I'll discuss site structure and the basic pages that make up that structure.

1) Home page - Imagine your homepage (the first page to come up when someone types in your URL*) is your storefront. What visitors should see is an attractively decorated window offering your latest products. The door into your store is the menu bar links. Those links include —

2) Bio page - Every author site should have an 'about me' or 'bio' page. It doesn't have to be long, but readers like to know more about the author they read or will potentially read. Readers like to connect with authors as well as characters in the books they read. Use this space to include some personal photos, including one of yourself if it's not already on your homepage or on your site header.

3) Books page - This link can say anything from just 'books' to 'my books,' 'backlist,' 'my backlist,' or anything else that's obvious this is where readers can find your books.

If you have a number of books published, use this first page like a table of contents, linking each book to individual pages that includes as much information as possible to entice readers — book image, publisher name, ISBN, release date, blurb, excerpt and reviews, including any awards those titles have received.

If you're a newly published author, one book is acceptable to list here. Be sure to include all those above details on this single page.

4) Contact page - This page is just as important as your homepage and your books page. Here, readers will have a way to contact you through a mail form or email address. You can also link to social networking sites you maintain online, such as Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, LinkedIn, etc.

5) Additional pages - Your site isn't tied down to just four pages, though these above are the main ones you should include. Others are generally considered fluff, but good fluff. These pages give readers another dimension to explore your personal and professional interests.

5a) Links page - Use this page to list links to your favorite sites online: authors, blogs, research sites, music sites, etc. Remember to contact the person who owns the site you'll link to and let them know. Ask them for a reciprocal link. Site-to-site links boost web search result ranks for you and the sites that link back to you. Use links for cross marketing where possible.

5b) Favorite quotes - I've added a page of my favorite quotes. I love great quotes from books, movies, song lyrics, speeches, etc. and share them with readers on my site.

5c) Personal photos - As I live in Ireland, readers enjoy seeing photos from around the country so I've added a photos page, too.

Then there's page structure: ie your layout or where things fit on your pages. I'm given to analogies so here's another one, as I describe the four basic areas of your pages.

Imagine your website is like a farm and items you'll need to start your farm include a gateway onto your farm, a place to live and a place to grow crops or raise livestock.

Keep in mind that websites are structurally 25/75-40/60%, which means 25-40% of the site can be dedicated to header and footer space, and 60-75% is for the body of the page.

Here are some basics —

1) URL - Uniform Resource Locator or domain address. Ideally, this should be your name and can be likened to that fancy sign over the entrance onto your farm. essentially says, "This is Kemberlee's ranch."
2) Header - As it suggests, this is the head or top of your website. Make it attractive and inviting. You can layer your name with a background image, or go simple and just use your name. If you're using a graphic relevant to your site, remember to watch the size of your name within this space. You don't want it so small it gets lost in the image design, or so large that it looks like a roadside billboard. And don't make it so complicated that visitors have a hard time trying to figure out what you write.

3) Menu Bar - Essentially, this is your farmhouse, each link being rooms within your house — your homepage, bio page, books page, links page, contact page, etc. The menu generally runs either horizontally just under the header on vertically designed sites or on the left of left justified sites, also called sidebars.

4) Body - This is the main part of your site and where you grow your crops or raise your livestock, ie promote your work. Sticking to 25/75-40/60%, the body of your site will have the majority share of real estate.
5) Footer - This is where your copyright and disclaimer goes.

OK, so you have the basic knowledge of both site and page structure. The next question is, "Where do I get the tools to design my website?"
There are a number of programs out there to suit many budgets. Unfortunately, the best of them don't come cheap. But, they are a great investment for your long-term career. And if you look for older versions, you may find them at knock down prices, or even free as shareware.
The tools I use to design my sites are Adobe Dreamweaver for page design and Corel PaintShop Photo Pro. Both of these programs offer free 30 day trials. After 30 days the program just stops working. But if you decide you like either program and want to buy it, you simply make your purchase through their sites and they send you an unlock code. The free trial versions are the FULL program so you see exactly what you're buying.
Dreamweaver is a dual design program. If you know HTML, Dreamweaver offers an HTML view for hand-coding pages. If you don't know HTML, there's a WYSIWYG view — What You See Is What You Get. It works similarly to MSWord or other document programs, but automatically inserts the HTML coding your server needs to read the page.
Dreamweaver CS5 is currently selling for $399usd. Upgrades from previous versions is $199usd.
PaintShop Photo Pro (and similar programs such as PhotoShop) are programs that allow you to design graphics and manipulate photos —
a) Graphics - These are computer-generated images. When using graphics on your website, be sure to save them in .gif format. If you save them as .jpg or .jpeg, they will pixelate slightly around your edges and make image appear soft.
b) Photos - Photographs, pure and simple. When using photos on your website, be sure to save them in .jpg or .jpeg format.
PaintShop Photo Pro currently sells for $99.99usd or $79.99 upgrade.
Adobe PhotoShop currently sells for $699 or $199 upgrade. But if you're on a budget, try PhotoShop Elements 9 for $99.99, though it's currently on sale for $79.99.
Note: These prices are accurate as of this posting. Please refer to the company websites for accurate pricing.

So, these are the basics for getting started designing your author website.

I should also note there are three elements to getting your website online. If you have any questions about these, please let me know. If I go into them here, this post will be twice as long! Those three elements are —

1) URL/Domain name - As I mentioned, you'll need a domain name so people can find you. Try to find a 'dot com' address (example: Have a few options available so if your first choice is already sold, you can choose another:,,,, etc.
It's important to remember that you technically do not own your domain name. You're simply leasing it. You will have to pay an annual cost for your domain name. If you do not renew in a timely fashion (you will be sent notices) it's extremely likely that another company will snap it up instantly and use it themselves. Most often, I'm sorry to say, for pornographic purposes. So mark your calendar each year and watch for those notices from the domain name reseller!
2) Your website - As we've discussed today.

3) Server space - This is the place where your website will live and where your domain name will direct visitors to see your site. Most domain resellers also offer server space, but you do not have to use their server space just because you're buying a domain name from them.

The best things you can do is do your research, ask your author friends questions, and feel free to let me know if you have any questions. I've been doing web design for close to fifteen years now.

Finally, here are some highly recommended tips for designing your site —

1) Make sure your site reflects what you write
2) Avoid white space: big sections of space with nothing in it. If you're stuck for words, insert a relevant image, but never leave it empty.
3) Choose complementary colors: avoid color clashes, neon colors, and anything that hurts your eyes.
4) Don't overdo the graphics. Your website is for selling books, not to display graphics. Use them sparingly to enhance. Most especially, animated graphics.
5) Internet browsers view websites differently, so when you're designing your site, look at it in a number of browsers. Internet Explorer will view a website differently than Firefox or Opera, and vice versa.
6) Most users out there today view websites on a 1024 x 768 screen resolution. Aim to design your site at least 1024 pixels wide. Length isn't an issue, as above, but width is.
7) Have a friend or family member, or several, look at your site. Like with your writing, a critique partner comes in handy for helping you make suggested changes to your site.
8) Don't be afraid to ask for help.
9) Don't feel like you have to design your website yourself. There are a number of great services out there. Really look at the sites you like and make notes about what attracts you to them; ask friends for referrals; don't be afraid to email website owners to see how did their website (though most often, their web designer has a link in the footer somewhere). And finally . . .
10) Have fun with it!!

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