I need a Web ninja, please

To all the readers of Mad Genius Club:

I’m beating my head against a wall here.  For weeks – months! – I’ve been trying to find a Web site designer/administrator who can give me the service I need, at a price I can afford, and who – most important of all – will LISTEN! TO! ME! when I specify certain things. That last criterion appears to be honored more in the breach than in the observance, as if the design community is used to patting its customers on the head and saying condescendingly, “There, there, never mind. We know better than you. Just shut up and do as we tell you, and all will be well.” Grrrr . . .

I need, in no particular order:

  • An author Web site, including multiple series and books within series, that can be linked to multiple editions at multiple vendors;
  • That does NOT use Adobe Flash or any other old-fashioned, insecure code (HTML5 preferred);
  • That provides for hosting my blog, plus other material in due course;
  • That is relatively easily maintained by the author, rather than having to go back to an expert for every little change (in other words, I own and possess the source code);
  • That meets my design criteria (eye-catching to an extent, but more traditional art than cubist, if you know what I mean:  definitely writing-focused, but not jazzy, spacey or Millennial);
  • That I can afford!

I’ve looked at the template sites, offering dozens of pre-formatted Web site designs that you can tailor to your needs. I’m not impressed. Most are cookie-cutter copies of each other, with little originality; and most require you to sign on with the service offering the template, even though that service might receive poor to awful reviews from its users. I want something I can run on any server, with any service provider of my choice. If it’s a condition of the designer that it run on his/her servers, he/she had better have the credentials, reviews and approval ratings to make me comfortable with that – otherwise, no.

What’s more, I don’t want this made out of solid gold. I can’t afford that! I need something within a fairly restricted budget – a few hundred dollars, rather than a few thousand. I accept that may mean starting small, and growing later. I don’t mind that, provided the site designer understands it too, and doesn’t want to sell me all the bells and whistles up front.

Do any of you know, and/or can any of you recommend, a Web site designer and/or service host that meets those criteria?  If so, please let me know in Comments. I’m ready to pull the trigger on this, and I urgently need to find someone I can work with.


20 thoughts on “I need a Web ninja, please

  1. I am another potential customer. Instapundit speaks well of Sekimori, and Squarespace is either very good, or pays people to say they are. No experience with either.

  2. If you need inexpensive artwork and design assistance I am happy to help, if my skills can be useful. I use Manga Studio, so vector graphics aren’t available. Your cost is time: you come after my family, my church, and my library obligations. But while the comic is in hiatus I’d be happy to bump you to the top of the list of “everything else”.

  3. “That is relatively easily maintained by the author, rather than having to go back to an expert for every little change;”

    Well there’s yer problem. Nobody makes their money up front, they make it on the back-end cleaning up all the fiddly little bits that they can charge for over and over and over again.

    I don’t know if you’ve noticed Peter, most of the people in “web design” are idiot high school dropouts and/or actual scammers. There’s a reason GoDaddy, Shopify and those other potted website companies are so popular.

    Acquaintances have had good luck using Shopify in a retail setting, putting their whole inventory online. 1,100 unique SKUs in their case, linked to their point-of-sale system and all. So it has the capability you want, it’s just that as usual it is a bunch of time away from writing to figure out how the damn thing works.


    Square Space
    Bootstrap (this is a CSS framework)

  4. I know a guy that did some work for me. Affordable, will have to check to see if he’s in the web design business still. Let me get back to you on this.

  5. For times like these I wish I’d kept up my web skilz instead of staying comfortably in 1998 (when my site last had a redesign… yes, really).

  6. I don’t recall what mee.nu’s free blogging terms were, nor do I know what the current state is, or whether it meets your requirements.

    I was never a web ninja, what little I knew is way out of date, and I’m basically clueless.

  7. I rarely find templates that look suitable for authors, so you have my sympathies on the exasperating search. I just bought this template (literally this afternoon) and I’m playing around with it on a local WAMP server right now. It’s a WordPress theme, so you’d be able to install it on your own server:


    It lets you offer up sample chapters of a book, and includes a blog (cuz, WordPress). It also charmingly offers a download function (it supposes you’d sell direct-to-readers) but I rarely see authors doing that. I was actually planning to test modifying that function to a serve a “multiple vendors” purpose, similar to the “Books2Read” service Kris Rusch uses.

    Themeforest also has another theme called “The Novelist” that may suit your purposes as well. It doesn’t have a commerce function, but the menu feature should readily accommodate links to vendors.

    1. And here’s a link to what “The Novelist” looks like. Notice the different books on each “page,” and if you click on a page it takes you to the sample chapters (which it will paginate).


