Wednesday, February 27, 2013
Help! My website needs an update
by Sandra Parshall
My website has looked basically the same since its beginning in late 2005.
You may get the impression that I’m resistant to change. But it’s not so much change I resist as the nuisance work of trying to settle on a new look.
I love the header on my site. Love the colors, the font, the tree-and-moon photo (taken by and used with the permission of Charles Pfeil.
I was startled recently when someone told me the moon and the font make my header look “cozy” and that it doesn’t reflect the more serious type of crime fiction I write. It doesn’t look the least bit cozy to me. And many people have told me that the site’s border color, which is deep blue, looks purple to them. Even those who see it as blue on their monitors tell me blue is a “cozy color” and I should use an “edgier” hue. I’m not sure what colors can be considered edgy – blood red? the mottled gray-green of decomposing skin? – but Robert Crais has a blue border on his website and I doubt anyone has ever confused his work with cozies.
The content box on my site (which has an off-white background, although some people swear it looks pink to them) has contained many different things over the years. Before everybody had a blog, authors wrote personal notes on their homepages and changed them frequently, so I did that at first. Now that I’ve scrapped the personal message, I have only my book covers up, with the latest title in the place of honor.
I want something different, but what? Looking at a zillion other authors’ websites increases my confusion. Some are plainer than mine, while others are such a jumble of graphics, animations, text, and zany colors that I hardly know where to look first.
I know what I don’t want. That jumble mentioned above is at the top of the don’t-want list. I don’t want video or slow-loading graphics. I don’t want a collection of little boxes full of small type. I don’t want a black background for the content. When I click into a website and see white text or, worse, red text on a black background, I click right back out again. It’s ugly, and it’s hard to read. I’m not going to subject my eyes to that for any length of time.
Sometimes a collection of small elements can be arranged in a pleasing way, as they are on Erin Hart’s site.
I like the idea of a border with photos representing the mood or setting of my books. Choosing the photos is the hard part. Mountains, certainly. I’d like to continue using the tree-and-moon picture in some way. What else? Elements that I’ve used in my books? A spooky path into woods? (Broken Places) A deep snowfall? (Disturbing the Dead) A deserted farmhouse? (Bleeding Through) If I included mountain wildflowers, would people tell me flowers make the site look “cozy”? My protagonist, Rachel Goddard, is a veterinarian, but do I dare include animals in a website collage? One person told me that I shouldn’t even have pictures of my own cats on my bio page because pets are associated with cozies. (Yet I have seen many photos of male thriller writers with their pets.)
Some elements, such as a list of links to other writers’ websites, seem superfluous these days, and most writers have dropped them. I think I’ll drop my links page too, or put an information page in its place, guiding readers to organizations I support.
Sites created and maintained by publicists are easy to spot because they’re utterly impersonal and stick strictly to business: pushing the books. They don’t tell you much, if anything, about the authors. I’ve heard enough compliments on the extras my site includes – such as the cat pictures, interviews I've given, the interviews I’ve done with other writers, and articles I’ve written – to know that visitors are pleased to find those things. When I'm invited to speak to a group, the person introducing me often mentions something found on those pages. So they’ll stay, and I’ll add more recent material, something I haven’t done in too long. The cats' photos definitely need updating. Photography is my hobby, and I may share more of my pictures of wildlife and nature.
But I need to hear from readers.
Tell me what sort of content you want on an author’s website. Information about the books? Book discussion questions? Sample chapters? Background on the author? A glimpse into the author’s life?
What do you find appealing about a website’s appearance? What turns you off? What do you want to see on the homepage? Do you associate certain colors or typefaces with particular subgenres of crime fiction?
I’m still planning, so any input is welcome!