Website Design Tips for Authors: An Interview with Jessica Zeigler

Website Design Tips for Authors: An Interview with Jessica Zeigler

When we decided to sell our hardcover and activity books online on our own website, we jumped in feet first — the blind leading the blind, you might say.  It was an interesting learning process, to say the least. We enjoyed the learning curve and were able to accomplish a lot with research and patience, but we also became very frustrated at certain points. Time to enlist the help of a friend!

Jessica Ziegler, author and illustrator of Story Tots (www.StoryTots.com) and director of social media design at Vestor Logic (www.VestorLogic.com), has been an integral part of making our website run smoothly. What would no doubt have taken us weeks to accomplish, she had up and running in a matter of hours. What a relief that was!

We asked Jessica to share her professional insight on website design with our readers….

1. Is there a specific program you’d recommend to authors who want to create a website for selling their books?

 Any online content management system, like WordPress or Blogger is the way to go. If you are self-hosted (with WordPress), you have complete control over what is on your site. If you use another CMS like Blogger or WordPress.com, while it’s relatively “free,” technically they own your content. Authors take issue with that. If you use one of the free-ish (there’s always a fee for the good stuff!) “drag-and-drop” builders, you will be tied to their system and will pay your monthly fee forever. It’s not easy, often impossible, to take your site out of their system. My preference in self-hosted is WordPress.

2. What types of themes do you prefer?

 I prefer StudioPress themes; the Genesis framework is top notch, well-designed and well-coded. If you have experience with html and php (or are willing to learn), it is extremely flexible.

3. What are some common mistakes “newbies” make when setting up websites?

 If you don’t have experience with building a website, it can be a steep learning curve, even with the newer drag-and-drop site builders like squarespace, weebly or wix. It’s definitely do-able, but it would be a good idea to assume it will take about three times longer than you’d think (or want). Just go straight to the tutorials. They all have them, and they will save you a ton of time. Also, if you can figure out the right question to ask, google will ALWAYS have the answer!

4. We were hacked when we first started our website design. We were told that hackers often get in through plug-ins. Is that true? What precautions can be taken?

 That can be true, although this is not an issue unless you are self-hosted. Not every plugin is solidly coded or frequently updated. It’s not uncommon for someone to build a plugin for a specific need and then wander off, never to maintain it again. When you are adding plugins to your site, look for lots of downloads and the last updated date. If it’s been several months or years, keep looking. It also is extremely important to make sure that you run all plugin and WordPress core updates as they become available. WordPress releases a list of all of the things it’s fixing with each update, which is basically a hacker roadmap.

5. What are the greatest obstacles an inexperienced website designer faces?

 Not knowing the technology and not having the right graphics programs to create the beautiful site you want. If you are interested and want to learn, it can be fun. If it’s just a task on your to-do list when you’d really rather be writing, it can be endlessly frustrating.

6. If an author wants to enlist the help of a web designer, how much should he expect to pay for a basic design?

 It really depends on the depth and breadth of the site needed, as well as the experience level of the developer. A designer may charge anywhere from $50-150 an hour, or they may charge you a flat rate for a site. It can really run anywhere from $400 or $500 to $2500, even for something basic.

7.  When you design a website for someone, how long does it typically take from start to finish?

 If I can get all of the login information, graphics or logos and content the client already has, it can just take a few days.  (Of course, WHEN those few days fall depends on what other projects I have ahead of the new client’s). Usually the hold-ups occur when I can’t gather all of the bits and pieces that I need to get going. It’s also very helpful if the client can show the designer a few sites he really likes; that gives the designer a quick insight into what the client finds appealing.

8. Authors want to sell books on their sites; what would you advise them to include so that the ordering process is smooth for buyers?

 Button links to Amazon, if that is where you are selling your books, is the easiest.  Let Amazon manage your shipping, etc. If you are selling directly from your site or have multiple products, I really like the WooCommerce plugin. They also build themes, but I still usually stick with Genesis as my theme core.

9. What advice would you give to an author who wants a website for book sales?

 Think about your future plans. Will this be the first of many books? If so, you might not want the site design to be too tied to the first book design or cover. Get all of your content in order — a good start is an “about” page, “contact” page, pages for each book and a blog so fans can follow your progress and your story. Your site is more than just a sales channel; it’s an inside look at your process. That’s what fans really want to see. Artists and authors can easily forget that not everyone is creative, and fans find it fascinating and inspiring to see the process in action. Look for sites that you like and think about whether or not those ideas could work well for your site.

10. If someone wants to enlist your services, how can they contact you for information and pricing?

 They can email me at jz@storytots.com…and with any luck it won’t get buried under all the Groupon deals and Viagra ads.

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