Happy Monday! So, here we are at the letter W already. Now it really does feel like we’re at the beginning of the end of the #AtoZChallenge! There are a few words I could think of that started with the letter W, but once again I’ve gone over them in previous posts, one way or the other. I’ll just give you a few links for those words instead. For example, there’s Writing Magazine, with its online site, Writers Online, and Writers’ Forum Magazine. (I should point out that, currently, Writers’ Forum has halted production, hopefully on a temporary basis only.) And there are writing aids, such as Grammarly and Pro-Writing Aid.
One thing I don’t think I’ve covered previously, or if I have I didn’t go into much detail, is:
I talked before about having a “platform” for your brand. I’m well aware that many writers are reluctant to engage on social media, and even though I think it’s probably a good thing to have a presence on at least one social media site, I respect that not everyone will feel comfortable doing that, and that’s your right and choice. However, even if you have no interest in social media, whatsoever, there are two things you really should have. They sort of go together. The first is a mailing list, which I discussed here, and the second is a website.
Now, having a website doesn’t necessarily mean you have to have a blog. I talked about blogs earlier, too, and I admitted that, if I were starting out now I probably wouldn’t bother with a blog. Having a newsletter seems to me much more personal, and I have social media sites where I can chat with readers anyway. So, if it’s running a blog that puts you off having a website, don’t let it. The two things don’t necessarily go together at all.
Look on your website as your shop window. If someone has read and enjoyed one of your books, and wants to know more about you, they might well enter your name in a search engine, and with any luck, your website will be the site that comes up first, or somewhere pretty near the top of that search. That means you can control what readers see about you. If they click on that link and land on your website’s home page, it’s your chance to grab them and entice them into your world.
Make sure that shop window suits your brand. Imagine walking down a high street and spotting a window full of wedding dresses. Your little loved-up heart skips a beat and you rush inside, with visions of ivory silk and lace in your mind, only to find yourself confronted by shelves full of jelly babies and pear drops. Now, jelly babies and pear drops are all very nice, but they’re not much use when all you want is a wedding dress, are they? So, imagine if you head to an author’s website, knowing he writes heart-stopping, supernatural horror, and discover a home page that’s all cupcakes and lovehearts. You’d be a bit confused, wouldn’t you?
I’ll be the first to admit that my website has gone through loads of changes, but that’s because I love faffing with it. I’m a faffer by nature, and there’s nothing I love more than finding new ways to procrastinate. I really love the site as it is now. Not so long ago it had a teal background, but it didn’t feel right to me. It felt a bit dull. Then I tried a fancy romantic background picture, but that felt too busy. Now I have a plain background and the website is in my favourite colours. I write uplifting women’s fiction and romantic comedies, so a happy, sunny yellow and a bright pink reflect those genres. And they reflect me, I hope! Here’s my home page, in case you’ve never looked at it!
But if I wrote crime fiction it certainly wouldn’t be an appropriate look. Look at crime and thriller writer Helen Phifer’s site as an example of that genre. It’s clean and simple, and there’s nothing pink or yellow about it at all! Quite right, too. Another thriller writer, Mark Dawson, has a very uncluttered site that shows exactly the sort of books he writes. Here’s JK Rowling’s website. And here’s George RR Martin’s site – very Game of Thrones! Or historical novelist Philippa Gregory’s website, which is very atmospheric.
So how to get a website? Obviously there are website designers out there who will design you something wonderful. I suspect most, if not all, of the above sites were professionally designed. And, yes, it shows. Unless you’re a web designer and know what you’re doing, it’s hard to get something that looks as slick and polished as those sites, with all the bells and whistles you need. Unfortunately, not everyone has the budget for a web designer, and many of us will just have to get on and set up a site ourselves.
That needn’t be as daunting as you think, and there are advantages. I created my own site (yes, I know, it’s obvious!) but the good thing is I can add to it, remove things, or change it completely any time I wish. I don’t have to consult with a web designer, or wait for them to fit me in. To be honest, the way I faff, I think any web designer would have sent me packing months, if not years, ago.
You can buy a basic website from lots of places. The easiest one for me, and the one I use now, and another W word, conveniently, is WordPress. It’s just incredibly simple to set up and very flexible. When I first started out, I had the basic free package with a WordPress domain, and it allowed me to do a basic site at no cost whatsover. If you want to spend some money so you can get additional features and use a domain you’ve purchased, then check out the various plans here.
