We’re in the middle of a series on blogging, starting from the very beginning. So far, we’ve talked about:
1) Why it’s good to put the blog on your own domain, not somebody else’s.
2) How you register a domain.
3) What it means to “host” a web site.
Today, we’ll talk about how to actually get pages onto your web site, once you’ve found a place to host it. Again, this discussion is very elementary, so those of you who are knowledgeable may want to skim this or just wait till tomorrow.
In order to put pages on your site, you have to do several things:
1) Create the pages on your computer (or on the computer of your web master).
2) Transfer them to the computer (the “server”) where they’ll be hosted.
I’ll talk about #1 today, because you have a LOT of options, and no option is right for everybody. Tomorrow, we’ll tackle the issue of how to transfer your pages to your server.
Many people don’t know this, but you can put simple text files on your web site and they’ll work just fine. Want proof? Take a look at this page. It’s the most recent issue of my Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine.
If you click that link, your web browser will show you a page of straight and simple text. I created it in a text editor named TextWrangler which is free on the Mac and is one of the best text editors out there anywhere. On Windows, you can use a program like NotePad to produce text files, although NotePad is clunky and primitive. I’m sure there are great text editors out there for Windows, but I don’t know what’s available.
The important thing for our purposes is that it’s possible to create pages on the web without knowing any of those fancy codes. Of course, you won’t have any pictures or pretty fonts or nice formatting. You’ll just have text. But sometimes that’s all you need. That’s all I need for my archive of e-zines. If that’s all you need, then you don’t need fancy software to write your web pages.
Now, OF COURSE, you’ll usually want more than that. Text is text is text is BORING.
You’ll want pretty fonts. You’ll want nice page layouts. You’ll want forms, pictures, sound, movies, and maybe even dancing girls. You can get all of those, but in order to do so, you need to learn the codes for them. The name for these codes is “HyperText Markup Language.” This usually gets abbreviated as “HTML.”
Let’s unpack that a little. The “HyperText” part means that pages are linked together, and you can move between them by clicking on the links. A “Markup Language” is a set of codes that lets you put in all those fancy things, using nothing more than a text editor. That’s right. You can create any web page using just a simple text editor, IF YOU KNOW THE RIGHT CODES.
The problem is that those codes can get fairly complicated. But the nice thing is that, in principle, they are human readable. They’re just text. If you want to see an example of what they look like, click on the “View” menu on your web browser. You’ll see a bunch of menu items, and one of them will have the word “Source” in it. (Different browsers name this different things. On my browser, it’s called “View Source.”) If you select that menu, a new window will pop up on your screen showing a bunch of strange looking text. That is the HTML code for this web page. Notice that, even though the codes look very strange, they are all text. You could have typed all that in, if you knew how.
Most people don’t actually type in their HTML code directly. Most people use software to do it. There are many programs to create HTML pages. I use DreamWeaver, which runs on both Macs and PCs and is quite expensive. DreamWeaver is available at this web site. Many people like FrontPage, a mid-priced Windows-only program created by Microsoft. I used to use Freeway on the Mac, which is also mid-priced. There are also free programs, such as NVu, which runs on both Macs and PCs and is quite good. You can get NVu here.
So you can find software to help you come up with the codes. But there’s another problem. Even if you know all the codes, you still might not be good at graphic design. And modern web sites are expected to be “pretty.” They should have nice graphics and a pleasing layout. If you aren’t any good at graphic design, then your site is going to look ugly.
What’s an author to do? Personally, I don’t want a site that’s fancy. I have my reasons, but mainly they boil down to simplicity and the need to be able to make changes rapidly. So I hired a graphic designer to create a look for my site. She sent me an image showing how the site would be laid out and what colors and fonts to use. I did the rest. I wrote the HTML code to make the site look the way my designer designed it. If I want to change the design later, I can hire a new designer to give me new graphics and a new layout, and I can quickly rebuild the site. That’s my solution to the design problem.
Your solution may very well be different. A lot of authors don’t want anything to do with those pesky HTML codes. They want to hire somebody to do it for them. That’s a valid solution. It costs more, and it means that you can’t easily make changes, but it’s a valid solution and it may be right for you.
The problem with that solution is that you probably want to make changes to your site. You may want to make changes every single day, as you add new articles. What you’d really like to do is to hire a graphic designer to make you a pretty site that you can easily add articles to. Wouldn’t that be cool? Yes, very cool. That kind of site is called a “content management system” because it lets you manage the content yourself. The most common kind of content management system is a blog.
This is why I believe blogs are great for writers. You can hire somebody to set it up once. Then it’s programmed to let you add new stuff to it whenever you want.
By the way, take a look at the right margin of this page. About midway down that column, you’ll see a header that says “Pages”. That’s the beginning of a section that contains links to articles. If you wanted, you could have 20 or 30 or 100 articles there. I have only three. The important thing for you to know is that I added those using the blogging software. I didn’t have to write any HTML codes for those pages. I did it all from my blog.
So the moral of this story is that you can have a web site that is nothing more than a blog, and that might very well be all you need. Or possibly, it might be 90% of what you need, and you can hire a web designer to do a few other pages for you (such as one page for each of your books). As an example of a web site that is “just a blog” with nothing else, check out James Brausch’s site. James is a leading internet marketer (you’ll see that I copy some of the aspects of his site, because he’s thought hard about how a blog should work, and I follow his lead.)
If you need to find a web designer, how do you go about it? Here’s a simple procedure that will lead you to a web designer who will do a great job that you love at a price you can afford:
1) Look at the web sites of other authors and make a list of the ones that you really love.
2) Send an email to the authors on your list asking them who their web designer is and how much their site cost. Authors are usually willing to tell who their webmaster is and will tell you all the webmaster’s flaws and virtues. They will often also tell how much the site cost, though they sometimes don’t want to admit how much they paid. If they got a real bargain, they’ll be happy to tell.
3) Make a list of the webmasters and sort it by how expensive they are, from cheapest to most expensive.
4) Contact the cheapest webmaster on the list and ask for an estimate for your site.
If you follow this procedure, you’ll only be talking to webmasters who have successfully done a site similar to what you want, and you’ll get the best price.
It’s a good idea to know what you want in your site before you contact a webmaster. Do you want a traditional “brochure site” that shows off your books? (This is not very effective for marketing yourself.) Do you want just a blog? (This should be quite inexpensive.) Do you want some combination of the two? (This might be your best bet.) Do you want a “pretty” site that’s weighed down with tons of slow-loading graphics, or even worse, a Flash page that loads slowly and annoys site visitors? (This is generally your worst bet for marketing purposes and is often very expensive. Strangely enough, many authors choose this option.)
If you have a webmaster design and create your site, then they’ll take care of putting it on your server. If you build it yourself (with or without a webmaster’s design help) you’ll need to know how to transfer it from your computer to the server. We’ll talk about that tomorrow.