Friday, June 16, 2006

Websites: Web-Winners, Web-Weenies, and the Space Between

I was emailing back and forth with a debut author the other night, and she mentioned that her website is non-existent. From the sound of it, her designer had fallen through for the third time, and she was freaking out about getting a late start putting her name out there on the web. Not only did she have my sympathies, but this got me thinking about author websites in general: good ones, bad ones, and what defines them as such. It is one thing to say that site A is easy to navigate, and quite another to explain why. You can scream to high hell that site B is hard to read without ever mentioning that it is because they use white type on a black background.

What does this mean to y’all? Well, most of you are authors, some of you are straight readers who surf the web for authors, and all of you have to deal with websites in some fashion (either having them built or having to navigate them). So what do you think makes a good website vs. a bad one and why?

I’m looking for examples (and links) here with explanations, not I hate this website because I hate this person (Die Bee-otch!), but because the links drop down and I always click on the wrong one. Obviously drop links are a matter of personal choice when designing a website and a way to organize lots of information, but they are still hard to maneuver at times (especially if you don’t have a mouse, just a touch pad).

I would also like to compile a list of web-designers for your use, so if you know of a good designer who gets their work done on time, incorporates ideas in a workable fashion, etc, then drop this persons link in the comments (along with any links to sites they’ve created for examples). If they specialize in working with one genre over another also let me know.

If there is already a list like this in existence, send me the link and I’ll just put that up instead to save time. Ooh, and if there is a list for website technical terms out there, post that link too. I’m not so fluent in Techie, and I’m sure I’m not alone.

This might not be worth our time, but I know that I personally would struggle if I suddenly found myself in a situation requiring a website. If I didn’t have the computer savvy friends that I do, I wouldn’t know where to look to find someone who could turn my thoughts into reality. Sure, I could look in the phone book, but what if I get someone who’s never built an author’s website before. Is there a difference between that and a site for a marketing firm?

So here’s the official assignment:

  • Go forth and find author websites that look good and are easy to navigate (or maybe they are neither of these things).

  • Come back here and post a link to said sites and what works and what doesn’t.

  • Post the names/links to web designers you’ve worked with in the past (or who you’ve known someone to work with) who have proven themselves to be reliable and efficient (please post examples of their work).


Also if you have any book titles that would be helpful for the DIY-ers (Do It Yourself-ers) out there, include that as well. We’ll make this a full service listing if we make it at all.

32 comments:

Mindy Klasky said...

I created my website, using a free, open-source template that I obtained at www.oswd.org. I updated the template using Dreamweaver 8, and I maintain the site.

For people with a *little* bit of interest in basic web programming and a lot of interest in control over sites and update schedules, the templates at oswd can't be beat! (I am *definitely* not a computer geek - not that tere's anything wrong with that!)

Robin Brande said...

What a great idea to put out the word. I really lucked out finding my web designer because a writer friend did the research and found her first. I'm a total coat-tailer.

BJ at Kick Ass Web Design (http://kickasswebdesign.com/) did both my site and my friend Barry Lyga's for his book The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl. The sites are COMPLETELY different, very creative, and I think reader-friendly. You can compare them at www.fanboyandgothgirl.com and www.robinbrande.com.

I also really like Jennifer Crusie's site, which was done by her daughter. It's easy to navigate, friendly on the eyes, full of all sorts of fun information. Check out www.jennycrusie.com.

Robin Brande said...

Let me try that again with actual links:

Web designer: http://kickasswebdesign.com/

Author sites:
http://www.fanboyandgothgirl.com/

http://www.robinbrande.com/

http://www.jennycrusie.com/

Hope I did that right.

Ms. Librarian said...

