What Stace had to say on Tuesday, June 1st, 2010
Website thoughts

First, there are of course more new reviews for UNHOLY GHOSTS, but I’ll probably do a round-up of those tomorrow.

Second, I did want to let everyone know that UNHOLY GHOSTS is going to be the lead Feature Discussion for June on the Barnes & Noble paranormal/UF/Fantasy Bookclub forum!

If you’re not already registered over there, take a minute to do so; the bookclub discussions are always a lot of fun, and since authors are invited to join the conversation, I’ll be in and out of there all month answering questions etc.

But today we’ll talk about something different, something not really related to me or my books at all. We’ll talk about websites a bit.

Periodically the question comes up as to whether or not unpublished writers need websites, and what kinds of websites, and if it’s a necessary promotional expense and how to do it cheaply and all of that. (It came up recently on a forum I’m a member if, in fact, and this post is basically an expansion of my reply there.) And as always, my opinion may not be the popular one or the one everyone agrees with, and as always you’re perfectly free to disagree if you like.

See, a lot of people will tell you that if an agent or editor is interested in your work, they’ll Google you. And that it’s important if that’s the case to have a nice, clean, professional-looking website up and ready to go.

I don’t agree with this. I don’t really fully disagree, but I don’t agree, and here’s why.

I’m not saying it’s wrong to do this–hey, if you want a website, by all means get one, it’s not up to me or anything–but I always kind of feel like the time to set up a website is when you actually have stuff to put on it. And I’m not just talking about writers here; I’ve seen all kinds of sites that seem to really just be mostly a collection of blank pages, and they make me a little sad, to be honest.

I think a web presence is a great idea. It’s a good thing to have. But honestly? I’m not even sure a full website with all the stuff is such a necessity after you sell. For a while my website was basically a few pages that I hated updating and couldn’t figure out. I kept just about everything in my Blogger blog. (And yes, I know that I’m on WordPress now, but I’m here because it’s the platform my web designer uses. And while I’m slowly figuring out how to do stuff on WordPress, I think Blogger was easier. So, while hoping fervently WordPress doesn’t take issue and “accidentally” shut down my site, ha ha ha, I’m totally just kidding there, WordPress! I will say that if you’re not big on the programming and designing stuff, Blogger is easier to start with, at least it was for me. I tried to set up a WordPress blog once several years ago and could not for the life of me get my posts to show up. I still don’t know what I did wrong now that I’m using WordPress regularly, to be honest; I did there exactly what I do here, but any post over about 500 words would just vanish into the ether. Seriously. I suspected it had something to do with their free template or something, I dunno. Anyway.) The main reason why I finally decided last summer to go ahead and get a cool, professionally designed site was because at that point, with two books in stores and four more due to be in stores in the next year, I figured I should really upgrade.

Here’s what I did, and it worked pretty well for me. I did outgrow it eventually and wanted to move to something more cohesive, but it worked, and that’s what matters. Not to mention that it didn’t cost me a penny. I did eventually buy my domain names–I suggest you do that first, these days–to reserve them, and you can point your domains at your free blog if you want, but if you choose not to, this costs you nothing.

I set up the Blogger blog and chose a template. Easy enough; it’s just a blog, and it looks nice and clean. Choose a basic template; you can customize the colors, but I’d stay away from templates that look like spiral notebooks or are just words on a white background simply because I think they’re either dull or overused, but that’s your choice. A blog is a blog, really.

The sidebar is where all the good stuff happened:

I had my titles and buylinks in the sidebar.

I did posts with the first chapters of all my books on separate (also free) Blogger blogs and linked those in the sidebar.

I had an “About Me” post linked on the sidebar.

I had a post with my covers, blurbs, and review quotes–again–linked in the sidebar.

Articles–like my Publisher series or my Heroes series–were also linked, under title; I’d link to the first article and link to the other two from the bottom of that first post. So my sidebar essentially looked a lot like this:

About Stacia (I was December for most of this period, actually)
Books
FAQ
Choose the Right Publisher
Write a Great Hero
A Novel in Three Acts
Be A Sex-Writing Strumpet

And then thumbnails of my covers with buylinks.

And then my links to pals and cool sites and all that stuff too.

I also had a few widgets and things there; I had an Amber Alert Ticker that I wish I could get over here without messing up the page structure, because I felt really good about having that and it was/still is important to me. I had a bunch of those little “Recommended Read” buttons and my Smart Bitches title (The Duchess of Manholleton, thankyouverymuch). I had a Library Thing widget too. And all of that was fun to have.

