Under the Hood: How I Built My Author Website #atozchallenge


Photo by Ella Novak (click pic for link)Over the last couple of weeks, I've gotten a few emails from people asking about my website. How I built it, did I use a web designer, which platform is it on, how did I get my blog integrated, etc. So instead of continuing to answer those individually, I thought maybe it'd be helpful to give a brief peek under the hood of this site.

Did I use a web designer?

No. I may in the future, but as of right now didn't want to spend the money.

Benefits: I'm a control freak and I LOVE that I can change and tweak every little thing myself with ease. If I want to add something or move something I can do it on my schedule and not have to wait for a webmaster. 

Drawbacks: I have to do everything myself. I don't know how to do the more complicated or fancier things in html so my site doesn't have a ton of bells and whistles.


What platform did I use to build my website?

Almost everyone I know uses Wordpress.org (not the free .com) for their author site. However, when I was doing my research, I ran across Squarespace. I liked how their sites looked, liked that I could do it all myself, and liked their prices. You can get a site for I think between 8-10 dollars a month. And they give you a free trial, so you can use their tools to build your website and see if you like it. 

Benefits: It's inexpensive and I really like their tools. I don't have to html code anything, it's all very user friendly.

Drawbacks: There IS a learning curve when you first start. I was ready to give up when I first tried to build a site, but then it clicked. The system becomes intuitive but you have to give it time for your brain to wrap around a system you're not used to. And from what I hear, if you CAN code, you have more flexibility on Wordpress.org than Squarespace.


How did I get my blog integrated into the website?

Squarespace has an import feature that works with Blogger and Wordpress. So if you're starting fresh, you can simply hit a button, import your blog, and it will show up on your journal/blog page on your squarespace site. Your comments may or may not transfer over depending on the system you use.

However, if y'all remember I kept up Fiction Groupie for a year while starting a new blog over here. So then when I moved everything together, I had TWO blogs and once you've started one, you can't import another into the current one. So I have a separate archives page with all my Fiction Groupie posts (used the import feature) and I also built the For Writers tab above and sorted all my best posts from Fiction Groupie for easy browsing.

Benefits: You want your blog integrated with your website. It looks more professional and streamlined. I hate when I click on a blog tab on an author page and it brings me to a separate Blogger or wordpress blog and then I can't get back to the website if I want to. It's clunky.

Drawbacks: If you've built up a following on a free blogging site, you'll lose that shiny number when you move everything over and will have to direct people to find you at the new place. (I know this can be scary. I left a really pretty number over at Fiction Groupie. But believe me, it was the best move I've made.)


How did I get the custom header?

I made it with the most rudimentary program ever--Microsoft Paint. Just make a box in the dimensions of your header then fill it in with what you want.


Have my hits declined since leaving my established blog on Blogger?

They did when I first moved over. Now they are higher than they ever were on Fiction Groupie. Squarespace optimizes things for search engines and it seems to bring a lot more people over.


Why do I use the Disqus commenting system?

Because Squarespace's native commenting system is not great. It doesn't have threaded comments. So I like Disqus--even though it's not perfect. Sometimes people can't see the comment form. I've discovered there is no perfect system, but this is the best one I've found.


What would I do differently if started over again?

I'd have built a site from the start instead of building my blog on a free site and then having to move it once it was established. I say once you've built the beginning of a healthy following--getting close to the 400-500 follower mark OR you already have a book deal, you may want to consider getting your own place.


Alright, I think those are most of the questions I've been asked. But feel free to ask others if you have any or give your own advice from your own experience. : )

What's been your experience building your blog or website? What's worked and what hasn't? What would you recommend to others?


*And if you weren't here yesterday, I reversed the letters V and U for the A to Z challenge for good reason. :)

AND one last announcement...

I now have the first chapter of STILL INTO YOU, my June novella, available to read. Hope y'all check it out. :)

Fill Me In Friday - Best Writing Links of the Week

Did I miss the train?

Photo by Son of Groucho

 Hope everyone has had a great week! This one has flown by for me. How is it already Friday? If yours has been a whirlwind too and you need to catch up, here are the best writing links I've come across this week.


But first a quick announcement. I've joined forces with a few other author moms to start a new group blog called Peanut Butter on the Keyboard. We'll be blogging about parenthood and balancing the writing life with family life. Hope you'll stop by and say hi for our inaugural post!


Alright, now on to the links...


On Writing/Publishing:
On Social Media:


Just For Gits and Shiggles:
What You May Have Missed Here:

That's all I've got for the week. What were some of your favorite links this week? Feel free to share them in the comments. Hope y'all have a great weekend!

Author Websites: Layering Yours With Sticky Extras

Photo by Raymond Salvatore Harmond (cc)We all know we're supposed to have a rocking website and blog, right? You hear that advice at every turn. And I agree. But one of the problems with most websites is that they lack the stickiness factor. Meaning, a reader might stop by to get some quick info--when's the next book coming out, where is the author doing signings, etc. But it's a quick in and out visit. Like running into Walgreens to get cough medicine at midnight. Nothing compels the person to stick around for awhile to see what else may be there.