      I’d imagine this one and Novela above functioning as a much prettier version of what Baen does with its free library. In fact, wanting a prettier version of Baen’s sample pages is what led me to find those two themes. As I said, The Novelist doesn’t have a built-in e-commerce function (the purchase link at the top right just leads to the page at Themeforest where you can buy the theme). But it looks easily modified for the purpose.

  8. I can’t speak to the not listening part, but you may have contradictory requirements. You have certain requirements that are likely to require custom work (author pages aren’t a normal template), and others that may require not using the designer’s standard templates and tool stack (no adobe). On top of that, you want to purchase the rights to the source code, so you can maintain it yourself, which may involve the designer handing over something they’ve built up over the course of years. Realizing that here in Boston rates are inflated ($100 per hour is considered cheap for that kind of work), your suggested price would pay for at most a half day worth of work, and half of that would be consumed by the requirements gathering meeting. Allowing for a generous discount for other parts of the country, you’re still looking at a day’s work at most. You may need to significantly adjust your goals, as what you’re currently asking for seems to me to resemble asking an electrician to do all the rough wiring to rewire your entire house for $400.

    1. Andrew, I respectfully disagree. Nowadays, almost everything’s built using pre-written code “blocks”. A block from here, a block from there, a couple from that place, and Bob’s your uncle. Almost never does one hear of something like a Web site being built from scratch. (As a former programmer, I have a pretty good understanding of the process.) Anyone charging $100 per hour to do that is probably ripping off his or her customers. A genuine software consultant, coding every line from scratch, can certainly charge that much, but I’m not looking for someone like that.

      I’d gladly code the entire Web site myself, if I could spare the time to do so. I don’t reckon I’d need more than a month of hard work to convert my existing programming knowledge and background into sufficient HTML5 expertise to do the job. However, my primary task is writing, with editing, formatting, marketing, etc. taking up the next few priorities. I just don’t have the time to program as well . . . but perhaps I may have to make time. That may be the only way to get this done.

      1. Without too much detail, I’ll just say that I’m a current programmer with extensive internet experience with some of the top companies in the country. You can get people for far less than $100 an hour, but you get what you pay for. Your ‘blocks’ might help, but only if you’re doing exactly what was done before. Hence my comments previously about your work looking like custom work. You’re saying this would take you a month, how much is a month of your time worth? When you hire a plumber to fix something, and he charges you $150 for a 15 minute fix, you’re not paying for the 15 minutes, you’re paying for the 20 years of experience it took him to be able to do the fix in 15 minutes. I hire people to do things even if I can do them, but I expect to pay them for their expertise, just as I expect to be paid for my expertise.

      2. People get wowed into LAMP and “application frameworks” and the newest hotness, but you can do a whole lot with plain old HTML3.

        Do it yourself and you’re not locked into someone else’s design, and all the oddball tools they used to implement it. Stick to the basics; it’s not rocket surgery.

        Back in the mid-1990s we used to design web sites with 3-ring binders and stick-on tabs. Each link was the name of a tab. Yes, we had hand-carved wooden circuit boards and knapped-flint read-write heads…

    2. Since Flash is approaching end of life (Adobe has announced it will stop supporting it in 2020) and has never been available on smartphones, any Web designer using it for new sites today has a hole in his head.

      1. Adobe may EOL Flash in a couple of years, but it’ll be infecting web sites for a least a decade after that.

  9. I can recommend Squarespace. I’ve used it for 3 client websites and they found it easy to update. They have plenty of documentation if you get stuck as well as humans you can message. You can export the site if you ever want to move. I recommend them over WordPress for most people because you don’t have to worry about security or updating things. Squarespace handles all that backend for you.

    I can help you set it up if you need but they have templates that you can alter without coding as well. Hope this was helpful.

  10. No help on finding a solution but I can share an error that cost me dearly. I got a few sites designed and built in Microsoft’s FrontPage web development tool. They were a nightmare to maintain and some days I’d just delete and re-upload the whole mess to get things working again. The folks that did the initial design had no clue about solving problems beyond very minor glitches.

    Once I decided I had to jump the FrontPage ship and head another direction I discovered that almost none of the site code or data was salvageable. Best I could do was copy the images and copy/paste the text to reuse in the new design.

    If you pick a tool to do your site design get a quick preview site done and review the actual HTML to see just what the tool is doing behind the scenes. Don’t let yourself be painted into a corner or locked into a tool, or worse pick one that has specific and proprietary extensions that must be run on the server to operate.

    I got so discouraged at my situation and pretty much needing to start over that I abandoned all the sites, keeping just my main one with a “parked” page as it also handles my e-mail.

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