And of course like any good blog patform, there was a Search function, as well.

The one thing I seriously wish I’d done was tag my posts there. Because I didn’t. So there were no tags to transfer here, so any posts here written before the switch–about a year ago–aren’t tagged (except the Strumpet series). One of these days I’ll go back and add tags back into those, because there are some posts I’m quite proud of that are difficult to find if you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for.

It wasn’t a superduper custom site or anything (though a friend threw together a little header for me), but it looked nice, and it was free.

And especially in the beginning…this may not be a popular opinion and I certainly hope I don’t hurt anyone’s feelings or step on any toes; this is JUST MY OPINION. But I think smaller is better in the beginning. You don’t need big empty pages that just list projects you’re working on or excerpts from unpublished work, really. There’s nothing wrong with having it if you like it, I just don’t think it’s necessary. It starts to look and feel a bit static after a while, a bit stale. And you might have people who visit the site kind of casually, and the last thing you want is for them to start thinking things like, “She hasn’t finished that project yet?” or “That thing still hasn’t sold?” (It’s not a nice thing for people to think, no, but as we know, not everyone out there is nice; and the point is, you don’t want to open yourself up to even the possibility of thoughts like that.)

Instead you have everything in one place; your blog, your links, your FAQ and releases. All very simple, attractive, and organized. No agent or editor–if they do Google you, which not all of them do–is going to think badly of your site for being small; the only sites I think they may raise their eyes at are, like, covered with sparkly things and auto-music, and print over patterns, and big weird fonts at funny angles or whatever, you know? And you can sign up at a place like StatCounter, which I did, copy the code into the blog template, and now you have a very effective free stats program to track pagehits and what parts of the world your readers come from and all that good stuff. I miss that here, a lot; I can track quite a bit, but not in the kind of detail I got from StatCounter.

So really, that is something to consider. You can even register four or five more free blogs and treat them as pages on the site, if you want, and link to those; I didn’t, except for my first chapter excerpts, but you can if you like.

But it’s very easy to do, and it won’t cost you a lot of money at all. What you need is a place for readers to find you, find your books, and get what information they want and need. That’s all. They don’t need to Enter The Fabulous World Of You and Be Transported To Another Realm, although of course there’s nothing wrong with doing that. They just need to see who you are and what you write, you know?

Don’t drive yourself crazy, or into the poorhouse. Do what you like, do what’s fun, do what gives you pleasure and time.

14 comments to “Website thoughts”

  1. Lisa Spangenberg
    Comment
    1
    · June 1st, 2010 at 3:48 pm · Link

    Stacia if you point me to the place where you obtain the Amber ticker, I’m relatively confident I can help you with it on WP without blowing up your layout.

    Secondly, I can definitely help you if you want to use Stat Counter but in addition, do sign up for Google Analytics.



  2. Corinne
    Comment
    2
    · June 1st, 2010 at 3:54 pm · Link

    Since I’m a professional artist (um, in theory) I actually do own a domain + hosting, and have for years. When I got serious about my writing, I just dumped all the content on there. Since my art and writing have very different audiences, though, I ended up moving all my writing stuff to Blogger once they introduced the Pages function; it makes it really easy to have separate pages for your books/bio/etc. You can only have up to ten, but that’s enough for most authors, especially unpublished ones.

    If/when I get published, I’ll need to consider buying a different domain or splitting up the site, of course… but that’s a concern for later.

    I would, by the way, caution people against having too many images and widgets cluttering the sidebar (or anywhere, for that matter). It looks very unprofessional, especially if there’s lots of Flash, animated GIFs, blog awards, or third-party content. Same with huge amounts of links, even (or especially) when broken up into different categories. Huge banners can also be a turnoff – it depends on how well-integrated into the layout they are. Clean and simple is always, always better than cluttered. I’ve seem some blogs, even by agented/published authors, that make me wince at how screamingly unprofessional they are. (Er, not this site, of course!)



  3. Allie
    Comment
    3
    · June 1st, 2010 at 4:02 pm · Link

    *refresh*
    *refresh*

    Its Tuesday! Where are the first three chapters???

    *refresh*
    *refresh*
    *refresh*

    Aaaaaargh!



    • Stace
      Comment
      3.1
      · June 1st, 2010 at 4:35 pm · Link

      Doh!

      I didn’t manage to remember how I got the cover attached last time, but it’s done. I’m putting it on the book’s page right now.



