Step One of bringing a site together is all about inspiration. And not just visual inspiration, although that's a part of it. I'll start thinking about what the site is going to hold, what kind of content it's going to offer, and how that might look once it gets translated into a design.
But the #1 piece of inspiration is why the site exists in the first place. This topic could take books to cover (and I'm sure there are plenty), but to make it simple:
- You have a vision.
- That vision means interacting with other people.
A Note: If your vision doesn't involve interaction, then you don't need a website for it. Just go do it.
If your vision includes sharing, communicating with others, offering products/services/connections/whatever, then you need a site.
When your dream touches others in some way, that's when your ideas really start gaining traction.
So, as you brainstorm ideas surrounding your vision, don't worry if they're a mishmash at first. Until the dream crystallizes, it's going to. And that's cool. Just go for it.
A Quick Recap
Let's start with a quick recap of the big concepts from the last post, and then dive into the inspiration part. (If you want more details about these first few categories, go check out Part One.)
The site I'm building for this series of posts is my personal site. I actually started adamkayce.com back in 2006, or somewhere around there, and while it saw many iterations and evolutions, I recently pulled it down because I hadn't blogged on it or updated it for a few years, and it was just floating out in space.
However, I'm rebooting the site now because I'm working on a series of fiction books, and I want it to be the home for my business as an author.
So, let's start from the top with the Big Carrot…
Most Wanted Response
Buy every single book I ever write! Just kidding – kinda. The truth is that I want to build a community of readers who love the kind of fiction I write (hint: genre = fantasy, with a decidedly mystical flavor), so my MWR is for people to join the community by signing onto my mailing list so they can get a free book. I'm offering a free novella to people who sign up so they can see if they like my work enough to keep reading. The novella I have planned is a part of my first series, and will only available through my mailing list (not for sale on Amazon, in other words).
I'll jot ideas down when I get inspired by something, and over time, a focus for the site's look will come together.
Not surprisingly, I like clean, bold design that most would call "minimalist", but that's pretty far from the typical fantasy author's site. I've been keeping a few notes and ideas as they come to me, but mostly it’s a growing sense of a feeling more than a specific look.
I brainstormed using the guiding principle of thinking about readers who come to my site, and what they need/want to see in order to think, "hey, this is my kinda place."
In order to really resonate with people,
- my books must be in a genre they read (100% out of my control)
- they have to like my voice (if they pass #1, all I can do is be authentic and not hide)
- my site has to not confuse, overwhelm, or disgust them to the point where they don't want to stick around (if they’re still here, then this one is 100% in my control).
To deliver that last one, I have to think long and hard about the kind of content I publish. The idea is to make it easy for them to get signed up and get their free stuff, hear about my new books, and get involved as much (or as little) as they want to.
Honestly, I've been going around and around on the idea of a blog, and I'm not decided yet on how much of that sort of content will exist yet.
I've seen very salient points written by authors against blogging for many reasons, including the very realistic point that time spent blogging could be spent creating books. And that's an amazingly strong (and overlooked) point, especially for fiction authors. For non-fiction writers, I think it's a completely different ballgame, and a blog seems almost essential. Maybe.
Here are the three areas I focus on, and suggest you do, too.
I'll keep notes, links, images, etc. of any and all visual ideas as I see them. I'll typically keep a note in Simplenote/NV Alt, and if I need to grab screenshots, I'll set up a folder for it. Text and links usually do the trick, though.
This is where I take the most notes, by far. Maybe it's because I'm a visual person, or maybe because it's what I spend most of my day doing, but I definitely don't have a shortage of design ideas.
design – my notes
Clearly, I'm a minimalist. And, for my personal site, I want to do things a little differently. So, to the notes we go… but be warned – these are just my random notes, and not all of them may make sense to you.
TL;WR: bold background, strong typography, limited color palette that knocks you on your backside.
- something post-centric, like No Sidebar?
- really like Bright Coconut, so Digital Pro?
- Remobile's home page is so clean. I’d change a thing or two, namely:
- ditch the silly menu thing.
- add photos to subpages/posts.
- cook'd's post meta – sweet.
- if all caps for headers: Rift? (I have a Typekit subscription – such a deal.)
- if old school: IM Fell DW Pica (google), or anything in the IM Fell series, really
- Remobile's combo of montserrat + neuton is pretty nice
- TypeType‘s Masters for hand style… or, TT’s Bluescreen for straight caps… or, TT’s Prosto for bold, thick type. Man, they have nice fonts.
- HF&J : For body text, you can't get cleaner than Whitney, or Gotham, and for headers, Tungsten is like Bluescreen/Bebas/etc.
- FF Clan Pro – totally sweet.
… and I like the idea of having a more casual feel to the site, rather than tight and corporate. Relaxed, clean… like a minimalist home in Dwell.
However… I almost always default to sans-serif fonts for body text on my own sites. But this is for an author site, which makes me think along literary lines… and I wonder if a serifed font would better suit the task. Hmm.
Colors: Haven't even gone there much yet… most likely a black-white look with one strong color for highlights. Possibly riff off whatever background image I end up going with, or if I go greyscale on the background… then I’ll go play around at coolors.co.
Pages are not something I think about much. Does that surprise you? It's because the only standard page is an About page, and the rest arise directly out of need.
For my site (and most sites), the home page will tell people what they need to know to know if they're in the right place. The other main page, the About page, is actually one of the most visited pages on just about every website.
Why? Because it's where people go to see if they're in the right place for them in that moment.
In the words of Sonia Simone of Copyblogger, http://www.copyblogger.com/how-to-write-an-about-page/
That’s where I find out who you are, what you do, and why I should read your site.
Every site needs an About Page. Don’t be clever. Call it About.
Aside from the About page, everything is up for grabs. Services? Only if you have services. Products? Same deal. Contact? Nope, not standard.
Why? Because it might be a better idea to send people to a social channel or just give them an email address. (But you'd better believe you'd better mask that email address from bots, or you're opening yourself up to a nightmare of spam for as long as you keep that email address. You've been warned.)
In my case, I'm going to focus on the front page, About, and then Books pages. Once my books are ready to go, I'll create individual pages/sections/areas/sites/something for each of them – but that won't be happening for a few months, so for now, I'll stick with the basics.
Any decision on the blog yet?
I'm taking notes on ideas for blog categories, posts I want to write, and whatever images, videos, and things I want to share. I may or may not go as far as calling them "blog posts" – who knows, most of them may turn out to be better served as social media shares, and save only the real "long form" stuff for blog posts.
Based on my MWR, you can bet that the #1 piece of functionality, in addition to basic WordPress stuff, is the ability to take newsletter signups.
Chances are, I'll stick with Mailchimp. But I'll admit, I've been seeing some convincing things about MailerLite, and ConvertKit has had me curious for a while. More on which I end up going with in a future post.
Beyond that, I'm looking at two author plugins to help make it easier to maintain good content about my books (when they come out). The two I have in mind are Mooberry and Genesis Author Pro . (Being a Genesis guy, I'm partial to them, but I've heard great things about Mooberry so far.)
Social Media Channels
I used to tweet, but stopped years ago.
That's a lot of things to brainstorm, and I hope seeing my list has helped you think better about what you might need to assemble.
Where to next?
Content. I tell every client I work with that content is the #1 piece that takes the longest, so for the next post, we'll take a look at content – what it is, how to get it together, and what to do with it once you've got it.
And by then, I should have some preliminary screenshots of the initial forays into the design, too. Fun stuff!