Friday, June 12, 2009

Guest Blogger: Masha Holl

Today I've asked Masha Holl to talk to us about the importance of having a good website to showcase our books, but her advice applies to anything we want to bring before potential buyers. It's about letting the public know about our product, but with books, we have to give our readers a taste of what's to come. I believe Masha's input will help us come to terms with that dreaded word 'marketing'.

Masha, I'll turn it over to you. Why not begin by telling us a little about yourself, then, if you would, elaborate on why we need a website, what we should consider before settling on a design, and whether or not it's wise to try do do our own as opposed to having a professional design our site.

Hello! I'm not sure who I am today. The writer? The web designer? The graphic artist? The teacher? Or just the mother whose kids are going to come begging for something any moment? It doesn't matter that the oldest is graduating today and is headed for college next fall, she still finds things that only Mom can help her with.

In the meantime, I write romantic science fiction and fantasy, create web sites, teach online workshops, and try my hand at 3-D graphics. Check out my sites here, you'll find my Wild Rose Press books and more:

or my blog:

Everybody and his brother seems to have some sort of website today. My kids have their MySpaces, Facebooks, YouTube accounts, and various other playgrounds on the Web. They're taught how to design a web page in high school. HTML, links, tags, and embedding are as common in their vocabulary as, well, um... less acceptable words (ah yes, they are teenagers).

Most of us writers, however, come from a different generation, and even those who are comfortable navigating the Web are not necessarily up to the task of building an entire web site.

Skills are one issue. Time is another. Inclination, desire, patience... There are so many reasons to do or not do it yourself...

The primary concern that we poor writers have is usually money. Should we or should we not invest in a custom-designed web site?

No, that's not how the question should be asked.

Here are the facts: if we're serious about being published authors with an audience in today's world and market, we need a web presence. In order to maintain a web presence, we need a web site.

What does it mean? What do we really need?

Is a MySpace enough? A Facebook page?

Would a poster on a bulletin wall be enough in the hard-copy world?

Social networking pages are limiting and generic. They cannot replace your personal home on the web.

However, they can be a good way to start and get your feet wet. Without spending money. While you build your real home on the Web.

So what should your personal space on the Web be?

Your web site, of course.

Why a web site and not a web page?

Because if you're an author, you'll have a site that consists of several pages, such as the front (home) page, the about me page, a books page, and maybe a links or some other goodies page.

You must start building your web presence already knowing what you will put on your site (the content). Then you can decide, at the very least, how you don't want your site to look (too dark or too light, too cutesy or too modern, too many scrolls or too many sharp angles—the design).

Now come the really hard questions. Do you have a budget? Were you going to spend any money at all on your web presence?

If you do and were, decide how you're going to distribute the money. Some if it will have to go into maintaining your site. Every year. Maybe every month.

But you may have some left over, or you may budget some extra: you can spend this on design.

Let's assume this is the case. You do have a design budget.

Should you hire a professional?

(YES! DO! I'll do it for you!)

[clearing throat] Pardon me. Completely out of order here.

Seriously, though. It's the simplest way to go: have someone else do it.

What's the downside? The worse that can happen? You'll pay for it... and you won't like it. And you won't know how to fix it.

The upside? There are certain warranties that should be included in the contract about the design and usability of the site that will protect you. And you don't have to worry about learning anything technical.

But even if you hire someone, there is a wide range of services and prices available to you, from a full design from scratch to a slight modification of a pre-made template.

In other words, you can find a free, ready-made design on the web and hire a high-school student to set it up for you as your site.

How do you know that you're creating a professional-looking, efficient, attractive website, whether you hire someone or not?

The website is your parlor: it says a lot about you, but it must be welcoming for your visitors. And not just welcoming. It must be enticing, fascinating, alluring. It must make them curious and make them want to stay. And most of all, it must make them want to read (and therefore buy) your books.

Look at other authors' sites. See which ones attract you. Find out who the creators are (hint: the name of the designer is usually in the page footer, normally as a link).

What if you really don't want to spend the money, if you're willing to do the work, put in the time and the effort?

Why not!

But it involves learning HTML and CSS (and no, I'm not going to explain this: if you're confused, I made my point). Maybe you'll want to invest in authoring software to compose your pages. You'll need to learn about design and web practices, and to get into the whole Internet thing because you may need to learn how to display book videos on your site, do a blog or at least link to one, keep your email secure, and figure out how to get (and keep) your domain name. Just because it's all there ready to be called up on your screen doesn't mean you can create it as easily as type in a URL.

But it's really not that hard. I'm doing it. But then I have fun doing it and I like spending my days at the computer and making it do whatever I want. Yeah, it's a power trip (that's important when your two teenagers are constantly undermining your authority).

The question is then: what are you willing to invest: time or money? And how much of each can you budget for your web presence? Because in today's world, you need to budget some.

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