Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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May 7, 2012

10 Tips for a DIY Author Website

By Laura Drake

I am NOT a techie. I don’t know software, I’m not a graphics designer. Heck I can’t even use a camera well!

I’m an accountant. That translates to: I’m cheap. Too cheap to pay someone to build a website for me.

Besides, I have to admit, turning my website over to someone I didn’t know felt kind of like having a new hairdresser with a mohawk say, “Oh, trust me – I have a great idea!” Besides, how could I convey my vision, when I didn’t know it myself?

Desperation pushes you places you wouldn’t normally go. I jumped in.

CAVEAT: I learned one microscopic ort of what is out there in cyberspace. I only learned what I needed, to get what I wanted. I have no doubt there’s better ways to do things; the purpose of this blog is not to tout my method – it’s only to prove that you CAN do it yourself.

10 TIPS for a DIY Website:

1. Find out what “feel” you want.

I looked at a ton of author websites. Best one stop shop is to go to a large literary agency website. They list their clients, with links to their websites. Odds are, they’ll have authors that write all genres.

Your website should be a reflection of what you write. A paranormal, historical, and inspirational author website will look very different. The website of an author with a comedic voice should look much different than a literary one. Your visitors should get a feel for your books the minute your splash page opens.

I wanted a emotional feel, with photos of people enjoying a Western lifestyle. My settings are western, and my current series is about Pro Bull Riding – so it had to be featured prominently as well.

2. Do not get intimidated.

Most platforms have “templates” you can choose from to start, then you can customize from there.

3. Platform.

You’re going to need a company to host your website, and supply the shell for you to work in (described above.) There are quite a few of them out there.

The two I heard the most about, that were easy and fairly inexpensive, were WordPress and Network Solutions. I chose the latter. I think it cost me $220 for two years, and it included email (you’ll want people to email you there, so you’re not broadcasting your personal email address.)

4. Photos.

This was my favorite part. I can spend hours, choosing just the right photo to convey the feeling I want. Google Images is great for browsing. Write "Beach" novels? Maybe a close-up of a weathered boardwalk in the sand. Fantasy? Maybe a clipart fairy. Let your creativity soar!

5. Pay for the photos you put on your website.

We want to be paid for our novels, so it’s only fair we compensate the photographers. But remember, I’m cheap. I used Big Stock Photos.com. Most photos were $5 apiece, and they had  a quadzillion of them -- all you do is type in a term (ex: bull riding.) There are other inexpensive sites as well.

6. Decide what ‘pages’ you want.

While you’re perusing author websites, notice what pages they have. Do you want a blog? A calendar? Book review page? Excerpts and teasers from your books?

Besides your splash screen, at a minimum, I think you need a Bio, and a way for readers to contact you. Oh, and don't forget, even if you haven't finished a novel, you need to at least tell visitors about what you write -- after all, isn't that the reason for a website?

7. This is going to take longer than you think it will. 

A lot longer. Plan on it. Begin waaaaay before you need it!

8. This is addicting.

I set up a simple site. Then I saw a website with “flash” – photos that fade in and fade out. Ohhhhh, I want that! So I bought a piece of software that would create this (Coffee Cup Firestarter, for like $40.) It took awhile to figure it out, but I’m SO happy with the result.

9. You’ll never be done.

You’ll need fresh content every once in awhile (monthly updates are recommended). Besides, I found I love to tinker with it to try to make it better. I take ideas I see other places and adapt them.

10. Have fun with it.

Once I got over being intimidated, I realized this was another outlet for my creativity. When I got stuck in my WIP, I'd work on the website. I was still being productive, and it used a different part of my brain while the writer part rested.

Your website has a feel. Think about when you visit someone’s house for the first time. Doesn’t it tell you a lot about them? Does it look like a movie set created by an interior designer? Or is it one of those rare houses that you feel at home in, the minute you walk in?

I’m not saying I’ve built the best, or the most beautiful website (you can see it here.) But I like it.

