how to project a professional website

Watching: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Reading: It’s Here… Somewhere by Alice Fulton-Osborne & Pauline Hatch
Listening to: Call Me by Sylvester

As well as doing a bit of website design on the side, I spend a lot of time visiting blogs and checking out sites, waxing lyrical over the fabulous ones and bitching and moaning about the not-so-professional ones.  If you have a site or are thinking of getting one, here are my experiences and thoughts, as well as some painfully awful don’ts that will hopefully help you in avoiding the (sadly common) pitfalls of web design. (BTW these pointers also apply to group or professional association sites and blogs too – check out the Australian Romance Readers site for a clean, professional look).


  • visit sites you like and find out who designed them, then get quotes.  There are many, many designers out there and the prices can vary dramatically.
  • be aware it can take a little skill to build a website from scratch if you chose not to pay a designer.  You will need a design program (I use the full version of Webpage Maker),  knowledge of color and layout, and basic html.  And not everyone has the ability to design a nice-looking site, in which case, there are templates.
  • make a list of all the pages you want to include on your site.  For authors, you should at the very minimum have a bio page, a books page, links,  an email address (or how to contact you) and a home button.  Other options that will draw in your readers are a ‘behind the book’, excerpts, a contest and any articles you’ve written.  A blog, Twitter account and Facebook are all totally optional, depending on how much time and effort you want to spend.
  • have an idea of what your product is.  Do you write sweet rural romance?  Hot sexy paranormals?  Your writing, personal style and tone of your books  should reflect in your website –  from the colors and pictures to the layout and font.  For example, CC Coburn (Harlequin American) wanted a site that reflected the kind of books she writes, something airy, down-home and American.  Kerri Lane  (children’s author) wanted something fun and open for her blog.  Marianna Jameson writes bio-thrillers, hence the ominous dark cloud.  And Cathryn Hein (Allen & Unwin) writes Aussie rural romance so her up-coming site will reflect earthy tones.  If you hate pink, roses and anything to do with hearts, then don’t include them on your site!
  • keep uniformity in the pages.  Your banner and links should be the same throughout –  don’t have a multitude of changing images just because you love 20 different photos of couples in a clinch.   The exception is Anna Campbell‘s website, but you’ll notice only the photos are different and the banner itself remains exactly the same on every page.

Now, some unpublished writers may not want to go the website route just yet, which is where a blog comes in handy.  I use which is free and has a stack of different standard templates and designs, which I then design different banners to personalize each blog.  A few I’ve done are Diamonds Down Under, Outback Billionaires and Babies, Kaz Delaney, Shannon Curtis and of course, mine.

And now we come to the most important bit – marks of an amateur site (aka stuff that makes me want to rip my hair out in frustration):

  • a multitude of different fonts and sizes.  I love fonts but they have their place.  For ease of reading, the body of your website should be a standard Arial 10 point, not that fancy Bickley Script – because the fonts on my computer may not necessarily be on Jane’s computer in Texas.  So Jane’s computer will substitute it for a default (and often clunky!) font.
  • basic comical flash objects such as dancing pigs, popup email envelopes and fluttering butterflies.  This kind of stuff went out in the early 90s and doesn’t have a place on a professional site
  • a bunch of frames and boxes and /or pictures that are just dumped on a page.  This just looks too busy and amateurish
  • misaligned pictures, fonts – again, smacks of ‘I don’t care about my website’.  So why should a reader?
  • ads.  OMG, please, pay the small amount and invest in your own domain name and webmaking software!  Ads from third parties make everything look cheap and nasty.  Why should you, as an author, provide free advertising for someone else?
  • a dark background with white text / multicolored headings in fancy fonts.  You don’t want to give your readers eye strain.
  • links to pages or sites that don’t work
  • overloading your home page with text, pictures, award logos and other stuff.  The purpose of this page is to provide a little info about you, a news update, and advert of your wares, and encouragement to browsers to keep looking.  Being bombarded with a bunch of “5 hearts at Romance Review Site!” logos isn’t relevant here – save it for your Awards or Book page.
  • text that runs off the page so that you miss half of what’s being said.
  • and one of my pet peeves – a site that’s so wide you have to scroll with the bottom navigation bar to get to the other side.  Bad, bad, bad.  If it involves more than a few clicks, you will lose readers.