      • Allie
        Comment
        3.1.1
        · June 1st, 2010 at 5:26 pm · Link

        Yay! 😛

        Thank-you. Need to go read now…



  4. Max Munro
    Comment
    4
    · June 1st, 2010 at 4:48 pm · Link

    I think you’re right that they’re not required, but I think blogspot has a good community of authors using it so you can follow each other with Google Friend Connect.

    On another note, if websites aren’t important, how important do you think a book cover is?

    —–

    Also, you can use Statcounter with WordPress.

    When Statcounter gives you the code, copy and paste it here:

    WP Admin > Appearance > Editor > Click “Footer” > Paste it before:



    • Max Munro
      Comment
      4.1
      · June 1st, 2010 at 4:49 pm · Link

      That would be Paste it just before:

      body
      html



    • Stace
      Comment
      4.2
      · June 14th, 2010 at 12:59 am · Link

      I think book covers are pretty important, yeah. The trouble is nobody knows exactly what attracts readers to some covers, and you’re always going to have a group of readers who absolutely LOVE a cover that another group of readers absolutely HATES.

      The most important thing, IMO, is that it look professional.

      There’s a thread on Absolute Write about the stock image covers that PublishAmerica–a notorious scam/vanity press–uses. And apparently when you compare sales even for vanity or self-published books that manage to make it into stores, they still don’t sell, because the covers LOOK like vanity or self-published books. They’re obviously Photoshopped, or they have weird colors or fonts, or the books themselves look cheap.

      According to two posters in that thread, you can put a stack of vanity or self-pubbed books face-out in the middle of a bunch of commercially published books which are shelved spines-out, and in most cases the vanity/self=pub books still don’t sell.

      Readers know what they want. I think cover images are important–you want it to be eye-catching, you want it to reflect the tone of the book, etc.–but the cover looking professional is more important.



  5. Marian Perera
    Comment
    5
    · June 1st, 2010 at 5:36 pm · Link

    The thing that turns me off a lot of websites? Ads.

    Too many of those – especially if they have nothing to do with the writer’s books – and the website looks cluttered. Worse, the writer’s material takes second place, as though it’s only there to attract people who might then click on the ads.



    • Stace
      Comment
      5.1
      · June 14th, 2010 at 1:00 am · Link

      I totally agree. I hate ads on websites, and I hate those free web programs that require you to have their name in the site’s address. Like “staciakane.freewebs.com” or something, which just sounds bad and makes you look like an amateur.

      There’s nothing wrong with being an amateur–we all start somewhere–but you never want to look like one.



  6. Emily
    Comment
    6
    · June 3rd, 2010 at 3:34 pm · Link

    That would be Paste it just before:

    body
    html



  7. Mikaela
    Comment
    7
    · June 11th, 2010 at 5:31 am · Link

    I got a livejournal when I started writing, and I have played with blogger and WordPress but I have always returned to livejournal.

    I have contemplated getting a webpage, but I don’t see a point, since I haven’t sold anything yet. I am however, looking at hosting. So that IF I sell, I can get a webpage up fast.

    Then there is the question: Is a webpage even necessary? Look at Lynn Viehl, she has her blog with excerpts etc. So maybe a good blog is better than a mediocre webpage



    • Stace
      Comment
      7.1
      · June 14th, 2010 at 1:09 am · Link

      Oh, I definitely agree. A good blog is way better than a mediocre website.

      I use BlueHost to host this site, and I can honestly say they are fantastic. I love them. Very reliable–don’t think I’ve ever had an outage–and their customer service is amazing; fast, very friendly, available pretty much 24/7 (I tried to get in touch with them on New Year’s Day once and didn’t have luck, but it was New Year’s Day, and they did contact me back bright and early on the 2nd).

      I’ve asked them some amazingly stupid questions and they’ve assured me that it wasn’t a stupid question at all, that this stuff can be confusing, that’s what they’re there for, etc. Which, sure, they might have been laughing at me or rolling their eyes while they said it, but it still made me feel better, you know?

      You can register domains through them. They have a WordPress program thingie (you can see how technically minded I am) as well as links/utilities for a number of site-building programs. They also have a built-in html editor, so if you have a CSS template, for example, you can edit it without having to buy DreamWeaver or whatever.

      Plus they’re very affordable. I really do love BlueHost and am so glad I went with them, so I definitely recommend you check them out.



  8. kirsten
    Comment
    8
    · June 26th, 2010 at 12:08 pm · Link

    Thanks for the tips, Stacia! It really helped give me perspective. K



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