How to Avoid Website Agita
by Noelle Sterne
With WordPress and other DIY websites becoming ever easier, many writers are savvy enough to design and post their own sites. But some of us aren’t, or can’t face trekking up the learning curve. When I needed a website for publication of my book Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams, I didn’t want a prepackaged site (a la WordPress), although they can be fine. But I needed a site that reflected the themes of my book and so resolved to hire a web designer.
Once I did, I learned some shocking lessons. Whether you intend to create your own website or hire a professional, I hope my baptism will ease your own plunge into the arctic waters of website creation.
1. Watch out for new website shock. Writers deal with and, for the most part, love words. That’s why we’re not artists, photographers, architects, or graphic designers. When you design a website—by yourself or with a professional—you must trigger, or learn, a visual sensitivity to photos, color, graphics, proportions, layout . . . and supply the content.
2. Find a good website designer. I first contacted a friend—big mistake. He was a sophisticated tech professional who had done many sites, but he was returning to graduate school and completely preoccupied with applications and majors. And he had little affinity for my book.
Then a fellow writer (who had designed his own site—sigh) suggested I look at sites of authors with works and viewpoints similar to mine. I gravitated to one author I greatly admire. Her site is not only beautiful but inspirational, and I’ve often accessed it to pull myself out of the writing dumps. At the bottom of a subpage, I saw a tiny credit—the designer’s. Click and redirect: found her!
3. Are you simpatico? I emailed the designer, who responded quickly, and we arranged an initial call. The moment I heard her voice, I knew. She was everything I wanted: firm yet gentle, confident yet modest, understanding of writers’ trepidations and perfectionist penchants, and very willing to explore many options. And reasonable.
4. What do you like? My web designer turned out to be not only an expert but also a professional truly interested in what I wanted, even if I didn’t quite know. Before she rendered one virtual pixel, she sent me a multi-page “thinking paper,” with boldface instructions, to elicit my thoughts, feelings, visualizations, and the best-imagined purposes of my site. This was more rigorous than a real estate exam. Completing her questionnaire was also invaluable in forcing me to decide what I really wanted.
A relentless taskmaster, she asked for photos of sites I liked, and why, descriptions of what I thought the site should look and feel like. What did I want the site to evoke in the viewer/reader? How many columns and subpages did I want? What categories? How many colors, font styles? She encouraged me to send her photos and illustrations for the banner, color combinations I preferred and hated, fonts I loved and couldn’t stand, and many other issues that required input. Happily, the forced thinking and verbalizations also provided much promotional material.
5. What are you doing? Once the designer receives your preferences and you’ve decided on the basics, your responses are—or should be—required at every turn. My designer and I shot multiple PDFs of designs and color palettes back and forth. We tested sizes and margins. I wrote, and rewrote, a great deal of material.
After eight drafts of my temporary site (she showed it to me “privately” on the web), she put this site on the Internet “live.” As preliminary publicity, it contained the basic information about my book while we worked on the full site.
The larger site proved no plug-in either; it took more time, attention, revisions, drafts, corrections, etc. etc. etc. Her patience was saint-like and her attention to my obsessive details totally satisfied. When we finally finished, I was very happy with the site. And started getting compliments . . . .
6. What are you learning? After the site is completed, many web designers will offer regular maintenance or as-needed help, usually for their hourly rate. I asked my designer for this service a few times later. More important, and something you should request, was inclusion in the main agreement of a lesson in editing the site yourself.
In our tutorial call, with the site on both our screens (again in a “private” space, the Internet equivalent of WitSec), with great good nature my designer mowed down my list of 347 questions. By the time my lesson ended, I felt like an expert (sort of) and knew that, with all my notes, I’d be able to refine and add to my site as needed.
I knew from talking with other writers that a website is never done; it’s always a work in progress. All the more reason to learn some basics of updating. As I did, I gained the courage to self-teach a little more.
What started out as a fearsome project that I must admit I avoided for a long time became less mysterious and exasperating because of my expert and angelic web designer. Now, even though site-tweaking is still not my favorite sport, I count it as a necessary if not wholly gratifying activity. And I no longer suffer from website agita.
A regular Authors’ Blog contributor, Noelle publishes widely. With a Ph.D. from Columbia University, she helps doctoral candidates complete their dissertations—finally. Drawing on her practice, in Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams she guides readers to reach their dreams and lifelong yearnings. Taking her own advice, she is writing her first novel (gulp). Visit www.trustyourlifenow.com.