Post by Don and Sue Ford
(image courtesy of mantasmagorical on morguefile.com)
Q: Should authors/illustrators have their own website?
A: In our opinion, yes. Once you are published it is helpful to have a site to answer questions, advertise what you do, a place for people to learn more about you, find out what else you have published, share speaker information, and more.
Q: Where do I start?
A: First, purchase a domain name; often, it is something as simple as www.yourname.com. Domain names can cost around $10 per year. See resources below.* Next you'll need to decide where or who will host your site.
Q: Host my site. What's that mean? And how much does it cost?
A: Your ISP (Internet Service Provider) may already provide website hosting included in your Internet access fees. Check it out. If not, you will need a hosting service. Comparisons and reviews can be found at sites such as findmyhosting.com and webhostingstuff.com. Cost ranges from $1.50 a month upward depending on storage provided, data transfer limits, number of email addresses provided, and various other services. A basic plan is appropriate for your first website.
Q: Are there downsides to having my own site?
A: Yes, in the fact that it must be maintained and be kept current. Nothing worse than someone landing on a website and finding inaccurate and out-of-date information.
Q: What elements should a website have?
A: The basics for a book creator are: a book list, a bio, a picture of the author/illustrator, and contact info or a contact link.
Q: Does that all go on one page?
A: Not necessarily, unless that's all the info you plan to share. First, you'll have what's called a "home page." This is the "index page" or the page seen first. Try to find a happy balance between almost no text (i.e. "click here to enter Website" which annoys both of us) and an overwhelming amount of text. You'll have links from your home page to other pages, plus a menu of other pages offered.
Q: Is that what is sometimes called a site map?
A: No. A site map or site index is a graphical representation of all of the pages in the website. This is usually a separate page, but is not required. Each page of your site should include a navigational area (a set of links) to help visitors find their way around your website. It can be a bar across the top, or a box on one side of the page. Often the bar across the top appears on every page, whereas the box may only have info applicable to each individual page. It is important for each page to have an obvious way to get back to the home page.
Q: What else can be on a website?
A: Your imagination is the limit. However, here is a list of possibilities:
• Your book covers
• Summary of each book
• Where to purchase the book(s)
• Testimonials to your writing or illustrating
• Book excerpts
• Upcoming projects or what's next
• Writing or illustrating activities for kids or adults
• Links to other sites
• Articles or essays
• Speaking or school visit information
• Other services
• A blog
• Your favorite books or authors or illustrators
• Pictures of your childhood, family, pets, office
• A downloadable press release
• Behind the scenes info (i.e. what inspired you to write a particular book)
Q: How many pages should I have on my website?
A: That's a two-fold question. Your host may limit the number of pages. Otherwise, if your content is interesting, people will keep clicking to see what else they can find.
Q: Is it okay if someone can only see part of a page at a time on their screen?
A: Left and right, it's better to fit one page. Top to bottom, sure, most browsers have a scroll bar and users are used to scrolling down for more info. You can have links with in a page to go to other sections of the same page, too.
Q: You mentioned links to other sites and now links within a page. How does that work?
A: Depends on whether you are building your website using HTML (the actual computer code for websites) or website building software. Basically, the former takes one off your site to another site. I like the open in another window option, so your site is still up. The latter is a clickable link that takes one to another page of your site or to another section on your page.
Q: Everyone seems to be blogging. How does that fit into websites?
A: It's one way to have active content on your website. It's also a forum to say what you want to say--though, of course, it should relate in some way to your website. Some blogs are set up so readers can sign up to receive posts automatically (recommended). Blogging works best when using special purpose blogging software provided by a web hosting service.
Q: Are there downsides to blogging?
A: Yes, of course. It requires a time commitment. Blog posts should be well written, free from grammatical and punctuation errors. Controversial posts can raise a furor of email.
Q: What's a podcast?
A: A recording downloadable from a website for use on an MP3 player. The content of a podcast would be a complete discussion in itself. Podcasts are usually hosted on dedicated podcast hosting services that provide specialized software to support them.
Q: Okay. I want to create a website. I've purchased a domain name and have a hosting site. Now what?
A: Many hosting sites offer some type of user friendly software to create a website. These can include templates, formatting options for text and pictures. You may take a class or seminar on website building, where you get information and help as you build your website yourself.
Q: Speaking of pictures, what format do I use?
A: The easiest format is a jpeg (.jpg). When posting pictures, you want the images to be small (say less than 150 kbytes ) so that your website doesn't take a long time to load. The more images per page, the longer it can take. Don't use animated gifs (or Don will come after you). Okay, you can use one on your website, but that is it.
Q: I'm not computer savvy enough to create a website myself, so how do I get a one?
A: You can hire it done, or make friends with a nerd, who will build it for you for the fun of it. In either case, don't forget you'll need them to teach you how to update your website or have a maintenance plan as part of your agreement.
Q: I want to post original art, but don't want anyone to be able to copy my images. How do I protect these pictures?
A: First, of all, posting small pictures (limited number of pixels) means these images won't enlarge well. If someone copies one and tries to make it bigger, the resultant picture will be grainy and obviously not their original work. Some artists save a version of their work with a copyright notice or "for viewing only" or their name in "watermark style" lettering across the image itself.
Q: What can you tell me about fonts and colors?
A: You want your website to be readable and attractive. Fonts should be easy to read. No flashing text. Colors shouldn't hinder readability. Look at websites you like and see what they've done. Compare them to websites you don't like. This applies not only to fonts, colors, but formatting, etc.
Q: What else can you tell me about website formatting?
A: Your webpage formatting may change when viewed in different internet browsers (Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Chrome, Opera, etc.) If possible, view your website in more than one to see any problems.
Q: Will I make money selling books on my website?
A: Probably not much. Don't forget you'll have shipping for getting the books, and have to pay sales tax. If mailing books to customers, not only do you have postage, but you must pay for shipping containers. Reselling books is a lot of work that includes quite a bit of recordkeeping. Plus not all publishers allow their authors/illustrators to resell books--check your contract.
Q: Wow, there is so much to learn. It's overwhelming. Maybe I should just forget it.
A: It can be overwhelming. But start with the basics and keep your website as simple as possible at first. As you get more experienced, you can add more to your website. See our list of resources, too.
Internet Resources about Websites
P.S. I have an article on website design in Writer's Guide to 2012.