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"Roundheads and Ramblings"

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Have You Heard about WIX Pages?

I've been working non-stop for the past couple of days on launching my new book on self-publishing.  In that process I discovered a new application that allows its members to create small, specialized websites for free. I've designed one for "The Second Mouse" that looks like this. The panel on the right side changes when you push one of the five buttons on the left. This picture of the cover is the HOME page.  

The WIX site provides a large selection of templates.  You choose the one whose appearance you like.  Then you can delete their pictures and add your own.  You can erase their text and add yours. You can add music, videos, new backgrounds, and special effects, if you're the type who likes to see things moving around on your site.

To create The Mouse page, I started with a site designed for a bakery.  Where they showed bread and piecrusts, I added mice. Where they had price lists, I inserted book descriptions and reviews.  The whole thing took several hours but was relatively pain-free.  Once you have your website finished, you can upload it to a Facebook Fan Page, for a really neat presentation. Mine is at www.facebook.com/TheSecondMouse .

To see my whole site in action, you can also go to its own website at: http://www.wix.com/schribercat4/second-mouse

The initial design account is free, but you can expect to be pressured to upgrade to a Premium account. So far, I don't see much of an advantage to doing the upgrade, especially since it costs $100 a year or more. I'm trying the premium settings for a month before I decide to commit to that kind of investment. Right now, I can't recommend anything but the free site. I suggest you try it out for yourself.  Design a page and put it up on your Facebook page for a unique presentation

If you'd like to build a page for yourself, the site is WixPages - Boost Your Facebook Page Design for FREE! 

Designing the Webpage Your Viewers Need

Web pages are somewhat akin to fashion. What makes a page look bright and modern one day will stigmatize it as old-fashioned a week later. No one finds a plain white page with small black type attractive, but add one too many colors or pictures and you have a page people will hate because it’s too “busy.” Where is the line between boring and gaudy, between childish and hopelessly complicated? Here are a few tips I’ve picked up along the way.

Your page must reflect the subject matter it contains. You can’t sell cheese on a flower-strewn background, and it takes a clever florist to work a skunk into an ad for roses. (Actually, I’ve seen that one, but the florist’s name was “Pugh.”) This book, The Second Mouse Gets the Cheese, uses a cartoon mouse throughout the chapter headings, so the title of the book’s webpage sometimes appears in a cartoon font. There’s great room for error, however. Littering the page with too many  mice will eventually irritate your viewers. I recommend picking one element to show the theme, and then letting the page’s information carry the theme from then on.

Flash introductions used to be popular, as did animated gifs, which had little characters running across the computer screen. They are no longer surprising. Now they delay the appearance of the real information, and impatient readers will move on. The same is true of sound clips. I considered using a “cheer” on the web page for the online book launch I ran last year. Then a reviewer took me to task. She tried to visit the page at night while other family members were asleep. She was not amused to open the page and be greeted by a raucous crowd.

Other types of animations cause serious problems for viewers with physical limitations. Flashing lights, waving flags, or other sudden or rhythmic visuals may actually trigger seizures in those who are susceptible to such stimuli. Those who are colorblind will miss parts of your page if the contrast between print and background is not great enough. Keystrokes that require two hands may be impossible for some. Information conveyed only by sight will be lost to those who are blind. Illustrations always need to be labeled with tags for those who use software such as “Jaws” to read what appears on the screen.

The quickest way to learn how to design your own webpage is by visiting the pages of others. See what appeals to you and what doesn’t. Note that too much information is a turn-off. Pay attention to the ease with which you can navigate the site. Are the buttons or links clearly marked and in a logical spot, or did you have to hunt for them? Was the most important information available quickly, or did you get lost trying to find what you needed? Design your own page to make it easy to use.

Find more tips in The Second Mouse Gets the Cheese.

You ARE Your Website

I've been designing webpages since 1995, so I've seen a lot of new ideas come and go.  Web pages are somewhat akin to fashion. What makes a page look bright and modern one day will stigmatize it as old-fashioned a week or so later. No one finds a plain white page with small black type attractive, but add one too many colors or pictures and you have a page people will hate because it's too "busy." So where is the line between boring and gaudy, between childish and hopelessly complicated?  Here are a few tips I've picked up along the way.

Your page must reflect the subject matter it contains.  You can't sell cheese on a flower-strewn background, and it takes a very clever florist to work a skunk into an ad for roses. (Actually, I've seen that one, but the florist's name was "Pugh.")  When I was running ORB, the "Online Source Book for Medieval History", my page designer came up with a lovely medieval scene for our headline banner.  My new book, The Second Mouse Gets the Cheese, uses a cartoon mouse throughout the chapter headings, so the title of the book page was done in  a cartoon font. There's great room for error, however.  Littering the page with too many medieval objects or too many mice will eventually irritate your viewers.  I recommend picking one element to show the theme, and then letting the page's information carry the theme from then on.

Flash introductions used to be popular, as did animated gifs, which had little characters running across the computer screen. They are no longer surprising. Now they just delay the appearance of the real information, and impatient readers will move on. The same is true of sound clips.  I considered using a "cheer" on the web page for the online book launch I ran last year. Then a reviewer took me to task.  She tried to visit the page at night while other family members were asleep. She was not amused to open the page and be greeted by a raucous crowd.

Other types of animations cause serious problems for viewers with physical limitations. Flashing lights, waving  flags, or other sudden or rhythmic visuals may actually trigger seizures in those who are susceptible to such stimuli. Those who are color blind will miss parts of your page if the contrast between print and background is not great enough. Keystrokes that require two hands may be impossible for some. Information conveyed only by sight will be lost to those who are blind.  Illustrations always need to be labeled with tags for those who use software such as "Jaws" to read what appears on the screen.