19 comments on “how to project a professional website

  1. It’s been a while since I’ve come across a page with text running off of it and a site so wide that I would have to scroll. I’m thankful for that lol =)

  2. Fabulous (and timely) post Paula! I really, really need to update my website. My mum did my last one but she’s too busy at the moment, so i really need to get my act together! Thanks for the advice.

  3. Thank God we have you Paula! I loved this post but the whole time my head was spinning! I could never have managed my stuff on my own. With such a focus on essential self promotion these days, it surprises me that so many author or professional sites are so b.a.d. One I’m thinking of is a fabulous org, run by fabulous people, but their site is a nightmare and I wonder what that costs them in potential membership or loss of professional integrity. It’s kinda like a first impression, isn’t it? What’s the rule? That those we meet, face to face, form an impression (albeit subconsciously) in 1.5 minutes? Wonder what the equivalent is in cyber world?

  4. Hey Paula! Wonderful advice! I have recently set up my own website and I must admit I was TERRIFIED about looking cheap and nasty. I wanted people to look at my site and think things like, classic and simple, because I have to admit, I’ve been known to cringe at some websites, never to return again.

    I use a black background with white writing (one of your don’ts) but of that reason I made the font large to help fight this. Do you still think it’s a wasted cause? Should I try again? I NEED to get this right. Many writers have advised me to set up a web presence and I want it to be a positive, not a negative.

  5. Wow! I am just so thankful you took me on as a customer, Paula. I didn’t realise a fraction of your “Do” and “mark of an amateur.” Sorry I’ve taken so long to update mine. It sure needs it.
    Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  6. As always great advice, Paula!

    I’ve just be told by my nephew that my site does something weird when opened with a chrome browser… I have no idea why and will have work that out before I can fix it! Oh the joys…

    You and Kaz are absolutely spot on – we have 1.5 minutes to impress and that’s not easy to do!

  7. Hi Paula,
    Very informative and great advice. Being the computer illiterate that I am, I had to pay a professional to do mine, and I am very happy with it. Unless a writer is as talented and computer savvy as you are, I think it is better to bite the bullet and pay for a professional job, rather than try to do it yourself and ending up with something suboptimal.



  8. Hi Paula

    As a newbie (as yet) unpublished author, I was wondering when is the best time to set up a web presence. I am semi computer literate, but not really into facebook, twitter etc (I honestly don’t know how people find time for all this! LOL). I have almost completed my 4th manuscript and am looking to submit to agents/editors in the near future (including pitching at conference).
    Should I be creating a website now? Or should I wait until I receive the elusive contract?
    My other question is, do you have to meet face-to-face with your web page designer or is it something that can be done wholly online? (I live in a small rural town in NSW, so webpage designers are light on the ground).

  9. Hi Kaz! I agree – an unprofessional web presence for an org is bad but also so very preventable these days. I wonder if you could politely approach them with the ‘kiss-kick-kiss’ method? i.e “love your org, want to see it flourish, fab people etc. However, I feel your website may not be projecting the right online presence. I have a friend/colleague/know someone who would love to take on the challenge of designing a fresh look.” or something?

  10. Hi Tegan! (I see you’re targeting Desire… wooo hoo!) I really like your site – clean, professional and interesting! Yes, you’ve made the font big enough to see, and that’s perfect. The whole ‘white on black’ thing comes from teeny-tiny writing, or sometimes, the background is a dark purple or dark red, again with tiny writing. My first Anna Campbell design was white writing on dark blue and she got a few comments about it being harder on the eyes… which is when we decided to switch.

