The first thing you need to do is sit down with a pencil and a piece of paper and storyboard a bit. What is your primary graphical symbol going to be? What do you want your menus to say? Will you have submenus? How will you lay them out?
To the right you'll see what a basic storyboard looks like for me...and how that might translate into a completed site. My sites rarely look just like my storyboards, but they're often quite similar.
Once I've come up with a basic storyboard, I do a lot of thinking in Photoshop and Dreamweaver. I try combining things in different ways to see how they look. I went through nearly 15 iterations of the Writer's Guide to Psychology website before I was happy with the design. To the right and below are just three of them (the bottom one being what I settled on).
In other words, don't worry if it takes you a while to get it right. Trial and error is often the best way to figure out what's going to work for you and your book.
Actually Building the Site
I'm one of the lucky ones -- I've been creating webpages since 1995, and I love doing it. It's fun for me to design a site; create the graphics, text, and other media; and tweak until I'm happy.
You may not feel that way, or you may not yet know how to build a website on your own. If either of these things is the case, you have several options.
1. Hire someone to build the site for you.
- Pros: You don't have to get your hands dirty. You pay someone and the work is done.
- Cons: You're trusting your site to someone else, and you don't get the same opportunity to play around until the site feels just right. Having someone else build a site for you an also be expensive, especially if you rely on them to do all your updates.
- Pros: You can build a site on your own without having to understand how the coding works.
- Cons: These template sites vary widely in quality, ease of use, and functionality. Many (if not most) of them scream amateur. Some require you to have some basic knowledge of how the web works. Some are costly. You are limited by the template you choose, especially if you're plunking down hard-earned cash to use a particular one. And there's no guarantee someone else won't be using exactly the same template.
- Pros: Easy to use and update, lots of templates to choose from. In many cases you can tailor a blog to look more like a website than a blog. WordPress and Blogger both offer a way to make different pages so everything isn't running through the blog engine.
- Cons: Custom templates can be buggy, and they often require some HTML and/or CSS knowledge to really tweak them. Instructions on how to make changes vary from very good to extremely poor.
- Pros: You have complete control over your site and the possibilities are limitless.
- Cons: Advanced knowledge and patience are required. (If you're going to try to learn Dreamweaver, I highly recommend Dreamweaver CS4 Missing Manual and CSS: The Missing Manual if you want to really understand CSS.) MS Expression web is considerably cheaper (unless you're a student or teacher) and has very similar functionality to Dreamweaver. There are also plenty of books to help you learn MS Expression Web, though I haven't read any of them, so I can't make any particular recommendations. (Once you learn one of the programs, you can move back and forth pretty easily between them.)
A little tip as you build, especially if you're using someone else's templates. Remember, just because you can do something doesn't always mean you should do something. In other words, simple is often better.
If you're not using Blogger or WordPress (or sometimes even if you are), you'll want a website address (aka a domain name) that refers to you or your product. Fortunately, domain names are inexpensive, often around $10 a year. GoDaddy.com is an easy place to buy a domain name, though I prefer SSL Catacomb Networking, as they're often cheaper and I like the control they give me over my domain names.
Dot-com (.com) names are the most popular because everyone automatically tacks ".com" onto a website address, but you can use all kinds of domain extensions (.net, .info, etc.) if .com is already taken. Though website domain sellers often encourage you to buy every extension under the sun, that's really not necessary.
Once you have your domain name and host service, you're ready to upload your finished site. (I use Website Source because you can do pretty much everything with it...including shell in if you want to. Don't worry if you don't know what shelling in is...it's the ability to do high-level customization of your site on the server side.) Programs like Dreamweaver and Expression Web will help you upload straight from the program.
So...if you have a website, what approach are you using? Do you like it? Would you do anything differently if you were starting over?
A PS on websites: I was going to do a major overhaul of the Archetype site, paring it down quite a bit, but in the end I decided it was best to let the site stand mostly as-is, unwieldy though it may be. After all, my goal in writing the book has been to add to the information available to writers on accurate psychology, so it seems almost counterproductive to be reducing the information already available online.
My forthcoming book, THE WRITER'S GUIDE TO PSYCHOLOGY, now has its own website and blog!
As I've made this journey, I've been sharing the ins and outs with you, so I figured I'd talk a bit about the importance of websites in promoting your book.
I'm going to quote PR THERAPY author Robin Blakely, because she says it so well:
It's mandatory in today's world to have an Internet presence. Currently, that internet presence must, at a minimum, consist of an e-mail address and a website or landing page.Why is a website so crucial? Well, partly because the first thing many of us do when we hear about a product that interests us is go online to find out more. A website dedicated to the author/book in question serves several purposes:
1. It legitimizes the author and the book.
Before we get into [website] content, let’s talk a little bit about design. You need to pick a theme or symbol to represent you. Something that’s unique to your site and your work. In advertising, we call that branding.
I have this really cool pen that my mom got me as a stocking stuffer one year. The barrel is clear, and there’s a little light in there that changes colors. I turned it on, put it on a white sheet of paper and started snapping photographs as it changed colors. That silly little gift, with the light orange, has become my symbol for Archetype Writing. I have it on my site; I have it on my blog. (I also have it on notepaper and my business cards. I'm getting oodles of mileage out of that pen.)I also used specific colors to go with the Archetype brand -- most notably orange, a color I chose because it is associated with adjectives like energizing, vital, friendly, and fun. I paired it with black to ground it, since black brings to mind adjectives like bold, strong, powerful, and sober. In other words -- I was going for a site that is fun to visit, but also includes authoritative information. (If you're particularly interested in the psychology of color in branding and advertising to help you build your site, I highly, highly recommend the Pantone Guide to Communicating with Color by Leatrice Eiseman.)
Over on my new Writer's Guide to Psychology website, the brand is strongly influenced by my book cover. I decided to carry over the image of the brain, along with the typewriter font and the warm, robust colors, particularly dark red. If someone has seen the book, I want them to know they've reached the right website the second they see it, and vice versa.
In the meantime...what have I missed? What else does a website do to help a book? And as a writer, do you have your own author or book website?