Fran Cannon Slayton - The Wild Ride To Publication (Children's Book Version!)

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Website Ballet.  As promised, here's a little information on website design.  Folks in the business (a big thanks to SCBWI member Seth Wood!) say that readers viewing websites unconsciously prioritize what they see on a website in a Z pattern.   That is, they see top left first, then top right, then bottom left, then bottom right.  As so:


Websites should therefore be designed to take advantage of this by putting the most important information in "first" position, the next most important info in "second" position, etc.  (The "website ballet," if you will.  And yes, that is my own phrase.  And yes, I am daggone proud of it!).  Have a look at my website home page for one example of how to do this.  In first position is a little introduction and welcome to the various groups of people who might be interested in my site.  In second position is my book cover.  In third position are directions for where to go on my site for more info on various topics like trains, children's writers, my book, school visits, etc.  

Make Finding Things Simple.  Many people say that your website, or at least your home page, should all - or almost all - fit on one page without scrolling down.  Although scrolling usually doesn't deter me, it does some people.  If you have to scroll to get to your most important information, then it's not in the right place.

Simplicity reigns.  Cool sites can be, well, cool.  But if you have too many bells and whistles the reader doesn't know where to begin, so sometimes they just don't.  In my opinion, Go Daddy's site is guilty of this.  There was so much stuff on the site I found it overwhelming.  So I went to IX Web Hosting instead.  Besides driving people away, having too many things going on - especially flash stuff - can make a website load slowly.  And sometimes your reader won't wait.

Content is King.  When you're designing your website, you've got to figure out what information you want to include.  This is a huge decision, because content is what will keep your reader coming back.  Or not.  Your site has to do more than scream "hey, I've got a book - lookie, lookie!"  

In order to figure out what to include, you have to first determine your readership - your website's as well as your book's.  Who do you want to be attracted to your site?  What do you want them to get out of it?  What can you give them to keep them coming back?  Whatever it is, it's got to be changing.  Who's going to come back to the same content again and again?  Not as many people as who will come back if they know they're going to get something new that they can use. 

The Cool Factor:  Age of Reader.  Will the reader of your book also be the reader of your website? Maybe, but maybe not.  If you've got a board book for infants, your website should probably be targeting parents not kids.  Design your site accordingly.  For elementary, middle grade and YA books, do you want your site to be a place for kids to hang out, or for adults to get information on you and your book?  Maybe it should be both.  My book is a middle grade novel that I believe will also appeal to YA.  So I knew I needed a pretty cool looking site with some interesting content if kids were going to visit.  But then when I started designing my site I realized kids weren't the only ones I wanted as visitors.  

Website Readers of Multiple Ages; Website Pages with Multiple Foci.  Websites need to direct each visitor, no matter her age or focus, to the part of the website that will be most interesting to her.  My book is about the railroad and trains, so I knew I wanted a train page that would appeal not only to kids, but also to rail fans who might be interested in my book as a way of sharing their interest in trains with kids or grandkids. I also wanted a page where I could address the needs of teachers and librarians, especially with regard to school visits.  And I knew I wanted a page that would be helpful to writers.  Thus, my writer's page was born along with this blog.  And since I plan to do interviews to promote my book, I also knew that I'd need a "press page" full of information for the media.  Mine includes a light-hearted bio, a Frequently Asked Questions section, and downloadable pictures of my book cover and myself.   As soon as I get some reviews (any reviewers out there?!) I'll put up a link to my reviews.  Ditto for my press releases.  I also hope to figure out how to put a form up to gather email addresses so I can send emails to people when I'm in the news, etc.  And of course, I have a "contact me" page for (hopefully!) people who like my book and media (again, hopefully!) to be able to reach me. 

The Most Helpful Thing.  The thing I found most helpful in designing my website was going to other authors' websites and noting the things I felt worked and didn't work.  Usually authors sites (and blogs even more so) will have links to other authors' sites, and so it's easy to find a whole slew of websites to study and take notes on.  

All and all, I found the whole process of designing my website extremely entertaining.  It was fun to see other sites, fun to read books on the subject, and really fun to finally see the thing up and running!  It took a lot of time and effort, but hey, so did writing the book.  And I figure if I took all that time to write the book - a book that I love dearly - I oughta take the time to put it out there in the world with the best (and most cost-effective) website possible!

Happy designing!

1 comment:

Melissa Walker said...

nice details on how to do it, fran! thanks for the post!