Posted in Business Side of Writing, Promotion

Building Your Own WordPress Website

If you read this post, you’ll see that WordPress website builder is my first go to, plus it has information on choosing a host.

After you’ve written and prepared content for your website (see this post if you need content ideas and this one for preparation info), then follow the steps below:

Chose a WordPress.org theme

  • Finding a theme can be difficult. It’s not just a matter of layout or colors (much of that can be changed), but it’s also about what a theme provides: blogging, e-commerce, etc. I like what this article says: “Your goal should be to find a WordPress theme that has a design you like, is fast, and can be easily customized.” Read more of “Selecting the Perfect WordPress Theme – 9 Things to Consider” for more tips.
  • It can be overwhelming as there are so many choices. Narrow those choices by using the search. Try “author,” or “illustrator” or “writer” or “art” or even a specific color. Remember the images will be yours (although some themes provide banner images that you may keep).
  • Pick three to four themes that appeal to you, then examine each one closely.

For example, Context Blog is a theme aimed at blogging. There are two links on the page to check out, first a Preview. The Theme Homepage link takes you to a Demo. What do I like about this site? Clean, easy to use, good for multiple authors blogging together. I like that blog posts have a light-colored background. The font is easy to read. There are a variety of ways your home page can be set up.

Kidsi Pro offers a rainbow of colors. Besides checking out the above issues, make sure you read the text and the tags—these will tell you a lot. In the tags on this one, it shows blog, so that means it’s easy to set up a blog page. The Theme Homepage didn’t work. Uh oh! I’d steer away from this one then.

Green Wealth is one I discovered by clicking on Latest Themes. Green is my favorite color so it appeals to me. I like that the image is formatted as a circle and I like the soft green backgrounds. When I click on the Demo I see that it has animation. I like the floating dots, but I don’t like the way the picture moves. Animation can slow down a website too, so something else to keep in mind.

  • If necessary, choose more until you can narrow it down to one or two.

Get opinions on your choices from others. For example, one writer I know picked a black background. When she showed it to her daughter-in-law, she felt it was too dark. We changed the background to a medium dark gray blue. But that wasn’t something built into the theme. I had to use CSS to customize it. (And unless you have programmer knowledge or help, I can’t recommend this.)

  • Verify it has what you need as far as what you can build and how much flexibility it has.

Check for tags such as custom colors, custom background, custom menu, sidebar, columns.

  • I also like looking at the ratings and active installations of a theme. If no one is using it, that would make me nervous.

Once you have your host, and have set up a domain name, add your theme.

  • Go to your WordPress dashboard. There is usually access directly from your host. Also, you can access it by your url. Example: myauthorwebsite.com/wp-admin. Of course, a password is required.
  • On the left column, you’ll see Appearance with a subcategory of Themes. This is where you add new themes.
  • Easiest is click Add New Theme and use the search box by entering the name of the theme.
  • Once you’ve added a theme, you must click Activate.

Customize your theme. This is where you make it uniquely yours. (Note: not all themes will have each of these options. Some will have more; others less.)

Under Appearance is a subcategory of Customize. Here you can change:

  • Site Identity. For example, mine is set to Site Title: Susan Uhlig and Tagline: Children’s Author.
  • Colors. Here’s where you change the Background color and Header Text color.
  • Header Image. What image do you want to show on every page? These are usually a short and wide picture. Recommended is a 1000 × 250pixel image. Other size images can be cropped to fit.
  • Background Image. Instead of a solid color background, you can have a background image. Be wary of getting too busy.
  • You’ll probably ignore the Menu tab.
  • Widgets. This is where you can add sidebars and footers. Some themes come with them already.
  • Home page. It can be static or show most recent blog posts. The latter is my preference as there is always changing content on the home page.

All that and we still have not created a page or a blog post.  But the groundwork has been laid. And can be changed. For example, I had a red-toned background for a while, then switched to green.

I’ll do a post on adding pages and blog posts next.

Posted in Business Side of Writing, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing

Tips for Individual Blog Posts

  • Create posts in Word and let them sit at least a day or two, then proofread and edit before posting. I like having a number in progress.
  • When an idea pops to mind, make a note of it. I often type a few lines to remind myself of what prompted “that will make a good post” thought.
  • Posts lengths. They can vary. I have very short ones for quotes as it’s only the quote and the attribution. My book recommendation ones are longer. My writing advice is usually longer yet.
  • Add images. Appropriate images help garner attention to your posts.
  • Add links in the text of your post.This helps with search engine optimization (SEO).Options include:
    • Other websites, such as author, illustrator, or organizations.Online articles. Readers often like having the possibility of more information.Links to books.Links to other bloggers.
    • Usually you can set up links to Open in a New Page or Tab, so your website is still open.
  • Categorize each post. Most blogging platforms have this option. It helps readers find more post in that vein. And it’s okay to have subcategories.
    • For example, the “Young Adult” subcategory under my category “So Many Good Books,” is where you’ll find all the young adult books I’m recommending.
  • Add tags. This also helps with SEO and it helps me when I use the search function on my own website for specific types of books on my blog because I’ve added tags such as: diverse, historical, mystery. It may help hour readers too.
  • Schedule the post. Usually the default is to publish “Immediately,” but you can also create a post today and choose next Monday at 8 am for it appear.
  • Before posting use the preview option to make sure your blog post entry looks how you want it. I find it’s a good last chance to find a typo. Or change an image. Or even to make a sentence tighter.

