This article is part two of Websites for Writer’s, a How to Write Shop series.
You’ve decided you need a website. Now what?
There are a few decisions you need to make early on. The first is how you are going to design and maintain your site. If you know HTML you can do it yourself. Actually, if you don’t know HTML you can do it yourself, although you may not choose to, but first let’s backtrack a bit….
If you choose to design your own site, you don’t have to know all of these things, but I really suggest at least a beginner class in HTML and CSS. HWG.org offers some very affordable online courses in both of these (plus more).
But, what about programs? I can use one of those to design my website without knowing anything, right? Yes, you can, but with disclaimers.
You can design a website in something rather general purpose like Microsoft Word or Microsoft Publisher. You can also use a fancier more specific program like FrontPage or you can set up your site in WordPress or another blogging platform (How To Write Shop and my personal site are both WordPress sites hosted at LunarPages).
But honestly, for any of these choices you should still consider those basic HTML and CSS classes. Being comfortable with them will make your life a lot easier. And I wouldn’t recommend the first two choices (Word/Publisher) unless you are looking at a very simple one page site (which as an author you shouldn’t be).
That’s fine, I’ll just hire a friend/relative. Unless your friend/relative is a web design professional, I also don’t recommend this. The old adage you get what you pay for is in many, many cases true. Your website is the introduction of you as a brand to the world. You want it to look professional. Plus, it is a lot harder to fire a friend or relative, and if you decide the site isn’t for you, you will have to explain this to them when you have the website redone.
How about those templates web hosts provide? I don’t have a ton of experience with this (aside from blog sites like WordPress.com and Blogger) but I suspect many of these will be tedious to manipulate. If it is all your budget allows for, try it, but be prepared to walk away if your results don’t look professional.
The exception to this IS WordPress.com. If you know WordPress or are willing to learn it, you can build a very nice site or you can buy a theme from someone else that will knock your readers socks off. An affordable and doable option for most people. Check out some great professional themes here and check out my upcoming class WordPress for Writers here.
Forget it. I don’t want to mess with any of this, I’ll just hire a professional.
What does it cost? This varies widely. What also varies widely is the skill and dependability of web designers. This is an area where anyone can hang out a shingle and declare themselves an expert. Before hiring anyone, get recommendations and/or references. Also, check out their portfolio and nail down both the cost for the number of pages/bells/whistles you want and the time frame in which it will be done. Another question to ask is if there will be any added costs, such as artwork, fonts, search engine submission, etc. Find out exactly what you are getting before they start designing or you send in the check.
So, I’m going with an expert…What should I expect?
- Input in the design. Your website should be part of a complete marketing package. An author who writes for Intrigue should have a very different looking site from an author who writes sweet Regencies. Depending on your designer’s experience with books and your genre in particular, he may not get this without coaching.
- Updates. A website that isn’t kept up-to-date is the kiss of death. It will hurt your rankings in search engines and discourage readers from visiting it. Why bother? Nothing ever changes. How often should you update your website? As often as you can, but at least when you have a new book out or an appearance to announce. Your site is there. Use it. And make sure your designer will have time to do these updates in a timely manner or on a set schedule (first of each month). Also, ask how much he will charge you for each update.
- Affordable for what you get. There are thousands of people who do web design. Shop around. You may want to choose someone who specializes in writers and if possible your genre.
I want a website, but where do I put it?
- Group Sites – These sites handle a lot of the details for you, but you pay for it. Benefits include, advertising on their homepage, chats, message boards, newsletters and contests, all organized by the provider. This can cost however. If you choose to go it alone, you can spend as little as $0 a month and still get many of the things these sites offer (with trade-offs such as ads on your newsletter or chats sponsored elsewhere). Or you can get everything without ads, but then be responsible for putting it all together yourself.
- Stand Alone Site – I chose a standalone site, because well, I’m cheap. But I also am comfortable working out the details myself. You may not be. If you can’t build and maintain a professional looking site that reflects your image—pay a professional. This is too big a piece of your marketing pie. Web Hosts to consider: LunarPages and GoDaddy.
- Combination of the Two– You can also have your own stand alone site that you link to a group site. Or you may keep your own site while joining a group like Intrigue Authors or Brava Authors. These are good ways to extend your reach.
- Blog site– If you choose to set up your site in WordPress, you can put it on WordPress.com. This operates as a host and design package and for the basics it is free. You will, however, have to pay for most upgrades. Another blog site that will allow you to build a multi-page site for free is Blogger. Blogger also has an easy integration with Google Adsense if you want to monetize you website (take ads and get paid for them).
Check out WordPress for Writers Class here.