Cameron Chapman

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Websites for Writers

A lot of writers, whether published or aspiring, have awful websites. I mean, as someone who writes about design for a living, and who has a background in web and graphic design (and still does side projects on occasion), it’s painful for me to see some of the sites out there that writers are using. And proud of in a lot of instances.

Now, I’m NOT going to name names here. That’s just distasteful. But I will say that probably 80% of author websites have some kind of major flaw that seriously interferes with their usability. Some are just poorly designed. Some are filled with broken links (there are some publisher sites that fall into this category, too). Some have so many Flash effects or other “fancy” things that they bog down the user’s browser and are unusable to boot.

As someone who wants to see writers succeed, and also wants to see good design on the web, I’ve put together this little guide for writers who want a website.

Think About Your Budget

For the vast majority of writers, hiring someone to create your website for you is going to result in a better end product than learning to create your site yourself. But a lot of writers (and, really, anyone who isn’t a designer) have an unrealistic idea of how much a good website should cost.

If you want a basic, brochure-type website, with no blog and only a handful of pages (like an about page, a page that lists your books, and maybe an excerpt page), expect to pay somewhere between $500 and $1500 depending on the experience of the designer and whether they’re basing the site design on a template or designing completely from scratch. This may or may not include a CMS (which allows you to edit the content of your site without knowing how to code).

If you want a custom site with a blog as the main emphasis, with your own web hosting, you can probably expect to pay somewhere between $1000 and $2500, again, depending on how custom you want to get and if you want support for things like video blogs (vlogs) or other more specialized content (it can run higher than this for really advanced features, though it’s unlikely). This should be built on a blog platform like WordPress or Moveable Type, though there are others available.

If you want a completely custom site, something like Stephen King’s website, for instance, expect to pay at least $1,000, and possibly upwards of $10,000. Sites like this are usually only used by authors who have a large backlist and a lot of information to share. It may or may not have a blog, may have things like photo galleries of author events or author videos, and sometimes even an e-commerce area where visitors can buy author merchandise.

So as you can see, websites are expensive. Good designers spend years learning their craft, and are generally worth the prices they charge. If you’re getting quotes from people that are coming in much lower than the prices quoted above, you may want to keep searching. In all likelihood, you’re not dealing with a professional. Sometimes local designers charge outside of these norms, but in some cases it’s because of a lack of quality.

Students are the other group that often charge a lot less, because they’re looking to build a portfolio. I hate to say this, and I know I might catch some flack from the design community, but unless you want to act as project manager and already know exactly what you want from your site, don’t hire a student. Their main priority is not going to be your website. In a lot of cases, regardless of how talented they are at design, they’re not yet experienced in dealing with clients and handling project management. Unless you can get bulletproof references from other clients they’ve worked with (not including friends and family), you’re better off to spend the extra and hire a professional or go with a template site. The same goes for hobbyists. Sure, there are exceptions, but they’re few and far between.

But I Don’t Have $500 or More

Not every author out there has $500 or $1000 or more to spend on their website, not matter how seriously they take their career. It’s especially hard to justify that kind of expense if you’re not yet earning a living from your website. But there are a couple of great alternatives for writers who can’t afford to hire a professional web designer.

Weebly is a great option if you want a basic website. They have a ton of templates, almost all of which are well-designed and professional-looking, and a lot of them can be customized with your own header images. Weebly lets you use your own domain name for no extra charge (you’ll still have to pay for the name itself), and they have a few other add-ons, too. The best part about Weebly compared to a lot of other free sites is that they don’t put ads on your site. The only thing even resembling an ad is a small Weebly link in your footer (you can pay to have that removed).

If you want a blog more than a plain website, WordPress.com is a great option. You can get a blog for free with a WordPress.com subdomain (yoursite.wordpress.com), or have your own domain name for less than $20 per year (including the registration of the domain name itself). There are over 100 templates you can choose from (including some premium templates), and a lot of them can be customized with your own header and background images. You can also create pages on your WordPress.com site, and have a static home page if you want (with your blog on a separate page). As your site grows, you can switch to a self-hosted WordPress site and use WP as a fully-featured CMS.

Other good blogging services to consider include Tumblr (which is sort of a cross between Twitter and a regular blog), Blogger, and TypePad/Moveable Type.

Remember this: It’s better to have an attractive, user-friendly template site than an ugly or unusable custom site. A lot of people won’t even realize it’s a template site, especially if you use a template that can be customized with your own header and background images.

Do I Really Need a Website?

Before you go spending a lot of time and money on a website, ask yourself if you even really need a full-featured site. Would you be better off investing your time into Twitter and Facebook rather than your own site? Are you going to have time to regularly post on your blog? Do you have enough content to populate a website?

If you’re unsure, consider setting up something like an About.me page. With this you can set up a brief bio, and link to your social media accounts (including Tumblr, WordPress, Flickr, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube). You can customize the background image (consider using a background that includes your book cover(s) or author photo) and typography on the page. It’s a good option if you don’t want to deal with the setup and upkeep of a regular website, but still want some central place to direct agents, readers, editors, and others that might be curious about your web presence.

Feel free to ask questions in the comments, either about any of the services I’ve mentioned here or author website in general, and I’ll do my best to answer them.

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5 Comments on Websites for Writers

  1. Noury Buttry
    April 7, 2011 at 8:33 pm (1204 days ago)

    Hi, Raylene Chapman Buttry referred me to you. I am delighted she did. I enjoy writing my experiences as a 62+ years old woman, and she suggested I put together something like a book. Reading your suggestions above, I am more than excited. I am looking forward to reading your experiences and suggestions and I am so grateful for the recommendations you have made. I have so much to learn yet. Thank you again,

    Reply
    • Cameron Chapman
      April 8, 2011 at 8:20 am (1203 days ago)

      Glad you’re finding my blog useful and interesting!

      Reply
  2. Catharina
    April 12, 2011 at 8:18 am (1199 days ago)

    Flavors.me is also an excellent resource for one-page websites.

    Reply
    • Cameron Chapman
      April 12, 2011 at 8:40 am (1199 days ago)

      Thanks for sharing that! There are plenty of free resources out there for authors who don’t need anything too complicated for their website and/or don’t have the money to spend to hire a designer.

      Reply
  3. Stephen R Rodrigo
    June 8, 2011 at 9:06 pm (1142 days ago)

    What a wonderful article!
    Its better not to have a website rather than having ameturish site.

    Reply

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