Thursday, May 13, 2010

Critiquing Author Websites: Stephanie Laurens Wows Me

I've been thinking about that atrociously long to-do list I posted about yesterday and wondering what more I can do each day to keep plugging away at checking items off. My first idea was to lock myself in my office with nothing but my computer chair and computer for the next year. Fortunately, my rational mind (and stomach and bladder) prevailed. I know that after my writing session and work for the day, I often don't have a lot of creative juice or willpower left to sit in this chair an hour longer working on Word docs. Which left either plotting the future story (a good thing, but something I think that needs my subconscious to ponder a little longer), coming up with a valid, marketable reason to do the edits on Aria (but I've already cried once today, so I'm not sure I'm up for that), or working on the website. Clearly, the website won.

Cody, the dear husband that he is, has been taking a website design class, learning to write in HTML and use CSS to design websites. He has some grand ideas for my site and enough knowledge now to start attempting to put them to practice. Now what's needed is my input about what is going to go on the actual pages. I'm not happy with my current website at all. Take a gander, you'll see why. I don't like the color scheme. I don't like the pictures. I don't like the tabs. I'm ready for something different. The question is what? How do I want it to look? What information do I want to include? How can I get it to link to this blog?

While I have no clue on the last (and I hope Cody can help there), I know exactly what I would include if I were already published. My book covers, the ISBNs, links to various places where they could be bought, quotes from reviewers who loved them, the back cover blurbs, my bio, etc. Since I don't yet have a published novel, but I want to create an online presence and a site I can build all these things into, I have some work cut out for me.

However, rather than start from scratch, I had the idea of critiquing other authors' websites. Published authors. Getting inspiration and ideas from people who have a large fan base and know what pleases them. It seems like a great start.

I selected my first author to critique completely randomly, from an interview on Writely So in which the interviewed author remarks that Stephanie Laurens is one of her favorite authors. The name sounded familiar, so I bounced over to her site and struck with the genius idea of website critiquing and very pleased with myself for managing to find something that feels like I'm making progress but that doesn't drain my creative energy. (Note that I say "feels like," because I'm well aware that critiquing sites is getting me no closer to a published novel than scrolling through Cute Overload, though just as Cute Overload is a good refresher for my muse, looking at websites of successful authors will hopefully keep me inspired.)

Thus, my first critique was born:

Overall Impression: Sheer envy and respect. Here I've been whining about all I have to do (place your hand to your forehead, list back a little in your chair, and moan, and you'll be in my general self-pity pose) and she publishes three novels a year! Very impressive! I mean, on days when the writing is flowing, I imagine it to be possible, but holy cow! That's a very steady output.

Favorite Feature: The where to buy information. Not only does the page list all the online resources and major US retailers, it also has the list of specific stores not in the US and Canada where you can find her novels—and what author doesn't dream of having their novel sold in multiple countries and languages? What a great way to showcase it!

A close runner-up of a favorite feature is the Chronological Book List page, which lists the stories in order of the year in which the characters in the book are living. Very cool, and if you wanted to read the books in order according to the characters, you could. Not sure if this is actually a useful item to have on a website, but if you've got the information, it's not hurting anyone to show it. I think I like it mostly because I'm so impressed with how many books she's written and how none of them overlap in fictional time.

Least Favorite Feature: The color scheme, while not overpowering, leaves something to be desired. I don't like to read a lot of black text on a white screen, or worse, purple text on a light lavender screen. It hurts my eyes after a bit. A slightly darker background would be better, either dark with lighter text or black text against a medium tint.

What Works: The depth of this site! Every link has sublinks, yet the site is very easy to navigate. Every series has its own page, and within that, every novel has its own page, and for some, the series' family tree is shown for clarity.

What Translates to the As-of-yet-unpublished Author's Site: On her Press page, she has Articles by Stephanie, which are like extended answers to FAQs. Some were previously published articles or speeches and some appear to just be lengthy thoughts on the topic of her genre or her novels. I can do that!


TikiBird said...

I like this feature! You inspired me to upload the Disneylanders book trailer I just made to my site--here it is:

(And here's the direct YouTube link just for the fun of it: :)

Rebecca Chastain said...

TikiBird, I love your trailer! What a great idea (and one I'm going to copy). I imagine that paring down your story to just a few sentences for the trailer would help with crafting a query!