Interview With Professional Website Designer Linda Lee
Welcome to the People Who Make Books Happen Interview Series. This month I’m talking to Linda Lee, professional website designer and founder of AskMePC Webdesign. This is Part One of a two-part interview with Linda about designing websites for writers. Linda designed my website (http://marymackey.com/), but I’m not getting any discounts for interviewing her. I hired several website designers who didn’t work out before I found Linda. She proved to be easy to work with and very competent, so I decided to persuade her to share her knowledge about website design.
Mary: Linda, could you please begin by telling us why a writer needs a website? Why should someone go to all the expense and trouble of setting one up when anyone can get a Facebook Page for free?
Linda: I believe that it’s vital for every serious writer to have a website. With a website you can create a solid presence and identity as an author in ways that merely having a Facebook page will not do for you.
Mary: What’s the one of the most important things a website can do for you?
Linda: A website can connect you directly with your own domain name. That domain name can be the name you use as an author. For example, if Shakespeare probably would have gone for shakespeare.com. If your author name is taken already, you can add the word “Author” as in shakespeareauthor.com. This is effective on several fronts. You have the keyword, “author” in your domain name. On the other hand, if anyone looks for you in the search engines by your name alone, it will still pull up your website. They do not have to use the word “author.”
Mary: What are some of the other important things?
Linda: You can have a Sales Page for each one of your books on your website. This is important for the people who will be doing searches by your book titles. A title search will not take them to your Facebook page, but it will take them to the book’s sales page on your website where they will find a description of your book and all the ways they can buy it.
You also need a Blog. When you have a blog on your website, every time you publish a post, it “pings” all the search engines and they re-crawl your website.
Mary: Why is it important to have the search engines constantly re-crawl your website?
Linda: Google pushes fresh content to the top of search results. When you regularly have new activity on your website, readers will see your site more often and more easily. In other words, regular activity such as blogging allows your readers to find you.
Mary: What if you just have frequent Facebook posts? That’s new material too, yes?
Linda: Yes, but people have to either join Facebook or be your friend before they can even read the short messages you post on Facebook. In contrast, the search engines also rank your website, so over time your site will come up more often as you keep adding new content. Facebook is not set up like this. With a website you have total control over both your website and your message. There is no “clutter” or noise from other sources mixing in with your identity and message. Also, there are no ads and none of the major privacy issues your readers may encounter on Facebook.
A website is a must in today’s publishing world. It is the first impression anyone will have of you as a professional author. For example, a reader reads your book and googles it. A conference organizer hears about your book and googles it and cannot find a website for you. Someone in the media hears about your book and googles it. What do they find? How are they going to contact you? How are they going to learn about you and your work?
Mary: Could you please tell us some other things you can do if you have a website?
Linda: You can create a site that reflects your ideas and style, visually as well as verbally. You can make it appealing and easy to negotiate. You can post free chapters for people to read and get feedback. You will be able to connect all your social media identities in one place using badges people can click to follow you. Finally, you should own everything you put online. If you are using a free website as your main identity, you will have no control over that in the end. Things change swiftly online and you want to own and keep all your own things in one place. Your website is the place to do that.
Mary: You’ve given us a lot of information. Just so we don’t get lost, could you please summarize why, in your professional opinion, it doesn’t work for a writer to just use Facebook as his or her website?
Linda: Let me list the main reasons for you:
Why not just use Facebook as my website?
• Facebook is set up to be a place to connect with people. It is not the right place to use to promote yourself all the time. No one likes that.
• Your website is all about you and your books and your journey as an author. Readers will go there to find information about you and your books That is the purpose of a website.
• People leave Facebook
• Your messages easily get lost in the “noise” of Facebook.
• If you are a serious author, publishers and agents expect you to have a website.
• Often times now, they will not even consider your work until you set up a website. Why ? Because they need to see how serious you are about your writing career. A website has almost become step one. They want you to start building your audience and brand before they sign you.
• You do not have control over Facebook, and they own your content. This is in their TOS. (Terms of Service).
Mary: Facebook owns all the content I put on their site? I didn’t know that! I’m going to have to try to plow my way through their Terms of Service and see what it actually stipulates. Like almost everyone I know, I just clicked on it without reading it. While I am recovering from finding out that I’ve signed my rights away to Facebook, tell us about your career. How did you start designing websites? What qualifications does it take? If you were looking for someone to design a site for you, what would you look for?
Linda: I started working online in 1998. Before that I was sales manager for a national recruiting firm. At the time, I had young children and wanted to work from home, so I started selling things on eBay and doing quite well. Then I discovered e-books, bought a huge reseller package of over 300 titles of “how to” e-books, and started selling them. I was selling over 500 e-books a week. It was crazy. This taught me how to sell online, how to set up ads, how to take photos and create a good sales page. How to set up downloads and troubleshoot problems online. It also taught me how to set up effective sales funnels and tools to work effectively online.Then eBay banned e-books. Overnight many of us were out of business.