Some comments on good and bad features of websites:


* Content - why have a webpage if you're just going to put your phone number on it? Give the reader something, stories, a blog, an email contact, a way to order your books, etc.
* Uncluttered arrangement - don't try to fill every square centimeter with "stuff." I know that having ads for Amazon.com and other bookstores can bring in some advertising bucks, but make it easy for the reader and don't overdo it.
* Ease of use - i.e., the layout must be so clear that I don't have to hunt for the links (the page I remember best is the Isaac Mizrahi webpage - the links moved around so you had to chase them!!!)
* Visibility - Remember that many of your readers are in the 40 to 60 age bracket, and our eyes are going. Don't use squinchy or unreadable typefaces. Make the text easy to see, primarily by using dark text on a light background, with no weird wallpapers. As much as I love the moire satin background patterns, they obscure whatever text is put on them.
* Animation - as much as I think animation is cute, and music is nice to listen to, a little goes a long way. (I love hamsterdance.com but I would go nuts if it was my home page and I had to look at it every day.) Also remember that your readers may not have high-speed DSL or broadband, and animation and music makes a page slow to load on a phone line.
*Lastly, some technical details -- Make sure there is a link to the webmaster so readers can report problems with the website; include a Contact Us button, because the reader is going to want to email you if she likes your book; include a search function so that readers can find stuff (specific books) on your website without looking at every page; include a site map for the same reason; and be sure to have a title and a link to the home page on each page, so the reader knows where they are.

Here are two good books on web usability:

Don't Make Me Think, by Steve Krug

Designing Web Usability, by Jakob Nielsen

Vincent Flanders has a great website, Web Pages That Suck

Some examples with comments:
Orson Scott Card - This website is fairly readable, although it's borderline cluttered. Note that it has a search feature at the top, and a link to the web designer at the bottom.

Michael Connelly - I like this one because it is easy to read, has a logo bar on every page, has a link to the webmaster at the bottom, and a contact us button on the side bar.

J.K. Rowling - This site is incredibly elaborate, and though I'm very impressed with it, I have no patience to sit through all the special effects.

Sue Grafton - This has a nice use of animation, enough to make it interesting but not enough to be overdone, and lots and lots of content!

Ms. Librarian said...

P.S. Make sure the words are spelled right on your website.

Ms. Librarian said...

This was so apropos that I had to add this comment:

Biggest Mistakes in Web Design (2004)

Marta said...

I think that function is always more important than style on websites. I see a lot of very cool websites which are not user-friendly -- time consuming animation, essential content omitted, difficult to find Home buttons... I don't go back to them.

I like easy menus, clear links, and worthwhile content. If there's great design on top of that, terrific.

I'm going to nominate my own website, www.martaacosta.com, designed by Tracy McBride of Woodpecker Feather, www.woodpeckerfeather.com. I like the graphics Tracy created, find the layout user-friendly, and get lots of compliments on the site.

Milady Insanity said...

I like

Dreamforge Media: Julie Leto's Marisela and HelenKay Dimon

Xuni: Barry Eisler and Christine Fletcher

What works for me is that they are easy to navigate, clean-looking and does reflect what the author writes.

A good website makes a person want to hang around. That means nothing annoying, nothing intrusive and nothing too shiny--Neon Colors Not Allowed. A good site also makes it easy for you to go from page to page within a website--I hate it when they send you to a 'dead-end' page. At least put a link back to the front page!

Lesa said...

Check out www.xuni.com. She specializes in mystery/thriller authors such as Ridley Pearson, Jan Burke, Cornelia Read and Brad Meltzer, but she does other authors as well.

Anonymous said...

I love Jennifer Weiner's website: http://www.jenniferweiner.com/. Of course the front page highlights her books, but there's a lot of other good information there. Her bio is actually entertaining to read, and there's a great essay with advice for writers. There's also a link to a blog that she updates once or twice a week. To me it's a perfect example of a site that's a good marketing tool but also entertaining for her fans to read.

Jellybean said...

I remember being impressed with Jeanne Birdsall's site. Nice and simple.

http://www.jeannebirdsall.com/

Marianne McA said...

