This article is designed to help you better understand what the options are when looking to hire an author website designer. There are lots of great choices out there now, so how do you best evaluate them to figure out who to hire? When you are looking for author website design services, it’s important to understand that you might be looking for a handful of different criteria, rather than a one-size-fits-all model. Not only are you looking to find the kind of aesthetic that appeals to you and works for your author brand, but you also might want to use a certain platform, or to showcase certain features, or you need to work within a certain budget, or you want to be able to work with someone in person rather than virtually. The list goes on.
Beyond this initial criteria, you also need to understand the shape of the options available to you to meet your needs best. Although many people and companies use the term “author website designer” when referring to themselves, it can actually mean a bunch of different things, and some options will be more fully-featured than others. First, are you working with an individual, or working with a firm/group?:
Working with an individual means they are going to be your single point of contact throughout the project, and are very likely going to do all of the work themselves. Some individuals farm out aspects of their work, and if that matters to you, be sure to ask about it. Individuals wear multiple hats: from communication and project management, to content strategy, to design decisions, to implementation, to SEO (search engine optimization), and beyond. Some people are better at certain things than others, so be sure to explore their portfolio of work and ask questions about what will matter most to you. This person’s experience, especially with authors, matters the most as your author website design rests solely in their hands.
Working with a firm or group means that different folks with different skill sets will be working on different aspects of your project. Most firms are set up so that this is seamless, but as always when multiple people are involved, communication is critical. Sometimes it is a partnership of a designer and a developer, and other times it is a larger group with both junior and senior staff. They will likely charge more as multiple people need to make a living in this scenario, but they usually also offer more features and flexibility as they can pull from many skill sets. You will usually have a project manager or creative director who will be your single point of contact, and you may, or may not, have exposure to other members of the team (like developers).
Once you decide whether working with an individual or a firm is better for you, there are the different aspects of website creation to consider:
Project management. If you are looking for an author website designer service that will hold your hand and walk you through from conception to reality, then solid project management skills are a must. What I mean by that is that you can approach someone to create an author website for you with most of the decisions already made about content, design, platform and features –or– you can approach someone to create an author website for you when all you know is that you need an author website and no decisions have been made. If you already know what you want, what it should look like, and your content is ready-to-go, then you really just need someone to execute it for you so that you don’t have to do it yourself. This tends to be less expensive on the budgetary scale unless you need some advanced features. If you’ve seen some things you like (and don’t like), but you want someone to help you make decisions that work best for you and to guide you along the way, then you want someone who will guide you through with a successful process. This can add to the budget because it takes experience and time to do author website project management. Ideally, you’ll find someone to do this who has a portfolio of author websites because they’ll be familiar with the needs of the author, publisher, and publicist/marketing team, so the process will be seamless. You can also find varying degrees of project management between all and nothing, so be sure to ask about your prospective author website designer’s process to make sure what they offer matches your expectations.
Content creation. Sometimes it’s funny for authors to think about this because, after all, they write for a living! But writing website content is not only writing in your authentic voice for your audience telling a story about yourself, but also writing clear, concise marketing copy for folks with a short attention span. Your author website is there for new and existing fans to get to know you, to find all of your ventures in one place, and to feature your book (and other) projects across time. If you feel comfortable knowing what to write and where to put it, you’re all set. But if you’d like guidance on what to write, where content needs to go, how much to use, and how you might repurpose what’s already been done (eg: book jacket copy), then you need someone who has the experience to guide you. Copyrighting — actually writing website copy — is a subset of content creation and is, itself, a specialized skill. In my experience, given direction, most authors write great website copy on their own. There are definitely authors who don’t have time, or who want to capitalize on specialized copyrighting experience for their author brand, who want someone else to take care of it for them. Make sure the level of help you need is available from your author website designer, and find out how the cost for this help is determined.
Design. When you tell people you’re an “author website designer” this is the skill set they imagine: the one where you figure out color palettes, font choices, images, layout and overall aesthetic and visual design. It’s most critical that you choose a designer whose showcased aesthetic fits with your author brand and where you like the examples in their portfolio. Their portfolio might show many different styles, but if you don’t see any examples of their work that is similar to what you are looking for, they may not be the right fit for you. Most designers will help you articulate what you want, even if you aren’t sure of the language to use to describe it, or aren’t yet sure exactly what you want. Designers with less experience might have a harder time helping tease that out of you and translating your requests into a cohesive design, and might instead take your requests as-is without any additional thought or reflection. So if you feel confident in what you’re asking for, then saving some money by choosing someone with less experience might be a good option. If you’re looking for someone to take the lead on the design front, push back when you suggest something that won’t work well, and have ideas that you may not have thought about that elevate the whole design, spending more on a more experienced designer is a good idea. Also note that most folks tend to fall on the side of being a designer with enough technical skills to implement their designs on a particular platform, or a developer with enough design skills to make something look good. However there are a handful of folks who can do both well, so look for testimonials from happy clients that mention both skill sets.
