Vision: A Resource for Writers
Lazette Gifford, Editor
Vision@sff.net

IMAGE COUNTS: 
YOUR PROFESSIONAL WEBSITE

By Linda Adams

2002, Linda Adams 


You've just decided to put up a website to promote yourself as a writer.  Obviously, you want to make it look the best you can, but you don't have a lot of web design experience.  What should you do?

Start by thinking of it as a professional business site, not a personal site.  It is marketing you as the writer, so you want to make the best impression.  After all, you don't submit a manuscript to an editor with coffee stains, ripped pages, or in the wrong format.  The same applies to your website.  Show them your best.

Site Hosts

Okay, you may not want to spend $25 a month on a paid host.  Especially since free sites are still available.  Let's look at what the free sites offer.  Advertising on every page, some of the ads blinking incessantly ... popup ads that are equally annoying.  Such annoyances on the free sites damage your professional image as much as a bad-looking manuscript.

Worse still are the problems that can come with the free sites.  How about that time the server crashed for two weeks, and you had to recreate all the files because they were lost?  Or the time the site shut down because your site exceeded the bandwidth?

Is that the image you want to present to a potential agent for your work?  Professionalism counts.  If a website is worth doing, it is worth doing well.  Yes, it will cost money for your own site.  But the message it sends is invaluable.  It says you are serious and committed to your writing.  My co-author had strong doubts about our site until he saw what I did, and now he's my biggest fan.

Content

You'll need to carefully plan the content layout.  All the pretty graphics in the world aren't going to help if you have three pages of fluff and ten pages under construction.  One site for a professional organization had nearly thirty links under construction--and the site had been up for a year.  That wastes the time of the visitors, and they won't come back.

The main page is the most important.  It is the first impression your visitors have of you.  Many people try to write some kind of introduction to their site or themselves.  This actually defuses the impact your site because it tells instead of shows.

Instead, you want to show them what you are.  List a few of the highlights on the site you feel may interest them.  Of course you should have a publication news section, but it should be relatively unobtrusive and not the focus of the entire page.  You can have a link to an internal page containing more details.

Whoa!  You've just published your e-book and you want to promote it.  Shouldn't it be really, really big so everyone knows you've been published?

Ah, but you're doing a professional site.  You're not bragging to the world "I've been published!"  You're marketing yourself, and it is, quite simply, classier to keep it subtle and professional.  This gives you a quiet suavity most sales sites will never have.

But before highlighting your e-book, think of your bigger purpose.  If all you want to do is sell one e-book, then that should be the focus of your site.  But if your writing career goal is mainstream, you need to be attractive to the primary publishing houses and your readers.  Until e-books make big money, emphasizing you e-book decreases your attractiveness to the publishing houses.  Think of what's important to you: fringe publishing or the money that comes with a blockbuster.

Your general content should include a biography and writing credits if you have any.  As samples of your writing, you might want to have writing tips, articles on your expertise in your hobbies, or other material related to the subjects in your books.  This can help build your credibility as an expert.  Your novel?  Save that to submit to an agent or publisher.  Professional writers know that publishers don't troll the Internet, searching for the next bestseller.  Especially not when they receive thousands of manuscripts in the mail each day!  When would they have time?

Graphics

Now that you have some basic text to work with, you'll want to add graphics to make your site more attractive.  The Internet is a very visually based medium, and visitors expect to see some graphics on your page.  But before you start using graphics, remember the following:  Less is more.  A few well-chosen graphics will go a long way.

Ideally, your total page graphics should be no more than 25 kilobytes.  A common problem with graphics is that people think scaling down the graphic to a smaller size changes the file size.  A 1.4 megabyte photo will still be 1.4 megabytes whether it's 8x10 or 5x7.  Which means it may take five minutes for your page to load.  Thirty seconds is too long, so five minutes is really out of the question.  A good graphics program will help you reduce the file size to something more Internet friendly.

Insert several appropriate images on each page.  Keep them small and simple so they are not visually screaming at the visitor.  Animated images and Java applets immediately draw the eye to the image and away from the content.  Is it really necessary to have a fly follow around the cursor?  It might look neat--for about fifteen seconds.  Then it gets annoying.  And it always looks immature--not the image you want to leave with a publisher.  Your graphics should complement and accentuate the content, not overwhelm it.

For the page background, use a simple color, preferably white.  If you look at a few corporate websites, you'll see they stick with a standard white and add emphasis with color using graphics and text.

Booorrrriiing!  Why not use an image for a background?  What's wrong with that?  Simply this: it distracts the visitor from your content.  A simple white background sets up the expectation that you are professional writer.  Remember what your goal is: to market yourself.  What's the first impression you want to visitors to have--what a pretty (or worse, busy) background or what can this writer do?

It's not hard to build a website.  Anyone can do it.  But it is hard to build a website that goes beyond the basics to be an effective marketing tool for your writing.  Take the time to do it right, and you will leave a very good impression with agents and publishers.

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Linda Adams maintains a professional website for actor David Hedison.  She has been published in the anthology "Let Us Not Forget," a tribute to American veterans, and is currently co-writing a women's Civil War thriller.  Website: http://www.hackman-adams.com.