Tuesday, February 8, 2011

What’s in a website? Would that with which an author advertises smell as sweet in any other format?

Yes, I’m updating my website. It’s not something I like to spend money on, and the promotional part of this writing business has never fit me well, but it’s time. If you visit Wayback Machine, you will discover that my first website (2006) looked like this:

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No, that’s not Dorothy Hamill, and yes, I tried to make my website mirror Carl Hiaasen’s (he’s since updated his). I figured, at the time, that it was the “funny author” prototype website. Probably you’re thinking that’s odd because it has a leafy morgue feel, overall. A leafy morgue with Dorothy Hamill as the mortician. Don’t judge me.

Looking for something brighter, I updated to this website in 2007:

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I take full credit (blame) for the above layout. I wanted a strong feminist feel (note the “woman” symbol as page divider), and I also wanted to convey that I intended to write across genres (the feminist stick lady wears a different hat on every page; I know--subtle like an axe). Seven mystery novels later, I chalk up my cross-genre dreams to the same delusional tendency that has me hang on to those size 5 Levis that will fit if I ever find a time machine or am lucky enough to lick a tapeworm.

Last year, in honor of my first three novels being reissued with new covers, I had my boyfriend, who is a wonderful graphic designer (but, it turns out, allergic to Dreamweaver), create this site, my third update:

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I love his design. However, because the web software ended up handing him his own ass (let the records indicate that he fought the good fight), the site is really just a bunch of photos of pages rather than a true website. That means I can’t update ANYTHING, from my author info to my books to my events page. Bring on Beth Tindall, website designer extraordinaire, mystery fan, and Most Reasonable Woman I Know. She’s going to work with Steve to make me an uber-site, completely focused on the Murder-by-Month series, and dynamic. The new site’s go live date is March 1.

Which brings me to my question for you: what IS in a website? In other words, what do you like about the websites you like? What brings you back? What’s your favorite feature on your site (include a link so we can see what you mean) or what author site is your favorite (also include a link)? Join the conversation, and help me! Please. You see what I’m capable of when left to my own devices. Without your help, this could be my future:

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19 comments:

Jessie Chandler said...

Jess, this is an hilarious post! What brungs me back to websites is when they are frequently updated. It doesn't have to be a novel-sized entry, jusy a tidbit...something different. However, I'm one to talk since I rarely update my own or update mt FB status. Always one more thing to aim for the sky for :-) And I think your new site is awesome!

Jessie

Jess Lourey said...

I agree that an updated site is a compelling site. Hopefully, you'll like my new new site, too, the one that goes up in March, AND it'll be dynamic so I can make regular updates.

bernie said...

I agree with Jessie, regular updates are a must.

Perhaps have a forum where people could talk about your books. Then give them a thrill and respond if need be. It would be a good way to get buzz about your books.

If you get emails or letters, perhaps post one with your reply.

When you are all cleaned up and updated, have a give away. For example a book mark or something for your XXX number follower.

Just some thoughts.

Good luck!

Jess Lourey said...

The reader forum page is a great idea, Bernie! Love it. I'll ask my website designer how difficult that is.

By the way, do I want a XXX follower? ;)

Bernie said...

XXX is better than 666. *lol*

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Timely discussion, Jess. I was talking to my manager yesterday at length about my website. I've been dying for a professional site for several years now, but finances prohibited it so I did my own. This is finally the year I get a professionally done site. Woooo Hoooo!

I prefer sites that are clean in appearance. Cluttered or confusing sites make me leave without poking around. Less is more. Concise, clean and with a definite feel for the books displayed and the personality of the author.

Mario said...

I'll be your XXX and 666 follower. Big surprise, right? Awesome post. Funny as expected. Thanks.

Alan Orloff said...

Easy to navigate, nothing too fancy (not too many moving parts), informative, funny. Something that reflects the author/books.

BTW, I always liked Dorothy Hamill.

Beth Groundwater said...

Hi Jess,
I recently updated my website, too, but not as much as you did--just added appearances, my virtual book tour schedule, some photos, etc. (bethgroundwater.com). The basic design of my website has stayed the same from the beginning. It's very simple visually and easy to navigate. I see it as primarily a place for media and readers to get information about me and my books, not as a place to be entertained. I dislike busy websites, especially ones that start playing music or a video as soon as you open them. Yuck!

Jess Lourey said...

Alan, Beth, and Sue Ann, I agree that simple and clean are the best, and sound and automatic video are annoying.

Congrats, Sue Ann! You did an awesome job with your previous website (no idea you'd done it yourself), but new and professional is fun.

Mario, it's almost like that role was written for you. :) A person can never have too many friends, right? Thanks for visiting!

Alan and Dorothy Hammill sitting in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g...

Darrell James said...

Jess- I agree that a simple, graphically appealing website is better than one crowded with information. I recently visited a writer's website that had every square inch of every page jam-packed with links and verbage. I closed it down without looking at anything. "Less is more."

Keith Raffel said...

Jess, I hope you'll have a tab for your hairstyles over the years. (What that has to do with your terrific oeuvre, I don't know.)

Alan, I didn't know you and Dorothy were once an item.

Lois Winston said...

I'm extremely lucky (don't hate me!) in that I have a son who is a professional animator and post production supervisor (He's currently working on the HBO mini-series remake of Mildred Pierce.) So he's my official web designer and go-to guy when I need help. After I moved from romance to mystery, Scott redesigned my website to reflect my new series. He took the "less is more" approach, which has always been my philosophy in everything. You can find it at www.loiswinston.com. I'd love to know your thoughts, and I can't wait to see your new website, Jess.

Jess Lourey said...

Ha! Thanks for the recommendation, Keith. Maybe it could just be its own link within my new website?

HAIR

I bet it'd make people click on it.

Jess Lourey said...

Lois, I love the bright colors of your website and the way the banner seems so dynamic and layered. That's an element I want my new site to have.

I struggle with font, though. I see you have a standard sans serif, as do I and most authors, but it never seems warms to me. Anyone have any easy-to-read, non-distracting serif fonts they can recommend for a website?

Kathleen Ernst said...

I feel your pain, Jess! I've done my own websites, and it always A. takes longer than expected and B. doesn't look quite as expected. But at least I can update my own stuff. I write across genres too, which complicates things.

Anyway...I loved it when authors provide "extras"--behind-the-scenes photos, supplemental info about a series or character I've come to love. Good luck!

Jess Lourey said...

Thanks for the great suggestions, Kathleen! And I just had the CRM of the Wausau B & N ask me if I knew you. He's apparently super-excited to have you visit with their mystery club this month? next month? You're famous!

G.M. Malliet said...

I am not fond of sites with moving, flashing things, or with enormous fonts in psychedelic colors against a black background. I find almost any typeface on black hard to read.

I think Louise Penny has a lovely site. Lots of inviting photos.

Your posts always make me smile, Jess.

Jess Lourey said...

I like the clean layout of Louise Penny's site too, Gin. Thanks for pointing it out!

She has a pronunciation guide, too. Tres cool.