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Web Site Design Tips for Writers
By Lisa Maliga
© 2006-2009

There are thousands of writers, paid and unpaid, online and offline, who are in the process of putting their works up for the audience of the World Wide Web to witness. This is a marvelous opportunity for undiscovered talent to be given a chance for literary acceptance, and it’s also a way for established authors to share their stories, make their works readily available, and encourage others to develop their writing skills.

Before you build your web site, here are a few tips that will help you launch your words online.

Domain Name Domain names run less than ten dollars a year, so they are quite affordable. What will you tell your online friends about your web site? The obvious choices would be your own name or the title of your book, magazine, newspaper, subject/area of expertise, or some combination of words that accurately represent what you do writing-wise. Make it memorable, and not just a series of numbers and letters. I spoke with a representative of a web hosting company and learned that one of their clients had a complex series of letters and numbers that, when decoded, revolved around the birthdays and anniversaries of his family and pets! If you have a common name and it’s not available, think of what you would like your site to represent. Do you specialize in articles? Books? Short stories? Scholarly works? Screenplays? Children’s books? This is where you will need to conjure up a dynamic and descriptive name that will be online for a long time.

Free Web Sites Being on a tight budget might limit your ability to buy a web hosting company’s services. Be warned that you might end up with a site that sends out pop up ads and displays lots of uncontrolled banner advertising, generally other free sites and possibly even porn sites. Another alarming feature is the preponderance of cookies and/or spyware that can result from these types of sites. You will be limited in what you may add, and in how many photos or graphics will be allowed, as the bandwidth is quite limited. This option is acceptable if you plan to maintain a small site or are doing it as a way to get your online start. Remember, you can always upgrade. Fee-Based Web Sites Whether you’re adding one page to the web or thousands, you need to decide which web design program to use. Microsoft FrontPage, Macromedia Dreamweaver, and Adobe are three of the most popular web design software programs. However, there are many others and some of them are free when you sign up with a web host. Make sure you’re comfortable using the software. While web design software programs come with books, it’s advisable to purchase additional reference books, or check them out of the library. For more information, look for various online articles about your chosen web design software. Hosting It If you currently have a reliable ISP such as AOL, MSN, Earthlink, Adelphia, Yahoo, etc., your next step is to find a place where you can launch your site. These ISP’s provide web hosting for various prices, but you should compare hosts. Read reviews at:

Here are some items you should consider.

Monthly cost – Be aware of the number of limitations and restrictions you’ll encounter. If a web host advertises free space, it might actually mean that such an offer is only for a short period or time, or it’s hidden in the fine print [if at all] on the hosting company’s site.

Setup fee – Sometimes a hosting company will charge a small one-time fee, other times they will have a hefty charge. The more services you require such as: multiple e-mail addresses, a shopping cart, forums, streaming audio/video, extra disk space, etc., the higher the amount.

Disk space – How many MB [millions of bytes] will you need? You can get as few as 5 MB and as many as 1000 for less than $20 per month.

Transfer rate – GB [billions of bytes] of pictures, text, etc. you are allowed to upload onto your site per month. It also applies to what a visitor on your site will be viewing and if you have an exceptionally high rate of traffic you will have to pay for it. Note: please don’t expect a lot of visitors just after your site goes online unless you are appearing on a TV show or your movie is in theatres.

Technical support availability – Whether by e-mail, online chat or toll-free number, this is a service that many consider vital, especially if they have no experience with web sites.

Reliable uptime – If your host is on downtime that means your site will be unavailable to anyone. Look for a host with no less than 99% uptime.

Will any promotional packages be included or is there a fee?

If using a program such as Dreamweaver or FrontPage, will the web hosting company charge extra for this service?

Navigating Around Your Web Site

Consider how to get from your home page [or index page] to other areas of your site via providing text or pictorial links. Many sites utilize a row of well-labeled navigation buttons and/or text links along the top or side. Some utilize both top and bottom for additional ease of use.

Since you are creating a showcase for your work[s], remember that having a “long" page where the viewer has to scroll down a lot is annoying. Create your home page in such a way as to have a link to each section of your site. Be careful about adding images, as they can slow things down. Keep pictures in the JPG, JPEG, or GIF formats and as small as possible megabyte-wise, ideally under 50K. I once visited a writer’s site with a huge BMP photo. It dramatically slowed the page’s loading time, even with a high-speed connection, and after waiting for several minutes, I left. You want to invite viewers to stay around and discover your site, not put them to sleep as they await a single item to be unfurled.

