If you want to get your writing noticed and don’t have a website, you’re falling behind. A website is essentially your online business card—it shows editors and publishers you can do the job, nets potential readers and makes you accessible to anyone who might want you for a book or article assignment. My very first website, which I built using a book on HTML that I found in a phone booth, landed me a column gig that lasted more than a year. Now, several iterations later, my website is a place to show editors my clips, entice writers to take my e-courses, convince them to buy my books, reach out to the media and land speaking engagements. If you don’t have a site, the time to act is now. It’s not as hard as you might think. Here’s how.
DO IT YOURSELF
There are two main ways to build a website: Do it yourself or hire someone to do it for you. First, here’s how to build a website using your own two hands (and a computer).
What you see is what you get. If you have time and some design talent, you can build your own website using a WYSIWYG program—which stands for What You See Is What You Get and is pronounced whiz-ee-wig. You don’t need to mess with code the way I did when I built my first website back in 1996; with WYSIWYG programs, you can draw boxes, create columns, add graphics, input text and more, and the final result that goes online will look the way you created it on-screen. One popular WYSIWYG program is Adobe Dreamweaver (adobe.com), which costs $399. I used this program to build my husband’s and my site (twowriters.net).
If only I’d known about open-source software, I could have saved a bundle. There are WYSIWYG site building applications that are distributed for free online. One example is Nvu (nvuwww.com). Another is KompoZer (kompozer.net). Both are complete Web-authoring systems for Linux, Microsoft Windows and Macintosh computers that allow users to create and manage a website with no technical expertise or
Build an iSite. iWeb is a Web-building application that comes with new Macs, but you can also get it for $79 as part of iLife 08 (apple.com/ilife). This program lets you choose from 26 Apple-designed themes, each containing templates for all the pages you may need: “welcome,” “about me,” “blog,” “podcasts” and so on. Journalist Elaine Appleton Grant used iWeb to build her site (www.appletongrant.com). “I’m happy with the results of using iWeb—people have told me my website is really beautiful,” Grant says. “It didn’t take too long and it’s easy to update.”
Trusty templates. Templates are pre-designed themes that you plug your content into. One of the most popular sources for website design templates is GoDaddy.com’s WebSite Tonight plan. Besides templates and tons of extra goodies, you get hosting and e-mail accounts—an all-in-one package. Prices range from $4.99-12.99 per month depending on the features you want and the space you need.
You can also find open-source (i.e., free!) templates. For example, Open Source Web Design (oswd.org) and The Open Design Community (opendesigns.org) are collections of Web designs that anyone can download free of charge. The designs range from basic to whimsical, and you can search the databases by color, number of columns and images.
Writers’ resources. Some writers’ groups offer members free or cheap websites hosted by their sites. For example, The Authors Guild (authorsguild.org), whose first-year dues cost $90, charges $3-9 per month for an easy-to-build site, depending on the extras you want.
Freelance Success (freelancesuccess.com), which charges $99 per year, isn’t a writers’ group per se but includes market reports, a forum and a simple-to-create website that lets you choose a color scheme, add a photo and enter highlights, résumé and clips.
Blog it. Many writers turn to blogs as their main websites because they’re easy to create and update.
For example, the website of food writer and cookbook author Monica Bhide (monicabhide.com) is built and hosted on the popular blog service TypePad (typepad.com). The main page is an actual blog that Bhide updates frequently. In addition, she has an “About Me” page with her bio and publishing credits. Some writers fear that using a blog as their main business website will make them look less than professional. Not so, says Bhide. “On the contrary—I think editors are looking for writers who can write for multiple types of media.”
Blogs are free (or cheap) and easy to create, host and update. Plus, each blog service offers plenty of themes that you can choose from to fit your personal design style. You can also hire a designer to tweak the theme if you prefer. For example, Diana Burrell and I recruited a designer to modify The Renegade Writer Blog (therenegadewriter.com, which was created on WordPress.com), to match our book cover. Other blog services besides TypePad (which costs $4.95 and up per month) include Blogger (blogger.com) and WordPress.com; both are free.
You can also create a regular website for your business and supplement it with a blog. That’s what we did with The Renegade Writer Blog; we both also have regular websites for our clips and publishing credits.
Freelance writer and novelist Allison Winn Scotch, author of The Department of Lost and Found, has a typical website that touts her novels and clips (allisonwinn.com), but she also has a blog called “Ask Allison” (allisonwinnscotch.blogspot.com) where she answers questions from readers and chats about all things book-related. “The blog helps me sell books in ways that I never imagined,” she says. “I’ve made dozens of blogger friends who are happy to promote my novels far beyond my initial audience.”
If you have zero design skill and no time to build your own site, you’re better off hiring a designer.
