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How to Create a Website as a Writer (Without it Costing You Both One Arm and One Leg)

stuarthorwitz [1]Please welcome guest Stuart Horwitz [2], founder and principal of Book Architecture [3], a firm of independent editors based in Providence. Book Architecture’s clients have reached the best-seller list in both fiction and non-fiction and have appeared on Oprah!, The Today Show, The Tonight Show, and in the most prestigious journals in their respective fields. Stuart’s first book Blueprint Your Bestseller: Organize and Revise Any Manuscript with the Book Architecture Method [4] (Penguin/Perigee) was named one of 2013’s best books about writing by The Writer magazine. His second book, Book Architecture: How to Plot and Outline Without Using a Formula [5], was released earlier this month.

I believe that all of the effort and some of the expense that writers used to put into their collateral: brochures, business cards, even client-facing offices, should now go into websites instead because we live online. It’s that simple!

Connect with Stuart on Facebook [6] and on Twitter [7].

How to Create a Website as a Writer (Without it Costing You Both One Arm and One Leg)

 Your writer’s website is one of the most profound ways you can secure fans and attract soon-to-be fans. Readers can congregate to learn more about you: your related projects, your products, your influences and your personality, as well as connect with you directly. All the effort and some of the expense that writers put into their collateral for brochures, business cards, even client-facing offices, should now go into your website—because we live online. It’s that simple!

For this post, I’d like to invite in megawatt web designer, Andrew Boardman, of Manoverboard [8]. Manoverboard is the most awesome web partner I could imagine, I just want to make sure to say that. Andrew’s looking over my shoulder as we write this, but if you take issue with a point below it’s likely my fault.

[pullquote]Don’t do your own design. Nobody told me to say this. I mean it. Maybe you don’t want to spend an arm and a leg but to get one of the best websites, one of the cool websites, you might have to spend an arm. I’m here to say I think it’s worth it.[/pullquote]

Make it scannable. We’re writers, you know? We like to write long sentences, and deploy our favorite punctuation that enables us to create dense paragraphs packed with meaning. Not on the web. On the web people read in a clockwise fashion, and they skip a lot, landing on the bolded or enlarged or italicized features to see what interests them. And they look at pictures – lots of pictures. Don’t let this alarm you: assured and competent writing is very welcome. You just need to learn a different form and play by the rules. I don’t know, maybe you can pretend you’re learning a villanelle [9] in college or something?

SEO the crap out of it. Writing a good blog post for the web without going to Google AdWords to find out what keywords are actually being searched, is like writing a short story in Syriac (insert other favorite dead language here). If you can, see what keywords are useful to your audience. My site is currently full of carefully crafted articles about writing that no search engine can find. We’re having to change all of that right now, creating proper title tags and headings that are not hopelessly obscure.

BA cover.Smaller [10]Writing a book? That headline for example, “writing a book,” gets an average of 6,600 hits a month on Google searches, which is excellent, and better than if this bullet point was titled: “Go for the ask.” Speaking of which, if you’re writing a book, you gotta go for the ask. Put a buy button on every page. Capitalize “BUY.” Put aside any negative liberal feelings you have about sales. If you want to hear how I overcame my yucky obstacles to sales, check out this podcast [11].

You have to blog. I fought this one for a while; as a writer it’s weird to be told you have to write. But because you are a writer, readers are coming to your site to read. Don’t make your blog calendar (how often you put out new material) too aggressive – we originally started off at five days a week and crashed and burned. Now we’re returning to one day a week. Also, make your blogs good. If it’s something trivial you want to write about, put it on Facebook. Or even better, just think it.

Make it easy for people to connect with you. Right now the three big ones are still LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. You need to be on all three – and put the relevant links on your site – and that might be enough. If you’ve done good work on Tumblr, YouTube, or Pinterest, great. Loop us in. Keep your social media profiles up to date, also… And don’t worry about Vine.

Use video. One of our clients created a scrolling website with Manoverboard: A Stroke of Luck [12]. It brilliantly incorporates video to help the material come to life. You might say that looks like it will cost me both an arm and a leg, and is contrary to our subtitle. Well, your videos can also be posted on YouTube and your site can simply have them embedded or linked out. Not hard.

Use links. Linking out, as to videos, is good. Give your readers links to stuff you love. Linking around your site so readers stay captivated inside your little world like a pinball hitting a bunch of bumpers is even better. And getting sites to link to you is the best, according to search engines…and by search engines I mean Google.

Capture people’s email addresses. Andrew and I go back and forth on the best way to do this. Ask for it? That has minimal effect in my opinion. Offer them a free gift, some “juicy opt-in” in the current lingo? (I have to confess that phrase makes me cringe, just a bit.) Or drop down that “hanging chad” as we call it, the sign-up form that blocks your view until you surrender your info or click the little “x” to get rid of it? I don’t know that there is a perfect solution. We’re working on a system whereby most of the content on bookarchitecture.com is free but you need to sign-up to unlock some of it. But since we haven’t done it yet, I’m going to stop there.

Don’t do your own design. Nobody told me to say this. I mean it. Maybe you don’t want to spend an arm and a leg but to get one of the best websites, one of the cool websites, you might have to spend an arm. I’m here to say I think it’s worth it. And you can be smart about it: on our Tour page [13] I specifically asked to be able to update everything: the miniblog I write about my adventures on the road, the places where I am mentioned in the news, a list of my upcoming appearances – I don’t have to pay anyone to revise any of that, I can do it myself. And you’re hearing from a 46 year-old who learned BASIC in 7th grade…and that is the extent of my computer savvy.

Be hospitable. I think there’s a reason why they call it web “hosting,” and why the landing page of your site is called “home.” You are inviting people over. Make the design comfortable, with eye-pleasing typography and enough space to move around. And just like a house, you don’t need to build it all at once. If you are being cautious on your spending, you can start with three pages: Home/About the Author; Book/Tour/Media; and Blog/Feed – and add future pages as you go. And the Contact page, don’t forget about that, because even though there might be a way to connect with you on every page, people apparently still need a tab that says: CONTACT.

Your work. This one goes to eleven. If you call yourself a writer (because you are one), make sure to highlight your best work. Maybe you’ll showcase the top 7 most popular blog posts. Or feature your book on the homepage. Or let people know that you were a Rhodes Scholar. Don’t hide your writing behind fancy pictures and photos of your pets.

What do you think? Did we forget something crucial from this list above?