Website Review

I chat a lot with different web designers about author sites, publishers sites, and the organization of web sites in general. There are some doozies out there, and some really, really gorgeous websites as well.

And hark! The RWA has unveiled their new website, which on the surface looks MUCH better than the old one. What’s your take? In my initial search, I found a lot of links in the member section that don’t work or lead to blank pages, and the information I knew to look for on the old site doesn’t appear on the new one, but regardless, the organization and presentation of information is a major step up from the previous version of the site.

I haven’t made up my mind as to how I feel about the deep velvety red and the O’Keefe-ish flowers on every page, but I’m very happy about the new organization of data.

What’s your opinion? And what author or romance websites do you love to look at as well as visit?

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Random Musings

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  1. 1
    Jude says:

    Definitely a nicer look, though the flower theme feels like it should be paired with the scratch’n’sniff effect of my fourth grade teacher’s perfume. It’d be nice to see the RWA site reflect the diversity and dynamism of the romance genre.

    I found a numer of broken links too, an error message that says click on a link which does not appear, plus my general inability to figure out how to leave a comment on their first blog post.

    But definitely a step up.

  2. 2
    Qadesh says:

    I’m not wild about the huge expanses of white borders on each side that you see if you have a wide-screen monitor, they don’t match the white in the site and it looks a bit tacky.  In addition, the copy font is a bit on the tiny side, it wouldn’t have killed them to use the next size or two up.  It’s not bad, but isn’t great.  RWA could still do better.

    I do a lot of browsing and surfing of author and romance sites, researching new releases, author news, and some posting to some message boards.  Some of the sites are terrific and some are hideously bad, I mean really, really awful.  I’m sorry to say some of the bitchery fall in that latter category.  I think there are still a lot of authors who are hesitant to acknowledge the importance of a good website.  A good site can be very helpful if you are looking for backlist or upcoming release information.  I’ve found them better than trying to figure out which Amazon listing is a reissue and what is a new release, etc. 

    The best author I’ve found in romance to harness the powers of the web is Sherrilyn Kenyon.  Each of her series has their own website with information on the books, characters and world-building mythology.  She has a page that has a complete concise listing of her backlist, complete with ISBN’s, which is very helpful if you need to order out-of-stock books.  It allows her fans to have stuff to do while they are waiting for her newest release.  Her sites are also well designed and stylish and usually, but not always, user friendly.

    Some other authors with good sites are, JR Ward, Marjorie M. Liu, Sunny and Christine Feehan.  One multi-author site that is good is http://www.wickedwhispersauthors.com  It i.s the group site for authors Veronica Arch, PG Forte, Melissa Glisan and Amelia June.  They are ebook erotica authors who have pooled their talents to have a great website they share.  It has good looks and some really fun features, their library is especially imaginative.  It also links to a group blog that they all post to.  It allows them to pool their readership and gives them another marketing tool.

    As for the bad, MaryJanice Davidson, PN Elrod (although it is a bit better than it used to be), Laurell K Hamilton,  Angela Knight (can someone get her to drop the Poser images, please!), and Suzanne Brockmann all come to mind.  Janet Evanovich’s if finally going to get an upgrade and Nora Roberts has finally given hers a bit of an overhaul. 

    My biggest pet-peeve is when they aren’t updated frequently enough.  When you have a new release date, post it!  Don’t sit around for over 9 months to a year and never have your site updated.

  3. 3
    Ann Bruce says:

    My pet peeve of author websites: Why does the background need to be black if you write paranormals?  (You authors know who you are.)  Why?  Do you know how hard it is on the eyes to read white text against a black background?

    Oh, and IMO the biggest no-no: frames.  Iris Johansen really needs to hire a decent web designer.  Thank God Janet Evanovich’s site is finally getting an overhaul.

    One of the better sites is SEP’s.  Everything you really want on the front page and all the links clearly labeled and easy to find.

    Other good sites: Shana Abe and Jennifer Crusie.

  4. 4
    Tracy Grant says:

    Having just worked on a re-design of my website, author websites are one of my favorite topics.  It’s always great to hear what people like to see in them, what’s help, what isn’t.  I definitely think being able to update frequently is of key importance.  The (very generous!) friends who designed my site set it up so I can now update it myself, which makes it much easier to keep content fresh (the first time I posted an update, I couldn’t believe it worked—I’m not particularly techno-savy). 

    What do think about some of the newer website trends, like video clips and trailers?

