Titles and facebook and building a website (oh, my!)

PhotobucketFirst, my big news: at last I have a title! Unbounded has now become The Last Will of Moira Leahy. Whadayathink? And have I mentioned that rights for Last Will have been sold in Brazil? I’d better freshen up on my Portuguese.

I’ve been focused on doing as much as I can to set the stage for successful publicity and marketing of my book as possible, because starting next week I’m going to plunge into the work of book #2. (Yesss!) But not this week. Friday, I joined the networking capitol of the Internet, Facebook, something I thought I’d never do. I spent most of Snowy Saturday tinkering with my content, uploading pictures and reconnecting with old friends. I quickly realized Facebook’s power: it’s like your own personal CHEERS, where everybody knows your name. I dragged Kathleen into this as well, so if you’re on Facebook, please grab a virtual stool and sit beside us. Just say WU sent you and you’ll be friended.

How can Facebook help you, if you’re published or going to be published or hoping to soon be published? Check out Publishing Talk’s 10 Ways to Use Facebook article for some pointers, including why you should choose a profile pic of yourself and not your book jacket (at least until your release), and why it’s smart to set up groups and use them. By the way, you can join the WU group on Facebook, and even keep up with daily events there.

I’m also getting serious about my author website. A lot of unpublished writers build a website, because it can be such a smart marketing tool, but I was always too superstitious (read: lazy) to do it. I’d also thought that I should wait until I had a book cover to work with, but Barbara Samuel — AKA Barbara O’Neal, whose book, The Lost Recipe for Happiness, is already in its third printing (woohoo!)– reminded me that the site is there to sell me, the author, not one book. So I plunged into learning more about it and now have something that I hope is worth sharing. Here goes.

Therese’s Top Six Tips for Finding your Perfect Web Designer:

* Hone in on websites you like. Don’t just notice the colors and artwork, as I’m prone to do, but look at the masthead and sidebars, how the links are set up and whether they work well, and if you find the site user friendly / easy to navigate. Is the site promoting one book or the author and his/her many books? If it’s promoting one book, is the design one that makes trading out the old cover for a new one easy? (Check out author Alice Hoffman’s website for a great example of a site that features author and book, with what seems to be an easy trade-out option.)

* ID the builder. Check out the credit at the bottom of each site’s main page to learn more about the company that built it. Hoffman’s site was made by Author Bytes, but there are other web designers who specialize in authors, including Authors on the Web and Stone Creek Media. Once you’ve found the right link, click over to the designer’s site, then find their portfolio and look through it carefully. Is there at least one site with a format that would work well for you? Are the designs creative, or do they look relatively similar to one another? Does that matter to you?

* Make a wish list. Once you look on other sites with a critical eye, you’ll develop preferences. Do you want a site with an artsy “cover page” or one that contains book details from page one? Do you want your book’s information presented in a straightforward manner or do you want your readers to have to work for it a bit, which can hypothetically intrigue (think JK Rowling’s site) — or sometimes just annoy. Are you seeking something that’s unique, polished or both?

Think about what’ll be a good reflection of your brand / style of writing and what will attract the eye of your target audience.

* Ask around. Tap friends with sites you admire and ask them how they’ve liked working with their web designers. A writer buddy of mine warned me away from one designer, because he was unresponsive to her suggestions, disregarded her questions and generally seemed to settle for an idea too early in the process when said writer wanted to explore something bigger and better. She also clued me in on two designers I’d never heard of before: Xuni.com and Bella Fiori Art & Design. Beautiful stuff.

* Make contact. Request more information through either a designer’s website or via email. Introduce yourself and your work simply, then let them get back to you with specifics. Expect everyone’s process to be a little different. One web designer asked me to fill out a four-page questionnaire and then answer additional email questions. I was asked things like, “Do you have a domain?” and “Will you provide your own images?” and “What kind of maintenance would you like for your site?” Others just wanted to know some basics so they could work up a rough estimate for me, or were interested in lists of sites I’d found intriguing. Some designers like to work exclusively over email, but at least one designer wants to followup with a telephone interview.

It’s important that you ask questions of them, too, and that you know what your dollars are buying. How many designs will be provided for you to choose from? How long will the process take? Is the site created for a flat fee or will you be charged by the hour, and if the latter, how many hours should the work require? Will you as author have any administrative roles once the site is up and running? Will the designer commit to future support — like troubleshooting for you or adding new details to the site — and how much will that support cost you? Do the designers have clients who’d be willing to speak with you about their experiences?

