advice for authors who want to publish or promote their work with a website
Tee Morris, author and webmaster
As you surf the Internet, you will find many websites good, bad, and ugly, and sadly many of the websites in need of serious help are websites of authors and publishers. Designing for the Internet is not as easy as certain web applications would lead you to believe.
Here are a few ideas when putting together a website for your book or publishing house...
1. MAP OUT ON PAPER A PLAN FOR YOUR WEBSITE. Before you even begin the first HTML tag, get the site on paper. Organize a strategy in the same way you would put together a proposal for your book. What do you want to say about your project? How much do you want to say about yourself? Who is your target audience -- publishers, agents, or fans? Once you have an idea of what you want to say, then begin construction.
2. KEEP IT SIMPLE. A little bit goes a long, long way and that is so true in website design. Start your website with the basics, and don't worry about the HTML. It is a VERY easy language to learn and all you need is a text editor like SimpleText (for the Mac) and NotePad (for a PC) and a guide. You have numerous websites that will teach you the language (http://www.w3schools.com -- a fantastic site for learning HTML) and provided you start slow, you can build from the ground up a very clean and easy to view website. Later, when you get more comfortable with the language, you can branch out into new territories.
3. USE PDF FILES FOR ONLINE WRITING SAMPLES. While many authors and publishers post their chapter samples online in HTML, you take a risk anytime you display your work this way. Files can be easily downloaded as text files and then manipulated in any word processor or layout program. The better format to use is a PDF (Portable Document Format, created either in Adobe Acrobat -- http://www.adobe.com/epaper/main.html -- or as a special export from Adobe PageMaker or Quark XPress), a read-only format that uses Adobe Acrobat Reader (installed on all computers and in some browsers) and protects your work.
4. KEEP GRAPHICS ONLY TO THE ESSENTIAL. While graphics are cool (and I am so guilty of enjoying graphic-intensive websites), they can sometimes serve no other purpose than increase the download time of your website. Be very selective in what you use and (if possible) try to optimize them using either Adobe's Photoshop™ or Macromedia's Fireworks. By optimizing them, you can minimize memory for the graphics and decrease download time for your website.
5. INVEST IN YOUR OWN DOMAIN. The easier people can find you online, the more people will visit your site. It costs only $35 US dollars for a year, $70 for two. You can either name your domain after your pen name, your publishing house, or for the book title.
Stick with these three suggestions and you will have the foundation for a rock solid website.
Now here are some things to avoid in your design...
1. AVOID "COOL" OR "CUTE" GRAPHICS. What is defined as "cool" or "cute" could be anything from abnormally large graphics (roughly anything over 600 pixels in width) and overly-complex background graphics; but it is usually animated gif's that cause more problems for browsers, slow overall download time, and annoy those visiting your website. Also the presence of animated smiley faces, notes folding up and zipping into to mailboxes, and rotating chain links symbolizing "links" ruins the professional look of your website and makes it more akin to "Aunt Betsey's Website." There is nothing wrong with animated gif's in moderation, but make sure they help not hinder the performance of your website. The same can be said for background images. Sometimes when the background image is tiled, it can make the content of your website hard to read. Again, nothing wrong with background images in moderation, provided it doesn't make your content difficult to read.
2. AVOID "COOL," "CUTE," AND "MISPELLED" CONTENT. Does your target audience really want to know your passion for hamsters? That your favorite food condiment is salsa? Or what you really think about Nintendo's Game System versus Sega's Dreamcast? This is content you reserve for a personal website not for a professional one. There is a fine line between "witty" and "gratuitous" so when you are putting together your site, know what you want to say and keep it brief. Also, double-check your spelling. As much as you scrutinize your manuscript, you should do the same for your website. (And I admit to missing a few errors here and there, so I ask friends and family to proof it as well. Another set of eyes is a good thing...)
3. NEVER RESIZE YOUR GRAPHICS USING HTML. While you may think reducing your graphics in size to "increase resolution," a graphic 125 KB in size reduced in size with HTML is still 125 KB only in a smaller size. Resizing images using HTML will not improve download time. You must resize the image in an application like Photoshop™ or Fireworks.
4. AVOID USING FRAMES. The "frames" layout, unbeknownst to many, work against you in being found by search engines and being bookmarked by browsers. Simply put, if people can't find you and if people can't bookmark you, you have defeated the purpose in building a website.
5. AVOID USING WYSIWYG PROGRAMS. Many of these programs -- FrontPage™ and PageMill, for example -- are great time savers, make spell checks a breeze, and easy to figure out, but while WYSIWYG applications promise "what you see is what you get" that is not always the case. These programs will also offer various features of DHTML (Dynamic HTML) like layers and cascading style sheets. The end result is a site that may look one way in one browser, slightly different in another, and completely different on a different operating system. Nothing beats knowing HTML. A better application to use in building a website is Macromedia's Dreamweaver or Adobe's GoLive which are known as GUI (Graphic User Interface) applications.
This is merely one artist's opinion. You may hear many artists and hear many different opinions on what does and does not work with a website. There are no real "set standards" in website design. What works for one may not always work for another, but what will decide if you have a website that works is if it serves its purpose. Does your website grab the attention of a publisher or agent? Are you working with them now because of the website? What about your public? Are they informed on book signings, upcoming releases, and new projects? If your website meets its expectation then you have a good website. These are merely a few do's and don't's that I use when designing for myself and for others.
You could always hire someone to build your website for you. Provided you have the funds, a tried-and-true web designer will do the work and create your "ideal Internet presence." This can get expensive. Now it is an issue of time and time is one thing you have to invest in creating a clean, professional website. Good luck to you in your website construction endeavors.
Tee Morris received his Bachelors of Science from James Madison University in 1992, but not in computers, not in design, and not in programming...Tee got his degree in Theatre, concentration in acting. (So far, his big claim to fame was a small speaking role on HOMICIDE: Life on the Street) When he isn't acting or writing, Tee works as a freelance graphic artist/web designer/consultant because “It beats waiting tables.” With nearly a decade of graphic arts in his portfolio, Tee has also written training manuals and designed curriculums for HTML, Dreamweaver 3 and 4, and Quark XPress 4. He teaches HTML, Dreamweaver, Flash, Fireworks, Photoshop, QuarkXPress, and PageMaker.
Tee Morris' website promoting his fantasy-adventure epic MOREVI:The Chronicles of Rafe and Askana can be found at http://www.morevi.com where he is always open for feedback and comments.
Published by permission of the author.