I realized I needed to create my own website so that I owned everything and that could never happen to me again. I learned HTML and web design self-taught and built my own site. In the process, I discovered that I had a knack for building websites, and my new career was born.
Mary: If you were looking for someone to design a site for you, what would you look for?
Linda: The first thing I would do is look at the designer’s own website and portfolio. Then I would check their references and testimonials. When looking for a website designer, you need to be sure to click on the websites they list in their portfolio. Do not be afraid to email those websites and ask how they liked working with the website designer. I have found many dishonest people who list sites that do not exist or sites that someone else designed. Or when you click to check a particular website, it turns out to be a different website altogether. So make sure to do due diligence.
Next, get a contract. Do not rely on emails or promises. In that contract make sure all the details and costs are spelled out. Make sure there is a time frame for completion that you both have agreed on. Many a person has come to me after their web designer flaked out or quit in the middle of the project, never to be seen again; so make sure you can phone them. Do not allow them to use email only. Get that contact information and be sure it works.
Mary: What’s the difference between designing a website for a business and designing a website for a writer?
Linda: The design process itself is not different. Design is the fun part of creating a website. Colors, general appearance, slideshows, social media connecting, branding– all of those constitute the fun part. The design part of my job is to create a site to each client’s tastes. This means that, as your web expert, I need to understand, your goal. What are you trying to achieve with this website? Questions about your tastes and your goals are the most important questions I ask in my consultations. I need to know what components are needed and the long term plan you have for you website. Once I understand your goals and plans, I can draw on my experience to help you get where you want to be with your website. Studies show that you have 5-10 seconds to keep someone on your website. Your mission, and the main purpose of your website, needs to be to capture the reader and have your site be clear and easy to understand when the reader lands on it.
I have worked with professional technology companies that just want a strong branding presence. Their sole objective is the need to build trust for their brand, show a great modern “storefront,” and be found online. They are not trying to sell their products online. They are selling their business acumen and professionalism. They are also giving their clients their background and qualifications. This type of website is almost like a visual resume.
With an author’s website, everything is much more personal. Who are you? What do write about? What makes you and your books interesting and why would I want to read your work? Authors need to catch the reader’s attention. You can have humor as well as information about yourself on your website. In fact, you should. As a writer, you are your brand. So your site needs to be reflection of you.
Mary: How do you go about designing a website for a writer?
Linda: The basic components are the same for everyone, but when working with writers, there are certain features that are important to include. I’ve turned these features into a checklist for myself since I have done so many sites for writers.
Mary: We are going to discuss your checklists in Part Two of this interview. In the meantime, could you please give us urls to two or three sites you’ve created for writers and tell us what you like about them?
Linda: I’ll start with your website: http://marymackey.com/
Your old site was not a good reflection of your ongoing, longtime success as a writer. When we designed your new site, we highlighted all your books with an extensive Book Overview Page. Each book listed links to the individual Sales Page, and then links to various places readers could purchase it. I don’t create an Overview Page for all authors because they may only have one or two books. When a writer like you has so many titles, an Overview Page is critical.
Your readers want to be able to see all your titles on one page. New readers need to be able to find all your books in one place and not have to work to find new titles and spend time on Google searching for titles. Your website needs to be the ultimate location where your readers can find everything in one place and take it from there.
Mary: Many writers do things in addition to their writing. What kind of site would you build to blend those together? Could you give us another url that combines writing with other activities?
Linda: One of my clients is Michelle Chappel. Michelle is a musician, author, teacher and speaker. Her site is at http://michellechappel.com/ The site I designed for her was picked as one of “15 Brilliant Websites That Will Inspire” by lifehack.com. On it we were able to highlight all her albums, and combine her other talents all in one place and capture the spirit of what she sings about and teaches.
Another fun website we did this year, is for a children’s book author, Elizabeth B. Martin at http://elizabethbmartin.com/
Elizabeth is an artist and writes children’s books. She brought me her website design ideas which she had drawn herself and laid out in a PDF. We took her drawings and used them to duplicate exactly what she had in her mind for her website. This included a flip book on her website for each book she had written. Children can go to her website and read the flipbooks of her actual books. It is fun! We both felt that we had captured the whimsical side and fun of her work and brand.
Mary: Thank you, Linda. I look forward to hearing you give us more information about website design for writers in Part Two of this interview which will be appearing next month in People Who Make Books Happen. Meanwhile, I’m going to click on the sites you’ve mentioned to see what they look like. Are there links on your website to other sites that you’ve created ?
Dear Readers: Join this conversation about People Who Make Books Happen. You are warmly invited to ask Linda Lee questions or leave a comment. See the other interviews in this series for information about How To Get An Agent, How To Design A Book Cover That Sells Books, Helping Independent Bookstores Survive and Thrive, Three Great Reasons To Still Print On Paper, and more. This is where the experts hang out.
And remember to come back next month to read Part Two of Designing Websites For Writers