The quickest way to learn how to design your own webpage is by visiting the pages of others. See what appeals to you and what doesn't.  Note that too much information is a turn-off. Pay attention to the ease with which you can navigate the site.  Are the buttons or links clearly marked and in a logical spot, or did you have to hunt for them? Was the most important information available quickly, or did you get lost trying to find what you needed?  Design your own page to make it easy to use.

For a book or author page, the most important elements should appear at the start -- a cover shot and a professional photo of the author (not a snapshot of you at your senior prom.)  Make it a recent picture, too.  There's always a chance you'll meet your reader some day, and you don't want to shock them. Contact information is also vital.  Today's readers want to know the person behind the book.  They want to be able to follow you on Twitter, to connect on Facebook or LinkedIn, to send you an e-mail.  I don't recommend ever giving out your home address or phone number; I use a post office box for the address of my publishing company. But it's vital to let your readers feel that you are a real person, one with whom they can communicate.

What else do your potential customers want to find?

1. They want to know a bit about your book -- why you wrote it, who your characters are, where and when it takes place, what crisis or problem the main character faces.  Tempt them by telling them just enough to spark interest; don't give away the ending.

2. They want to feel important.  I try to include a few out-takes from my writing -- extra descriptions that only the web-page readers will see.  I also use photographs.  When I first put up the pages for Beyond All Price, I included actual photographs of the real military figures in the story, as well as some 1860s shots of the locations in which the story took place.  While I'm still working on The Road to Frogmore, I've posted some "then and now" shots of Beaufort, SC, and St. Helena Island. Only faithful blog-readers get to see them.

3. If you plan to do book-signings or public speaking engagements or radio interviews, be sure to post your schedule. Even if your readers can't attend of these events, they'll feel connected to it.

4. Customers also take vicarious pleasure from any awards you receive, so be sure to brag a little when one comes your way.  Post a picture of your medal or the fancy sticker on your book.

5. Has your book been reviewed favorably? Post a copy so that potential readers are tempted to buy the book.

6. Consider including a formal press release, just in case the visitor to your site is a newspaper editor, or the alumni director of your old school, or your local librarian.

7. Finally, make it easy for the web visitor to order your book.  Set up a PayPal account and take orders right from your own website.  Or provide good links to your book's sales page on Amazon or other retail source.

Your website should make every visitor feel welcome, and it should offer enough variety to invite a second visit.  Think of it as your place of business, and let it reflect the very best of you.

So You Want To Build a Website?

Once  you have decided to create a website (an author page, a book page, or a company page), you'll have to make several important decisions.  First, you need a domain name and a web host, somewhere to post your page.  The possibilities are endless.  Almost everyone has some kind of server these days, and It's very hard to know what will be the best deal in your area. Here are a few suggestions and some things to look out for.

First, claim your domain name by registering it with one of several companies that handle these matters.  Godaddy.com may be the best-known of these, but you can also use Register.com, NetworkSolutions.com, or WebsitePalace.com.  They all provide the same services, so check carefully to see what each one charges.  

You'll want to find a domain name that is short, simple, and relevant to the purpose of your page.  Are you creating an author page? Then use your own name. A book page? Use the title or an abbreviated form of it. A company page? Then you'll want the name of the company. (Avoid Initials unless you're as well-known as IBM or AT&T). You may also want to register the same term with several different extensions, so that no one can leap onto your fame and steal it for another site. So don't just register SamSmith.com; you also should own SamSmith.org, SamSmith.net, SamSmith.biz.

Now you must choose a web host, and it is up to you to decide whether you want a free one or one that charges a monthly fee. Sound like a no-brainer? It's not. Free sites are widely available, but in the eyes of many, free equals cheap..  Some of the best-known and most popular are on Google, or companies like Blogger.com or Yola.com.  Your decision depends on the purpose of the site.  At the moment, I have a free website on Blogger, where I can post some of the out-takes from books I'm writing.  They are there because I love them, but they don't fit into the book.  So I'm offering them for free to my dedicated followers, who just want something new to read.

The site works because it suits my purpose, but it has several drawbacks.  The URL is a mindboggling one: onthroadtofrogmore.blogspot.com.  The inclusion of "blogspot" in the URL tells everyone that this is a free site, and really savvy internet users -- and most search engines-- will automatically reject it as not a "serious" site. I also do not have complete control of the content.  I can't transfer the articles easily, and Blogger could shut me down at any moment.  I can't run ads, although pop-up ads not of my choosing may appear,  or sell anything on the page.  

For my more serious site, the one that supports my independent publishing company and its publications, I use a paid site hosted by Vistaprint. This is a personal choice, and a relatively little-known one.  Vistaprint also handles many of my printing needs, such as business cards, banners, brochures and items with my company logo, which means that my website can use the same graphics and "match" my other advertising items.  I can use my own domain name --KatzenhausBooks.com--and use the pages as I wish, to carry an order form for my books or to open it to other advertising.  So far, I have been well satisfied.

Other popular choices include Bluehost, Drupal, Wordpress, Dreamweaver, Powweb, Site Build it, or HostGator. Their options and learning curves vary greatly, so I recommend you survey them carefully before jumping to any one. Perhaps the best way to choose is to look at websites you really like, and then consult with their owners to find out what host and software they are using.  Take advantage of those who have gone before you.  You really don't have to re-invent the wheel to create a website.  It can be as easy or as complicated as you wish.