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

Choosing a Platform and Host for Your Website

First, you don’t have to know html to build a website. There are many website builders that create the html for you.

Second, a disclaimer. If the information below feels overwhelming, either hire someone to help you build a site and teach you how to maintain it, or hire someone who will build and maintain your site. In either of those cases, I strongly recommend WordPress.org as your platform because you’ll be able to find many others to help if your original person can no longer assist. (More on this later.)

Third, definitions. The platform is the software that runs the website—the website builder. For example, WordPress sites (the software that builds the site) do not have to be hosted on WordPress.com. The host is usually where your site live—it’s also called a CMS—content management system. They probably hold your domain name renewal as well, though someone one else can do that (a domain registrar). Hosting sites may have their own software, but it won’t be as easy to transfer to another host. Many of these will let you play around with a trial site for free.

This article, “How to Choose the Best Website Builder in 2023” is a good place to start. But you may also want to talk to friends about their experiences. I personally have used various WordPress sites on various hosts, and Weebly and Wix, each on a different site. I looked at Godaddy’s builder on a friend’s site and could not see an option to add a link to a box or image.

Let me add my comments on their feedback in the above article.

  1. WordPress.org – many people know how to use this software and it’s very flexible.
  2. Web.com – blogging functionality being limited would be a “no” for me.
  3. Wix – fairly easy to use; complicated to move your site to another software system.
  4. HubSpot – good for simple site, but does have WordPress plugin option.
  5. WooCommerce – is aimed at selling—not usually what an author or illustrator is primarily doing on their website.
  6. Gator – no free trial.
  7. Hostinger – not easy to change templates; can’t schedule blog posts.
  8. Domain.com – no free website builder; does not migrate well to another site.
  9. BigCommerce – again aimed at selling; more expensive.
  10. Shopify – a third aimed at selling; requires their own payment platform.
  11. WordPress.com – more limited than using WordPress.org elsewhere.
  12. Squarespace – a fourth aimed at selling.
  13. Weebly (now owned by Squarespace, so I found difficulty getting help) – again limited to what it offers.
  14. DreamHost – uses WordPress, but will require hosting elsewhere, so what is it they do?
  15. GoDaddy – limited set of features.

The article’s conclusion, and my own, is WordPress.org. If you just want a one or two page website where a lot doesn’t change, any of the non-commerce sites would probably be adequate.

So next up is choosing a host, which is where a monthly or annual cost is charged.

PCmag recommends Bluehost and WP Engine, “The Best Web Hosting Services for 2023.” Forbes has a list of ten, “10 Best Web Hosting Services (February 2023).” This site shares nine, “The Top 9 Best Web Hosting Providers.” Bluehost is mentioned in all three articles. WP engine in the first and the last. SiteGround, which I use, is mentioned in the last. (It was top-rated when I found it last year.)

I personally would compare prices and make sure they each support a WordPress website builder. Some will provide your domain for free, although there will still probably be an annual renewal fee. (Your domain is your url. Mine is susanuhlig.com.)

See what you think of the host’s website and how easy it appears to get support. Many offer searchable knowledge bases, online support, support chats, demos, a help desk, etc. If you can’t find this kind of information easily, that’s not a good sign.

Do they have any free WordPress tutorials? If so, that will be a helpful resource. My host does, and I’ve used them to lead me step-by-step through setting up a new site and migrating an existing site.

Looking at reviews, cost, and support should help you come to a decision on which host to use.