  5. 5
    Angela_ says:

    I like your website Tracy—crisp and elegant. Marjorie M. Liu’s website is always beautiful—especially so since she does a redesign with each new release.

    As for book trailers…I still don’t see the appeal because 9 times out of 10, it’s just the book cover, some phrases to describe the book and cheesy background music. Has anyone reported their success with the book trailers outside of traditional online romance community outlets?

  6. 6
    Tracy Grant says:

    Thanks, Angela!  I wonder the same thing about trailers (I haven’t actually looked at a lot, because I only have dial-up at home) but it seems like tons of work/expense to create anything remotely professional looking (that said, I’ve heard some are really wonderful).  I have video clips of me talking about my books on my site—that was my designers’ idea, and it was quite easy to do.  Marjorie Liu’s site is lovely, and rich with information about her books—which is exactly what I love in websites—going deeper into the world of the books.

  7. 7
    Mischa says:

    I like the look of the new RWA website.  The flowers don’t bother me at all.  I didn’t find any broken links but maybe they are in the Members Only section?

    As a reader I only have one question.  What’s the deal with putting SciFiFuturistic romances in the Paranormal sub-genre?  That just seems wrong.  :-)

  8. 8
    taybug says:

    I like it much better than the last site. I don’t mind the colors or the small print, but I also wear contacts and work on a small laptop, so everything fits okay. There is a little “Font Size” button on the right side, which is helpful.

    Looking under stats…wow! Inspirational romance trumps Historical at 31% to 24%! Apparently I’m missing something, like God in my novels.

    Anyway, I haven’t found any misfuntioning links, but I’m just popping through it real quick.

  9. 9
    Kerry Allen says:

    Over the past few months, I’ve compiled 2 pages of web-site-design-for-authors advice from readers. The overall theme is Keep It Simple, Stupid. It doesn’t have to be expensive (I have 5 pages from my host for a year for $49) or fancy (in fact, simple is better) or done by a professional web designer (since you’re going to keep it simple). You don’t have to know HTML code. You can buy web site design software a 6-year-old could figure out. Better yet, use the design interface provided by your host (usually in the 3-year-old range of complexity), and then you don’t have to worry about figuring out the joys of FTP uploading.

    First and foremost, if looking at your site makes a reader’s eyeballs bleed, they’re not going to stick around, so it has to be easy on the eyes, which means no light text on a dark background. Personally, I find a stark white background to be a migraine inducer, as well. No fussy backgrounds.

    Some people are still on dialup, and if the bells and whistles take forever to load, they’ll move on before getting to the pertinent information. So no splash. No flash. No background music. The only graphics should be of book covers and maybe an author pic on your bio page. (Put those pictures of your dog/cat/iguana on your blog. Put pictures of your kids nowhere on the web. The world is full of perverts. Don’t make it any easier for them to find your kids.)

    Your home page is all about product placement. Everything the reader needs to know about your latest release should be the first thing they see.

    Everything a reader could ever want to know about your books (title, publisher, original and reprint dates clearly stated, ISBN, list price, where to buy, description, cover art, whether it’s part of a series and its order in that series, and a good-sized excerpt) should be there, but also have available a printable list that they can take shopping with them (a table with title, author, ISBN, publisher should suffice).

    Ease of navigation is important. Clearly label your pages and the links to them so the reader can find what she’s looking for. The less clicking, the better. For example, don’t have a “Book” page displaying all your covers and expect the reader to click on each cover to open a new page to find the info on that book, then go back to look at the next one. Get all the mileage you can out of every page.

    Anything extra you have to offer (free stories, a teaser about what you’re working on next, downloads such as the NARN Book Cover

    *snicker*) are always good, but keep them contained. They’re gravy, not the meat and potatoes.

    If you want to get cutesie “expressing yourself,” do it on your blog, not on The Official Web Site of Professional Author. TOWSPA should be about your books, not so much about you personally. The key word is “professional.”

    (I’d invite you to look at my site, but, uh… there’s nothing on it at the moment. I threw it up prematurely solely because I needed somewhere to host a download for the blog. Eventually, though, I will be practicing what I preach, I swear.)

  10. 10
    Melissa says:

    Hello Great Goddesses of Bitchiness,

    I am here to satisfy your inner Bitch Geek. I do a lot of surfing and building sites/web applications in my day job, so I am a web snob.