By doing it myself, I ended up with one that looks like me, and I think, gives potential readers a feel for my books. Isn’t that what a website it supposed to do?

And guess what?  I found I loved doing it!

Have you built a website, or are you thinking about one? What lessons have you learned? Are there any tips you want to share?

0 comments on “10 Tips for a DIY Author Website”

  1. Laura - thank you soooooo much for the encouragement of the 'do-it-yourself.' You make it seem within my non-techie scope, much better than the instruction book I have. As Marilyn Monroe used to say, 'Thanks ever-so."
    Olga Oliver

  2. Great post, and thank you for the photo link. I purchased one for my site I loved, but this is a site I haven't heard of. As far as the site building goes, I'm very lucky. My husband IS a techie and is doing all of it for me. He's doing html instead of a template, so it's taking a while, but it's going to look very cool. And YES on researching author websites. That's a big key, as well as planning ahead.

    Thanks, Laura!

    1. Stacy, you want to trade husbands? Mine's great at holding down the Lazy-boy. No, really, this could be a good deal for you!

      Good luck with your website!

  3. Laura, I love the feel of your web page. It not only communicates who you are and what you write, it pulls the viewer into your world. The photography has been done well (I also love slide shows of photos) and the layout is classy like you. There are not enough words to describe what an inspiration you have been to so many other writers ... in your RWA local chapter and in our on-line chapter. You rock biker gal 🙂

  4. Hey Laura. Thank you for the post: I'm sure it gives heart to all of us over 50. Wordpess makes it pretty simple. Now i have to ask them how to permanently have a photo of my new book cover on the top of my blog. I can't figure that one out yet.
    best wishes form "down under". -Richard

    1. Hey, Richard - you guys have a great new bull rider coming up - Lachlan Richardson. Oh, wait, we're talking websites. Check to be sure that you have chosen a "theme" that allows you to change the header. Some are static. Good news is though, with WordPress, you can switch themes easily. Good luck with the book!

  5. Thanks, Laura, for a great prodding post! I need to look into adding some flash and photos to my site, which I maintain at Authors Guild.net. They offer templates to use to build and maintain a web site,which I've had there now for at least a decade. I do need to go back and update it but have had other pressing matters to manage (finals at grad school, my daughter's graduation from college, and now a trip to the UK today! Yeah!). Soon as I get home I'll focus in on my social media and web site as well as getting my book written. I'll be busy, that's for sure! Thanks again for the links and ideas, too. They all help.

    1. You're leaving for the UK today, and you're reading blogs? I'm flattered, but jeez, Betty, go pack! It will all be waiting for you when you get back - have a WONDERFUL trip!

  6. I'm a software trainer and I haven't attempted a website. I bow to you and your titanium panties!! I know I could do it, but I'm afraid of the time suck. I know how much time it took to design More Cowbell and get up all the nifty things I wanted. (I'm still not done!)

    1. Yeah, Jenny, that's the happy problem - you're never done!
      Happy because I love doing it,
      problem because I can't find the time!

      You've got time - you're doing first things first, right?!

  7. I need to do this Laura but I am so chicken. You make it sound easy but . . . I am so techie challeneged it's laughable. One of these days though, I know I have to do it. I keep hoping to draft you or Jen to help me -- it's not like you're busy or busy or anthing with three books coming out! 🙂

    1. In the meantime, Char, be thinking about a 'theme' or 'feel' you'd like. Keep your eye out for photos that capture that. Write down websites you like, and a word or two about why you like them.

      Then, when you're ready, let me know!

  8. I'm passionate about fooling around with websites, Laura. I've been doing it almost since the beginning of time. 🙂 congratulations on taking the plunge. Your site looks great!

  9. I used Flavors.me for my website (kirstenweiss.com), largely because of its simplicity. Whenever I blog, tweet, or pin, the site is updated automatically. The drawback is I can't sell directly from the site, but I've tried to get around this by linking to my Amazon author page. It's not optimal, but with my budget and tech skills, it's working for now.

