Today I have a guest post from Deb Dorchak, the co-owner and Lead Designer of Blue Sun Studio, Inc./Sirius Graphix. Deb’s been a graphic designer for more than 25 years and an artist since she could hold a crayon. She’s worked in the graphics industry doing everything from newspaper and glossy magazine layout, to animation in Las Vegas’ largest and oldest sign company. Deb got her start in Illustration, and her passion for telling stories through images hasn’t wavered yet. She and her business partner, Wendi Kelly, have finished their first novel Bonds of Blood & Spirit: Loyalties, due to release late October 2010.
Why is it that every author site I go to is, shall we say, less than spectacular? I’ve been visiting a lot of them lately, along with many publishing promotional sites, and each time I’m left scratching my head. The books are great, the content is interesting and extremely useful, but many of the sites look like they were made back in the early 90s and never left.
This never fails to baffle me each and every time. I wonder if many of these authors (some of them big names, too) think their websites aren’t all that important in the greater scheme of things? So many of these sites feel like an after thought, like “Oh, I’ve got a book on sale, guess I’d better have a website too. Okay, that site I used to have on GeoCities was alright, I think I’ll use that…”
Pardon me while I go bang my head against the wall.
Did You Put Your Makeup On Before You Left the House?
As an author or budding author with your first book, you’ve put a lot of time and consideration into your novel. You’ve sweated out not only the most intricate details of plot and character development, but you’ve also taken time to have just the right cover created and you or your designer has chosen the right typeface for everything between those covers. You’ve done countless rewrites and had editors and proofreaders go over every word and letter.
Why, oh why, then does none of that matter when it comes to your website?
Websites are no longer a hobby. They’re very effective business tools. Your website can help you promote your books, build and keep you in touch with your fan base, and spread the word through social networking. You never know who’s going to link to a post you wrote and where that link will end up. Your big break could be lurking right around the corner and you’d never know it.
This is yet another first impression waiting to happen. If your site is outdated, difficult to navigate, or doesn’t grab visitors on the first go, you’ll turn more people away because they just won’t want to stay there very long.
Keep Up With the Trends
If you’re anything like my partner, Wendi, and I, you keep up with the current trends in your particular genre of writing. Not only that, you keep up with the latest technological developments in publishing, marketing and distribution. The same applies to your website.
Take a look at your site right now. Is it very narrow? Does it look lost sitting in the middle (or off to the left as I so often see) of the screen? Is your navigation clear and easy to find? Do you even have a navigation bar? Do you have a color scheme that’s pleasing to the eye? Are you using annoying flash animation? Are you using a legible font for the text? Do you have your own domain name on a self-hosted site or are you on one of the freebies like Blogspot?
Yes, that’s a long list of questions and that’s only a small portion of what to look for.
Unfortunately, these are all common mistakes and oversights I see time and time again.
Let’s take a closer look at some of them and see why they’re so important.
Back in the late 80s early 90s everyone was working off clunky CRT monitors – remember those boxy monstrosities? The average screen size was between 17″ and 19″. Anything above that was expensive and reserved for big graphic production companies. They were also square and not the wide screen versions we have today.
The average width of a page was 750 pixels (px) wide.
Today with our wide screens measuring 20″ and up, that tiny 750 px width gets lost. A width of at least 960 px is standard. It’s not so bad if you have a solid background, but since many of the author sites I’ve visited are still stuck in the past, many of these backgrounds are busy textures that detract from the focus – your book.
Even a large amount of solid color on either side can be distracting – especially if it’s a neon pink or green.
Of all the elements in a website your navigation is the most important. You’ve got three seconds to capture a visitor’s attention. They don’t want to spend time trying to find the information they came there for. When websites first came out, left hand vertical navigation was very popular. Since then horizontal navigation has become the norm. Having horizontal navigation follows the natural flow of the eyes over the page. You start at the top and go down in a Z pattern from left to right.
Since most sites use sidebars, a vertical navigation is easily overlooked and assumed to be part of a sidebar. Keep your navigation at the top and horizontal, and above all, keep the clutter to a minimum. Be straight and to the point, not cute and clever. Cute and clever makes your visitors think to much. Trust me, people browsing the web don’t want to think, or think as little as possible.
Some fonts were made for reading. Other fonts were made to look pretty. And still more are overused or outdated. For content and on screen reading, stick to sans serif fonts like Arial, Helvetica, Tahoma and so on. For headlines or in the header graphic, it’s fine to get fancy – but for God’s sake please make sure that’s legible, too. Going all caps with a fancy handwritten script is not pretty. What it is, is unreadable.
Also stay away from having a rainbow in your content. I remember there was one site I visited that had a black background and nearly every paragraph was a different color. The information on the site was very good, I wanted to stay and read it, I really did, but I couldn’t stand to look at the site any more than I had to.
Domain Names and Freebie Sites
I do realize that free blogging sites are great money savers. I also realize that many authors are on a tight budget. Even so, it would do you well to get an economy package on a reputable hosting service, like InMotion Hosting or GoDaddy, and invest in a domain name (less than $10 a year!) rather than have Blogspot at the top of your page.
Think about it: Which kind of site do you feel has more authority? Which site is going to look more professional? The site with its own domain name each and every time.
In addition to the credibility factor, you also have more freedom with what you can do on your site as far as advertising and layout goes; and you have control over every aspect of your site.
Tight Budget? No Problem.
All of this sounds expensive, I know. But you know what? There are always options, and the best option is to do your site in stages. Start with a simple, clear design *cough…shameless plug…like Simply Sirius* where your visitors and fans can find what they need. After that, you can add the fancy stuff over time.
Or better yet, have someone like us analyze your site for you. Many people know they need a change, they just don’t know where to start or what it is they want. Not only do we do website design, but we also offer consultations on everything from design to marketing. Sometimes sites lack focus because the site owners can’t focus themselves.
What it all comes down to is your website is as much a part of your book promotions as anything else. Give it the same consideration you would as you would choosing an editor or a book cover. I guarantee you, you’ll thank yourself for it in the end.
Thanks, Deb. That’s great advice for authors who want to bring their websites into the twenty-first century.
You can find more of Deb’s articles on design, writing, and publishing at Sirius Graphix, or follow her @SiriusGraphix on Twitter. If you’re an author who needs a site designed or redesigned, send her and the team an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Image licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License, original work copyright by JesusPresley, http://www.flickr.com/photos/jesuspresley/;