    Things that bug me about the RWA website:
    •  Looks like a douche commercial (but that is personal preference… and yes, I feel fresh today)
    •  If you get deeper into the content of the site, you see the main buff content area jump a couple of pixels to the left when switching between pages. That is just annoying.
    •  There are tables with standard boarders on some of the inner pages. If it went with the look of the site it wouldn’t bug me, but it doesn’t. Slap a style on that table!
    •  Current Releases page – Ok, if you don’t have the content… Don’t put it up. Coming soon, just pisses me off. If you are too lazy to edit the navigation than put a teaser up for the new content not a lame coming soon message.
    •  All of the emails listed on the site…spam anyone?
    •  The site is designed for 1024 x 768. Which is fine…if your user base is using that size. Are they?
    •  The Librarian contest- it links to a new window pointed at a URL that has an IP … http://161.58.67.252/Libraries/librariesloveromance.htm Ummm, not good ladies, get that static HTM page into your site and under the http://www.rwanational.org/ domain. It just looks unprofessional.
    •  The “For Readers” link launches a new window to http://www.storyforu.com/ this site has little in common with the RWA site (design wise), from the link I thought it was part of their site. If they have no control over this site, then ignore the following…..ICK, that site is just Fugly.
    •  What is with the speed on the site? Is it the CMS (Content Management System) that they are using? Which has NOT impressed me so far…
    •  The shuttle schedule page totally broke the design of the site, suddenly everything is super wide. 
    o   And why is that Powerd by NetForum image there? What is powered by it? The static content? It looks like static content…there is no indication that this is dynamic. It could be, but why?
    o   And what is up with the “About SSL Certifcates” link on the SHUTTLE page? Give me a break.
    o   The Contact staff link is broken
    •  They are showing conference sponsors.. RWA, I do think that your sponsors would like to be listed on your Conference page WITH A LINK TO THEIR OWN DAMN SITE. Isn’t that why they are sponsoring you (in part), to help you and promote themselves…?

    Oh, this hurts too much.

    As for sites that I hate and like? I like sites that have dynamic content. Why bother visiting if there is nothing new to see. I like sites that have Blogs. I like sites that have a good design, that don’t sing at me, blink at me, or require registration just to surf.

    Bitch in Peace…

  11. 11
    BevQB says:

    It’s already been mentioned, but it bears repeating… over and over again… until every single author who is guilty of this FINALLY gets the message:

    DO NOT USE LIGHT COLORED LETTERING ON A DARK BACKGROUND. DO NOT USE RED LETTERING ON A BLACK BACKGROUND.

    It hurts my eyes. You may have the greatest book ever written and include an excerpt on your site to prove it, but I’ll never know because, as soon as I see that dark background, I’m outta there!

    Oh, and please scroll back up and read Kerry Allen’s post. Study it. Learn from it. PLEASE!

    BevL(QB)

  12. 12
    dl says:

    My pet peeve on author websites…out of date info.  If you’re going to have a website, pleeeease keep it current. Karin Lowachee’s website has been under construction for almost 2 years, I’m to the point I don’t know or care if she has a new book coming out.  Given a few minutes I could name a handful more that are annoyingly out of date.

    I don’t impulse buy at bookstores anymore.  I track favorite authors online and new authors by online recommendation/reviews.  Therefore, I arrive at the bookstore on Tuesdays with a specific shopping list.

    IMO an author website that is consistantly out of date feels disrespectful to readers and fans.  Hello…do you WANT me to buy your book?  Then give me some info…titles, release dates, excerpt/teaser…get me excited about buying the book you’ve been slaving away writing! Otherwise foreget it honey, if you’re lucky I MIGHT check it out of the library (maybe, if I’m really bored).

    Great comments by Kerry & Melissa!

  13. 13
    SB Sarah says:

    Back in the day, before I became a Smart Bitch, I did web design and CMS installation for nonprofits who wanted a good looking web site but wanted to run it themselves without being nickel and dimed by designers for every itty bitty change. (CMS = content management system, a method of uploading and saving content usually through a web-based console. We Bitches, for example, use Expression Engine as the CMS for our site).

    What options do authors have? Are there web design firms that specialize in author sites, that can advise authors what works and what doesn’t? Anyone got any recommendations for vendors they’ve really liked?

  14. 14
    Jackie says:

    What options do authors have? Are there web design firms that specialize in author sites, that can advise authors what works and what doesn’t? Anyone got any recommendations for vendors they’ve really liked?

    I love working with Vibekke Courtney at DreamForge Media.

  15. 15
    Melissa says:

    There are several options out there for people that want to have a web presence.

    Before I get into the technical nitty gritty, you need to think about some questions…

    Q1. Do I want to have absolute control of my website? (I would say yes, but that is me)

    Q2. Do I want to have a Template Website that I can Update Content periodically?

