Good Karma Tuesday + Web sites

First, a shout-out to last week’s winners: Send me your addresses! This is the first time in the history of Good Karma Tuesday that I didn’t hear from the winner all week, and I can’t believe I wouldn’t hear from six winners, so maybe my spam filter had a psychotic break last Tuesday. Who knows. (It lets in plenty of cialis and stock crap, though. Grrr.)

Anyhoodles, if your name is Isabel Sotelo, AngryMan, A Paperback Writer, Karen Lingefelt, Michele, or Katie Alender, email me and let me know where to send your prize!

Today’s winner is: JOSI

Josi, come on down! Or rather, email me your address. Extra credit if I get yours before last week’s slackers winners. *g

(Kidding, last week’s winners! Love you too!)

Am still out of town and off to take a family member to the hospital for x-rays (isn’t that how everyone loves to start their morning?) and I thought I’d pull out a couple Q&As from yesterday’s comment thread just to make sure they don’t get lost.

* All About Web Sites (MM blog)
* Website Series, Day 1: Message & Image
* Website Series, Day 1: Follow-Up Q & A
* Website Series, Day 2: Marketing
* Website Series, Day 3: User Interaction & Content
* Website Series, Day 4: Aesthetics & Usability
* Website Series, Day 5: Hosting & Technology
* Website Series, Day 6: Administration

Message & Image Follow-Up Questions

Note: Some of these have little to do with Message & Image and will be covered in more detail in later posts.

Is there anything you think does or does not work for slogans?

The most important thing for slogans is to make them memorable and relevant. (Note: IF you choose to have one. As with a web site itself, you are not obligated to have one. Only maybe half of my corporate clients have slogans.)

Memorable means short (ie the Debbie Macomber example is stretching the limits) and relevant meaning that even if the only thing they know about you is your slogan, they know about your books.

Any colors you think are overdone?

I would worry less about so-called overdone colors and more about finding that happy medium between legibility and complementary branding. (Note: Complementary Branding refers to matching your web site to your blog or your book covers or your tone/genre etc. You do not have to make your web site look anything like your book covers if you don’t want to, but you also don’t want the reader to think they’ve found the wrong place.)

If you’re going for a dark tone, make sure it’s not so dark that visitors can’t easily read your content or figure out what’s going on. Easy is the name of the game.

If you’re avoiding, say, “black”, simply because you’re afraid too many other urban fantasy writers are using black, then that’s not a good enough reason. First and foremost, you have to do what’s right for your brand. And secondly, you have to keep reader expectation in mind.

Be creative, but choose your aesthetics based on that goal.

Cost. Tell us about cost. There are a lot of less than optimal people in your business, I suspect, but they probably charge the same as or more than you do (whatever that may be). How is a person to avoid getting took?

Cost. Okay. This is a tricky subject. It’s like saying, how much does laser eye surgery cost? Well, there’s some licensed doctors who do it for $400 per eye. And there’s others who do it for $4,000 per eye. And of course, there’s all the space in between.

The best way not to get taken is to make sure of two things:

1) That you get multiple proposals from multiple sources, for comparative purposes.

2) That the proposals detail exactly what you’re going to get for your money; what you have to provide, and what you’ll own when the contract is over.

EX: If the proposal says, “Website: $3000”, I have no idea if this is a gyp or a steal. If it’s for a basic no-frills design and half a dozen HTML pages, you’re getting taken. If it’s for an interactive, database-driven web site with user login features, dynamic feature-filled content and web-enabled content administration, buy buy buy! =)

So it’s hard to say. The best example I can give is if you go to a builder and say, “Hey, I’ve got this empty lot. How much will you charge to build me a house?”

The first thing the builder will (probably) say is, “Depends on what you want!”

Web sites are like that, too. You could probably find a college kid to whip up something basic for $500, or you could go to an ad agency and get one with all the bells and whistles for over $50k.

A small business or an ex-corporate freelancer would be in the middle. More experience than the college kid, and lower prices because of no physical overhead.

Do reputable designers charge by the project or by the hour?

Charging by the project or by the hour depends on multiple variables, but no matter which way your contract is written, you should have a darn good idea of both before the first check exchanges hands. So, if Designer X charges $100/hr and says your web site will take 10 hours (obviously these numbers are for ease of math *g) then your estimated total is $1000.

If the contract is a flat $1000 and something goes wrong that’s not the designer’s fault, they better have those circumstances written into the contract or they’re taking all the risk. Conversely, if it’s an hourly project and the designer doesn’t stipulate which elements are their responsibility (not charged) and which are yours (charged), you might end up paying a lot more.

For example, in all my contracts, it says I will never charge for extra work necessary due to bugs/typos/etc on the part of myself or my employees. However, if rework is necessary due to the actions of the client or the client’s emissaries (web host, etc) then I would have to charge for that.

What is a fair hourly wage for a guru such as yourself (OK, OK, we all know you are boyond price, above rubies, and all that, so let’s talk about gurus in general, not you in particular)?

Guru hourly wages can range from $50/hr to $150/hr, with some being above or below that, depending on many variables, not the least of which is what you’re contracting them for.

Also timeframe: should a good guru get you up and running in a week? A month? The twelfth of never? (Assuming you’ve done your part by filling out the survey questions.)

Timeframe totally depends, much like the “building a house” metaphor. How big is the house? Is there a basement? Will you request blueprint changes after construction has started or design changes after the wallpaper is up? Etc.

