There are so many WordPress themes out there — how do you select the best one for you?
As an author, you have some specific criteria the theme needs to meet to create a great author website, but before we get to that, let’s go over the criteria I use for ANY WordPress theme I’m considering using to create a site:
- It wasn’t just released a few days ago. You want to make sure that any theme you’re considering using has a good track record, and that includes being around for a little while. You want to make sure enough people have already used it that the theme creators have worked out the kinks before you commit to it. A good rule of thumb is the 6-month-rule — if it was released less than 6 months ago, leave it on the shelf for a bit. Even if it has the coolest, most up-to-date features ever.
- It’s well reviewed. You want to purchase your theme from a source that allows themes to be reviewed. These reviews provide a way for those who have used the theme to comment on how well its worked for them and how well its been supported when things went wrong. Both are important for you to know the likelihood that the theme will also work well for you.
- It’s well supported. Make sure that the theme creator(s) actively reply to comments and support requests — you want to make sure they’ll answer your questions or concerns if anything comes up. Also make sure the theme has been updated recently — just like WordPress and Plugins update themselves regularly (like the apps on your phone) to fix bugs and security issues, and to add features, you want the theme creators updating their theme to be compatible with new WordPress developments. If a theme was created 18 months ago, but hasn’t been updated since, that’s not a good sign.
- It’s responsive / mobile compatible. This often goes without saying for modern websites, but you want to be sure it works well from the smallest display (eg: phone) up to a large display (eg: huge desktop monitor), and you want to pay particular attention to the behavior of the features you plan to use most often and how they behave in each scenario. You can easily grow/shrink your browser window to mimic this while looking at the theme demos.
- It’s easy to update / maintain. Does the theme offer a way for you to more easily update the page layout using templates or a visual composer/builder? What about updating the theme itself, do you have to do that via FTP or is there a built-in interface within WordPress?
- It provides the functionality you want. If you know that a blog will be a big part of your marketing plan, or that you’ll use Twitter frequently, you’ll want to look for outstanding features & design that support what you plan to use the most.
- It allows you to change the focus of your site without starting again. If the focus of a theme is too narrow, or you start out with just a blog but want but add lots of pages in the future, you want to be sure it’ll be easy for you to modify the shape of your site without starting with an entirely new theme. Often WordPress themes are described as being very easy to swap out, one for another, and that’s true when you’re just starting a new site. But once you have lots of content in place, it may be very easy to change the theme, but very difficult to make your content look equally good in both. You may end up basically needing to start again with your page content to get the same text and images looking great in your new theme. So consider starting with more functionality than you may need at present for the sustainability of your site.
Once you get past this basic criteria, it’s time to start thinking about what content & functionality you’ll need on your author website. You’ll want to read this post about what to include in author & book websites to help you determine the kind of content that will work best for your project.
Here are specific WordPress theme features to look out for as an author:
- Color scheme & visual design. You want your book cover art to stand out. This means you want a color scheme option that either coordinates with it, or is neutral enough so that people notice your books & not the site’s design. And if you have multiple books, you want a color scheme & visual design that works equally well with any of your covers.
- It’s not too reliant on photography. There are really wonderful looking themes out there that very heavily rely on beautiful photography. Now, if you’re a photographer (even if it’s a hobby) and you feel confident about your ability to edit photo dimensions and resolution to get the images your site needs you’re all set. Alternately, if you are working with a photographer who can do that for you, you’re also all set. You can get some outstanding images of your book covers over neutral backgrounds so that text is easily legible over part of them, then use them as featured images and backgrounds. If you can’t do that, then consider that photo-heavy themes won’t be a good fit for you. It’s possible a theme can use photos beautifully, but also work well without them, and if that seems clear to you from the theme demo it’s a good choice. But a better choice is a theme that can show you an example of a landing page that can feature a product (ie: your book) without spending a fortune on photography.
- Social media integration. It’s likely that you’re using at least one social media platform to market your book, and you’ll want to make sure that readers can visit your site via social media links, but also that readers who visit your site can easily follow you on social media – it’s two sides of the same coin. Even better than a link to your Facebook page or Twitter feed is a widget that allows people to follow you right from your website. You can often add this by embedding a widget provided the social media platform, but some themes have built-in integration with social media platforms that looks great with that theme, in particular with Twitter or Instagram feeds. Be sure to look at the options the theme provides, including how easy it is to add a new profile if you decide to use more or a different one in the future.
- E-commerce. For purchasing your book via Amazon or iBooks all you’ll need is a link, but be sure to look at the designs for things like buttons to which you’ll add those links — some allow you to put an icon in the button to differentiate the retailers, but you’ll want button designs that are attractive and easy to draw readers’ attention to. And if you’ll be selling the book yourself directly from your site, see if the theme offers easy e-commerce integration via something like WooCommerce. Make sure to check if it works equally well for a single product as it does for a fully-fledged store.
- Mailing list signup. If you use a popular mailing list service like MailChimp, there may be an integration built into the theme. If not, it’s usually easy to embed the code, but does the design allow you to create an attractive call-to-action in which to put it?
- Contact form. You may just want to put an email address on the site, but if you’d like to use a contact form, what does it look like? Can you easily adjust it to your needs?
- Testimonials/blurbs. Make sure it’s easy to add testimonials/blurbs to your site so that they’re prominent and nice looking. There’s little worse than having a GREAT blurb, and no way to show it off.
Some of this functionality can be handled via plugins, but often you’ll get a better result if it’s built into the theme — both for design and compatibility reasons.
With all that said, here are some WordPress themes to consider if you’re creating an author website yourself:
This is a great multi-purpose theme that has been a best-seller for awhile. And with good reason — it’s a pleasure to use, is very flexible, and provides all the features you need in an elegant way.
- Here’s an example of an author site I built using Enfold: http://www.laurenceralph.com
This theme has a bolder, slightly edgier design than Enfold (above) but is equally clean, easy-to-use, and attractive.
- Here’s an example of a book site I built using Impreza: https://www.outboxonline.com/portfolio/100-thimbles-in-a-box-website-design/
This theme has fewer design options than the above two themes, but that can be good when you like how it looks (less to think about!). It’s just as feature-rich, however, and easy to use.
- Here’s an example of an author site I built using Brandon: https://www.outboxonline.com/portfolio/memoir-website-design-for-jasmin-singer/
This theme has lots of options, and is especially good a media (like videos). You’ll need to spend a bit more time getting used to it & setting it up because many of the features may be outside of the scope of what you need, but you’ll end up with a great result.
- Here’s an example of an author site I built using Jupiter: https://www.outboxonline.com/portfolio/author-website-for-linda-monk/
Note that all these themes are premium themes, meaning you pay for them. There are also great free themes out there, but none are as beautiful and flexible as the premium options (IMHO) — it’s worth it to do your research then pay the price to have something beautiful that meets your needs rather than trying to cobble together something free that gets close. Remember that while Frankenstein’s monster was functional, you likely wouldn’t characterize him as professional, elegant and easy on the eyes.
If none of the above themes strike your fancy, you can also look for a theme you like best using ThemeForest, my favorite premium theme retailer.