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

Prepping Your Website Content

Prepare Content

  • Write your content into a document(s)and save. Revise, proof, get feedback, or at least run a grammar or editor checker. These files will make pasting into your new website easy. And if you’re hiring someone, they’ll need this information.
  • Gather book information. It’s perfectly acceptable to use the blurb about your book from your publisher. It’s easy to copy this information from the publisher’s website. Reviews could come from the same place or booksellers or fan or thank you letters you’ve received. Paste the gathered info into a document. You may want to add the backstory—what prompted you to write the book. Or titles of books for further reading on your topic.
  • Gather urls. Think about what you’ll link to. A review on Kirkus, a buy link, your publisher, your agent, your favorite writing organizations, your favorite blogs, a class, other author or illustrator websites, etc. I like saving them as a hyperlink in the actual text, but you can also paste them in at the end of your document.
  • For picture books… make sure you include information about your illustrator. You may want to link to their site as well.
  • Create or modify activities… to be shared on your site, if you desire. They could be in a blog post–which you link to from your Book page—a pdf, a separate page, a video.

Prepare Images

  • Choose photos and images. Of course you’ll want a good headshot, book covers, and/or images of your workspace, your view from your home, etc. You might have pictures of objects that are featured in your books. A friend writes historical so she had images of the real people she writes about. You may want some stock photos or illustrations for headers or spot art on the site. (A favorite resource for me is pixabay, where I get most of the images for my blog posts.)
  • Put your photos and images where you’ll find them. Create a folder and copy them into it. If you think you might use it, throw it in.
  • Rename files. Each image should indicate what it is. For example, Sue at age 9, or Sue headshot, My Shadow cover, my cat Luna.
  • Crop. Cut out extraneous background so the focus of the picture is clear.
  • Resize. Depending on the purpose of each image, you’ll probably need to resize. Photos from your phone and/or camera can be huge file sizes (easily 3-6 MB). Using them so large affects SEO and speed of a site loading. This helpful article says: “Optimal file size: Large images or full-screen background images should be no more than 1 MB. Most other small web graphics can be 300 KB or less.” Here’s a post I did on the how-to of resizing pictures.

Again, you can use other sites for inspiration on the kinds of text and images that you might want to use. I did a Website Q&A post over ten years ago, but it still has some good information and links.

Next week, I’ll talk about choosing a platform for your website. (If you missed last week’s post, check it out here.)

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

Preparing to Build a Brand-New Author or Illustrator Website

Whether you are hiring a website built or are doing-it-yourself, do your prep work first.

Preparing to Setup Your Site

I’ve recently setup a website for a friend, and I asked her questions such as:

  • What pages do you want to include on your site and what do you want them called? Authors often have a number of the following: About Me, Books, Events, School Visits, Blog, Just for Kids, FAQs, Contacts. Or perhaps you want a page called Appearances with Events and School Visits as subpages. Press Kit could be an option on School Visits or Appearances or be on its own page. Illustrators in addition to the above might have a Portfolio and a Sketch page. Some people have a one-page website. Others have pages such as Writer’s Help or Favorite Links. Decide what works for you.
  • What are your favorite colors? Especially ones that work well together. Choose at least one dark and one light.
  • What backgrounds on websites appeal to you? Black, dark, white, tan, or some other color? Or do you like a colored border with a contrast color for the text? Or do you like a texture or image background? (Can be a border with a complementary color.) Do you like white text or black text? (If using a very dark background, white text is usually easiest to read. Black works well on light colors and white.)
  • What are some websites that appeal to you visually? Choose 4 or 5 and think about what you specifically like on each. Make notes.
  • Do you like simple, whimsical, serious, modern, retro, silly, or ? Here’s a great article analyzing 33 author websites.

Think about Content and Images.

  • Your Home page. What do you want to say? And where do you want to say it? Your Home page is your welcome mat—your invitation into your office. Text might include: a brief introduction or bio, why you write for children, a tag line, how to pronounce your name, and an image of you or book cover(s) or both. Other options include: a video, your recent blog posts a subscribe form or button, social media links, Twitter or Instagram or Goodreads feed, awards, etc. Often these are in a sidebar. If you can dream of it, it can probably be done.
  • Book page. Do you want all books on one page or do you want a main page with the covers and brief descriptions and subpages? What will you include: publisher, year published, awards, excerpts, reviews, buy link(s), background info, other photos or images (place, people, etc.), activities, etc.
  • About page. If you want lots of info here, I suggest you have a short bio first with more info following. Plan for at least one headshot of you. You may also want some photos of you as a child.