Perhaps you have written many articles, whether on one topic or several. Instead of slapping them up on your home/index page, treat them with deference, allowing each one its own page. The more pages you maintain, the more likely it is both search engines and potential readers will discover you. In the online world, more is indeed merrier, but it’s also excellence that will bring the guests to your site. You’re a writer you should be able to breezily inform the online public that your site is worth visiting – and coming back to again and again.

Proper Grammar and Spelling Nothing cries out rank amateur louder than poor grammar and spelling on a writer’s web site. Yet I’ve consistently seen such things as this wondrous excerpt: “Heres the deal buy a copy of ‘Title’ by me and give it an honest reveiw of your opion and you could be the lucky winner/owner to a signed copy of six extra poems which were originally cut from the book and will be featured in my next collection ‘Title #2.’" And yes, that author was “published" by a certain scam vanity press.

Please write your text on a word processing program before you publish it onto your web site. Even if you don’t have the latest version of Word or WordPerfect, use Notepad as your text editor. Then read whatever you have written aloud, as that’s how you can iron out problems you might not find otherwise. Make sure your prose has a natural flow to it – as though you’re writing a letter to a close friend.

Colors of the Web Your literary works/excerpts must stand out, but hopefully not on a starry “Lost in Space" black background with a shimmery silver font. Nor do you always want to use a white background and black font. Simple, contrasting color combinations work best such as a pastel colored background with a black font. Knowing how you react to colors when seeing them online should be your guide. Green is indicative of not just money, but of nature. Light blue is calming but some find it rather depressing. Pink is a decidedly feminine color, while gray and beige are pleasingly neutral hues, which appeal almost equally to men and women.

Fonts of Knowledge You can use a larger font, up to a 14-point, as this will be ideal for those Internet weary travelers who are more accustomed to reading in 8 point Verdana or Arial. Don’t use an array of fonts, as this looks unprofessional and can cause readers to have more difficulty reading your words. Don’t use too many colors on a given page, as this makes it more confusing to the eye and is distracting. The biggest error a web design amateur can make is to use a script type font such as Amazone BT or TypoUpright BT and put them in all capital letters. Try it as an experiment and note how awful it looks. Your fonts reflect your words – choose wisely.

Brief Biography Tell the world who you are in a few short paragraphs. How did you start writing? What are your qualifications for writing about your topic[s]? List your writing credits and provide links to them if possible. Do you have a unique hobby that makes you stand out? Is your hobby something you have written about?

Adding a photograph depends upon how comfortable you are in showing people what you look like. Photography is like writing – it’s an art. If a professional takes your photo, chances are it’ll enhance your site.

You’ll want to include excerpts from your books, poems, plays/screenplays, etc. on your site. Don’t publish your entire 499-page novel about the Civil War on one page in 6-point Times New Roman font! If you want to give your book away as an eBook, then please buy a copy of Adobe Acrobat Writer and format it properly.

Guestbook Most guestbooks show off how many people, usually friends, relatives, kindly coworkers, and/or other unpublished writers, have added praises about web design and/or literary skills. Sometimes people will add some frank remarks, which will cause you to delete them, thereby wasting time that could have been spent writing. If someone really needs to get in touch with you or is moved by some item on your site, they will contact you via e-mail.

Contact Information Suppose we get onto your site and really take to your writing. We want to write you a fan letter, or perhaps a publisher or editor has an assignment for you. With that in mind, please be sure your contact information is easy to find. This means, first and foremost, your email address. Make it simple to locate, and use a bold font. If you must use a little animated mailbox or similar graphic, put it where it’s noticeable. Also, it’s recommended that you add your email address to every single page of your site. Look at it as a way to always keep in touch in this 24/7 medium of the ‘net.

To learn more about web site design, promotion and other web-related items, see

No matter how brilliantly you design your site, it needs to be made available, publicized and search engine optimized in order for others to pay you a visit. Watch for Promoting Your Writing Web Site, which covers these vital areas to get your site up, running, and communicating with your online fans.

A fun little opinion piece...

Confessions of a Fragrance Fanatic
by Lisa Maliga
© 2005-2009
Aromatherapy is absolutely essential!