Those are WordPress.com sites, but you can also use WordPress.org via a self-hosting site. Confused? Well, a WordPress.com site is fully-hosted by WordPress, and you don’t have to go anywhere else to organise your web page. However, if you use WordPress.org, you can build your site on there, but upload it to a server run by another company, such as Bluehost, or Siteground or any number of other places. This is a very popular option for many, but I have to confess I struggled with it. I ended up deleting the site and moving back to WordPress.com. But you may find you like it better, who knows? Certainly, this article is definitely in favour of self hosting!
I use the WordPress Business Plan, which is more expensive than the Premium Plan, but I find it suits me better. It’s a good alternative to a self-hosted site. You can read a comparison of the two here.
There are other options besides WordPress, of course. Popular sites include Wix, Weebly, (lots of Ws around!) and Squarespace. I’ve found a good post about the costs of these various options, plus how much (roughly) you should expect to pay for a professional website designer here.
Whichever option you choose, unless it’s the free WordPress plan, you’ll need a domain name. That’s basically your site’s address, and it’s best to get one that makes it clear who you are, or what your website’s about. There are lots of places you can buy domain names from, including Namesco, GoDaddy and 123Reg. Most domain names cost upwards of £9 a year, though sometimes the .co.uk domains are considerably cheaper than the .com ones!
If all this is giving you a headache, please don’t worry about it. It really is much easier than you think to set up a basic website, and you only need to add all the extra stuff to it when you’re familiar with the way the site works. You don’t even have to add anything extra if you don’t want to. A simple, clean landing page may well suffice. As your confidence grows, though, you’ll probably want to experiment with creating new pages and posts, adding sliders and videos and goodness knows what else. I know at one point I had flashing banners and sliding blog posts and all sorts going on, until I realised it was too much and I’d got a teensy bit carried away!
Yes, that’s you. But do you ever admit to it? And should you? When is a writer a writer? And when is a writer not a writer? I pondered this question back in 2014, believe it or not, and you can read it here. It’s quite sweet to look back on, although it’s a shame that I lost all the comments when I moved my blog over to a different site. You have to watch out for things like that!
Although it looks as if no one commented on it at all, I recall that plenty of people voiced an opinion on this subject. It’s sad that you (and I) won’t be able to read them. I confess I struggle to say out loud that I’m a writer. I think I mentioned in another post about the time I attended a talk by a local writer. I got chatting to someone else in the audience, who asked me what I did for a living. Although by then I was already a full-time writer, I couldn’t admit to it! I told her I worked in a doctor’s surgery instead, even though I’d left that job over a year before. Someone asked me what I did for a living the other week and I mumbled something about working from home, then changed the subject. I mean, why?
The thing is, it’s still hard to accept that I’m a writer, even though I have published seventeen books and two collections, plus my eighteenth novel will be published on the 28th of this month. So when does that acceptance kick in? What makes a writer?
I was thinking about this not long ago. It’s funny because, when I talk about musicians, there are no strings attached to that label. I don’t qualify it with, “You’re only a musician if you’ve written or recorded x amount of songs. Or you’ve played at the Royal Albert Hall. Or you’ve had five top ten albums.” A musician, to me, is someone who makes music – simple as that. Whether they earn a full-time living from it or never get paid a bean it doesn’t matter to me. Same with artists. If someone paints or draws, I call them artists, and their level of commercial success doesn’t come into it. So why is it different for writers?
Is it just me? I don’t think it is, because I’ve heard from several writers who find it difficult to accept that’s what they are. If you’ve read the above blog post from 2014, you’ll recall I mentioned a certain author who insisted no one had the right to call him/herself a writer unless they made a living from writing. I suppose that’s stuck with me, and being insecure at the best of times, it’s hard to shift. But is it correct?
Thinking about it now, I don’t believe it is. I think writing is about so much more than making money or having commercial success. It’s about pouring a little piece of you onto a page; losing yourself in another world; creating people and places out of thin air. It’s about all the love and joy and sheer delight you feel when you’re writing that story. Without wanting to sound too twee, writing is who we are. I think, if you love writing and you write for pleasure, you’re a writer. You may disagree, of course, in which case feel free to leave a comment and tell me so!
And that’s the end of this post. I’ll be back tomorrow with the X words!