If you need ideas for your other pages, look at other websites for inspiration.

This is a lot of prework, but thinking about it first will help you as you go through the next steps.

Look for a new post on Prepping Your Website Content next week.

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

Updated Me

I have a new headshot! This was chosen out of 20 pictures.

The pictures I was using were from 2015, so it was definitely past time. It’s so great to get an updated picture. I’ve updated all my social media with it and have been getting compliments on this one taken by Adler Boncher Creative. (Of course, if I look at it too long, I can find things to criticize about myself–don’t do that!)

I like what this author says, “It’s also important to have a single consistent headshot across all of your social media profiles, so you are instantly recognizable on each platform and it’s clear to people searching for your social media accounts to follow you that they’ve found the right account.” Read the rest of J.M. Frey’s great article–it has lots of advice on HOW to get a good headshot. And this article, How to Nail Your Author Headshot (with Examples), talks about poses and backgrounds–really interesting.

I recently met someone who did not anymore look like their headshot–it was rather startling. Article “Top 7 Mistakes Writers Make with Their Author Photos” says, “This is not the impression you want to make.”

So, how about you? Are you using an old photo? Or a not great candid? Do you need to update the you you present online? If so, do the work to get a good picture. “If it does nothing else, your profile picture should identify you as someone who takes their work seriously, even if that’s only communicated through you having gone out of your way to get a picture just for this purpose.” – Alex Hemus.

Posted in Business Side of Writing, Market Prep, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing, The Publication Process

Exciting News for Jasmine and Advice

Guest post on querying.

One of the Facebook groups I enjoy is Sub It Club. I learn from others, help others, and share in the ups and downs. I’m sharing this January 7th post by Jasmine A. Stirling with permission.

Hi everyone! I’m excited to announce that after querying in December, I received ten offers of representation, and am now represented by Alyssa Eisner Henkin at Birch Path Literary, the force behind books like Wonder, The Lovely War, and The Right Word.

Someone asked me on this forum if I have any suggestions for querying. One thing I would suggest is that you mention some recent projects the agent has done which you’ve read and enjoyed, and which fit well with your work, before you begin your pitch. It’s important for agents to know you understand who they are as an individual, and the kinds of projects they are passionate about. To get this information, I use a combination of Publishers Marketplace and Twitter. On Twitter, I get a sense for what projects the agent is enthusiastic about at the moment. 

Many of the projects listed in Publishers Marketplace are not yet out, so you don’t want to laud a book you obviously haven’t read. Sometimes I mention I’m looking forward to a book that has been announced in Publishers Marketplace but is not yet out. This shows the agent that I’m not just looking at Twitter or their website. They get the sense that I am familiar with industry news.

Take extra time and get familiar with the books the agent is publishing. Agents can tell if you are just querying everyone who might be remotely interested in your work.

Composing a good query letter and strategy takes time and research. Think through anyone you know who might be able to make an introduction. Don’t be afraid to network on Facebook. I did get an introduction through a cold request on Facebook to a very successful, closed agent, who subsequently made an offer.

And finally, this might not make me popular here, but I would take the advice you receive on groups like this with a grain of salt, even if they come from agented authors or moderators. The truth is, the rules of querying, receiving offers, and making choices, are more flexible than you might think. Everyone wants to make sure you find the right agent for you, including agents who are offering to work with you. 

Be respectful, be communicative about your timeline, be honest, but follow your gut and keep trying if you’re not getting the offers you want. There’s no secret police of agents who are going to kick you out of the club for anything you do. Just be a professional, and things will work out fine.

Good luck to everyone and Happy New Year!

Read more about Jasmine and her books on her website. You’ll definitely want to check out her delightful picturebook: A Most Clever Girl: How Jane Austen Discovered Her Voice.