Before creating http://www.gregoryblake.net, I browsed over a hundred author sites and blogs, seeking inspiration, insight, the perfect electric razor, and a list of Don’ts. Below, five things that make for an open-and-closed website, coming from a self-proclaimed Devourer of Fiction and bona fide website tester.
5.) Site Design from the mid-90s.
This covers hectares of ground, but I couldn’t break it down better than this. Think of this as everything wrong with your cousin’s Geocities site two decades back. Cluttered design, more sidebars than reading space, inconsistent page margins, slews of links, and a labyrinthine HTML structure.
It’s like the designer asked, “But what does my audience need?” and then promptly answered, “Everything!”
I’m no web designer, but I have tested web sites, software, video games, and cell phones. I’ve vetted UX wireframes created by people who get paid well to design the next immersive web experience. And as a tester, the best word I’d give to an amateur dev is minimalism. If you don’t understand minimalist web design, the best site I can recommend is The Best Page In The Universe. The background’s black, the links are minimal, the design timeless. Keep close to your heart the ever-important question: Who uses my site for what? You ask this question already every time you sit to write. Be a considerate developer too, or at the least, hire an expert and take their advice.
I straight up stole my theme from ScribbleSplatter — it’s called Adventure Journal — I dig the subtle off-white coloring, the tasteful thickness of it, my God, it’s even got a logo.
Later, I plan to change my background image and add a header, both custom pieces. These will be afterthoughts though, and hopefully non-distracting. Remember: The main show’s always your content!
4.) No network functionality.
This had to be the most common flaw I encountered. There I was, hunting for authors, and most that I found I couldn’t remain in contact with because they lacked the tools I use to help keep me engaged. I started this site through WordPress because I feel that WordPress has, bar none, the best social element of all the large blog communities. I adore the “Follow”, because I’m not just here to write, I’m here to meet the neighbors. A blog with comments turned off and subscription only by email, or worse, no subscription function at all, is like setting up a business here:
Instead of here:
Hell, if you’re still only using subscription via e-mail, you’re in the Dung Ages. Don’t get me wrong, I still do use the subscribe by e-mail button, but only for the top tier blogs I follow. Otherwise my inbox gets so spammy I can hardly mitigate it, and my socialization becomes less fun, more work. The purpose of a blog, like any communication, is to reach out and touch someone. Every time I see a site with poor interconnectivity, I assume the author wants to be left alone. Maybe that’s wrong, but if I can’t drop down to your comments and say “Hi!” then it’s going to be harder for me to feel any loyalty towards your site. I’m guessing you want me regularly visiting your site, otherwise why’d you hang your shingle on the interwebs? Act like it.
3.) Novelty Fonts
Don’t do it. Or any other novelty font. While it’ll make you the target of impotent rage from typographers and graphic designers the world, it won’t get you attention. When I see novelty fonts, I react the same way as I do when I’m standing between two oncoming trains.
Here’s a simple rule: If you wouldn’t write a book in it, don’t write a website in it. Your word choice makes you cute and fun and quirky, not the font.
2.) Donate Buttons
Donate buttons are a tempting, zero-cost option that could even put some cash in your pocket, except they won’t. They’re really unprofessional.
Your site is your first impression for thousands of potential customers, and you’re leaving the first impression, “Hey man, got a fiver? Cuz I’m totes broke.”
If you’ve got services you provide, awesome! That goes in your About section. Request that interested parties send you an e-mail. Maybe even discuss prices if it’s not something writers normally offer (such as my Japanese translation.) But for the love of crepes and Old Glory, unless you’d list “Panhandling” as one of your many services, please, leave it off your site entirely. Offer goods and services like a normal human; Don’t expect shit for free.
Now I know what some readers are saying, because I’ve met them:
“But the Donate button supports the blog itself!”
Bullshit. For a part-time blogger, full-time author, your blog’s a marketing expense. To be vulgar, it’s a platform. And that Donate button’s drawing attention off your legitimate services and pointing towards how broke you are. “Well,” the reader doesn’t even realize that they’re thinking, “if they’re so broke, they’re probably not too good, right?”
Find another way to pay the bills and leave the Donate button off of your blog/website.
1.) Constantly Plugging Your Book
So here I am, browsing blogs, cruising Facebook pages, and being super-productive on Twitter, when I get another follower. Long ago, a dewy-eyed Greg returned the follow as a kind of thank you, before inspecting the tweets of the person in question. Big mistake.
You might say twitterspam’s not as bad as the murder, dismemberment, and insanity this meme’s associated with, but to that I reply, you can only go mad or get killed and dismembered once, while these arrogant pompadours twitterspam how their book’s for sale on Amazon like a thousand times an hour. I’ve met SDETs with test harnesses that can pass the Turing Test more readily than these drool-dripping knuckle-draggers. Each time a twitterspamming author copies and pastes a tweet, God greenlights another season of Jersey Shore.
While Twitter’s my example, the same goes for any web presence you maintain. If you’re only there for self-promotion and sales, you’re there for the wrong reasons. Follow the Reddit Rule: At least four non-business posts for each one that could be claimed to benefit you. Otherwise, you’re that guy I met at the Halloween party who used it only as a chance to bug gaming industry insiders for a job. The internet’s one big party, you’re there to engage, make friends, laugh, joke, and then, once their guard’s down, you pitch that awesome new idea of yours.
Incidentally, I’ve finished the first draft of my newest piece, a novella titled “Ephemeral”. After the second draft it’ll sit between 15,000-20,000 words. In another 8 weeks, (6 to cool off, 2 more to recut it), it’ll be ready.
Alright, back to blogging.