You Need a Website

It’s true—you do need a website. We can debate what form the site takes—a static site, a blog, something else—but you need a presence on the web where people can find more information about you and your work.

If I can’t find them online, my gut reaction is that they’re not really professionals yet. This doesn’t mean you need to blog all the time…but you should at least have an online presence with a little bio and links to your published works. You can make one for free, and it’ll take you an hour. This is 2012. Get a damn website.”

~James Sutter, 9 Ways to Piss Off an Editor

And if you have a site, it should be professional. It only benefits you to make it so.

What do we mean by professional?

It should be appealing.
Perhaps even better stated: don’t turn off your visitor. Too often sites are built without any real considerations for the viewer—there’s no sense of a color scheme, of how graphics should be implemented, how to properly handle graphics, where to place content and navigation…it’s just a mess (and sometimes makes our eyes bleed). First impressions do matter. You will lose most of your viewers within a few seconds if your site looks horrible.

It should be easy to read.
Not all sites are about textual content, but as is focused on writers we will assume your site is (we’ll tackle online portfolios and art driven sites in a later article). As such, you want people to read what you’ve written—that should be the goal of any writer—and you can help your chances by making this easy. Font choices, font sizing, color, contrast, and clarity all come into play here. If in doubt, stick to the basics: darker text on a lighter background, away from graphics, and using standard “reading” fonts—no script type, no comic sans, nothing too big or too small.

It should be easy to navigate.
If you’ve managed to get a visitor to your site you probably would like to keep them there for a while. This is where navigation comes into play—it’s what we all use to move from page to page, from one bit of content to another. Make sure your navigation is logical, well organized, and not overloaded to the point your visitor does not know where to begin.

It should look modern.
This one is a bit tricky and not one to over-stress about. You don’t have to chase after trends (rounded corners or square, drop-shadows or not) but you should keep in mind that tastes (as well as technology) change and it doesn’t take too many years before a website can look dated. Plan on refreshing your site every few years or so.

It should be modern—code wise.
As stated before technology changes and your site should reflect this. There’s a wide range of browsers out there, running on a wide range of devices, and your site should function on as many places as possible. If you put your site up when Internet Explorer 6 was all the rage, your website is a dinosaur.

We recently redesigned the site and took all of these into consideration. Of course we wanted to rebrand the site, to put our own mark on it (while retaining a few design elements that tied back to what it was), but more importantly we wanted the site to be useable. This means high readability, navigation that’s easy to find and click-through, and taking advantage of the latest in webdev technology—all while making the site visually appealing.

Plus we had a fun time doing it.

Your website is an indispensable tool and it should be given the same amount of attention you wish from your visitors. We custom-designed our site because we have that capability, but you don’t have to—there are a myriad of solutions at your disposal, many of which are easy and accessible. Over the coming months we will revisit this topic in greater detail, as well as discussing other options you may encounter: static sites versus CMS-driven, custom design versus themes, self-built or ready-made, using friends or family versus hiring a designer/developer, search engine optimization and how to get more visitors. We won’t help you learn HTML or become a web designer, but we will provide guidance to these and other considerations—no matter your skill or experience level.

Note: both Galen Dara and Bear Weiter contributed to this article.