We have a treat for you today. Kerry Lonsdale is a writer and a marketing and techno-guru. She's here to keep you from website embarrassment. Here she is:
Cheesy websites. You know the ones I’m referring to. The music that launches the moment you land on the site. (I’m listening to Mumford & Sons on Pandora. I really don’t want to hear your 1980s love ballad.) The website designed around a book, not the author. (What are you, a one-hit-wonder?) The headshot photo you took of yourself. (Thank you for pointing the camera downward so I wouldn’t have to look up your nostrils.) The content loaded with fonts all shapes, sizes, and colors. (Too distracting and confusing. Sorry, you just lost me. I’ve left your site.)
Why you don’t want cheesiness.
THE IMPORTANCE OF BRANDING AND STAYING PROFESSIONAL
Writers love to be creative. Writers love color and words and all sorts of sparkly. But save the flash for a blog. That is where you express yourself—your opinions, thoughts, attitude, however sweet or crass it may be. Load your blog with menus, links, pictures, fonts, or whatever the heck you want. Play sweet ballads or heavy metal. Have fun with it.
Your website should be professional. Yes, there can be color. Yes, there can be pictures. Yes, it can show personality. But remember that writing is your business, so your site reflects the image you want to present to your target audience. Here’s a very simplified analogy:
Company/Corporation = You, the Author
Products = Your books
Buyers = Your readers
Website = Your website
Keep your site clean, colors and fonts consistent, content informative. As an author, you are the brand. Your website presents your brand to the world. Do you want a messy, cluttered, busy image, or one that is clean, organized, and inviting—one that welcomes your reader back to your site over and over?
So how do you create a professional looking website? Don’t worry. It’s a very easy process—even for an author with no website design experience.
What is your cheese factor?
Before you design a professional-looking site, it’s important to recognize what makes a website cheesy. Give yourself a point for any of these items your website already has. (I have also offered a quick explanation as to WHY you should avoid each line item.)
1. The domain (website address) is NOT the author name. It’s something funky like www (dot) mary loves books (dot) com.
Why avoid #1? A reader will likely search for an author using the author’s name. If the website URL is the author’s name, it will appear at the top of the search findings. It increases traffic to the website.
2. Music plays on the website.
Why avoid #2? Um…it’s annoying?
3. The author head shot is a picture she took herself, and/or it’s more than five years old.
Why avoid #3? Let’s see…it’s tacky? Unless you are really crafty with a camera and can doctor the picture so it doesn’t look like you are holding your arm up, find a friend or family member to take a picture of you. Better yet, go to JCPenney and fork over the cash to get a nice head shot.
4. More than three different fonts are used, and those fonts are displayed in all shapes, sizes, and colors.
Why avoid #4? You know that junk mail you get, the ones with the large, bold, underlined text and red italics text all mixed together while obnoxiously trying to pitch something for you to buy? Yeah, your website looks like that. It’s difficult for the eye to focus on what is important. Also, avoid colors that are too light, especially yellow. They are more difficult to see.
5. There is advertising on the website. (And I’m not talking about links from book images to amazon (dot) com.)
Why avoid #5? Unless you have a six figure book deal, every author is a starving writer. If you are going to display advertising on your website you might as well go stand on a street corner with a tin can and beg for coins. Is that the image you want to present?
How did you do? If you scored at least one, there is cheese in your website. So it’s time to cut the cheese. (You saw that one coming, didn’t you?)
Build a beautiful, professional-looking website.
AND DO IT IN LESS THAN A DAY
Like any business, if you care about your image as an author, you are going to invest the time (and a little bit of cash) to do it right. Remember, you, the author, are the company. And most companies, if not all, invest money toward their brand. As writers, it is well worth the expense, and you can do it for less than $50/year. (No, I’m not selling you anything. This is up to you.)
Step #1: Buy your name as a domain.
Or some version of it, like kerrylonsdaleauthor. Make sure your author name is spelled out.
If you don’t already own your name, go get it. There is an insurance firm in England and an artist in Australia who probably wished they’d purchased www (dot) kerrylonsdale (dot) com eons ago. I beat them to it.
Estimated cost: $15.00/year
Step #2: Plan your site’s navigation
These are the pages you will create when building the site. An author doesn’t need many, so start with these:
Home -- The website landing page. Some authors post a picture of their latest book release. Or a message about where they are signing books in the upcoming month.
Bio -- The author’s biography. Also a good page for the author’s photo.
Books -- Images of the author’s book covers, perhaps linked to where they can be purchased online. A brief synopsis of the book, and any other pertinent information.
News & Events -- Announcements about book releases or reviews. A listing of where an author is signing books if on a book tour, or conferences the author plans to attend. Remember to keep this content updated.
Contact -- Author’s contact information. If the author has an agent and/or publicist, include the contact information.
Blog (optional) -- The author’s blog. Notice it’s not on the homepage?
Estimated cost: Planning is free!
Step #3: Select your website platform/host
If you are like 99.9% of the writers out there, you have no experience with website coding, or you don’t have the money to hire a website designer. So stick with a platform that has templates and easy wizards to create pages and post content, such as WordPress or Blogger.
Another thing that’s nice about using a theme/template? The color palette and fonts have already been selected for you so you don’t run the risk of running amok and getting crazy with multiple colors and sizing.
Once you select your platform, pay the extra cash to link your domain name. (You will have to go back to your domain host, such as Go Daddy, and change server names to the server names provided by WordPress or Blogger uses, or whichever platform you select. Sound confusing? Type “link domain name” in the help search field and the instructions should pop up.)
Estimated cost: $20/year
Step #4: Create Your Pages and Add Your Content
Your provider should have simple, easy-to-follow wizards and instructions for these to be quickly created and published. When you add your content, make sure it’s pertinent for that page. You don’t need much, just make sure it’s concise. Give yourself an hour or so a week to change a picture or insert new content. It will keep your site fresh and visitors returning for more.
So? How did you do? Any cheese on your website to cut? Tell us about it in the comments!
From the conservative corporate insurance world of wool suits and pantyhose to the high tech realm of khaki pants and polo shirts, Kerry ventured into the small business start-up arena of jeans, tee shirts, and flip-flops, wielding her creativity in everything underneath the marketing hat—strategic planning, branding, graphic design, and blah, blah, blah. While she had no complaints about the attire (Who wouldn’t want to wear flip flops to work, especially ones with sparkles?), it was time for something new and vastly different, so she traded in her corporate hat. Two women’s fiction manuscripts later, she proudly wears her creative writing cap—which has sparkles to match her flip flops.
Her writing has received recognition in numerous contests. She is a member of RWA and on the founding team of the WFWA, Women’s Fiction Writers Association. When she’s not writing, she’s running—after the dog, kids, or miles of pavement in her Sauconys. She drinks entirely too much coffee and will go to bat for Peet’s Coffee over Starbucks any day.