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

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 Promotion, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing

WEBSITE Q and A

(image courtesy of mantasmagorical on morguefile.com)

internet.jpgPost by Don and Sue Ford

Q: Should authors/illustrators have their own website?
A: In our opinion, yes. Once you are published it is helpful to have a site to answer questions, advertise what you do, a place for people to learn more about you, find out what else you have published, share speaker information, and more.

Q: Where do I start?
A: First, purchase a domain name; often, it is something as simple as www.yourname.com. Domain names can cost around $10 per year. See resources below.* Next you’ll need to decide where or who will host your site.

Q: Host my site. What’s that mean? And how much does it cost?
A: Your ISP (Internet Service Provider) may already provide website hosting included in your Internet access fees. Check it out. If not, you will need a hosting service. Comparisons and reviews can be found at sites such as findmyhosting.com and webhostingstuff.com. Cost ranges from $1.50 a month upward depending on storage provided, data transfer limits, number of email addresses provided, and various other services. A basic plan is appropriate for your first website.

Q: Are there downsides to having my own site?
A: Yes, in the fact that it must be maintained and be kept current. Nothing worse than someone landing on a website and finding inaccurate and out-of-date information.

Q: What elements should a website have?
A: The basics for a book creator are: a book list, a bio, a picture of the author/illustrator, and contact info or a contact link.

Q: Does that all go on one page?
A: Not necessarily, unless that’s all the info you plan to share. First, you’ll have what’s called a “home page.” This is the “index page” or the page seen first. Try to find a happy balance between almost no text (i.e. “click here to enter Website” which annoys both of us) and an overwhelming amount of text. You’ll have links from your home page to other pages, plus a menu of other pages offered.

Q: Is that what is sometimes called a site map?
A: No. A site map or site index is a graphical representation of all of the pages in the website. This is usually a separate page, but is not required. Each page of your site should include a navigational area (a set of links) to help visitors find their way around your website. It can be a bar across the top, or a box on one side of the page. Often the bar across the top appears on every page, whereas the box may only have info applicable to each individual page. It is important for each page to have an obvious way to get back to the home page.

Q: What else can be on a website?
A: Your imagination is the limit. However, here is a list of possibilities:
• Your book covers
• Summary of each book
• Where to purchase the book(s)
• Testimonials to your writing or illustrating
• Book excerpts
• Upcoming projects or what’s next
• Writing or illustrating activities for kids or adults
• Links to other sites
• Articles or essays
• Speaking or school visit information
• Other services
• A blog
• Podcasts
• Your favorite books or authors or illustrators
• Pictures of your childhood, family, pets, office
• A downloadable press release
• Behind the scenes info (i.e. what inspired you to write a particular book)

Q: How many pages should I have on my website?
A: That’s a two-fold question. Your host may limit the number of pages. Otherwise, if your content is interesting, people will keep clicking to see what else they can find.

Q: Is it okay if someone can only see part of a page at a time on their screen?
A: Left and right, it’s better to fit one page. Top to bottom, sure, most browsers have a scroll bar and users are used to scrolling down for more info. You can have links with in a page to go to other sections of the same page, too.

Q: You mentioned links to other sites and now links within a page. How does that work?
A: Depends on whether you are building your website using HTML (the actual computer code for websites) or website building software. Basically, the former takes one off your site to another site. I like the open in another window option, so your site is still up. The latter is a clickable link that takes one to another page of your site or to another section on your page.

Q: Everyone seems to be blogging. How does that fit into websites?
A: It’s one way to have active content on your website. It’s also a forum to say what you want to say–though, of course, it should relate in some way to your website. Some blogs are set up so readers can sign up to receive posts automatically (recommended). Blogging works best when using special purpose blogging software provided by a web hosting service.

Q: Are there downsides to blogging?
A: Yes, of course. It requires a time commitment. Blog posts should be well written, free from grammatical and punctuation errors. Controversial posts can raise a furor of email.

Q: What’s a podcast?
A: A recording downloadable from a website for use on an MP3 player. The content of a podcast would be a complete discussion in itself. Podcasts are usually hosted on dedicated podcast hosting services that provide specialized software to support them.

Q: Okay. I want to create a website. I’ve purchased a domain name and have a hosting site. Now what?
A: Many hosting sites offer some type of user friendly software to create a website. These can include templates, formatting options for text and pictures. You may take a class or seminar on website building, where you get information and help as you build your website yourself.

Q: Speaking of pictures, what format do I use?
A: The easiest format is a jpeg (.jpg). When posting pictures, you want the images to be small (say less than 150 kbytes ) so that your website doesn’t take a long time to load. The more images per page, the longer it can take. Don’t use animated gifs (or Don will come after you). Okay, you can use one on your website, but that is it.

Q: I’m not computer savvy enough to create a website myself, so how do I get a one?
A: You can hire it done, or make friends with a nerd, who will build it for you for the fun of it. In either case, don’t forget you’ll need them to teach you how to update your website or have a maintenance plan as part of your agreement.

Q: I want to post original art, but don’t want anyone to be able to copy my images. How do I protect these pictures?
A: First, of all, posting small pictures (limited number of pixels) means these images won’t enlarge well. If someone copies one and tries to make it bigger, the resultant picture will be grainy and obviously not their original work. Some artists save a version of their work with a copyright notice or “for viewing only” or their name in “watermark style” lettering across the image itself.

Q: What can you tell me about fonts and colors?
A: You want your website to be readable and attractive. Fonts should be easy to read. No flashing text. Colors shouldn’t hinder readability. Look at websites you like and see what they’ve done. Compare them to websites you don’t like. This applies not only to fonts, colors, but formatting, etc.

Q: What else can you tell me about website formatting?
A: Your webpage formatting may change when viewed in different internet browsers (Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Chrome, Opera, etc.) If possible, view your website in more than one to see any problems.

Q: Will I make money selling books on my website?
A: Probably not much. Don’t forget you’ll have shipping for getting the books, and have to pay sales tax. If mailing books to customers, not only do you have postage, but you must pay for shipping containers. Reselling books is a lot of work that includes quite a bit of recordkeeping. Plus not all publishers allow their authors/illustrators to resell books–check your contract.

Q: Wow, there is so much to learn. It’s overwhelming. Maybe I should just forget it.
A: It can be overwhelming. But start with the basics and keep your website as simple as possible at first. As you get more experienced, you can add more to your website. See our list of resources below.

*Domain Registration Services aka Domain Registars

Internet Resources about Websites – updated February 2023
6 Elements of A Successful Author Website
The Best Domain Registrars Of 2023
The Complete Guide to Creating an Author Website
Should Writers Have a Website?
Unpublished Writers and Websites: Should You Have One and What Should It Say?

P.S. I have an article on website design in Writer’s Guide to 2012.