Practical tips

Building a website

Three things I learned as I attempted to build an author website

Disclaimer: I have *no* idea how to build websites (this one’s my first). But if, like me, you want a website that doesn’t cost a fortune, this might help.

1. Platform vs

There are a few web design platforms, like SquareSpace, built with newbies in mind. I opted for WordPress because I’d love to add my own code to the site one day and, from what I can tell, WordPress is one of the few places that lets you. (I did a Python coding course once and am determined to use it!)

But…it’s only easier to add code if you choose the right WordPress. Which I didn’t.

Yep, there are two versions of WordPress – with the same look and logo. (which this site’s on at the mo) and is good for beginners because…

  • It’s free (once you’ve bought your domain name)
  • It hosts the site for you
  • It’s designed with blogging in mind – so it’s really easy to write posts like this

There are paid options too, which you can sign up for to get rid of adverts and get a bigger choice of templates. I accidentally bought one of these packages initially, thinking it would let me add my own Python code later. When I realised I was wrong, getting a refund was nice and easy.

But gives you more control

Ultimately, this was the platform I should have chosen because even though you have to find and pay for your own hosting, you can also add your own code. So you get a lot more say over the final look and feel.

That said, I think is probably for people who already have some web design game (which I don’t). So even though I chose .com by mistake, I think I’ll stay here a bit longer while I’m finding my feet. Expect another blog next year on the trials and tribulations of transferring a website from .com to .org!

2. The theme

Pick one with enough pages

The Twenty Twenty Theme…and my actual homepage for half an hour last Wednesday

I’m no designer, so knew I’d need a template to build my site. They’re called themes and they have all the navigation you’ll need built in. If you choose the right one.

I originally picked a one-page design called Baker. I thought it looked really slick…until I wanted to add more pages and came unstuck.

If you know you’ll want more than a single-page site, it makes sense to pick a theme with more pages in mind. (I’m now using the free Twenty Twenty theme instead.)

But, be warned: if you switch themes, take your site offline first!* I didn’t and for half an hour last Wednesday, I claimed to be a leading Swedish museum of modern art. Which, of course, one of my friends spotted and used as an hilarious excuse to prank email me art questions…

For half an hour last Wednesday, I claimed to be a leading Swedish museum of modern art

There are enough free themes on to get you started. But you can always upgrade to get more.

*You do that by going to your dashboard, choosing Settings – General – Privacy and checking the ‘Coming Soon’ box. You can also switch any page you edit to ‘draft mode’.

3. Make it yours

Why Canva is awesome

I was chatting to my author friend, Amita and admiring her website, when she revealed her design secret: Canva. The site lets you design web banners, social media pics, logos…and the ‘3Things’ images I’m using to promote these blogs.

Canva’s great, because it gives you a way of making your site look a little bit different, even using a standard theme. It’s easy to use and, so far, I’ve been able to do everything I need with the free version.

To get started, it helps to know the size of pic you want, so you can build the right template (otherwise, re-sizing is a pain without upgrading to the premium account). All my blog ‘featured images’ as WordPress calls them, are 1200 x 675 pixels.

It’s a lovely tool, and one I wouldn’t have thought to use on a website without Amita’s help. To thank her, I think we should all pre-order her historical fiction 2022 debut, The Circus Train which is full of magic and science and medicine and, frankly, sounds fabulous.

Have you attempted to build an author website yet? What top tips would you share? Let me know in the replies.

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