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Do I Need A Website?
(Expanded version of the article, "Web Design for Beginners"
in the January-February '05 SCBWI Bulletin)
by Elizabeth O. Dulemba

     Yes, you need a web site.
     “But I’m not published,” you say?
     You will be. Part of being published is promotion- start now. When the contract comes through, you’ll already have a web presence set up, ready to go, with links to vendors selling your book. You’ll be in the habit of saying, “visit my web site.” The internet creates a clone of you, promoting you, 24-7.
     Another reason a web site is so important is that with the typically slow turnaround times in the children’s publishing industry, you might move or change your phone number while your manuscript is sitting in a slush pile somewhere. Your web address can remain the same. You can even have a consistent e-mail address forwarded to you, wherever you are, through your web site. A web site creates a stable place where people can always get in touch with you.

     Okay, I’ve convinced you. But how do you get a web site?
     Many Internet Service Providers, ISPs — the company you have your e-mail through, offer free web space when you sign up. This may seem like a good way to break in, but these setups typically function in ways that you won’t experience anywhere else in the web building world. Also, the names to these sites can be ridiculously complicated with tildes, slashes, and strange keyboard figures. Move on.
     The alternative is to purchase your domain name. A domain name is the address to a web site or the URL, Uniform Resource Locator. That is: whatever-you-decide.com. To confuse matters, now there’s .net, .org, .tv, .biz, .info, .us, and more. But .com was the original, and it’s the one everybody thinks of first. Want your-initials.com? Chances are, it’s taken. But imagine meeting someone, handing them your card, and saying, “My web site is myname.com.” Even if you don’t plan to create a web site right now, securing that domain name is a good idea.
     If your-name.com isn’t available, try to come up with something simple and easy to spell. Fantasiashazialand.com will fly out of your memory as fast as it does the people you want to visit.

     Are web sites expensive?
     They don’t have to be. You purchase a domain through a web hosting company for $15 a year. That cost can’t be avoided as it is controlled by the all-powerful internet gods, but many web hosting companies offer free web space. In return, they place ads on the web page such as blinking banners and lottery sites. But hey, it’s free.
      The real price of a web site depends on how many bells and whistles you want and how much you are willing to do yourself. The cheapest hosting company I know, http://directnic.com (my hosting company), offers bannerless (no ads) hosting for $15 a year. No, that’s not a typo. They remain that cheap because they don’t support higher programming languages such as cgi and php, the bones behind many bells and whistles.


     So, you’ve got your hosting company and your domain name. Now what?
     For the hands on type, tutorials are aplenty on the web. Htmlgoodies.com is a great one for beginners. Sometimes finding the right answer is knowing the right question - that in itself can be daunting.
     There are three basics you need to understand about how web sites work. A web site starts in a folder on your computer where you keep everything you want to share. It then moves to a folder out in cyberspace where the internet can access all that information you want to share (this is your hosting company). It also requires a way to move that information from your computer to that folder in cyberspace. This is called FTP, or File Transfer Protocol. Two popular FTP programs are: Fetch (for MACs) and Voyager (for PCs). They are inexpensive, around $25, and can be downloaded directly from the web. But there are ways around this, so keep reading.
     Several web design programs have FTP as a built in function, such as FrontPage and Dreamweaver. However, unless you are planning on doing a lot of web sites, you may find these programs cost prohibitive. I also think it helps to know a little html (the language of the web) to get the most out of these programs.


     Don’t have time to mess with all that?
     Many hosting companies are set up to help out beginners and cost, on average, about $10 a month. These types of hosting companies often have templates and “plug-and-play” features that can make it, dare I say, easy to create your own web site. They do all the behind the scenes work for you (including FTP). Two examples are: bravenet.com and godaddy.com. Many of these hosting companies offer fun options like guest books and blogs. These are the bells and whistles that require higher programming languages, expect to pay more for these features. Even so, this is the best way for most beginners to get a web site up and running.
     NOTE: A new trend in websites is to actually use a blog (or web log) as one's web site. A good resource to look into this option is http://www.blogger.com/. Blogs are usually completely free. Can't beat that! I walk you through the steps of setting up a website using a blog in my article, Build An Easy Website.


     What do you put on your web site?
     We’re back to that clone of you in cyberland. Who are you and what are you creating? Are you a writer available for school and library visits? Make that information available. Are you an illustrator and want to show examples of your work? An online portfolio is an essential marketing tool in today’s industry. Keep your audience in mind as you hit only the key points. You’re trying to sell yourself here, not share your vacation pictures to Tiawana - that should be a separate site. A welcome page, a projects (or portfolio) page, a bio page, and a contact page are enough to start out. These elements can even be combined on one page with anchors, links that jump to different sections on the same page, set into the coding to avoid endless scrolling. A web site is similar to a billboard or a brochure. You want to capture someone’s attention, sharing your most important information, before they whiz by to the next web site at 70 mph (or 200 dsl). Keep it short and sweet.


      Not a designer?
      I am a strong believer that an ugly web site is worse than having no web site at all. Avoid background patterns, bright colors, rapid cycling animations and bad music. Just because you can do it, doesn’t mean you should. A simple brochure site doesn’t have to be boring though. Basic programming can do groovy things with buttons and links and look very classy. I created this very site purely with html and javascript - no bells and whistles. There are also some attractive templates available on the web, they range from free to less than $100. Try: http://www.elated.com/pagekits, http://layoutland.com, or type “free web site templates” into your search engine.


      Still overwhelmed?
     There are lots of freelancers out there who will go through this process for you, from buying a domain name, to creating a web site, to hosting it and maintaining it — for a fee. Prices will vary according to design skills, technical capabilities, and the level of creativity that you desire for your site.
     Whether you do it yourself or hire someone, having a web presence isn’t just a fun thing to have, but an essential part of doing business — even in the children’s publishing industry.



Web Hosting Sites with Site Building Capabilities:

Lots of cool bells and whistles:




The cheapest by far, but no bells and whistles capablities:

TUTORIALS
HTML Goodies
Web Monkey

PROGRAMMING TOOLS
FrontPage
Dreamweaver
The Javascript Source
Layout Land

FTP SOFTWARE
Fetch ­ for Macs
Voyager ­ for PCs

DESIGN REFERENCES
Cool Web Design
Shockwave Gallery
Cool Home Pages

FREE SITE STATISTICS
StatCounter

ARTICLES
40+ Web Design and Development Resources for Beginners


All Artwork © Elizabeth O. Dulemba -  Y'all play nice, Okay?
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