    1. Kirsten - I love how your photo is in the background, and your navigation page is over it! I also like how you have your Tweets show up - I've written that down for mine - thanks!!!

  10. I have been gathering information for a website for almost a year now, afraid to take the plunge. Thanks for the great tips and confidence booster.

  11. Laura, your site looks terrific! Hats off to you for going it alone. I'm going to need the T-shirt pictured above just to update the site someone else designs and builds for me. One question. Is the woman in the other picture cleaning the screen or trying to get the attention of the people inside?

  12. Great post, Laura! I did mine myself too. I went with WordPress, which was $30-something a year, plus registering my domain with Register.com which was $20-ish for a year, plus the email option that I haven't done yet. 🙂 But I like your thought on that. I wanted a feel, too, and I pretty much like mine. It fits me and fits my books. I'm just so non-tech-savvy, that sometimes I get really frustrated when what I want to do doesn't fit in with what I know HOW to do. LOL. But for now, it works just fine. One day when I'm a grown up writer with a bigger bank account, I'll pay someone to make it sparkle. 🙂

    1. I think I've told you before, Sharla, yours DOES sparkle! Your banner photo makes me want to play hooky! Good luck with your debut!

  13. Laura, you are so funny...using whiteout on your computer screen. Your encouraging post will help others to move forward with their plans. I created my site with the help of a $30, month-long, online class about using WordPress. The class was through Lawson Writer's Academy – great value, interactive class and got the job done. (http://www.margielawson.com/lawson-writers-academy) I'm still tinkering with my site, and expect that process to continue forever, but now I know that I can do it. Take a look: Vagilantes.com

    1. Ah, another member of "Margie's Army!" Lawson's Academy is awesome, Julie - I highly recommend them too. I didn't know they were offering a wesite class though - check it out, people! Nice website, Julie! Thanks for stopping by.

  14. I may be tech savvy, but I am totally not a graphic designer. What I do when working on my website is working from the standpoint of what I like to see. This way I think my website would most be "like me".
    Besides the layout art on my website, I did everything myself and so for free.
    What I mostly have is a rather simple website, because I dislike overly complicated website with fancy tricks. They usually distract from the content anyway. I also dislike it when I have to use a different browser to view the site correctly (some websites are made exclusively for IE or something).

    That's really the best tip I can give. Check your website in as many browsers as you can to make sure it's viewable everywhere. At least to me, that's important haha.

    I checked out your website and I really like it!! It's very simple, and those fading photo's give a really nice extra touch without being overwhelming/taking away from the content!!

    1. Thanks Arisa! You did point out a downfall of my site at the moment - flash it not viewable on a phone! It just shows up as a black square. Bummer! But I understand that next year, the phone software will be upgraded to handle it.

      1. Yeah phones haha. In my opinion it doesn't really matter as long as the content still works/is viewable. But phones are the hardest to consider when making a website, that's true.

  15. Really nice job on your website, Laura! thanks for those links. I've been wondering how to do flash photos. I'm in the process of switching from a blogsite to a website, all within WordPress. It is a process, but it's getting there!

  16. Hi, Laura.

    As someone who is "old school" tech savvy, I loved this and agree with almost everything here. And yes, your site does look great.

    One caveat I should mention....the Flash system you use for your photos. First, here's a link to consider about Flash--it's not viewable on most Apple "tablet" products (iPads, iPhones, etc.): http://www.quickonlinetips.com/archives/2010/05/why-no-flash-on-apple-iphone-ipod-ipad/

    Add to that, a lot of PC users also block Flash because of its security issues. I use a browser add-on called Flash Block and it can be fixed to allow flash on a site-by-site basis, but each exception needs to be added separately, and any changes to those sites could start it blocking videos again. One link for Flash block: http://download.cnet.com/Flashblock/3000-11745_4-10518910.html

    The fading pictures are lovely, but it's worth knowing that some people may never even see them.

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