My addiction to aromas has haunted me since childhood. I attended a flower festival at the age of four and my mother was unable to keep my nose away from all the fresh and fragrant blooms. I used my impressionable sense of smell as a guide to determine if I liked my mother’s cooking or not. The beef stew always got a quick unhappy sniff, while anything dessert like was allowed to linger, appreciated by my fussy sense of smell.

A few years ago, my quest for the simplest yet most compelling scent of all, vanilla, led me from the avenue of pure aromatherapy grade essential oils into the back alleys of synthetic fragrances. I had found a marvelous vanilla absolute from Madagascar but when my supplier vanished I was left minus the sensuous aroma that I knew and adored.

Yes readers, I did something desperate: I ordered my first vanilla fragrance oil [commonly referred to as an f.o.]. When it arrived a week later, I looked at the 1 ounce amber bottle and even before opening it I just knew it was a sham, an impersonation of the vanilla bean; a mockery of nature. Carefully opening the bottle, I took my first whiff. Surprised, I took another, longer sniff of the vanilla f.o. It smelled like vanilla, no question about that! The cost was kinder on my credit card, and the amount was larger too. But what happened when it was poured into a batch of soap? Would it hold up in my new concoction of oils that were blended into whipped shea butter? In my online research I’d read of scents smelling great out of the bottle [OOB] but turning into something quite different when added to bath & body products.

The world of aromatherapy is comprised of scents that originate directly from plants and their various parts: flowers, roots, fruit, bark, or leaves. If you buy a bottle of lavender essential oil from a reputable source you will find it has four attributes listed on the label: country of origin, Latin [botanical] name, part of plant used, and method of distillation. [Cold pressed, steam distilled, etc.]. Highly principled suppliers will even provide a fifth element, the principal constituents in classifying their essential oils. I was accustomed to this type of information readily provided for me. When I saw that plain brown glass container with just the words “Vanilla fragrance” and the supplier’s name and address, I knew I had indeed taken my first shaky steps down that shadowy alleyway.

Tuberose absolute, $200 per oz., was another favorite aroma that I wanted to add to my list of favorites. This white flower’s petals were so delicate that their sweet aromas were removed in a process that involved solvents classifying it as an absolute, rather than a pure essential oil. Still, an absolute was far superior to a mere fragrance. I decided to try a tuberose fragrance for far less money and when it arrived, along with some buddies doing impersonations of rose, jasmine and sandalwood, I was in a state of nasal bliss. The tuberose did resemble those fragrant white buds, and the other florals sung a sincere imitation of their live counterparts. Sandalwood from India or even Australia was beyond my means [back then] but the sandalwood f.o. was reputed to contain Indonesian sandalwood e.o. and so it was somewhat natural.

Blending became another passion that was easily indulged with less costly fragrances. I made my first sandalwood-rose combination and spent the next days coming up with more and more blending ideas, some even including the few citrus essential oils that I had bought before my vanilla indulgence. I the library and the net to find ideas and soon had pages of notes of what fragrances were able to be combined to create layers of scents. From fleeting top notes such as neroli [orange blossom] and lemon to middle notes that would involve longer lasting scents like lilac and sweet pea to the deeper and sultriest notes such as vanilla and patchouli. Perfumery was based on music and a perfumer was considered the conductor.

While I wasn’t a perfumer, I was able to obtain fragrance duplications, usually called dupes. Now dupes were added to my ever-expanding lists of must haves. I had soon amassed a supply of impressive designers to my kitchen cupboard: Chanel, Thierry Mugler, Guerlain, Bvlgari, Burberry, and Vera Wang. Also filling my shadowy [both essential oils and fragrances needed to be stored in a cool, dark place] storeroom were imitations of Bath & Body Works, and Victoria’s Secret scents. Soon my fixation on various fruits such as mango, coconut, pineapple, kiwi, and several berry scents were being stocked in a careful array of alphabetically ordered scents. The fruity phase morphed into desserts and there were several companies who provided various calorie-free chocolate, variations of vanilla, brown sugar, pumpkin pie, and cinnamon bun scents.

As I searched for a coconut lime verbena, which really was a coconut lime as the verbena was almost undetectable, I took a stock of what had happened to that cupboard in the northwest corner of my kitchen. Inside sat a stockpile of synthetic scents. I went online and found a vanilla absolute that a reputable essential oil only supplier carried and purchased a small amount. It cost more than at least a dozen fragrances, but I felt a sense of relief that I was out of those twisting, dank dark alleyways and back onto the tree-lined roadway that smelled of true nature.



© 2001-2009 by Lisa Maliga