Hello Everyone! Surprise… Amanda is busy, and I felt like being chatty, so let’s get started, class. Today is a hand’s-on exercise!
I just went through this in a class I’m taking on workplace writing. We had to evaluate bad websites, good ones, and then write a memo meant to convey to a business how they could improve theirs. As extra credit, the teacher asked the students to create a basic WordPress site, which is free, and pretty easy. I went a little further than that, because I have already created multiple sites. But it occurred to me that the step-by-step and some dos and don’t’s might be helpful for the author types we have on this blog.
There are various platforms for free blogs. Blogspot is one, and you can see an example at Peter Grant’s blog. WordPress is the one I prefer, because they are very versatile. They offer many free themes you can use to give your blog a different look from others, and pro themes that offer plugins to really get your website looking professional. According to Hoyt, Sarah’s blog, uses a Coraline theme. My personal blog is using the Sight theme right now, because I am showcasing both my words and art. The photography site I created for the class project uses the SKT Photo World theme. I highly recommend that you take a few minutes to look at sites you like (you can start with our blogroll on the sidebar), and make note of the theme they are using. For a WordPress site you can usually find this by scrolling all the way to the bottom of a page.
While you are looking at sites, make note of other things you find attractive – or repellent. You might know that you absolutely hate white text on a black background. You might realize that some colors look good, and others not so much. Lots of bright red? Hard on the eyes. Cool blues and beiges? Give off a professional look. White is nice, but too much and your site can look rather cold. The nice thing about using WordPress is that most of the aesthetic design has already been done. But I urge you not to use the ‘out of the box’ theme that comes when you initially set up.
Adding graphics to your site can be a challenge, you mustn’t just grab images off the web and use them. Well… sort of. In a blog post, most images are fair game. You’ll see us use memes, gifs, and sometimes just pictures of libraries that amaze us in a blog post. But for the design of your blog, say the header, use the same diligence you would when buying book cover art. And again, I urge you to customize your blog. Book cover art (full cover) is rarely the right size for a header image, but a row of covers might be. I also suggest that you do not simply snap a shot of your books, or yourself, for the blog unless you are comfortable with photography. Even if you aren’t using the blog/site for content marketing, readers will make a first impression based on the site’s appearance. For some truly horrible site examples, you might want to take a look at this site.
Now that you are ready to begin creating the site, let’s talk options. They range from free, to relatively inexpensive. Fortunately, websites no longer cost hundreds or thousands of dollars to create. If you want to go slow, and start with free, then a blogspot blog, or a something.wordpress.com blog is the way to go. If you want to keep it cheap ($18 a year) but have a custom name, you can do a WordPress-hosted blog and have something.com. The other alternative, for which prices vary wildly, is to do what I just did with my photography blog, and buy a domain name (somewhere from $5-$20 a year, usually) and hire a hosting company. I use Godaddy, but Dreamhost is good, and there are many others. I recommend that if you want to monetize your blog, this is the way to go. Even Amazon affiliate links are difficult with a WordPress-hosted blog, and WordPress will put ads up on your blog if you get enough traffic. I’d rather have control over that. But to begin with, a free blog means no commitments.
Once you are ready, I’m going to send you to the WordPress Get Started page. They do a very nice walk-though for setting it all up. I do recommend that you add Statcounter to your blog, the WordPress stats are notoriously unreliable. I have been unable to figure out how to put a Google Analytics tracker on my WordPress-hosted site, but I use it for the other sites I run. I would recommend keeping the sidebars to a dull roar, I tried a theme with two sidebars recently and really didn’t like how much it constricted the text space. Something that’s important to me, as I write (hah!) a lot on my blog.
Speaking of writing a lot, I’m going to be around to check comments and answer questions today, and if you do set up a site, I’d love to see a link to it in the comments! Let us know if you want critique, if not, we’ll be gentle (well, I will, anyway). If you already have a site, and want critique, ask.
All right, class, let’s begin…
I have a site, benzwycky.com, it does what I want it to do but maybe there are some ways to improve it that I’m unaware of/ lack the talent or resources to implement, any critiques welcome.
Ben, it looks clean and easy to navigate. I like the choices of header images. There is a lot of white space, but I’m looking at it on a 27″ monitor, so that may just be me. I’ll suggest that you try putting a little slideshow widget in your sidebar with your covers, the book and the Sci Phi Journal. Gives a bit of graphic interest on the page besides the header, the motion catches the eye, and best of all, it’s a straight click-to-buy.
OK, how do I add a slideshow widget? I don’t have the upgraded version of wordpress, so I can’t install any plugins.
My author blog doesn’t have plugins, either. If you go to Appearance> Widgets> Gallery (select from the list on the left of options for your sidebar). There you will be able to choose images from your media library, give it a title, and define a few other things. I will note that not all themes support all widgets, and I haven’t worked with Twenty-eleven.
OK, thanks, Gallery is supported, so I’ll have a play around with that.
Have fun! I like it for displaying the covers, and the human eye is drawn to motion – useful, that.
