I’m thrilled to announce the launch this week of my new website. You’ll find it at www.julietmarillier.com. This is the culmination of a four month cooperative process with web designer Ariel Faulkner of ARIEL ink. In this post I’ll share the steps in that process.
As a published novelist with readers all around the world, I need to maintain an attractive and user-friendly website. My original website was set up for me by a family member approximately ten years ago, using Microsoft Frontpage, a program ideal for an internet newbie as it requires no knowledge of html coding. Once the site was up, I maintained and updated it myself.
The website always looked rather home-grown, despite my continuing efforts to improve it. Frontpage has its limitations, and so do I as programmer / designer. As the years passed, I became increasingly aware that other people’s websites worked better and looked more appealing. I knew that even if I had the time and patience to learn another web design program, I would not be able to create the fabulous site I wanted. What was required was a professional redesign. I had to find a designer who would really understand my work and the look I wanted on the site. That seemed so difficult that I put it off for a ridiculously long time. Then my web host announced a scaling back of support for Frontpage. I needed to act.
Choosing a designer
Right at that critical point, Ariel Faulkner contacted me with a professional pitch. She introduced herself as a graphic and web designer with experience in the book publishing industry, and also as a fan. Ariel had done her homework. Her initial message contained a number of specific suggestions for improving my site, sufficient to make me want to communicate further. She was tactful, too. Rather than saying ‘your site is a piece of rubbish’ she pointed out that good content needs good design to present it effectively.
I asked the obvious questions: how much would it cost, how long it would take, what would my involvement be, what program(s) she would be using, and who would be responsible for the ongoing maintenance once the new site was up. I was used to updating my News page several times a month. I also had a Readers Gallery for fan art work, to which I added contributions as they came in. I wanted to keep doing both.
Ariel had great answers to these questions. The fee would be agreed up-front, based on her estimate of hours for design and programming work. The News page would become a News Feed, hosted on a site called rapidfeeds. I could update this whenever I wanted, and there would be the added advantage that readers could subscribe to it. The Readers Gallery would be moved to Picasa, with easy links from my website – that meant I could do all the Gallery updates myself. Picasa would also house my photo galleries, which display images from the settings of the various book series. Updates of the site proper, such as adding a new page when a new book was published, would be done by Ariel. There would be a cost attached to this, but such updates would not be required often. Programs used would be Adobe Photoshop and Dreamweaver. After checking out some other sites Ariel had designed, I decided I was happy with her approach and we agreed to proceed.
The design process
I completed a detailed questionnaire for Ariel, covering my expectations of the design elements. She asked me what sort of experience I wanted visitors to have on the site. I replied that I wanted the site to be beautiful, magical and enticing, but also informative and easy to use. I had some fairly specific requirements. Author sites tend to focus on what’s new – the latest book, the current tour – and back list books take a secondary place. But many readers discover my work via a recent title, then go to the website to find out what else I have written. That meant I wanted the back list novels to be attractively presented. I asked if, as well as a beautiful ‘main theme’, Ariel could create a different page design for each group of books, with page titles based on their settings:
Sevenwaters Forest – Celtic theme (earth)
Bridei’s Court – Pictish theme (fire)
The Light Isles – Norse theme (water)
Wildwood – fairytale theme (air)
Whistling Tor (Heart’s Blood) – gothic theme (spirit)
Ariel accepted the challenge and we explored various possibilities. As a druid I was keen that the whole site design should incorporate nature references and symbolism, hence the association of themes with elements. I was impressed by Ariel’s quick understanding of what I wanted and the importance of getting the historical and cultural details correct.
While Ariel worked on the page designs, we talked about the content – what to retain from the old site, what to add and what to discard. For instance, Ariel simplified the information about foreign editions by including links under ‘buy the book’ to the various overseas publishers and/or online booksellers. The Work in Progress page was absorbed into the News Feed. Three FAQ pages were consolidated. The Music page was removed until we can provide audio rather than manuscript versions of the songs. Cover Art pages were incorporated into the book pages.
Trial and error
Between April and August a lot of messages have passed between Ariel and me. She has been great at explaining technicalities in language I can understand, and in responding to challenges with workable solutions. Some ideas had to be set aside – we discarded the idea of a musical track partly for technical reasons, partly because it seems people hate music coming on without warning when they open a website. We tried various slideshow options for the cover art and ended up reverting to a static display. Ariel experimented with the ‘main theme’ and the book page designs until we were both happy with them. I assembled text and image files from the old site, updating as I went. When the design was done, Ariel worked on the programming.
We set the launch date for September 3 to coincide with my monthly post on Writer Unboxed. And here we are (cue fanfare!) Readers will find many new features: a Media page with video clips; downloads of short fiction, reading group guides and teachers’ notes; maps; quizzes. I’m hoping readers will find the website visually lovely, fun to explore and easy to use.
I was lucky to be approached by a designer who knew and appreciated my work, and who had the professional and artistic skills to do a great job. If I’d had to set out from scratch to find the right designer, I doubt very much that I would have been so delighted with the end result. For anyone embarking on the same exercise, I strongly suggest getting some personal recommendations from other writers.