* Check out the extras. You should know that not all designers are created equal. Some can supply you with business cards like Low Fat Designs, and/or offer promotional packages like Xuni.com, and/or can create book trailers like Fireman Creative. If all else is equal in the end, maybe the extras are what will tip you toward one provider or another.

How about you? Do you have a website? If so, what sorts of things did you consider while building it or having it built? Give us a rundown of your wish list and share the link with us here.

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About Therese Walsh

Therese Walsh co-founded Writer Unboxed in 2006. Her second novel, The Moon Sisters, was named a Best Book of 2014 by Library Journal and BookRiot. Her debut, The Last Will of Moira Leahy, sold to Random House in a two-book deal in 2008, was named one of January Magazine’s Best Books, and was a Target Breakout Book. She's never been published with a lit magazine, but LOST's Carlton Cuse liked her Twitter haiku best and that made her pretty happy.

Comments

  1. says

    I designed my own website, http://www.julietmarillier.com, back when I was a newbie author, with assistance from a tech-savvy family member. Despite a recent makeover job it still has that home-grown look, probably because I use Microsoft FrontPage rather than a more sophisticated, whistles-and-bells web design program. I do all the updates myself, from choice – I update approx every two weeks. I think the website possibly suffers from containing too much stuff – most visitors stay within a few main pages.

    I know I’ll have to move to a different program some time soon as my web host is phasing out support for FrontPage, so your post has lots of interest for me, Therese. I wouldn’t consider paying for a new website design unless I had full admin control once it was up and running. You should definitely consider who is going to do your updates, you or a webmaster, and how it would work if you were paying someone on an ongoing basis to do them.

    Although I don’t have a blog (and comment) feature on my website, I like this on other authors’ websites.

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  2. says

    Hi Juliet,

    I’ve been wondering about adding a more personal blog to the site or just having WU streamed into it (which is do-able). The benefit of a personal blog is that it really can be more personal, but the disadvantage is that it’s another blog that will require nurturing!

    If anyone’s checking through comments and wants to chime in about personal blogs on author sites, please feel free.

    T

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  3. says

    I checked out Alice Hoffman’s site. Very nice. I’ve thought that when I sell, I’ll make mine very simple and clean like that. In the meantime, I love mine. Stonecreek Media, who I used, has a list of things to consider somewhere on their website.

    I blog on my personal blog, usually once a week. I also blog weekly at Magical Musings and every other week at Love Conquers. That’s plenty for me.

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  4. says

    Eeek! this is so exciting. Luurve Hoffman’s site too.

    I’m interested in seeing how this Facebook think’ll work out—only Therese could drag me kicking into the social networking aspect of marketing–being ‘friended’ by her was my first toe-dip! :-)

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  5. says

    I have been working on the platform building along with the actual writing. I’ve had some small success with creative non-fic pieces but no fiction yet.

    I do like the Facebook way of meeting other writers though.

    Thanks for this info. I am working on my new website next month and can use all the tips I can find.

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  6. says

    Hmm, the evolution of my site is different since I’ve been on the Web since I was 9 years old (seriously) and blogging since I was 10. For me, that was an extension of my writing (albeit a less serious one) and so I only recently thought about whether I should merge the two (professional career Web site + personal blog). But since I am unpublished, I’ve decided to let my personal site stand as is — my only concession was to register and start using my name as a domain — and I’ll redesign after I get published and have a book jacket and all that.

    I also recently registered my name at Twitter and MySpace, which might be worth looking into if you haven’t already.

    I think the new title is nice, gets you a lot more personally connected right away. :)

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  7. says

    Congrats on the Brazilian sale!

    So much food for thought here! I am still learning how to use Facebook, but it is surprisingly helpful in a lot of ways. Some of my questions are still: do I create a fan group for my own books? How can I use it to see if there would be support enough in a particular city to set up a booksigning?

    And how do I stay involved without losing 20 hours a day?

    One thing I’ve noticed about my own response to Facebook and Twitter posts both is that I dislike it when someone is only promoting their work or their titles or whatever.

