Friday, April 30, 2010

Kate's Guide to Author Websites, Part I

In my last post I offered to redesign a few authors' websites for free.  In the feedback I learned a lot of you want (and in some cases need) to get a website up and running in the first place.  I can't afford to do that for you for free, but I can teach you to do it yourselves.

People will tell you getting a website is a simple and cheap process.  Other people will tell you only amateurs do simple and cheap.  There are more facts and opinions that you can possibly sift, and nothing authoritative or neutral ever gives you anything specific enough to work from.

So I will do this for you.  Over the next several posts, I will tell you how to get your website up and running.  I won't cop out and say, "look for something like this."  I will give you actual company names, and while I won't guarantee they'll be the best choices for you, they will be good choices for most authors and I am in no way compensated by any of them.  I'll give you the pros and cons of using pros and shortcuts and hybrids of the two.

But first thing's first.  Do you need an author website?  I've been re-reading what blogging agents have to say about it (see pubrants web-related posts for example).  It comes down to this:
  • If you are a published auther: YES.  You need a professional author website for readers.  (Wait wait wait, you say.  Professional?  Is this a sales pitch?  No.  I'll explain what I mean by professional further down, and it doesn't mean you have to pay someone to design it.)
  • If you have a book deal: YES.  You need a professional website for advance readers/sales/publicity/etc.
  • If you are querying agents:  NOT REALLY.  If they like your query or meet you at a conference and see you have a website, they might take a look.  If they do, it had better make a good impression, so the real answer is: ONLY IF IT'S PROFESSIONAL.
  • If you are not yet to the querying phase: NO.  It really can't help you at this point, but it can hurt you if it's unprofessional - even if you take it down, because a cached version can show up in a google search down the road.  Don't fret if you have one, though.  Cached google results are unlikely to be a problem as long as you replace a bad site with a good site by the time you need a good one.
OK then, what do I mean by a "professional" site?  I mean that it presents you as a professional author.  A professional author website meets these criteria:
  • It is functional.  It is clearly organized, easily navigable, there are no broken links, and it looks and behaves the way you expect it to on all major browsers.
  • It is well-written. For the love of God, have it proofread.
  • It is current.  By this I mean that content is up-to-date.  If nothing has changed in a while, that's OK, but be careful when listing current and future dates.  Your site mustn't look frozen in time, all aflutter about your book release coming up in October 2008.
  • It has all the content it needs to have.  It tells about you, about your book(s), how to buy your book(s), cites reviews and interviews, lists appearances, and includes contact info.  It is targeted toward readers who already like you or are positively disposed to like you.
  • It has none of the content it shouldn't have.  It has no offensive content, nothing off-topic, no inside jokes, nothing that would embarrass your agent or publisher, no dirty laundry, no crazy, no anything that would make your readers feel they've stumbled into an awkward conversation between you and your demons.  If your blog has these things, think twice before linking to it.
  • It has your own domain name: as opposed to or  This isn't because your own domain name makes you seem more important or is easier to remember or just looks better.  You need your own domain name because only by owning it can you take it with you when you want or need to change hosts.  I'll talk more about this later.
Note I didn't say it has to look really slick or unique or have a bunch of bells and whistles.  (Look at Suzanne Collins' website if you don't believe me.)  I think people tend to stress a little about whether their site is cool enough, or has enough multi-media and whatnot.  The important thing to remember is that the real purpose of your site is to sell your books, present and future.  I'll talk more about which design considerations really matter, which are just nice-to-haves, and which can backfire.  In the end, though, content is king.

Check out Part II: Choosing Your Path.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Would You Like an Author Website Redesign?

This post falls in the "you scratch my back, I'll scratch your's department."

If you read this blog regularly, you know that I recently left my very cushy job at a very well-known internet company.  I've decided to start my own web consulting firm, and one of the services I am offering is web design.  I'm in the process of building up a portfolio I can show prospective clients.

I would like to include an author website redesign or two.

To this end, if you are interested in a professional redesign for your author website, send me an email at kateinthecloset at gmail dot com.  If it's something I can do in a reasonably short time, I would be happy to create a free design for you to look at.  If you like it, you can have it in exchange for a testimonial and permission to display it as part of my portfolio.

Sound like a good deal?  (It is.)

OK, now back to talking about writing...


Every year I look forward to "Art in the Square", the annual art festival Southlake, Texas.  Although I've had no time to write or even read lately, I made time for this, because every year I find a new artist that blows my mind.

This year it was actually two artists, the McDonalds, Sheryl and her husband Jimmy.  One could not walk by without noticing the colorful mannequins lounging around their booth.

As I stepped closer to appreciate the whimsy, I realized I was not looking simply at a painted mannequin.  It was actually perfectly decoupaged with hundreds of photographs.  Getting photographs to smoothly cover a human-shaped object is no easy feat.

But then I looked closer, and realized these were not simply colorful photographs.  They were photographs of paintings.  And what's more, they were all wildly different and yet seemed to me to have been from a single source.

In fact they were.  They were all Jimmy's paintings.  Twenty years-worth.  Photographed, printed on acid-free paper, and painstakingly arranged to balance color, subject, and composition over every inch of 'Ruby'. 

There was even at least one joke in the piece, a picture of a painting of a feather plastered to Ruby's inner thigh.

I used to appreciate art for how it made me feel.  Art like this frankly makes me feel lazy and inadequate, but I absolutely appreciate it.  So now I'm forced to change my mind.  I appreciate art that makes me look closer, look longer, and make discoveries.

I suppose I'm growing up.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

R U annoyed by teh internetz grammar alot?

Then please read about this handy coping mechanism for OCD grammarians in the Age of the Internet.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

My First Ever Query - Sort Of

Today marks a bit of a milestone for me.  I submitted a query for a non-fiction (technical) book to a rather unique series publisher.  (I hope McKoala counts this as a point!)

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Sometimes It Only Takes A Few Words

I would really love to write a novel that communicates some universal truth that transforms the reader in some fundamental way.  We all would, right?

But sometimes really important ideas are really simple.  They don't need an epic context to explain or substantiate them.  The most profound thing I've ever read was on a scrap of paper stuck to a friend's parents' fridge:
No one ever lay on his deathbed and wished he'd spent more time at the office.
I love this line.  It is both a literal fact and a meme.  Substitute "at the office" with "doing laundry" or "being afraid" or "holding a grudge" or "waiting" and soon you have a little test that you can apply to every little decision you make in a day.  Just today I decided making my daughter's birthday special - by spending it with her - was more important than cleaning the house for her party.

The one little problem with writing a brilliant pearl of wisdom, as opposed to a tome of it, is that it gets paraphrased all over tarnation and attribution rarely survives.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

I'm No Good at Pranks

I briefly toyed with coming out of the closet and admitting I'm really Sarah Palin, but I'm just no good at April Fool's jokes.

Speaking of which, have you visited today?