Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Our Handmade Website

by Eric

It's axiomatic that writers must have websites. When Mary and I saw our first novel, One for Sorrow published in 1999 we already possessed a website, left over from the mid-nineties when it was axiomatic that everyone on the Internet must have what was then called a homepage. I simply added a book cover and some reviews to turn our homepage into the required authors' page. With a few fresh coats of html paint it remains our rambling home on the web today. Visitors intrepid enough to explore dusty corridors and open creaking doors can find pages untouched in more than twenty years.

In 1995 html seemed like magic. By keyboarding simple bits of gobbledegook even a middle-aged Liberal Arts major like me could arrange images and words on a page floating out there in cyberspace for all the world to see. Who would have guessed how useful those "<" and ">" keys would turn out to be?

Do-it-yourself simplicity doesn't last. Soon frames came along and javascript. Today .css (cascading style sheets for those at my level of sophistication) look more like programming language than the html I learned to write. No doubt, a site designed by an expert looks a lot slicker and probably works a little better than one handcoded in nineties html by an amateur.

I say expertly produced sites work only a little better because I am a believer in content and it is the words and images that contain the content, not the design. But not everyone thinks like me, and I suspect that poor or old fashioned or amateurish design discourages many people from looking at content.

All this occurred to me recently when I decided our website should be spruced up prior to the release of Murder in Megara In October and The Guardian Stones in January. For several days I studied .css and decided that unless I were willing to take a course in it (which I'm not) my version of a .css site would be no improvement on the crude html we already have. So I tidied up a bit, as much as it is possible to tidy up html written in 1995 by someone who barely knew what he was doing.

But why not hire a professional? How many authors produce and maintain their own web pages? Not many, as far as I can tell.

We're not trying to pinch pennies. It's just that twenty years ago I loved the idea that anyone could put up their own web pages, without assistance, and I still feel that way. And why interpose a professional web master between ourselves and readers? Heck, we've kept plenty of personal essays on the site, most written long before we had mystery novels published. Do they give the site an amateur feel? I doubt they have any value from a marketing point of view.

Maybe our site is just my small revolt against the obsession with slick presentation and the rush to appear more professional than thou. Yes, I prefer our books -- which people pay for -- to be produced in a professional manner. But can't we meet readers on the Internet more informally?

Mary and I hope our website might be of more interest to some readers than the typical author's site. If nothing else it's a museum quality example of Grandma Moses style html circa 1995, still crammed with old stuff, an electronic attic. Who doesn't like to rummage through an attic?

Our Website


  1. I am trying to pinch pennies. When I saw all the free website options, I decided to give it a try. Once you get everything set up the way you want, it's just tweaking and adding fresh content from then on.

    1. Excellent point. If you can find a simple, good looking template, it is also a safer alternative than doing it yourself from scratch. I doubt my old hand coding displays perfectly in every kind of browser and mobile device as a professionally designed template would.

      But, as you know, choosing and using a template still requires making plenty of design choices yourself rather than delegating to a webmaster so you are still more personally involved.

      I really like the look of your website, by the way. Clean and simple.


  2. Eric, I loved your comment about meeting the reader more informally on the Internet. I have struggled with the idea of making my blog more professional, but I always fall back on a very conversational tone to what I post there. I like talking to people about mutual interests and a blog is just another form of talking, without the strain on vocal cords. LOL

    1. Struggling to look professional but falling back into a conversational tone pretty much describes my own "promotional" efforts. As authors we are advised to present ourselves professionally but I feel as uncomfortable with that as I do wearing a necktie. Mary and I wrote in amateur venues, for fun and two-way communication, long before we ever sold anything and I have a hard time approaching my Internet writing any other way. Perhaps I am shooting myself in the foot by not striving hard enough to maintain a professional persona, which many authors seem to do, but it's a little late for me to change.