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Fun With Website Design

I’ve gotten a lot of question about the design for Louisiana Liar, so I thought I’d talk a bit about website design and what authors need. The good news is that authors do not need much that is fancy. Flash and music are annoying and slow (and music can get people fired if they’re surfing at work) – authors rarely need to sell stuff, so no shopping cart is necessary – so basically, an author needs a site that allows them to talk about their books and themselves. Pretty basic stuff.

In the beginning, I commissioned an artist to design my header for my author website and paid someone to host/update the site. I learned a little html a million years ago, but it certainly wasn’t going to get me by in today’s world of programming. Now, I’m not saying you can’t learn html or any other web programming language, but as most writers still work full-time to pay the bills, some decisions come down to time. I simply didn’t have time to learn to program a website and establish a writing career. Last year, I decided I wanted to take a stab at website design simply so that I could do updates myself. It’s just more efficient, especially for those of us that only remember things at midnight when we’re about to go to sleep.

I knew that I wanted a content management system that was Internet based so that I could access or update the site from anywhere and also give others access if the sites grew later on. I did a lot of trial run testing in different software but ultimately decided that WordPress was going to be the way to go. Tons of applications are available for WP for free and I figure if I ever code myself into a corner, I can hire most any 10-year old to fix it.

So I began my hunt through WP templates, but I could not find what I was looking for. I didn’t want a blog site, per se. I wanted a full-blown website for Louisiana Liar with a blog and just a website for my author site. So I started looking into code-building software and that’s when I came across Artisteer. The software is easy and powerful. Simply choose your settings/colors/text/font/etc. from drop-down menus, load a banner (or choose one from their stock) and choose which format to generate code in. Artisteer can convert your choices to templates for WordPress, Drupal and Joomla, so you have more options than just WP. Install the template on your hosting site, select it in your WP admin screen and you’re good to go. The Artisteer site also offers a lot of tips for manually adjusting sections of the code if you want something not included in the software. I have had no trouble making the adjustments I wanted.

The banner – well, that’s another story. The banner for my author website is the original artwork that I commissioned for my site years ago, but the Louisiana Liar site I built using Photoshop and stock graphics from istockphoto. I want to say that I am NO Photoshop expert, so the experience was somewhat painful. I have a bald spot and Coors has a third-quarter increase in profit to back up that fact. But in struggling with Photoshop, I managed to create a unique site with the colors and design that were exactly what I was looking for.

So I’m sorry for those that were hoping to purchase this template – it’s one-of-a-kind and not for sale, but I highly, highly recommend the Artisteer software for anyone looking to create a unique site for your work. Click this banner to get more information on Artisteer code-building software.
Artisteer - WordPress Theme Generator

And for anyone interested in acquiring a bald spot and consuming their weight in beer, Photoshop Elements is really all you need to generate good web graphics. Don’t bother springing for the full-blown version unless you’re really into graphic design or photography. The latest version of Photoshop sells on amazon for $70.

Adobe Photoshop Elements 9 (Win/Mac)

For web hosting, I chose HostGator and have been continually impressed with their customer service. First off, you can host an unlimited number of accounts for one ridiculously low price, but more importantly, they have tech support that can answer any stupid question you come up with – and trust me, I came up with a LOT of them. They have a live chat option, so during my setup and launch of both this site and my author site, I was able to get answers in a matter of minutes to all of my setup issues.

So a bit of a cash outlay and definitely a lot of time up front, but once you learn to design your own site, there’s nothing stopping you from designing several. For freelance writers, this approach would allow you to easily create custom SEO sites.

Have fun and happy programming!

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