Obvious stuff - should be kept up to date, have clear information on books, and decent excerpts.
That's really all I need - everything else is bonus footage.

I'm in two minds about linking to blogs. On the plus side if I read an author's blog I'm at their site regularly so that I'm very aware of when and what they're publishing - but on the minus side, if you chance upon the website on a day the author's in a snit, it can be off-putting.

lady t said...

Another vote for Jennifer Weiner's website-my only complaint is that there's no comments section on her blog. Otherwise,her site is great and she usually puts some great links in her blog entries,too.

Tilly Bagshawe's website is cool as well(www.tillybagshawe.com ),easy to navigate.

Anonymous said...

Another vote for Xuni--I think she does incredible work.

Karen said...

Great idea-I had to hunt around when I was looking for a web designer and would have loved to run across a discussion like this. I finally found the talented Dana at Jaguarwoman.com who did a great job. My website (karenchance.com) was a bit of a challenge, because she tends to do much more, uh, tasteful stuff normally, but she took what I wanted and made it work.

Penny L. Richards said...

I've loved Jane Yolen's website, for it's ease of navigation and comprehensive content (which is impressive, since the author has over 200 books to her credit):

http://www.janeyolen.com

If you click "Works," then navigate around, you'll see what I mean by "comprehensive"--you get not only the cover and a plot summary, but often you get a little story by the author about the inspiration for the book, something about the illustrator, she notes whether it won any awards, if there's an audio version, if it's still in print, links to teaching guides, etc.

And she keeps the "What's New" section up-to-date--that's a weak point of a lot of author websites. (Hint: if you can't update the "recent news" page regularly, don't have one. When the most recent news is three years old, it leaves the reader to wonder if you're dead, on the run, etc.)

Anonymous said...

Jill Terry has a great site and always has a contest going on. Easy to get around and lots of information about her work and poetry. Check it out here;
www.jillterry.com

Sue said...

What a great idea!

When I was first designing my new website I studied several other websites, especially other writers' websites to see how they set their sites up, what information they included, etc. I tried to incorporate the things I liked best into my site. And I'm always looking for new ideas and ways to improve.

I'm not at the stage where I can afford or need a professional website designer. I paid for the premium service option at freewebs.com, used their templates and the rest of the content I created myself.

Sam said...

Here is a great site for a fast and easy do-it-yourself website:
www.moonfruit.com

I have three sites with them - all easy to make, upkeep and navigate.
(www.samanthawinston.com is one of them, if yuo want an example of a make your own website)

Anonymous said...

http://www.secretlanguageofgirlfriends.com/
http://www.katewhite.com/
http://www.mjrose.com/
http://www.cslewisclassics.com/
http://www.sashasoren.com/
http://www.mariankeyesbooks.com/
http://www.joanne-harris.co.uk/
http://www.tillybagshawe.co.uk/
http://www.thrillerbook.com/
http://www.elizabethbrundage.com/
http://jennycrusie.com/

Easy to navigate
Nice colors
Professional design

Many of these sites were designed by Authorsontheweb.com. AOTW contact for pricing information is Carol Fitzgerald, Carol@Bookreporter.com.

Kathleen Dante said...

For DIY websites that don't require tech/HTML know-how, I'd say Website Tonight. It includes professional templates and nice colors.

For professional website design, I'd recommend Crocodesigns, which is currently at http://www.crocodesigns.de/ but is moving to a new address. I've seen several of her websites for authors and they're fantastic.

Michelle K said...

For reading text on a screen, white text on a black background is easiest to read--less strain on the eyes.

However, the most important thing is the greatest contrast between the text and background--black on white or white on black. Sure, they may look more plain, but if you want people to read your content, then you want the greatest contrast possible to make that text as easy to read as possible.

Just as important is the fact that sans-serif fonts, like Arial and Tahoma, are easier to read on screen than serif fonts, like Times New Roman and Georgia. (Apparently our brains process digitial text differently than printed text.)