The gallery widget looks good, and I don’t see the same problem with white space that Cedar does, although maybe a left hand side bar might balance things a bit. Or distract. YMMV.
Gnardo, I really think it’s an artifact of my widescreen monitor.
I looked at it again, and I think it’s because the theme does not adapt to the available space. I have a wide screen, too, but keep my windows small (to clutter my desktop that much more), and when I expanded the window, the theme did not follow suit. Is this a problem with other themes? Or is it a WordPress issue?
I think some themes are modeled to fit into a standard monitor. I know the Photo World Theme flows all the way across my monitor. But blogging themes are usually more constrained.
Cedar. FWIW, I found a (maybe THE) plugin that provides that core facility in WordPress.com for us dot-org users. It’s called JetPack. I’ve installed it at ottoprint.com and will be putting it up on my blogs, etc. probably this weekend.
Also, to remind everyone, there are free resources that let you do ANYthing you want to on the Web. Free graphics — either stock items or tutorials on how to make your own. Free software to make your own (GIMP, Inkscape etc.) And, for Word Press, even without a hosted site, there’s tons of ways to get around the no-plugins restrictions. I wish I still had my WP dot-com site, I could show what I mean. But, sorry to say, I’ve moved on from there. Hosting is not really expensive, and IMNSVHO, should be one of the first things an indy author should budget for, as having a custom Web presence is practically a sine qua non for business these days.
Another thing — don’t be afraid to steal. Everybody’s code is out there and you can, with a little study (very little, in fact), figure out how anything is done. Just remember to file off the serial numbers.
Yes, I much prefer my hosted sites, and have the ability to add several more onto the plan I already own. I’ll be ‘porting cedarwrites over to self-hosted soon. But for someone to dip their toes in, a WP-hosted site is a good place to begin.
But if you are BLOGGING, you are not WRITING.
This also applies to author websites, where fans can find more information about the books they have already written, series order, and when is the next book coming out? Most people are not like me, with one or more blog posts a day!
And for some of us, we might just need the practice. Hopefully in the new year, once two of the current projects wind down (and I get back to just one debt to pay off), I can get back to writing a bit more, even if it is only bits and bytes in the musty dark recesses of the internets. Writing is a perishable skill. If it’s not exercised regularly, it atrophies (at least is has for me). Ah, well. One step at a time…
Yes, this is why daily writing of some sort is good practice, but with very limited time, fiction before blogging.
Cedar, I think ALL of the Mad Geniuses are like you Without even looking, I know Sarah has three (counting Sarah’s Diner at Baen).
And not only does blogging keep YOU from WRITING the books, it keeps ME from READING the books. Y’all are so freaken interesting; I suppose it comes from being a polymath. Or maybe that comes from being a writer. I could spend hours each day on yer BLOGS, and never get to yer BOOKS.
I don’t know how writers manage to ever write if they have children and an income-producing activity other than writing.
Well, technically I have two jobs, and I attend school full-time. I parent part-time these days. It can be done. Yes, we could spend too much time writing the blogs and not enough time on the fiction, but a website is an important tool for an author.
In my day, we chained authors to manual typewriters and paid them a half-cent a word.
Asimov even wrote a short story about it: “Galley Slave.”
Gah, I need to redesign mine–one of the reasons I no longer link it in my sig–the theme got updated and broke everything. But I’m not ready with the new one for people to look at.
I’ve tinkered now and again with my own blog/website. I’m using a free wordpress theme which works pretty well for what I want it to do. Take a look, and I will consider any suggestions –
Celia, I’d consider removing the meta widget from the sidebar. Other than that, I’ve seen your site before, and enjoy the posts and pictures you share.
I set mine up with the “Big Brother” theme, because I wanted an easy way to set up a sort of menu at the top with links to fixed pages. I’m not thrilled with some of the fonts, but I haven’t explored too much what I have in the way of customization options.
If you are using a WP theme, you may not have many choices for fonts.
Mine’s pretty plain blueberry. My cover art files are too large to work as thumbnails, and I’m not don’t want to put up photos. I know it could do a better job of selling my stuff, I just have not sat down to look at other blogs that use that template and seeing how. http://www.almatcboykin.wordpress.com
If you feel like your book covers will not work as thumbnails, you can always set them to appear at medium size in posts. Some graphics to break up the posts – like that lovely illustrated manuscript – are a good thing. As for a header image, you can use something that is in public domain, like, I don’t know, a panel of illustrated MS? It would work well with the theme of the Colplashki chronicles.
oh, I almost forgot: Save jpg versions of your covers at a lesser resolution for web usage. This is something I do for clients and my covers, usually set to 60% of the original file.
Hadn’t thought of that. I’m too used to not using GIMP for anything but home-made covers. Thanks!
You don’t have to go full-bore Gimp to resize. IfranView handles that task easily and with precision.
Blogspot aka Blogger has one minor advantage – it is part of Google, and some tests I ran convinced me that it gets better placement in search results. Or did, five years ago.
WordPress is a lot nicer to work with, as Cedar said, and you can migrate a WordPress blog to your own domain later quite easily.
Last but not least, Livejournal is still operating.