Author websites . . . what a pain, but hey, when I decided I wanted to write for publication, I knew what I was getting into, and one of the marketing tools at my disposal was some form of web presence. I started out blogging so I could get a feel for design and content through a template and because it is free.
I investigated several blogs and how-to sites when I decided to make my website. I wanted both a blog and a static site. I looked at using my WordPress blog with a URL, but I wanted something separate from helluo librorum. That way, if my career as a novelist flopped, I could turn helluo librorum into a fan site and still enjoy connecting with authors and readers.
Several people I know use Google blogs and have purchased a domain name for their blog. If you want to see an example, check out the websites of Weronika Janczuk and Dawn Kurtagich. Google enables you to create a distinctive design and most domain names can be purchased through Yahoo/Bellsouth or GoDaddy.
Google blogs perplexed me, though, so I found the user-friendliness of WordPress to be more my speed. WordPress has a super selection of templates that is constantly being upgraded with new capabilities, and I love, love, LOVE WordPress. With that said, Jonathan Danz‘s website started out as a WordPress blog, and at D.H. Schleicher’s site The Schleicher Spin is exceptionally well done in terms of design and content (also WordPress).
I took another route and went with GoDaddy and WebSite Tonight (my website is here). This is probably a little more expensive than some folks would like to go, but I will say that I have been delighted with the template and most impressive, the service I get from GoDaddy. I can call or e-mail them and get a knowledgable person every time. They are wonderful and quite experienced with the HTML-challenged (*waves hand that’s me*).
I use Feedburner‘s Buzzboost feature to run my author blog through my website so the content on the site is updated regularly. You do need to know (or in my case learn) some CSS in order to change the appearance of the Buzzboost feed, but with a little experimentation, you can achieve a look that is consistent with the rest of your site. What you see on my website now is not how the original feed looked.
Now I have three online content points: Feedburner, my WordPress blogs, and my website. This increases my visibility and creates a web presence, which is really what most agents and publishers want to see. Not necessarily a website, but a web presence.
So once you’ve investigated all these options and decide which one you want to use, then you have to think about your design. Content is more important than design, but let’s be realistic: a cluttered, busy site is going to detract from what you’re selling, which is you and your writing.
As tempting as flash and all those nifty widgets can be, skip them. Flash slows the reader down and widgets draw the eye all over the page. Keep the focus central: your name, your genre, if you have a catchy tag-line for your novels, put it there. Tailor your color scheme and pictures to your audience (that seems obvious, but you would be surprised). I avoid black blogs and websites, because they can be hard to read; however, some dark fantasy and horror authors make them work beautifully.
A few things you really need to make sure that are prevalent are: links to your blog (if it’s separate from your website), your Twitter and Facebook accounts, and a contact button so people can reach you by e-mail. Today, we are click and go, so make sure someone can easily see how to reach you.
A quick note on you and your writing: have someone read your site for errors. It’s always good to have a second set of eyes. Websites today are like the resumes of old, they project a picture of you and your work–make sure it’s a professional one.
I looked at a lot (and I do mean a LOT) of author websites before I decided on how I wanted mine to look. I feel like I’ve managed to settle in with a look that’s comfortable for me. It may take some experimentation, but you’ll arrive at a look that works for you too.
Shop around and talk to other writers. They will be able to tell you exactly what problems they’ve encountered and whether the support from the hosting site is worthwhile. If you want to share some of your trials and tribulations in the land of HTML and CSS, please let us know what works for you in the comments.