Thursday, May 1, 2008

On Writers and Their Websites

As a writer, I own and operate several Websites. It's one of the best things I've ever done, since now I have over 1000 individuals visiting my sites each day. The sites give me both income and busy places to tell people about my books. Two of my sites are and .

If you're into writing for the long-haul, you'll probably find yourself needing an author site, a site for one of your books, a site on the topic of your books, and sites for other purposes. Over 10+ years of working with Websites, I've learned a few things. For one, many people spend way too much for their sites. Here are a few tips on where to find a place to build your site (Web Hosts).

I'm recommending that you set up your sites as cheaply as possible. (If you're independently wealthy, read no further. Just find a top-notch Web designer and shell out the bucks. But even then, I'd comparison shop, or you won't be wealthy for long!) I'll start with the most cheap (free) and move all the way to less cheap (about $5.00 per month).

1) You can get a free site through Google with no ads on it, and it might be just fine if all you want is an online brochure to direct people to on your business card. (Search "google g-mail." and sign up for a free g-mail account. Now, look at your g-mail account information and click on the "google pages" link.)

But Google Pages is new and has its limitations. As I write, people are having problems connecting their custom Web address (url) to it, so that I don't think you could have (substitute your book name or author name or the topic of your site) as your Web address. I'd want my own distinct Web address so that people can find me easier. It also looks more professional.

Also, you may have trouble expanding if you want to do e-commerce (sell stuff to people using credit cards) or databases.

But if all you need is a cheap, online brochure (you can make it very professional if you like), this is one way to go. It's got online tools to help you build a simple site, so that you don't have to learn a daunting program like DreamWeaver.

2) You can get a free site through places like, but they'll feature ads on your site. If you don't mind having ads, then Tripod might be a good choice. They've been offering sites longer than Google and have more helpful tools.

3) Going to paid servers, there are lots of great, cheap options. A good place to find reviews of servers and comparisons of prices and features is . (Click "web hosting" on their left menu.) I pay $5.00 per month for each of my sites, which have tons of people coming to them and hundreds of pages of materials. I'm probably using less than 5% of the space I could be using.

I'm considering for a new site I want to build, primarily because they have a very cute Indy race driver on their home page. Besides this nice feature, they've got 24/7 support, lots of space, lots of free ad-ons (blog, etc.). Domains are cheap through them (c. $9.99 and under per year) and Web space is under $5 per month. I'll also compare , but their alligator picture isn't nearly as cute as the racing chick.
I think both of these hosts give you tools to easily build a simple site using templates and their own tools, so that you don't have to invest in software like Macromedia DreamWeaver or Microsoft Expression Web, which are getting more complicated to use because of stuff like Cascading Style Sheets (don't even ask!)

If you decide later to get fancy with the site, like adding e-commerce or databases, these sites support this stuff and you can continue moving forward.

These servers often have stock images you can use. But I absolutely love . Offering over 3 million images (and growing wildly!), easy to search and only $1 per small photo (you don't need huge images for the Web), I always find what I need. Don't copy people's images from the Web (like searching Google Images and randomly copying). People who do this are partly responsible for "starving artists' syndrome." Feed good photographers by purchasing their pics.

If you just need a simple site with attractive information about your books and services, don't spend big bucks. Fool around with some of these inexpensive options. If you need help, enlist your children or a college student studying Web design who desperately needs some experience on his/her resume. If it still doesn't look as professional as you'd like, offer a graphic designer who does good work (look at her portfolio on the Web) and works out of her home (low overhead) a couple of hundred dollars to "take what I've got and make it look more professional."