Low resolution (72 to 96 dpi), small to medium size pictures.

Test how your web page performs over a dial-up connection. Don't assume that your visitors will have fast computers and T1 connections. Assume the worst and prepare for that. Or else create a low bandwith version of your website, so you don't drive away viewers with slower connections.

Those are the main points I emphasize when I teach basic web design.

If you're comfortable making your own site, then Dreamweaver is probably the best web design software I've used, but learn the basics of HTML. The worst problems I see with web design are pages created by people who don't understand how HTML works. Just as you wouldn't want to read a book written by someone who didn't know the rules of grammar and spelling, you don't want a webpage designed by someone who doesn't know the basic rules of how web pages work.

Ally Carter said...

What a great and incredibly useful discussion!

I searched for forever before finding Xuni.com and have been very satisfied. One challenge we faced was that I write for both adults and young adults, and I wanted a site that both encouraged people to read all my books regardless of age but also had some age-specific looks so that--especially teens--would be drawn in. Hopefully we struck that balance.

Check it out and let me know!

AllyCarter.com

There are tons of opinions on book promotion, but so far money on my website has easily been the best money I've spent--and the only investment that I know has sold books.

Great blog!
Ally Carter


By the way, WhateverLife.com has a great cheat-sheet on HTML!

Renee Dodd said...

Thanks for this post (and all the rest), Bookseller Chick, and these comments, commenters. You've gotten me thinking about updates to my website. I don't know yet if it's going to help me professionally because my book doesn't come out until September.

I designed the site myself with Dreamweaver, using a Dreamweaver for Dummies book for assistance. Because when it comes to web design, I am a dummy.

If anyone cares to take a look at my site and offer some constructive criticsm, I'd love the feedback! It's a work in progress. http://reneedodd.com/

Christine Fletcher said...

I second (or maybe it's third or fourth, by now!) www.xuni.com. I LOVE my website--the look, the ease of navigation, everything!--and Heidi is an absolute professional, not to mention a ton of fun to work with.

DreamForge Media (www.dreamforgemedia.com) is another designer, I think specializing mostly in romance novels.

Ms. Librarian said...

Renee - I'd suggest adding a copyright notice to the bottom of each page, and a link to the webmaster's email so that people can report problems with the website.

I'd also make a logo with your name that goes on each page, or get your name at the top of each page in some way, so that everyone knows whose website it is no matter which page they come in on.

This page - http://reneedodd.com/books.html -- is too wide; you have to scroll to the right to get the whole button bar on that side. Make the page narrower so the viewer doesn't have to do that.

I suggest removing the kids' pictures from the contact page, just because I get nervous because of the predators one finds on the web.

Also, I'd suggest adding an excerpt from the novel when you have a final version, so that people can read a little bit of it and become intrigued.

Renee Dodd said...

Thanks Ms. Librarian. That's a HUGE help!

And thanks Bookseller Chick for bringing up such a great topic!

Christina said...

I'm a web designer. It helps to have someone who knows what they're doing, create the nagivation and site structure for you. I've worked with a variety of clients and I always work well to deadlines.

My info can be found at http://www.tcreative.ca, and some examples of my work are:
http://www.howardbortenstein.com (designed & coded)
http://www.doglounge.com (designed & coded)
http://ylisten.snowie.ca (designed & coded)
http://www.heatherleaangus.ca (designed & coded)
http://www.melissamunroe.com (tweaked graphics & updated)

Feisty said...

I used the Author's Guild template to build my site and I love it. Easy to navigate, easy to update, no problems with code. Lots of choices in colors and styles. I can't rave about it enough.

Here is what I came up with.

www.judygregerson.com

Alison Kent said...

Here is a list of articles about web design.

Ben said...

I must say, amazing guidelines.
Cheap website design

comment system said...

I really liked your post, and I too share these feelings. It is truly hard to find a decent worthy website designer. I wish you all the best :)