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The Writer's Web Site: Build It and They Will Come

After you've decided on a designer (or have decided to go it alone), it's time to think clearly about your purpose in developing a site—what do you want it to do, exactly? If you're an aspiring author and your main goal is to sell your novel, why not include a sample chapter or synopsis on the first page to draw a reader—hopefully an editor or agent—further in? If you're an established author, you might want to include a photo and booklist on your home page, so that people can find out more about you. If you do regular readings, include an events page where visitors can find out about your schedule. And, of course, you should link to Amazon.com and other online retailers where users can purchase your books. Some retailers even have affiliate programs that offer you credit if users click over to their store from your site. Or you might consider selling your own books online using a PayPal account.

However you decide to organize your site, you should do it with clearly marked sections, section names that are intuitive, and navigation that is clear. Include contact information or a link to contact information on every page. Make sure the text doesn't bleed into the background—I prefer white or light colors for the background and darker colors for the text—and the font is large and easy to read. Make sure your graphics don't take a long time to download. Once you've built your site, try and look at it on more than one browser. If you have a PC, try to see what it looks like on a Mac platform, and vice versa. Get feedback from your friends, family, and fellow writers. Finally, don't forget to pay attention to the writing on your own site—take the time to proofread.

Getting your site to look and function exactly the way you want is exciting, but when that's done there is still work to do. If your designer doesn't include arranging for a hosting service as part of his package, you'll need to find a Web hosting space—the company that houses the server on which your site actually exists. Again, ask around for recommendations. The starter hosting packages offered by many companies provide more than enough server space for a small site, with prices that start in the range of ten to twelve dollars per month. Customer service, technical support, and reliability are factors to consider, so word-of-mouth recommendations can come in handy. There are free hosting services available, and some Internet service providers offer free Web space, but they may have advertising attached to them, so often it looks more professional to buy your own space.

Once you've found a host, you can register a domain name, or URL—the Uniform Resource Locater or address, including the extension .com, that users can type in to visit your site—with that company. Pick one that's intuitive, which for an author is usually her name, but it could also be a business name or even a book title. If you decide on a domain name but after searching find out that it's taken, consider using another extension, like .net; or, instead of firstnamelastname.com, try firstnamemiddlenamelastname.com.

Now that your site is finished and poised to be loaded on the Web for all to see, there is one important step left: You've got to get your site listed with the major search engines. Ask your Web designer about Search Engine Optimization (SEO), which is the "science" of increasing the number of visitors to your Web site by ranking high in the results of Web searches. One of the keys to SEO is making sure you add meta tags to the site. Meta what? This is the information that helps search engines to find and categorize your site. Included in the Head section of your HTML document, these tags include a one-line description of the site and a set of ten to twenty keywords that describe its content. For writers, these might include writer, novelist, fiction, or poet, plus your name, book titles, and geographical location, as well as any other relevant descriptive information. Think of which words people would likely type into a search engine to find you. Registering your site with the search engines, especially the larger ones like Google and Yahoo, is also a good idea. Poke around their Web sites to find information on registration, which usually involves entering your URL and a brief description of your site. Yours will then be placed in the index of sites to be searched.

Once you're finally online, take a moment to admire the site, and then get to work again. Shout from the rooftops—or, more realistically, send out a mass e-mail to friends and colleagues—to let people know that your Web site is online. Add the URL to your business cards, book jackets, and launch announcements. Ask your publishers and publicists to include the address in press kits and promotional materials. Finally, if you've decided to include a section on upcoming events, make sure you keep it updated regularly. You're now a part of the World Wide Web.

Sue Bowness is a freelance writer, editor, and Web designer. Her Web site is www.codeword.ca.

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The Writer's Web Site: Build It and They Will Come (July/August 2006)
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