    Q3. Do I want to pay someone to update my site when I email them new content?

    A1. If you want control of everything, then there are several websites that sell templates for you to use on your website.

    A2. If you want to use Templates or a CMS (Content Management System), then you can go with a web design firm that uses a specific engine. (There are more options based on your technical level.)

    A3. They do it all. Well, this option is my leas favorite choice. If you choose this option, do your research well and be aware that you are going to be one client in a large pool for firm. So, your updates may not happen exactly when you want them to happen. As in 5 minutes ago. Verify the support plan of any firm that you decide to go with.

    Design
    Do you want your website to be redesigned frequently? To mirror your cover art?
    Do you want to have a separate website for each world that you have built?
    How do you want the feel of your website?

    I would go with a firm that offers a mock-up (fake demo site in PhotoShop) and offers a few revisions. That way you can have somewhere to start then build on what you and the designer come up with.

    Content
    Here is the hard topic…content. Most sites that I have built the biggest hurdle for people is getting the content into the site (by them or the firm) and making sure that the content is recent.

    Let’s face it; if a site is not fresh you are not going to retain your users.

    I seriously believe that all Authors (and a lot of others) should consider a blog. It helps keep your site fresh and builds a sense of trust with your userbase (i.e. community).

    Many people (including me) read several blogs and troll for new information daily. I could wax poetic about using blogs to build your business/marketing/infamy, But I’ll spare you.

    My partner and I have a web design firm that not only designs and builds websites, but we educate people on what resources are out there for them to use.
    If you have any questions about what you are looking for in a site or a firm, please send them to me and I’ll answer them honestly. Or if you would like me to snark at your site like I did for the RWA… I get such a sick pleasure out of doing that!

    I’ll give you my hotmail, since I am not trolling for work here. 

    Lysrian @ hotmail.com (remove the spaces)

  16. 16
    Bella says:

    I love the colors!

  17. 17
    iffygenia says:

    DO NOT USE LIGHT COLORED LETTERING ON A DARK BACKGROUND.

    Some studies have found that ease of reading really varies from person to person.  I have a much harder time with dark-on-light than light-on-dark. Especially if the site is really bright – the glare makes me squint.  (I’ve played a lot with my screen settings, ambient lighting, etc.)

    I think the key is getting the right degree of contrast. Blue on black and red on black just don’t work. I find the RWA site decent color-wise.

  18. 18
    Qadesh says:

    Another content feature that I’ve liked on an author site is deleted scenes.  If the deleted scene casts light on a character or adds to the plot of the book it is really great.  You can add them after a book has been out awhile, sometime after say 3 months or so, and then post the scene.  It gives a reader something new to spark their interest while they are waiting for a new release.

  19. 19
    Kerry Allen says:

    Finally checked out the RWA site. I have the same complaint I had before, which has nothing to do with site design.

    The vast benefits of standard membership include… the opportunity to subscribe to Bookscan? Whoopty-frickin-doo.

    So, still the most expensive magazine subscription I’ve ever had, basically.

    I do have one other thing to add to the list of site advice, though: PROOFREAD. Check your spelling. Make sure all your links work. Make sure half your page isn’t unintentionally in a different font/size/color than the rest. Not doing so makes you look like an unprofessional slob, probably not the image you want to project.

  20. 20
    SandyO says:

    This is from a complete techno-tard point of view. I hate web sites that have so much foo-foo to get through.  I’m still on dial up (waves at Tracy, thought I was the only one left).  If I’m interested in a new author/book, I want info on that book and a little bio of the author (I’m nosey).  I don’t want music (ban all bad internet music!), I don’t want to wait and wait and wait for the pages to load because of all of the graphics.  To be quite honest, if I have to wait, I’ll go somewhere else.

    As for the new RWA website, I like the look.  I thought the old site was too sleek, too sterile.  I like the colors of the new site, they are warmer.  It is still a very professional looking site (which is good), but romances deal with emotion, so warmth is good too.  What I don’t like about the site is navigation.  Example: you want to know where the next National Conference will be.  On the home page on the old site, you’d get a drop down menu on “conferences” (or something like that) and there would be a link to “future conferences”. One click and you’re there.

    On the new site, you have to click on “conferences and events”.  That takes you to the overview page.  On the side bar there is “special conference events” (which I would not consider future conferences to be part of).  But you click on that and there is the link to “future conferences”.  That seems to be a lot more clicking. ;)

    Basically, I like it simple.

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