Development. This is the part of your project where the rubber meets the road and all the planning and design comes to life. You can absolutely hire a developer who will plug your design and content into a theme or template (without thinking too much about the design implications) and save money that way, but more often than not you will either work with a designer who can also do development, or a team with a separate designer and developer. Most developers specialize in a particular platform, like WordPress or Shopify, and some work across platforms. You want to work with someone with lots of experience on the platform on which you want your website built. If you aren’t sure what platform is right for your author website, I’ve written an article about that here. One of the marks of a good developer is someone who thinks about future-proofing your website. By that I don’t mean it’s possible to set-it-and-forget it forever, but that there are often many ways to both design and develop something, some that are easier to maintain and update than others. If there’s a portion of your website that you want to update often, and you want it to be as easy as possible, it can be designed and built in a way that best accommodates that. When your designer and developer is the same person, they will likely consider this. If your designer and developer are separate people, and they work closely, they will work together on it. But if your designer and developer aren’t in close communication it’s common for a design to be created without thinking about how it will be implemented, and therefore, it can end up being nearly impossible to be updated without the developer being directly involved. Something else to consider is that if a developer will only work with you on an obscure, not-often-used website creation platform, it’s a red flag. You want a website that someone else can step in to help you with should you need it, and that won’t disappear should the obscure company suddenly go belly-up. If you can only get updates to your site by going back to the same developer again and again, it’s not very sustainable and slows the update process down considerably.
SEO and marketing. You probably already know something about SEO (search engine optimization) and web marketing even if you don’t know that you know it! If you’re a consumer of the internet, and you’ve ever done a Google search you know the most important thing: to be a good match for someone’s search you need content that they want to explore to show up quickly in search results. If you search for “cozy mystery set in Venice, Italy” you want to find books that match that description. If you are an author who is writing those books, you want them to find you. SEO and web marketing are all about matching the folks doing a search with the results that fit them best leveraging a tool like Google. You can hire people or teams who focus only on these skills, because it is a deep dive, but, ideally, your author web designer has some sense of how your website fits into your marketing ecosystem, and how to best set your website up for success. They can offer guidance on what you might do elsewhere to help, and how that might integrate into your website — such as your social media use — and they should be familiar with working with publicists and marketing teams (should you hire them) to ensure your website is meeting their needs too. What you don’t want is for you, as the website owner, to have no plan for your SEO and marketing, and for your author website designer to have no plan either. Web marketing can take many forms, from crafting your website’s content, to social media strategies, to ads, to drip email campaigns, to creative partnerships, etc.. Your author website designer doesn’t need to be a master at all of these — and most aren’t — but you want them to create a website for you that will enhance your marketing efforts, rather than hampering them, by having enough experience to know the difference.
Maintenance. Sadly, websites don’t live forever. I was shocked to learn (and I do this for a living) that the average website lifespan is only two years! In my experience (over the course of doing this for many years), the average author website design lifespan is about 5 years, and closer to 2-3 for a dedicated book website. Website technologies come and go, platforms come and go, and what consumers expect changes over time — and you want to remain responsive to this to stay relevant. But during the life of your website there are two things that will likely happen: first, you will need to update the content on your website, and second, the technology on which it is built will be updated with bug fixes and new features. Similar to what I said above about future-proofing your website in its development, maintenance is its own category of skills that not every website designer does well. If your website designer will build you a truly spectacular website, but you can’t update it yourself, have anyone else step in to help, or you have to pay $$$ for every change and update, it’s not very sustainable. When hiring an author website designer you want them to discuss what happens after your website goes live in terms of changes and fees. Beyond that, find out if they can teach you what you need to know to keep your website healthy and updated, or whether it’s easy to find resources online for teaching yourself. If someone hands you a great website, but then falls off the face of the earth or doesn’t respond to issues, it’s not what you want.
As you can see, there’s lots of consider here, but I’ve listed out the main elements of what author website designers do so that you can figure out what you most need help with, and also find the best fit for you as you begin the hiring process. Not every website designer does all of these things, and not every website designer does all of them well. Like with any service, there are a wide range of price points and experience levels to consider along with the elements that you need for your project. The best way to know if someone will be a good fit for you is to look at examples of their work, and find out what the website owner thought about working with them both in the creation, and also in the maintenance of their website. Armed with this information, you will be able to determine if someone can create what you want, for the budget you have, in a way that brings you success.
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