Let’s talk money. Reese Spykerman, who has designed writers’ websites (including my own, lindaformichelli.com), says costs vary widely. “You can get sites for less than $1,000, but these are typically people starting out and you may not get the best quality site,” he says. “A lot of writers, as long as their content isn’t too involved, can get a site for $2,000.” Some Web designers charge by the hour instead of offering a flat fee. Christie Jacobsen, a designer who has worked on writers’ websites, says prices can range from $60 per hour for a freelancer to $100 and up for a design firm.
Finding a designer. The way you find a good designer is the same way you find a good hairdresser: Ask someone with a website you admire, “Who did your site?”
“I’m a big fan of word of mouth,” Spykerman says. “If you have writer friends who have had a successful experience with a designer, that can help build your confidence in that designer. I’d be hesitant to hire someone I hadn’t heard about from someone else.”
WHAT EVERY WRITER’S SITE NEEDS
Now that you have the scoop on how to build a site (or have one built), what do you do about the content? “Your site is to establish who you are, what your niche is and what separates you from the other authors out there,” Jacobsen says.
Here are the must-haves (or, in some cases, nice-to-haves) for a site that will wow editors and readers:
• All about you. Somewhere on your site—whether it’s the front page or an “About Me” page—should be a bio that lets editors and readers know who you are and that you’ve got the goods. On the main page of my site, I tell readers I “wear more hats than your old aunt Millie,” and then give a brief roundup of what I offer, from articles to e-courses, with links to the relevant pages. My brief bio also appears on the “Media” page.
• Your contact information. Don’t forget to tell people how they can contact you. “If the content on your site is appealing to an editor or publisher but they can’t easily find your contact information, that’s bad,” Spykerman says. “A dedicated contact page is important. Repeat that information on the home page.” An e-mail address or e-mail form is the minimum you should provide. You can include your phone number as well. Google’s GrandCentral service (grandcentral.com), which is currently in the beta stages, offers one number that can ring your office and cell phones while hiding your real numbers.
• A picture of you. While not obligatory, a photo is a nice perk to include on your site. “I felt it would be easier for editors to associate with me as a person,” says journalist Debbie Abrams Kaplan (kaplanink.com). Her photo was professionally done; while getting family photos taken, she had the photographer take a few solo shots of her.
• A press page. If you’re selling a book, a press page can make it easy for the media to spread the word about you and your product. “At a minimum you want your book announcement press release, some biographical information about the author, a graphic of the book cover and a headshot,” says Sandra Beckwith, who has three websites including one for her book Publicity for Nonprofits (nonprofitpublicity.com).
• Testimonials. Testimonials and reviews can give you even more credibility than you naturally have. “Other people can say things about your qualities that you can’t say yourself,” Kaplan says. “It means more than if I were to say the same thing.” How to get them? Ask! Your favorite editors will likely be flattered that you asked them for a testimonial. If it’s a book you’re plugging, include positive reviews you’ve garnered; Scotch’s “Ask Allison,” for example, includes reviews on several pages of her site.
• Samples of your work. To pique editors’ and readers’ interest, include sample chapters, your table of contents or clips of your articles. You can display clips in different ways: as text on your site, as downloadable PDF or Microsoft Word files, as links to online articles or even as password-protected documents so only the people you choose get a peek. Spykerman recommends having at least some of your clips as text-only on your website, as this gives search engines more text to scan (so you may come up higher in search results); also, some editors may not like spending the time to open a downloadable clip. In addition, avoid having too many links to outside sites, as the links may change and turn up an error message when editors click them.
• Buying 411. If you’re selling a book, be sure to have a way people can snap it up right then and there, whether it’s through a form on your site or a link to your book’s page on Amazon.com.
• Personality. Included in the bio of freelance writer Judi Ketteler (judiketteler.com) is this statement: “A former gymnast, I also judge gymnastics and have been known to tumble in the backyard on occasion.” Don’t be afraid to let your personality show on your website.
Learn how to create strong characters, craft believable dialogue & get the attention of agents with:
The Writer’s Little Helper
Also check out these items from the Writer’s Digest’s collection:
Writer’s Digest Elements Of Writing Fiction: Beginnings, Middles & Ends
Writer’s Digest Elements Of Writing Fiction: Scene & Structure
Writer’s Digest Elements Of Writing Fiction: Description
Writer’s Digest Elements Of Writing Fiction: Characters & Viewpoint
Writer’s Digest No More Rejections
Writer’s Digest Weekly Planner
Writer’s Digest How to Land a Literary Agent (On-Demand Webinar)
Writer’s Digest Magazine One-Year Subscription
Writer’s Digest 10 Years of Writer’s Digest on CD: 2000-2009