    Website/blog–who knows the answer? Do what works for you. I’ve been writing columns since college, so when I looked for something to put on my first website, eons ago, columns seemed a good answer. That was before blogging, but I kept going in that realm.

    It all takes time, but the old adage about 50% of marketing works–we just don’t know which 50%–is true. Do what you can and leave the rest.

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  8. says

    I create my own websites, and tomorrow will be refreshing the new one for the writing craft book (I’m changing the title and book design, and modifying the look of the site). Please don’t look today (1/13/09) because what you see will be soon banished to the ether, but if you can drop by http://www.ftqpress.com tomorrow or later, I’d welcome any feedback.

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  9. says

    I think a new author does best to put a blog on one of the established blog hosts, since there you have more chance of people linking to you, thus lifting your Search Engine Optimisation potential. On my main blog I have direct feeds from many other blogs, and I make a point of commenting on them regularly. Owners of those blogs then link to mine, and every time one does this, hits to my blog increase. If you can get a link on a really popular blog, the search engines will think you, too must be important, and will push you up the listings on their sites. Blogs tend to form circles of links within their own host site, and some – e.g. Live Journal – turn this into a “friending” system which encourages growth into cosy networks.

    I’ll now go and join your network on Facebook’s Networked Blogs:-)

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  10. says

    Stonecreek Media does some beautiful sites, including yours, Edie. I love the cat.

    Annie, writing creative nonfiction can be a great way to hone your chops, so to speak. Keep writing!

    Kristan, I looked for you on Twitter and couldn’t find you (just joined tonight!). Yours is a nice, clean website; I like it!

    Do what you can and leave the rest. Great advice as usual, Barbara. Thank you.

    Can’t wait to see the new site, Ray!

    I thought about using LJ or MySpace for a personal blog, Satima, and then having it stream onto my website. So many options, so few remaining brain cells.

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  11. says

    Congrats for having a new title! I like it! :)

    Portuguese? That’s great! But Brazilian Portuguese is not equal to Portuguese from Portugal. Most of the people I know prefers to read in English than in Brazilian Portuguese. This happens because Brazilian language as many different words that might be confuse for Portuguese people.

    But the basics are the same so, if you need some lessons I can give you! :) – If you know a little of Spanish it would be easy, believe me.

    I’m going to take a look to Facebook, I don’t have a page there yet.

    I think is very important for published writers to have their own page. It’s important to connect to readers and give them the news about the next work. I’m always looking online to know when is the next book of my favorite writers comes out.

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  12. says

    ClaudiaV, I know a very little Spanish, as my last “lesson” was in high school! I remember going to Disney World’s Epcot Center and eagerly approaching the booth in Spain that sold churros y chocolate because we were told that the attendants were bilingual. When I got up there and had my moment–“churros y chocolate!”–the girl just blinked at me and said, “Excuse me?”

    I don’t have a lot of confidence! :)

    I wonder if there’s a way to build a mini-blog application into a News page. Hmmm…

    If you join Facebook, give a holler out, ClaudiaV.

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  13. says

    Hi Therese,

    Congrats on your foreign sale! As for designers, Brian at LowFatDesigns.com is fantastic to work with. I love my site and it’s easy to manage content too. Best of luck with yours. I can’t wait to see what you come up with. Lynne

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  14. says

    Satima, I think your success with search engine optimization has more to do with the fact that you’re commenting regularly on people’s blogs than the fact that you’re part of a blog network.

    There are two steps to getting a good search rank: constructing your pages according to web standards so the search engine can parse it efficiently, and getting lots of people to link to your site.

    You can accomplish these with a site hosted anywhere. There are lots of blogs on LiveJournal and WordPress.com with low ranks because they don’t have interesting content that people want to link to, and/or the authors aren’t working to build their networks by joining the conversations at other sites.

    Whether you’re hosting your own site or starting one on a blog network, you need to choose your template (or theme) carefully. Many WordPress templates are optimized for search engines; many are not. Blogger’s newer themes are very good. LiveJournal’s are iffy, and in general I would say that being on LiveJournal is, if anything, detrimental to your search engine rank. However, the writing community there is so good that I wouldn’t warn you away from LJ entirely; I’d just encourage you to maintain another site (yourname.com) in addition to it.

    Look for templates that say they are standards compliant (some will say ‘W3C compliant,’ or ‘valid HTML’). This is not a guarantee that they are optimized for search engines, but it does show that the designer took some care with her work, and chances are good that a site using that template will do well with search engines.

