Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Writing and Web Work

One of my favorite parts of being an author – besides the writing itself – is that it’s given me an excuse to have an online presence. I love having a web site. So much so, in fact, that I actually built my first web site as soon as I finished the first draft of my first novel.

My web site has been through more incarnations than I can count. I had several drastic color changes and shifts to the look and feel before I settled on the current site that no longer tip-toes around the fact that I write paranormal romance. My mother doesn’t like the animated woman who greets my web visitors and I’ve given up reminding her that the woman isn’t really me.

Even though I’m not a designer, I have a fairly extensive background in web site design. That certainly helped my initial fledgling attempts at creating a site. Eventually, I gave in to the desire for a more professional look and hired a designer. I was then able to handle the content management on my own – which I still do.

Some people choose to be totally hands off with their writer web sites; opting to let another company or individual upload photos and content. However, the control freak in me likes being able to post a great review as soon as I get it or move information on the page from one place to another whenever the whim strikes. Even though I use Yahoo’s Sitebuilder to manage my site, knowing HTML has been immensely helpful. It’s allowed me to get around the constraints of built in templates to do things like add the star-sky background to my page. When in doubt about how to do something, I Google the question. Believe me, somebody in cyberspace has always come through with an answer.

For those new to web sites, I’d suggest the following:

1) Definitely develop a web site. Or a blog. Blogs are free, so if you’re not ready to commit to the time and expense of a full-fledged site, a blog (I think) is your next best bet. Today’s readers expect you to be online in some form or another.

2) Figure out who you are as a writer and make sure your web site reflects that persona. If you’re blood-and-gore horror, your site shouldn’t be daisies and puppies. Well, unless there are fangs and poison poppies mixed in there somewhere. You get the idea.

3) Feel free to experiment. That’s the great thing about the internet. Your web content isn’t written in stone. Figure out what works for you and what you write by visiting author sites in your genre.

4) If you can’t make it great on your own, invest in some help. Like I said, I paid someone to create the design, but I handle the layout and content maintenance. If you see a style that you like, ask the author who handles their design. Their typically glad to make the referral.

5) Mimic your site’s look and feel across the internet where possible: in your blog design, MySpace page, business cards, etc.

6) Have fun with it. Your web site is one of the few places you, the author, really get to be you.

My site and the lessons it’s taught me have been four years in the making. I don’t ever expect to settle in and be totally comfortable though because the internet itself is an ever-changing medium. There will always be some new widget or app to toy with. But I’m okay with that. The only part of being author written in stone are contracts and published books, right?

What are your web site questions or insights? Somebody’s bound to have a few words of wisdom to share.




Farrah Rochon said...

I hate having to keep up a website, lol. You make some great points here. I'll need to come back to this as I revamp my online presence.

Anonymous said...

You mentioned content management as being distinct from style and layout. I agree with you and if these things can be abstracted from each other in the code, then it makes maintaining a web site so much easier.

Over the last few years, I've taught myself to use web technologies like XHTML, CSS and JavaScript for enhancing blogs and web sites, much as you have done. I'm the "techie" behind most of the side-bar gadgets for the Novel Racers blog, as well as my own blog and web site.

One thing that even seasoned web designers often neglect is usability. They spend ages getting the content, colours (oops, I mean colors), typefaces and styles just right, but still end up with a site that's only barely usable in terms of functionality.

Is there an animated woman on your site? I didn't find one. Perhaps I should look in the real world.

Stefanie Worth said...

@Farrah -- The thing I like and dislike about the internet is its constantly evolving state. As soon as I think I've latched on to something new, the next day I can find a site where somebody's doing it better and faster. *sigh* I have to resolve to do what works best for me and my visitors.

@Captain Black -- You're so right about usability. When I first started doing web work, the lowest common denominator in site design was AOL -- because it was so slow. I'm not sure what people use anymore, but that goes directly to your comment about the woman on my site.

When the design was created, the header was actually in flash. But that was about five years ago and my testers kept complaining about how long it took to load, that they couldn't see it, etc. So I opted for the non-animation version. By the time I figure out how to overlay some twinkling stars, I'll probably be ready to revamp the whole thing again. lol