Website Redesign

I’m officially announcing that I’ve redone my website!

As 2009 approached, and I realized I was going to have published material out this year, I realized I wanted a newsletter (shameless plug:  sign up for my newsletter!).  This lead to a site redesign.  Among other things, my site now changes colors every month, and it takes a page from Google–on some major holidays, and on a few very minor ones that you wouldn’t think of as holidays as well, it changes in less subtle ways.

For a limited time, go see my website in the future–as it will look on October 31, 2009.  Spooky!

Beyond the fold, I talk about what I was smoking when I redid my website.

Here’s the problem I faced.  The way my old site was arranged, the side menu fit between those black bars:

old page
old page

You may be able to see the problem even now.  If I wanted to add a link in the sidebar, I had to redo the back graphic.  Which I could do, but it made me realize that the website I had built just wasn’t . . . it wasn’t scalable.  That is, it wouldn’t grow very well with my career.  It was fine when I had one or two books, but when I get up to twenty (and I hope I will), and I have pages–perhaps multiple pages–for every book, and pages that show how the books connect, and printable book lists, and pages for awards that I’ve won (and I hope I will) . . . well, you get my drift.  At some point, the website was going to get downright unmanageable.

So I decided to redo it.  As I started thinking about a redesign (and that other question, whether to implement the redesign myself, or hire someone else to do it), I spent a lot of time looking at other author’s websites, to try to find out both what was eye-catching–and more importantly, which websites I spent time at.

One of the things I discovered was that they were not the same thing.  There are some websites that have a ton of really cool graphics, but . . . how do I say this?  The graphics get in the way of the content.  You spend so much time looking at the graphics, and how neat they are, that what’s on the page.  Conversely, you can have websites where the graphics are so clonky that you don’t want to look at the page, too.  I began to realize that in my first page, the graphics were too central to the website.  The bright yellow and green was eye-catching, but maybe it was too eye-catching.  It made you look away from the text.

The second problem with it, I began to realize, was whitespace.  There was no literal white on the page–but more importantly, the text and the graphics were crammed together, and so once you got there you didn’t want to stay.

Then, as I read the text of the site, I realized that I had been trying really hard to sound professional.  Adult.  Authorial, even.  In other words, it sounded nothing like me.  I wanted someone to come to my website and get a feel for what my books were like, not just from the graphics, but also from the text.  Ultimately, words must sell themselvs, and the words I’d put on the page didn’t sell me.

Finally, I realized that I was bored with my color scheme.  What had seemed fresh and bright when I implemented the new site almost a year before now seemed trite and boring.  Ho hum.  Yellow and black.  The visual interest of the site waned–and I suspected that was true not only for me, but for everyone else.

It was about this time that I realized that if I went to any webdesigner on the planet and told them what I wanted, I would either (a) not get it, or (b) pay them $20,000.  Not having $20,000, I decided to boldly forge ahead and do it myself.

I wanted a site that would scale with my career.  It needed to have a lot of intelligent white space, which would draw the reader’s eye towards text.  I wanted enough graphical embellishments to give the site a minimal level of professionalism without losing a sense of fun, without overwhelming the words on the site–because after all, I am a seller of words.  And that meant the site needed to sound like it was written by me, so if people read it and liked the way it sounded (and not everyone will) they would think it might be fun to read one of my books.  Finally, I wanted a site that would change colors–one that was, in effect, “themeable”–with the months and the holidays.

Now, whether my use of white space is intelligent, whether my site is fun to read, and whether the graphics convey professional fun, is subjective.  I don’t think I did as well as a true professional could have, but the price was right.  🙂

But I do have a scalable site–one where adding whole sections of the site is not only easy but almost automatic.  I have a site that is highly themeable.  Most of the themes are riffs on the January theme you see now: very light, inobtrusive, tasteful colors.

But every once in a while, on a holiday, I decided to have a little fun.  For a limited time only (a few days, until I put the password back, you can jump ahead into the future and see what the site will look like on Hallowe’en.  Check out my test site here. (If you get a message saying you need a password, it is because you checked too late).   Some holidays (like Hallowe’en) just have different (less tasteful) color schemes.  But others (I’m not telling which) have actual limited-time content.  Be sure to visit my website throughout the year–because you’ll never know when it’s changed.  🙂

7 thoughts on “Website Redesign

  1. Hello, Ms. Milan!

    I found you via Lisa Shearin & Kristen Nelson when they were blogging about your query letter. I’m looking forward to your book’s release later this year because of it – the whole premise sounds intriguing and original! I also wanted to say that your updated website (I never saw the old version) looks super-cute! Your webdesigning skills are amazing! 🙂

    Happy writing!

  2. I think the new site is fabulously lovely and I’m envious of your skills to be able to do it all yourself. I know enough HTML to be dangerous, but not enough graphic design skills to really do anything “cool” or “good”–it’s just enough to get by. My site is workmanlike and not much more…but maybe someday!

    Congrats again and good luck in your master plan for world domination! (I, for one, think I could find a world dominated by CM perfectly acceptable)

  3. Hi, Courtney. I’m a romance writer with publishing credits that go back twenty years to my college days. I also have a novel out right now with, with a four book deal. I just wanted to comment that I agree and support everything you wrote regarding query help. Even though I can write a fairly decent query, I don’t like doing it and I’m not good at it. I write about 2-3 thousand words a day, but it would take me a week to write a 200 word query. And, the really strange thing is that I didn’t even land my agent with a query. She approached me when I least expected it and we just started working together. The writing (for me) is easy, but the process is very complicated.

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