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!


Unknown said...

Sandra, know the feeling. I just updated my website for my new book. It's simple for me because I cheat and have the Yahoo small biz site. They offer various designs, the good part is that so much is done for you all you have to do is fill the spaces with copy. Of course, they are not as individual. But it works for me because I can edit whenever I want. And, I can actually handle this!

Sheila Connolly said...

I will wait eagerly to see what readers have to say. Since I agree with your comment that some professional sites (or template sites) look generic, I like to keep control over my own, but I have to admit I have no training in website design or computer languages, so no doubt there are flaws and glitches. I do enjoy working on it, but I don't do it often enough and it can be a time sink.

My only suggestion is that if you want to include pictures that link to your books, choose a couple of iconic images, that speak to you. Chances are readers will also identify with those. Use them consistently, beyond your website.

And I for one do not see the header as anything remotely cozy, either in content or in color. And there's no cat.

Sandra Parshall said...

I've always thought people go to a writer's website after they've already become interested in that person's work. We don't browse the internet and just happen upon the website of a writer we've never heard of. We visit a site because we have some information and want more. Am I right about that?

Theresa de Valence said...

I think so, Sandy. I don't chance upon an author's site, I go there deliberately.

I can see how someone says the site looks cozy and I can ALSO see how someone says the site looks edgy. Part of what one's sees is what one wishes to see (what one brings to the image), of course.


Leslie Budewitz said...

Sandy, perfect timing to bring this up -- I'm designing a site for my mysteries right now. A combination of pastels or light bright colors might say light and cozy, while a darker tone suggests a darker image. I love the blue and orange tones on Laurie King's site. Photos? They can do a lot to convey the setting and content, but they can also get cluttered. The B&W idea is a good one, but Erin's site shows color works too. I think you're right about content. Feature a link to this blog prominently; these days we also need links to FB, Twitter, Goodreads, etc. if we use them.

And I too would love to hear from non-writer readers!

Leslie Budewitz said...

And yes, I agree readers are more likely to go to the site b/c they already know a litte about you than to randomly stumble on it -- but that doesn't mean they have already read a book. They may see a review or announcement, or a blog post, or hear your name from a friend and want to find out more before taking the plunge. Some use websites to find out what else you've written or research options for a book club.

Sandra Parshall said...

Seems to me cozy writers have it pretty easy when it comes to website design. You can use lots of bright colors and fancy fonts and pet photos galore. Readers expect light and bright on a cozy writer's site.

What puzzles me greatly is the way so many people associate the color blue with cozies. Even dark blue looks "too cozy" to some people.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Sandra, perhaps you can discuss with your web designer the problem of colors showing differently in different viewers and what you can do about it. I see the colors as you do and find nothing cozy about them, but if the text background appears for some as pink with the outer background more purple-y, I can see where that might not give the feeling you're aiming for.

I also think that people see cozy where they want to. Your pets and animal interests are relevant since the books have a vet as protagonist. (Plus they're interesting.)

I did especially like the articles and interviews you have. Definitely keep them, please.

Steven M. Moore said...

Hi Sandra,
I think we discussed some of this on FB, but here's something important: At least your name's not as common as mine. If I had it to do over again, I'd choose That extra m confuses but is so necessary to distinguish from other Steve Moores. Or, maybe I should have chosen a clever Lee Child!
BTW, I think your site looks just right. Yeah, cozy, in the sense of hearing bumps in the night! There is something to say for leaving well enough alone...many people consider it part of one's brand.

Sandra Parshall said...

Some writers only change their websites when they have a new book out, which means at least a year and sometimes two or three with the same homepage, sadly outdated. ("Coming in August 2010!") What should we offer in between new books? How do you feel about blog posts on a website homepage? Some sites consist of little more than a scrolling blog and a ton of BUY THE BOOK buttons.

Anonymous said...

I don't think your site says "cozy" or any other writing genre, Sandra, but I do think it says "outdated." I say this only because it looks like the most basic thing that WordPress offers for websites.

I'm not suggesting that you put so many images & links on the site that it becomes messy & disorganized (& I hate red on black backgrounds, too), but it might be good to see if your web designer could make it more interesting than a single column down the middle of the page.

My website was made using DreamWeaver (an Adobe product), so I was able to give it whatever look I wanted, but I used a WordPress template for my blog page, & tried to match it to my site as much as possible. It's still pretty basic, but has a skosh more oomph (or something) to it.

But if you like the simple design of your site, keep it. I agree that people don't look up an author's site until they've read a book or two, & by then, they probably couldn't care less what it looks like, as long as you keep it updated with the pertinent information. Besides, as Ricky Nelson sang once "You can't please everyone, so you've got to please yourself."

I haven't updated my site in two years, & this is all just my opinion, so take it with a grain of salt.

Dru said...

When I go to an author's website, I'm looking for more. More information about them. More information about their books. More information about what they are working on.

I also think it should appear current. Someone mentioned that most don't update their website but once a year when their book comes out, and if you're like me who check an author's site multiple times during the year, you definitely should have something new for me to read.

I like the idea of stories you've written. Hey a short story to tie us over between books. Something fun to tease a new reader.

If you can make it interactive, for example, a poll or two, that would be cool.

Have a Q&A.

You can do a monthly blog on your site as well, something new for regular visitors and to attract new visitors.

Most important is to have pictures of your books and an excerpt (just a paragraph or two)...anything to engage the reader.

Your site should also be pleasing to the eye..don't clutter up the pages.

Colors are a tricky because it depends on the person's computer display.

But most of all, keep it up to date.

I really don't like when I go to an author's site and I know they have a book coming out next week or month and there's no mention of the book.

Sandra Parshall said...

I'm afraid I don't write short stories, but I have loads of nonfiction stuff I could add. I've been lazy about doing that.

I think I need a sort of headline on the homepage, maybe a review quote that makes it clear immediately that I write suspense.

I've never seen anything wrong with including pets. If you're an animal lover, your pets are a huge part of your life and who you are.

Leslie Budewitz said...

Dru, thanks for the reader's perspective!

Rhonda Lane said...

I love your banner image, too. Mystery colors for non-cozies seem to be red, black and white. Sometimes a neon color is used, but usually only if humor or satire is part of the story, as with Carl Hiaasen or Janet Evanovich. The background for text should be white, because it's easier on the eye. Also, you might want to optimize your site for Mobile, perhaps using a plug-in. (You might want to look into a designer who'll set up your site in WordPress so you can make updates.) Definitely keep your Events page updated. And you might want to start a mailing list so you can send out announcements, such as when BLEEDING THROUGH comes out as an ebook.

Anonymous said...

Hi would you mind stating which blog platform you're working with? I'm planning
to start my own blog soon but I'm having a difficult time choosing between BlogEngine/Wordpress/B2evolution and Drupal. The reason I ask is because your design and style seems different then most blogs and I'm looking for something
unique. P.S Apologies for being off-topic but I
had to ask!

My web site; #3