Tips for Images for Blog Posts

  • Image Permissions. Make sure you either took the photo/created the image yourself, or are using ones that are permissible to use. (Don’t steal artwork.) For example, Pixabay is a good site for free images.
  • Crop your images. They’ll look better.
  • Size appropriately. Website images don’t need to be huge. Keep under a meg for sure, but I often do much smaller, like under 300k.
    • You can download smaller images from Pixabay.You can use an editor to change the size of an image. See recommendations above.If after you upload an image it’s too big, resize and reupload.
    • Book cover images from Amazon or usually small enough.
  • Name your images something obvious. Never stick with the numbers and letters from your digital camera. Or the length numbers from Amazon when using a book cover image. Save it as “Susan Uhlig headshot” or “lion roaring” or book title. Again, this is useful for search engines.
  • Add alt text to images. When you upload an image to your blogging platform, most offer the opportunity for alt text. For the two examples above I’d use “photo of Susan Uhlig” or “illustration of a lion roaring” or “cover of Book Title.” Why? To make your blog user friendly to those with sight impairment. They often increase the size of the text or have it read aloud, but an image without alt text can’t be read.
  • Extras. If you want text on an image, to combine two images, or add a background, the Canva website is very helpful.

If you have tips, I’d love to see them in the comments.

Posted in Before You Begin, Business Side of Writing, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing

Deciding to Blog?

Often writers want to know whether they should blog or not. It IS a good way to add content to your website, but definitely is not a requirement. In my opinion it’s better not to do it at all than have poor content.

Here are some tips:

  • Commit.
    • Blogging won’t happen unless you make plans for it.
    • If you aren’t going to add to it, why do it?
  • How often to blog? You could plan on weekly, biweekly, or monthly blog posts. Come up with a plan and stick with it.
  • Consider a blog theme.
    • I love recommending books, and post them regularly.
    • I also share advice to writers. It started out with articles I wrote. Someone would ask me a question and I’d say, “I have an article on that” (often written for free for newsletters—sometimes written for pay for first rights). So, I started posting those articles for easy reference on my blog.
    • What are you excited to blog about?
  • Schedule times when you want posts to appear.
    • For example, I have a quote of the week, that I auto schedule to show up on Tuesdays.I often post for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday (a group of authors use this and it’s run by Greg Pattridge).I sometimes post on Perfect Picture Book Friday (Susannah Leonard Hill’s blog).My writing related posts go live on other days.
    • When I had a paid blogging job, I had daily and weekly blog posts to do. I scheduled out topics for future weeks to make doing them easier.
  • Advertise your posts.
    • Share where you can, such as on social media, such as Twitter, and include hashtags where appropriate. If you quote someone or talk about their books, tag them if they’re active on that media.If you belong to SCBWI, you can share your blog posts on the Discussion Boards in “What Did You Blog About Today?”Find groups talking about the issues you blog about. Some allow links to blog posts. Some only allow them in comments. But I often find people asking questions in Facebooks posts, and I think, “I wrote on post on that,” so I’ll share a link. Bonus: I’ve made friends by doing this too.
    • Tell your writer friends about your blog and individual posts that you think will interest them.

Sound like a lot of work? It is. But now you’ll perhaps have a better idea of what is involved before you jump in.

Posted in Business Side of Writing, Craft

Advice to New Writers

“Writers are not born. They are made. Made through willpower and work. Made by iteration, ideation, reiteration. Made through learning — learning that comes from practicing, reading, and through teachers who help shepherd you through those things in order to give your efforts context.” – Chuck Wendig

Read, read, read what you want to write. Especially new books in the genre or age category. Learning what is out there—the styles, the lengths, the ways “things are done”—will improve your own writing.

Take classes, workshops, webinars, and go to conferences and retreats where you can learn craft and connect with other writers and with editors and agents. I always glean some nugget by participating in these events. I got some work-for-hire work because of word of mouth from another writer. If I’d stayed in my house, I wouldn’t have met her and heard about this opportunity.

Get in a critique group or do manuscript exchanges. I have learned so much from my critique partners over the years. Not only do I learn by what they say about my pieces, but I learn from what I see in theirs. We teach each other because we all have different areas where we excel. For example, I have a tendency to be an underwriter and my ciritque partners will ask, “What is she thinking here?” “How does she feel.” (I found most of my critique partners through SCBWI.)

