Premium WordPress Themes for Writers

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on March 11, 2014 in Blog Design
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Premium WordPress Themes

If you've been following my recent post series on WordPress for writers, you might have seen the question of premium themes come up. These are themes you would pay for -- ones not found in the free WordPress theme repository. They're also often more complex than free themes available.

John Soares asked about these kinds of themes. I answered him privately before the series concluded, but I wanted to share that information with the rest of you today.

John's Question

"Is there a specific premium theme you recommend, one that doesn’t require coding skills to modify?

And what are your thoughts on Thesis?"

- John Soares

Some Thoughts on Premium WordPress Themes


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There's no one theme that will work for everyone, so recommending a single premium theme is tough. I can't do it. But I got the impression that John might have been looking for more of a framework given that he mentioned Thesis.

My Experience With Thesis

It's possible that I'm not being entirely fair when it comes to Thesis. But I had an absolutely miserable experience with it, so it's not something I would comfortably recommend to anyone.

No sooner did I get a handle on their development system and get the site up did they release an entirely new version which is really more of a new theme than an update. Your design wouldn't transfer if you upgraded. You would have to set it all up again.

I gave it a try anyway. It was an even bigger pain in the ass (probably because I was already fed up by that point).

I ended up reverting the site back to the earlier version, and then I killed that site in the merger that created All Indie Writers.

Now I could go back and use the new version on new sites (I purchased the developer's license under the illusion that I'd want to use it for several future sites). I have no doubt I'd figure it out. But after that experience, I don't have any desire to.

That said, I know my dislike of Thesis is highly personal. I'm sure Chris Pearson is a perfectly pleasant person with the best of intentions with Thesis. I know others who love it and swear by it. I'm happy for them. Truly. They're welcome to comment and tell you how awesome it is and that you should all use it. And if you enjoy it too, yay for you!

If not, there's no harm in trying another framework. I have no interest in them at this time, but I've heard good things about Genesis, and I was a fan of the older StudioPress themes, so....

I really didn't intend for this post to revolve around Thesis, so let's move on.

Individual Premium Themes

My preference is to choose individual premium themes for each site -- ones that are already as structurally close to what I want as possible. Then I customize things from there.

However, I usually run sites with more of a website-plus-blog format rather than just a blog. So the kinds of premium themes that appeal to me are probably more bloated than what John is looking for.

Right now my favorite theme developers are the folks at SwiftPSD.com. I am totally in love with them. I run this site on one of their themes, and I'm planning to purchase a license for another one soon for another project. I've been happy with their support. And that's really the key issue. If the support is great, I can forgive almost anything else. 

This theme's built-in page builder is great. And it's the first theme admin area that I haven't hated. (I consider most of them evil from a usability standpoint.) Here's their promo video for the theme I use here on this site to give you an idea of what their base themes are like.


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Pinpoint Overview from Swift Ideas on Vimeo.

The themes might be more complex than what you need for a blog, and that can make them a bit slower than some. I've been able to get around that by disabling and overriding a few things that I didn't need (like those stupid sliders that are in practically every premium theme these days).

While I've been able to speed things up considerably, there is still a lot to be done. So they're not perfect. But I'm happy. And I can be a wee bit difficult to please.

That developer sells their themes through ThemeForest. But you have to be careful. There are some great designers who offer clean code and great support. And there is also a lot of bloated crap with developers who don't give a damn and offer next to no support.

If you look there, check reviews carefully, and I'd look into each developer's off-site support options to see how quickly they resolve issues. Just remember that you might have to kiss a lot of toads in a marketplace like that before you find a keeper.

Plenty of theme developers sell their own themes directly rather than through marketplaces. Here are a few you might want to check out for ideas:

  • Templatic (They offer individual and subscription options.)
  • WooThemes (I'm hesitant to mention them given the headaches WooCommerce has given me lately, slowing down this site to the point where it had to be removed. As a result, my e-courses on their Sensei system had to be delayed because the premium e-courses need the payment integration. So now I'm stuck with another potentially useless license that I have to replace with something new.)
  • AppThemes (These might be a bit more complex than what you'd want for a blog, but they have some cool stuff.)

Subscription Sites

You could also try a theme subscription site. I've always liked the themes from Elegant Themes. I'm using one of theirs on my newest site at BusyAuthors.com.

They do have their own admin panels, but I find they're pretty easy to work with. I rarely dig into the code for anything with them, so that might be more what you're after if, like John, you don't want to have to mess with a lot of code.

What about you? What premium themes would you recommend to John or anyone else looking for a new design for their blog?

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Jennifer Mattern is a professional blogger, freelance business writer, and indie author. She began writing for clients in 1999 and started her first blog in 2004.

She owns 3 Beat Media - a publishing and client services company which operates All Indie Writers as well as several other websites and blogs including The Busy Author's Guide and BizAmmo. Jenn comes from a background in online PR and social media consulting, having owned a small PR firm for several years before choosing to pursue a full-time writing and publishing career.

Jenn also writes fiction under multiple pen names in the areas of children's fiction, mysteries, and horror fiction. Jenn is an active member of the Horror Writers Association (HWA) and currently serves as the organization's Assistant Coordinator of Promotions and Social Media.


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10 Comments

  1. Thursday Bram March 11, 2014 Reply

    I had a very similar experience with Thesis. I especially don’t recommend it for anyone who is relatively new to WordPress.