  11. LOL Helene! Your site is working fine to me, except your little ‘Australian Planet’ button at the bottom runs off a little into the dark background?

    Margaret, you are so right! And I love Rae’s designs, they are gorgeous and classy 🙂

    Mary – I’ll forgive you! Although I should add another dot point to the ‘dos’ Update your site regularly 😉

  12. Hi Christine!

    Should I be creating a website now? Or should I wait until I receive the elusive contract?”

    Good question. I would say, start now. I started my website around 2004 (I think!) and my first sale came in 2006. I know loads of writers who are chuffing along in their writing career, entering and placing in contests, submitting, getting rejections, selling shorts stories, etc who are still waiting for that full book contract and still, they have an online presence. Just because you’re not a PUBLISHED AUTHOR doesn’t mean you don’t have wisdom to share and stories to tell. My writing journey was chock full of contest entries, articles and odd little life speed bumps, all of which I put on my website. And when people put in “Paula Roe” in their search engine, my site and/or blog comes up as number one. Also, one of the things an agent/editor does when they receive a promising submission is check the writer’s website, so it can’t hurt at all.

    “do you have to meet face-to-face with your web page designer or is it something that can be done wholly online?”

    Gosh, that’d mean I’d regularly trip off to the Sunshine Coast, Tassie, SA… LOL. Not at all. I’m in the process of doing Cathryn Hein’s new site and she’s waaay over in NZ. The one exception is Shannon Curtis, because she’s a close friend and I see her every month in my writing group.

    No, generally, you’d tell your designer the kind of feel, colors and mood you want, and they’d ask some questions, then come up with a few different designs and then you’d tweak it from there. And all via email (ain’t technology a wonderful thing?)

  13. Hi Paula,

    Thanks for the great advice.

    I started out my website with Vistaprint because their’s appeared to be the easiest to navigate. I am hopelessly technologically challenged and I had no idea where to start. WordPress gives me nightmares! With Vistaprint, it’s as easy as using Microsoft word.

    I’ve used one of their templates to begin with because the hand releasing the butterfly seemed to signify a) my new life, and b) my slogan: Bringing words to life. (At least it doesn’t move or flutter, LOL) They do have the facility to upload your own design and their monthly fees are reasonable. It serves my purpose for now but I think once I start advertising myself as a fiction writer, I might have to head for a more refined look. I just need someone to design me something relevant to upload!

    I have made many of the mistakes you mention here, so I’m going to rush off now and fix them 🙂

  14. Thanks Paula, you inspired me to work out how to shrink that darn Aussie planet logo – not sure it’s perfect but it’s an awful lot better than it was 🙂

  15. aw man! I may have to update my website again LOL. I actually have…wait for it…different coloured/patterned pages depending on my books! Oh, the horror of it all! LOL I try to have ‘jazzier’ pages for my futuristic romances, a different look (black) for my horror story page, and then a ‘light hearted’ look for my contemporary romance page. *gulp* What do you suggest? Just the same light colour all the way through?!

    Angela Verdenius

  16. Hi Angela! Whatever you decide, have the same color throughout. Having scattered boxes makes things a little difficult to follow 🙂 You can’t go wrong with black text on a light background, then have your color/pattern behind that if that’s the kind of effect you’re going for. However, if you do want to separate your dark/romance, you can have exactly the same design but flip the colors – light for your romance, dark for your sexy stuff. There are a few authors out there with two different writing personas – Trish Milburne, who writes YA and romance, is one (BTW I also love the look of Roxanne St Claire’s, too).

  17. Thanks Paula. I’ll pop over and see what I can come up with! Always a good excuse to procrastinate for a few hours ROTFL. oops, did I say that out loud?!


  18. Hi Paula – well, I did it! LOL I’ve re-done all the backgrounds on my website pages to be similar. It’s much nicer, cleaner, and easier to read. I was surprised at how that was basically all I had to do to make it a much nicer website!

    Thanks so much for your advice

    Angela Verdenius

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