Write, and keep writing! If you want to be a writer, that means you have to actually write. This is where the will and hard work comes in. Schedule a time. Put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, and put something on the blank page. Any kind of writing is better than none, but it’s better if you have some kind of goal and meet it. E.g. “Today, I’m going to get one scene written.” “I’m going to write for a minimum of one hour.” “I’m going to complete the first draft of my short story.” I love this quote from Jack London, “Don’t loaf and invite inspiration; light out after it with a club, and if you don’t get it you will nonetheless get something that looks remarkably like it.” Yes, the act of writing itself can inspire you. Putting thoughts down will make more thoughts come.

Rewrite. Isn’t it a relief that you don’t have to get your writing exactly right the first time? You can revise and rewrite and edit it as many times as necessary. I find it helpful to have space between the time I wrote something and when I come back to edit. That helps me see it afresh and discover what isn’t working so well, or is overdone or incomplete. Reading aloud helps me hear errors and see missing or wrong word. Only when it is the best I can make it, do I submit.

To sum up there are: “Three Rules for Literary Success: 1. Read a lot. 2. Write a lot. 3. Read a lot more, write a lot more.” – Robert Silverberg                            

Posted in Business Side of Writing, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing

Hiring Someone to Build Your Website

You’ve decided to hire someone. Now what?

First, read this article about costs: “How Much Does an Author Website Cost in 2022?” It will give you an idea of what fees you may expect. (Note: article written by a website designer.)

If hiring an individual, I’m presuming you’ve decided on a website builder and a host. If not, see this post.

How to Find a Designer

  • Ask Around
    • Ask authors (illustrators) you know, “Who designed your website? Did you like them? Would you work with them again?”
    • Ask on list serves, Facebook groups, or in writing groups for recommendations.
  • Find a Web Designer Company (who understands the needs of creators)
    • Websy Daisy – I found this company by asking the above questions. They create  custom WordPress websites for authors, artists, and creators. The sampling of sites they’ve created look fantastic. No price is listed. You have to fill out the form and then they’ll get back to you. They do not fix or maintain sites they did not create. I noticed on one author’s site that there was a favicon (the image you see in a website browser like the Facebook icon).
  • Join the Author’s Guild and use their website service. Annual dues vary. You can start with a free website. Plus there are other benefits of membership.

Thoughts to Consider

  • Make sure the person/company understands author or illustrator website needs.
  • It’s perfectly acceptable to ask for references or to check reviews.
  • Talk with them over the phone or via Zoom to see if you click.
  • Do they build custom sites or use templates?
  • How much control you’ll have. Read this article: “The Hidden Costs of Building an Author Website”—it’s an old post, but has good information.
  • Will your website have a “website designed by” or “website by” notice that shares the company/or individual designer’s name? (Free WordPress themes include a notification “xxx theme powered by WordPress.”)
  • How many web pages they include, if it’s a set fee. And what additional pages will cost.
  • Will they continue to do maintenance on your site and how much will that cost?
  • Or, will they train you to update the site yourself? Do they provide tutorials? Or is it individual training? Is this included in the fee or separate?
  • Can you afford their fees?

Questions to Ask an Individual Designer

In addition to the maintenance and training questions above, ask:

  • Do you have familiarity with WordPress (or whatever builder you want to use) sites?
  • Have you used this host?
  • Will you do the initial set up of the site?
  • Will you give me advice on themes? (Choosing a theme can be overwhelming. And you may find it helpful if someone is willing to give you some choices to start with and/or give you feedback on themes you’ve chosen.)
  • Can you make custom changes with html or CSS? (Themes often have limited choices, but this is additional coding for further choices.)
  • What are your fees? (It could be a flat fee, an hourly fee, a page fee, etc.) What does that include? (5 pages or ?) Or, I have a budget of $xxx—what can I get for that?
  • Will you give me an itemized invoice?
  • How and when do you want payment? (If you don’t personally know this person, they will probably want some money upfront.)
  • How do you want me to send you the text, images, and URLs for my site? (Or you can have them find images and URLs, but that will increase your cost.)
  • What’s your time schedule for delivery of the website?
  • After your initial design, can I still request changes before the website is final? (You may not like placement of images, font size/color, etc.)

Some of these questions may be appropriate for a company as well, but usually they’ll have information laid out for you ahead of time.

Getting Started with an Individual Designer

  1. Agree on fees and what that includes.
  2. Sign up for your host. You can share your login and password with your designer or create a new login and password for them to use. The latter is the safest method.
  3. Register your domain name with your host or transfer control to your host if you already have a domain name.

What Information Should I Expect from an Individual Designer?

  • Login and password to the website builder, e.g. WordPress.
  • A statement or invoice for use on your taxes.
  • Contact information.

What Additional Information Should You Request?

  • Guidance as we plan the website together. (For example, on one website I built, I suggested the author send me additional images to accompany text.)
  • If they customize your free or purchased theme, I personally would want the html codes for the colors they use. For example, on my site the yellow of my name is #ffd859 and the green of my background is #377a46. Why would I want to know this? To create borders, new headers, or icons, etc. with the exact same colors or if I want to change the color scheme or find a color that compliments.

Whether you choose an individual designer or a company, going in with knowledge ahead of time will be very helpful. And don’t be afraid to ask questions! Especially if you don’t understand something.