And though it's nice that those people are stopping by in the first place, we'd really like for them to hang out for a bit. So what are some things you can do to compel a visitor not to move on so quickly?

The first is the most obvious--an interesting blog. If you've got interesting posts on your site about topics that may interest a reader, that's a great start. But what else might you do?

My favorite sites are the ones where I go in for one thing, then keep seeing interesting little tidbits to click on. Like, ooh, she has a deleted chapter for that book I loved. Or wow, she's got inside info about who that guy was on the cover of that book. Or hey, she's got a soundtrack for this story. An hour goes by and I'm still poking around their site and now I really want to read more of their books.

These little tidbits are like the "easter eggs" authors bury in books. Those eggs are little inside jokes or nuggets for the reader. (See here for an example of the easter eggs Stephen King buried in It.) Authors have been doing this forever, so why not translate that concept to your site? What little eggs can you bury on your website that readers will want to crack open?

Obviously, if you're a bestselling author with forty books under your belt, you have a lot of content to play with. Easter eggs abound. But if you're a newer author or unpublished, you may have to dig a little deeper to come up with those things the entice people to hang around on your site.

You can click on my Extras tab to see the few things I have on here. I'm still working on mine.


Quality Extras Provide Things That...


1) Give deeper insight into your books

 A few Ideas: 

  • Inspiration photos for your characters, setting, scenes, time period, etc.
  • Character Interviews
  • Soundtracks 
  • Deleted chapters
  • Bonus epilogues, prologues, or short stories
  • Tell where you got your story idea from
  • Genealogy charts for your characters or series
  • Photos of the pets of your characters
  • Fun facts about the writing of the book
  • Quizzes or contests
  • Recipes
  • Book lists with books listed in order and by series
  • Book trailers


2) Give deeper insight into you, the author

This is not about navel-gazing and me, me, me all the time, but share yourself with your readers in an interesting and engaging way. A few ideas:

  • A non-boring FAQ
  • The story of how you got published
  • A blog where you show your voice and personality
  • Picture of your pets (would advise you not to put your kids pics up)
  • A widget that shows what you're reading or what you've read
  • Your recommendations for authors you enjoy or a list of your favorite books
  • Interview your spouse for a post (I've done that a few times on here.)
  • Vlog so we can actually see and hear you
  • Info for aspiring writers
  • Photos (not avatars) of yourself - at minimum a nice author photo, but also could be you with readers at signings, or doing something fun, that kind of thing.
  • Share your hobby - What else do you enjoy besides writing? Into scrapbooking or sailing or cooking? Talk about it. For instance, I have a concert obsession so I blogged about that Monday, but also made a Pinterest board listing all the concerts I've been to
  • Have any big goals or challenges? - Maybe you're trying to run a marathon by June or maybe you want to read 100 books this year or you want to learn how to bake bread. Talk about it and get readers involved. They might be trying to do the same kinds of things.


3) Encourage the reader to not just stick around but come back again.

You have to keep content fresh. If someone stops by and has their way with your website and clicks on everything, what is going to compel them to come back? Some ideas:

  • A fresh, interesting blog that is updated on a regular schedule (minimum once a week if you want some traction).
  • Contests that encourage interaction.
  • A newsletter that readers can sign up for. Helps if you offer an incentive for signing up--a free chapter or something.
  • An easy way to follow your blog or follow you on facebook, twitter, etc.
  • Reader forums where fans can interact with each other. (This only applies once you're a "big deal", but it seems these are pretty popular with the well-established authors.) 

I'm sure there are hundreds of ideas out there, so I'm interested to hear some that you've thought of or you've seen on other sites.

I polled Twitter and these are some of the sites people recommended for their stickiness factor:

Eloisa James - She's taken it to another level. She has a whole website just for readers that you can only access if you register. She even has "easter egg" hunts for her book. Dig through her site (the one you don't have to register for) and you'll find extra chapters, family trees, and Design-a-Duchess paper dolls.) Cool stuff.

Sherrilyn Kenyon - Beyond listing fan sites for readers and having lots of information, she also has a great photo gallery with photos of fans, signings, and things like "Babies named after characters", "Pets named after characters", and Fan Tattoos. How fun is that? 

Elizabeth Hoyt - She has tons of research articles, a few free ebooks, and (love this) photos of the fictional dogs in her books.

Jeaniene Frost - She has a list of supernatural creatures that inhabit her world, free wallpaper, podcasts, deleted scenes, and t-shirts.

Now, yes, those listed as examples are bestselling authors with fancy websites. However, you don't have to have that to implement some of these ideas. Use them as inpsiration and it will spark some ideas of your own.

So which author sites make you stick around? What kind of extras do you love as a reader? What layers do you bury on your site? What do you do to encourage readers to hang out on your website?