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Develop a Successful Writer's Web Site
By Patricia L. Fry
Do writers need Web sites? They do if they have something to sell or a message to share. And I guess that includes just about every writer.
Your own Web site means exposure to a segment of the population that you may not already be reaching. It's a place where potential clients, publishers and editors can learn about you and your work. And you can sell your self-published books through a Web site.
But what should a Web site include? How do you design one that's effective? Following are some tips for creating a Web site that successfully portrays the message and purpose that you want to express.
- Research other writers' Web sites. View these sites to determine what features might appeal to the visitors you hope to attract
- Strive for clarity. Make sure that those visiting your site know at a glance what it's about. If you're selling books, state this on your home page. If you're advertising your editorial business, post your services front and center. Perhaps you want to create a Web site where editors and publishers can view samples of your work. Make this clear on your home page.
- Keep it simple. While conducting Web site research, you'll find some interesting site designs with some unusual color combinations. Before succumbing to the unconventional, consider how it will impact your audience. Will your visitors be able to read yellow words dancing across the page over a turquoise background sprinkled with black polka dots? Will they wait for the little pencil figure to recite your latest poem before navigating your site? Don't try to be so clever that you defeat your purpose.
- Make it easy for folks to move around on your site. For example, repeat your list of contents on every page.
- Build a strong first impression. Your home page should be inviting while luring visitors to other areas of your site. If your home page is blah and has no explanation or promise of interesting things to come, busy Web surfers won't bother to look any further.
- Exceed visitors' expectations. While you don't want to clutter your Web site with unnecessary material, you certainly want to respond to your visitors' needs. If you're selling books, for example, show pictures of them, include a synopsis of each and provide an author bio as well as ordering information. If you're promoting your editorial services, a bio/resume, references and your photograph would be appropriate. A site designed to showcase your work to editors and publishers should also answer all of their potential questions. You might post your current bio, previously published work, work in progress, letters of recommendation and your photograph.
- Advertise your site. Having a site is only the beginning. In order for it to be effective, you must invite people to visit. Your Web site designer can help you get linked to the most important search engines. You'll also want to exchange links with Web sites expressing themes complimentary to yours. Spend a couple of hours each week seeking out good link prospects.
- Tell people about your site. Include your Web site address (URL) on your letterhead and business cards. Add a signature to your outgoing emails. A signature is a message that you can have automatically placed at the bottom of each email you send.
Who should you get to design your Web site and how much will you have to pay? When I asked Web site designer and SPAWN Webmaster, Virginia Lawrence, Ph.D, this question, she said, "You can get the kid next door to do it for a couple of pizzas or you can spend a million dollars or any amount in between."
Virginia emphasizes that, while anyone can build a Web site, not everyone can build a good Web site. The kid who does it for pizza may be a budding talent, or he may have no understanding of site usability. For example, he is unlikely to have any knowledge of how to make a Web site readable by search engines. While the minimum you can expect to pay an experienced professional to design a basic site is about $500, cost depends on the complexity of the site, the quality of the graphic art, the experience of the Web designer, and the overhead of the Web design firm.
Of course, you can build your own site and there are programs to help. Virginia recommends Dreamweaver. She says, "A lot of people like Dreamweaver." But she suggests that beginners stay away from FrontPage. She says, "It creates pages with all kinds of unnecessary extra tags that make the page load slowly."
Another option is to do what I did and arrange for a Web design student to build your site as a class project. It was a win-win situation. I have a very nice Web site and the student earned a good grade while learning a trade.
Do you need a Web site? If you're a working writer, the answer is probably, "yes."
-This is an excerpt from The Successful Writer's Handbook (Matilija Press, 2003) by Patricia Fry. http://www.matilijapress.com
on Writing, Editing