    I’ve found some great themes on ThemeForest (full disclosure: I write for another site owned by the same company). As long as you read the reviews posted by other buyers, it’s fairly easy to stay away from the themes that aren’t as well developed there, at least in my experience.
    Thursday Bram recently posted…Our Tools Dictate the Way We ThinkMy Profile

    • Author
      Jennifer Mattern March 12, 2014 Reply

      While I’m not happy to hear you had to deal with a similar issue, I’m happy to know it wasn’t just me. A lot of these frameworks are marketed as being for newbies to WP because you’re not supposed to have to play with code. But you’re absolutely right. Thesis isn’t (or at least wasn’t — maybe the newer version is better). If you’re going to spend a lot of time learning how to use a system, you might as well put that time into understanding WordPress itself. That would be far more beneficial in the long run. You never know how long one of these frameworks is going to be around, and the major overhaul of Thesis was a good reminder of that.

  2. Keri March 12, 2014 Reply

    Great in-depth post! I used to get all my themes from Themeforest, and I found some great ones. But one issue I had was that a lot of designers on the site seem to come and go (try finding a recent theme by a designer that’s been around more than a year).

    WordPress software is updated A LOT, and if your theme doesn’t keep up it’ll quickly become outdated and possibly broken.

    I recently switched to Genesis because they’ve been around for a while and have great support. They keep the core framework updated, and you can just make a basic child theme with all your tweaks and adjustments so you don’t have to worry about losing them when you update (which has also been an issue for me in the past since I tweak a lot!!). I’ve only been using it for a month or so on a couple of my sites, but I plan to switch everything over soon.
    Keri recently posted…Daphne du Maurier, English writerMy Profile

    • Author
      Jennifer Mattern March 12, 2014 Reply

      I’ve only had that issue with one or two designers there thankfully. Most have been around for several years. Some are fantastic. But more are total duds who don’t want to be bothered with routine updates unfortunately — at least that’s my experience. I still find some of the better designs there though. I haven’t been impressed with most of the child themes I see for the bigger frameworks. But that’s also part of the problem I suspect. TF has a lot of folks who seem to be more designers than coders. You have to find the gems who do both reasonably well.

  3. Katherine James March 12, 2014 Reply

    “What about you? What premium themes would you recommend to John or anyone else looking for a new design for their blog?”

    I would recommend OptimizePress and using their blog themes.

    It has proved to be a much simpler solution for me, allowing me to build a relatively complex website without needing to pour over lots of CSS code.

    It also has a bunch of different embedded options like ‘opt in sign forms’ and even has the ability for you to create a private members section on your website.
    Katherine James recently posted…Get Paid To Write Articles by Checking These 5 Job Boards DailyMy Profile

    • Author
      Jennifer Mattern March 12, 2014 Reply

      Thanks for the recommendation Katherine. Out of curiosity, do you know who the developer is for OptimizePress? I took a quick look at the site, but that wasn’t obvious (or maybe I just missed it).

  4. Angela Booth March 13, 2014 Reply

    Great post, Jenn. I love the idea of premium themes, and I’ve bought more than my fair share. I used Thesis on several of my blogs for a few years; love the typography. I’ve also used Headway. And I’ve purchased other themes, some of which were wonderful. But…

    For me, the challenge with Thesis et al is that you need to have at least some coding experience, or hire someone to modify them. And keep modifying them… And then you need to hold your breath that the next WordPress update, or a the next version of a plugin, doesn’t break the theme.

    There are some gorgeous themes out there. I browse them wistfully, then I wake up and ask myself whether I really want the hassle. The answer is usually “no”. I like deploying them on clients’ sites however. All joy, no responsibility. :-)
    Angela Booth recently posted…Marketing Your Ebook: the Most Sensible Insight EverMy Profile

    • Author
      Jennifer Mattern March 13, 2014 Reply

      “And then you need to hold your breath that the next WordPress update, or a the next version of a plugin, doesn’t break the theme.”

      This. LOL My heart sinks every time there’s a new update. Lately I’ve been slammed with one plugin update after another. And most seem to break something. When the core updates come out, it terrifies me. I have to time my updates carefully with the expectation that there could be hours of repair work to deal with. Once in a while I get through without any issues. I saw somewhere recently that the next major core update is due in April. I’m crossing my fingers it will be an easy one. I never update the core immediately though. I let others play the guinea pigs with compatibility and I keep an eye on the support forums for my major plugins and my premium themes. When I know they’re at least mostly compatible, then I upgrade. But I try not to wait more than a few days to a week.

  5. Anne Wayman March 13, 2014 Reply

    I started with thesis – I too have a developer’s lic. not that I do any development. I’ve stuck with it simply because I’ve been unwilling to learn something new theme-wise… suspect that time is coming before too long… but not today.
    Anne Wayman recently posted…6 Tips for Creating Freelance Writing Invoices with Actual SampleMy Profile

    • Author
      Jennifer Mattern March 13, 2014 Reply

      You’ve been on WordPress a while now, so I’m sure you have a good grasp on WP itself. Maybe you’ll luck out and find a good premium theme that doesn’t have it’s own back-end system to style everything. I know they do it to try to make things easier. But it’s crazy how difficult some make things instead. I’d just like to see an option in there — enable their system if you want it, and don’t enable it if you don’t want it.

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