We recently looked at some of the reasons many author websites suck and I shared a few good author website designs with you as inspiration. Today let's move on to some tools and resources that can help you improve the author website you already have or build a beautiful new site to promote your books.
There really is no excuse these days for even the least tech-savvy authors to have shoddy websites. There are countless Web templates and blog themes available. And today I want to focus on using pre-made templates to build a better website -- something anyone can do.
Types of Web Templates
There are two primary types of pre-made Web templates you'll come across including:
- Static website templates;
- Blog themes.
For most authors I would recommend going with a blog platform as your website's back-end system. More specifically I recommend self-hosting a WordPress site.
One of the biggest reasons I suggest WordPress to folks who are new to setting up websites is that once you've installed the system and set up the template (WordPress theme), you really get to play in a familiar playground. You can log into your site's admin area and add pages or blog posts using a familiar wysiwyg ("what you see is what you get") editor -- the same tools you probably use in your favorite word processing program.
Now let's take a look at WordPress themes and how you can find awesome options for your new or updated author website.
Types of WordPress Themes
You'll come across two main groups of WordPress themes, including:
- Free themes;
- Premium themes.
One set is free. The other you pay for. Free has its benefits (namely being free). But there are drawbacks too. For example, you're often required to keep one or more links in the footer -- sometimes just to the designers and sometimes to sponsor sites. When you put unrelated links in your footer, that looks incredibly unprofessional and it tells people you didn't care enough to invest in your site. And if you won't invest in your site, why on earth should people be willing to invest in your books promoted there? Free themes are fine for personal use, but I recommend against most of them for any site tied to a business (and like it or not, if you're selling your book you're in business).
There are exceptions. Actually, there are only two that I can think of and they include:
- Free themes with no link requirements (rare);
- Free themes where the author will let you remove those links for a nominal fee that you still find affordable (most ask for $20 or less in my experience).
In most cases however I recommend premium themes.
Benefits of Using Premium WordPress Themes
Most premium themes offer benefits you rarely find with free themes, such as:
- Themes don't saturate the market as much when people have to pay for them;
- Premium themes usually let you change the footer info and links (but not all so check the license terms);
- Premium WordPress themes are often better-designed than free ones;
- You'll often get better support and updates for premium themes than free ones;
- These days many premium themes come with their own easy-to-use admin area to adjust how the theme looks (so you don't have to mess around with the code as much, if at all).
Where to Get Premium WordPress Themes
There are two basic ways to buy premium WordPress themes, including:
- Theme clubs (such as from WooThemes or Elegant Themes);
- One-off purchases (through marketplaces like Theme Forest or private designers).
I don't personally have a preference. Some of my sites are custom designed and coded by me. Others are custom-made by designers and coders I hire. Some are built on one-off premium themes. And several (including this blog) are using premium themes from theme clubs (where you pay a monthly or yearly fee for access to all themes a site offers as well as support). They can all work well as long as your design suits your market and your goals for the site.
Features to Look for in an Author Site WordPress Theme
Not all themes are created equal. You should look for themes that offer functionality you'll want on your site. You can also add features using plugins later, but sometimes design elements like page template types are harder to figure out on your own unless you're experienced in PHP, HTML, and CSS.
The main thing to be concerned with is e-commerce functionality. Most themes aren't set up for sites designed to sell things -- as you'll do with your books (if you plan to sell them directly on-site). So look for e-commerce sites. Some are designed to sell software or e-books for example, but you can easily tailor them to sell books instead. Having a page template included that can feature multiple products in gallery form and also on individual product pages would be a big bonus.
More advanced themes also come with specialty page templates that can do other things, like feature a collection of testimonials (which you might use to feature quotes from good reviews). I also suggest finding one with a built-in full-page option (that lets you create pages with or without a sidebar like you're used to seeing on blogs). It gives you variety and lets you really customize your site easily. Every page doesn't have to look exactly the same.
Customizing WordPress Themes
It's not enough to choose a great base theme to work with. The more unique you can make it, the better it is for branding and other marketing purposes. On this blog I didn't change things much visually from the template, but I did customize specific features to make the site work in a better way for my needs. On others I drastically change the design, just keeping the underlying code structure.
You don't have to get fancy. But there are some basic changes you should probably make, including:
- Get rid of default blogroll entries / links;
- Add your logo (unless it's a personal site, a blah-looking text name just isn't enough);
- Put your author photo on the site (people love to connect work to faces);
- Upload any book cover art or other images you want to feature;
- Update the footer with your copyright information;
- Adjust font choices, text sizes, and basic colors to better suit your tastes and your books.
A while back I created a tutorial for a client on making basic theme changes for newbies to blog design and CSS (cascading style sheets -- the code that tells a browser what design elements to display for your site). If you're unsure of even the basics like adjusting margins or replacing default header text with your logo image, please check out that article for instructions: "The Most Important HTML and CSS Tips for WordPress Newbies."
Want to use WordPress as a more advanced content management system (CMS) to create a traditional-looking website with an attached blog, where you can manage it all from a single admin area? I have a tutorial for that too! Check out "How to Use WordPress to Set up a Combination Professional Site and Blog" for tips and advice on creating your own combo-style site. There's no need to set up a "real" website and then sign up with a separate blog host to manage a blog. Keep your branding consistent and keep your traffic on your own site instead.
Hopefully these theme resources and customization tips will help you create a better-looking and more functional author website of your own. Have other tips you'd like to share or examples of great author websites? Leave a comment below to tell us about them.
Jennifer Mattern is a professional blogger, freelance business writer, and indie author. Through her company, 3 Beat Media, she operates All Indie Writers, NakedPR.com, BizAmmo.com, and numerous other blogs.
Jenn has over 15 years experience writing for others, over 11 years experience in blogging, and 9 years experience in indie e-book publishing. She is an Active member of the Horror Writers Association.
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