    Once the site is built, you just have to decide on a standard format for your address — for example, whether you’re going to use the www. prefix (it usually doesn’t matter) — and use the address consistently in your email signature, your profiles on message boards, and your comments on other people’s blogs.

    Writing blog posts that people will link to — that is left as an exercise for the reader. ;)

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  15. says

    Hi Lynne, thanks for the well wishes! Low-fat is one of the designers I’ve contacted to get some estimates on packages, etc… Thanks for telling me that you’ve loved working with them; these personal recommendations really do matter!

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  16. says

    Hello everyone,

    Congratulations, Therese, on your sale in Brazil – and thanks for this post. I’m an unpublished fiction writer and, after reading all the comments, I have to confess that I’m a bit intimidated by all this. Why? Because I’m unpublished. I have a finished manuscript and I’m preparing to search for an agent….so here’s my question for the day:

    How do I shake the feeling that, without publication, I’m not worthy of promoting? I recently created a blog, but it’s almost as if I’m keeping it a secret. I admire how all of you can create great sites and just put yourselves out there. Darnit, I want to do it too!

    Thanks for reading.

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  17. says

    Welcome, Julia, and thank you for your congrats! Big congrats to YOU for finishing a manuscript, polishing a manuscript and being ready to look for an agent — that is no small feat, my friend.

    I think your question is a great one, and I wonder if you’ll let Kath and me tackle it next week for a “From the Mailbox” post?

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  18. says

    :) Well you can start with the word “Chocolate” it’s written the same way! (very important word)

    I think Spanish for you is like French for me. I don’t have any confidence when I try to speak French. I read French emails everyday (I work for a French company ) but if I try to talk I only remember English words.

    I’ve been in Epcot this last Summer. I miss Orlando, I had a lot of fun there!

    Well I joined Facebook (new world for me) I didn’t had much time to explore it but I tried to place a photo. Don’t know how people join yet but I think it’s with the mail. (Mine in facebook is doida_por_ti@yahoo.com)

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  19. says

    Love the new title and I can’t wait to read your book!

    (I have a Facebook account but I’m still a bit intimidated by it. Don’t quite know how to work it. It seems to be a process).

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  20. says

    Oh, I think it was with you that I talked about the best 2008 books. I gather a list with my friends of the best books each one of us read in 2008. Here is the list:
    * Persuasion – Jane Austen
    * The Maias – Eça de Queirós (portuguese Author) – http://www.amazon.com/Maias-Penguin-Classics-Eca-Queiros/dp/014044694X
    * Néctar – Lily Prior
    * Stephanie Meyer books
    * Wicked – Gregory Maguire
    * Jane Eyre – Charlotte Brontë
    * Sebastian – Anne Bishop
    * Daughter of the forest – Juliet Marillier
    * Wild Sheep Chase – Haruki Murakami

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  21. says

    Michelle and ClaudiaV, I found you both on FB.

    ClaudiaV, did you not LOVE Juliet’s book? She’s brilliant. Now you can move on to the others in her Sevenwaters series!

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  22. says

    Hi Therese!

    I have all Juliet’s books that are translated to Portuguese. Her writing is fantastic. I bought her first book by accident.

    I think it was in 2001, I enter the bookstore and tell to myself: – I don’t want to read anything more about reality! I need fantasy!
    I went to the romance fantasy section and started to look around when I saw sevenwaters series and I thought to myself… a trilogy can’t be bad. And I loved it!
    Since then I never left fantasy reading again.
    I lent the first sevenwaters books to so many friends (more than 10 for sure) and it’s funny cause people who like the first book (and I don’t know anyone who doesn’t), don’t ask me for the second cause they go to the store and buy the first and all the others so they can have their own book at home.
    And that’s because someone said the best 2008 was that Juliet book (I gave it like a present to a friend) :)

    The sad think is that books in Portugal are very expensive. This Christmas a book price was around 20€ !!!

    Have you read any of Anne Bishop books? She’s also a great writer and she has this unlimited imagination. But the best about her books is that she makes me smile a lot with the funny book characters.

    Sorry if I’m writing too much but when I start talking about something I like I just don’t shut up! :)

    Your my first friend in facebook. I’m gona take a look at your facebook so I can also learn how it works.

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