Tweaking – that fuchsia that looked so good in theory looks like hell onscreen…how much time/money should one allot for necessary improvements?

Ongoing review: should a good guru be in touch with you every so often to meet your changing/expanded/newfound needs? How often? Is this type of service a la carte or part of an ongoing arrangement?

Self-service: since most of us pump our own gas, can we also fiddle with our own websites? Or is this just a sure-fire way to throw more business to the guru when the whole thing crashes and burns?

Tweaking and maintenance should also be dealt with in advance, in the contract. Same with self-service. The programmer needs to know ahead of time if you plan to futz with the HTML (they can design accordingly) or if you need them to build a content editing wizard, or if you plan to just email them when you need updates.

I assume distance makes little or no difference, right? Does it matter if the designer lives in the same state?

Logistics don’t matter. For example, half my business comes from out-of-state, and I’ve worked on web sites while halfway around the world. The designer just needs a decent Internet connection. Well, and time, talent, skill, responsibility, responsiveness, etc. Point being, don’t choose your designer based on location, choose based on what you need, what they can offer you, and the value/ROI of contracting with her.

YOUR TURN: While we’re on the topic of web site message and image, what are some web sites you can think of that it’s obvious right from the home page what the point of the site is and the one key thing they want the visitor to do? What are some web sites you can think of that you can’t do much of anything from the home page, or have to hunt around to figure out what to do?


  1. B.E. Sanderson - Reply

    Long ago and far away, I used to build websites (part-time, contract for a computer business). You make very good points across the board. One thing I used to tell my customers, also, is that there’s a difference between paying for a cookie-cutter website (built with FrontPage, etc.) and one that’s coded by hand. I can tell a FrontPage site almost every time I see one – if they don’t tweak the templates especially and sometimes even if they do. You shouldn’t have to pay top dollar for one of those because they’re something you could do yourself if you had the time. ;o)

    (BTW, I don’t do webdesign any more. Never kept up with the programs/software and I’m so out of date, I’m like a ‘puter dinosaur.)

  2. Bill Clark - Reply

    It amazes me how inept many not-for-profit groups’ web sites can be. They may have pretty pictures, but they are often not well organized or intuitive. Contact information can be a real problem, expecially if they just provide email links instead of actual addresses (the links often don’t work on public computers, like those at the Greenwich Library).

    It would seem to me that a savvy web site designer (know any of those, Erica?) might target the not-for-profit sector (by and large “non-profit” is passe) for special attention, offering them secure pages for on-line donations and membership dues, frequently-updated news pages, etc., at a special pro bono rate (just don’t put yourself into the non-profit category!). You’d be doing them and their support groups a big favor, IMO. And probably earn yourself some good karma, as well! 🙂

  3. Bill Clark - Reply

    Ooh, I have a question, too:

    What about domains? Should a person register and maintain one’s own domain, or look to the guru to do this (for an extra charge, of course)?

    What do domains cost? How do you go about getting one? What do you need in the way of a host server?

    Finally, do blog hosts such as the one you mentioned yesterday permit any sort of commercial activity? In other words, can you post pretty pics of your books on them, along with a PayPal or snail mail means of inducing nice people to send you sums of money?

  4. Vicki - Reply

    I’d like to add to the question on domains. If you already have a domain name (or two) can you link those into your blog and/or website if they are not from said blog or website.

    In other words my domain name is from godaddy and I also have one(the one that godaddy was supposed to give me and didn’t, long story there)with yahoo, which is where my website currently sits.

    Thanks for all the help your giving with this. I’m thinking this could be part of our TARA meeting one Saturday. 🙂

  5. Erica Ridley - Reply

    B.E.: Exaaactly. I can tell a FrontPage etc on sight. Regardless of whether people go with templates or professionally designed sites, if the website itself doesn’t also look professional, it’s sometimes better to have no site at all.

  6. Erica Ridley - Reply

    As for domains, you can do this yourself or you can have your web developer do it, but they shouldn’t spend more than, say, $10 on it. I’ve used GoDaddy for years and have at least 50 personal, business, and client domain names registered through them. If you do get your domain on your own (and if you have one in mind, you should get it ASAP) then be prepared to update the registrar’s DNS settings to reflect your hosting servers once you have a provider, or to just pass along the login information to your web developer for her to update the settings.

    Servers is its own blog topic (day 6) so we’ll get there next week, I promise. =)

  7. Erica Ridley - Reply

    As for commercial activity, I’m not sure which blog host you’re referring to, but yes, you should be able to post images of your books on every page if you want to, with links to amazon or “Donate Now!” PayPal buttons, whatever you want. That should not be difficult or incur any extra costs, so long as you are technically linking to a third party service (ie Amazon, PayPal) for the actual transaction.

  8. Erica Ridley - Reply

    Vicki: I’m not 100% sure I understand your question, but two different domain names can point to the same or different source, be it web site or blog. For example, points to her BlogSpot site, as does the actual BlogSpot URL.

    Is this what you mean?

  9. Bill Clark - Reply

    (Like you said: can’t be kind to others at the expense of bankrupting the company, and all.)

    Just to clarify, I said “special pro bono *rate*,” with emphasis on the final word. This means, e.g., 10% off the normal published rate. Most clergy, etc., are accustomed to receiving 10% discounts from merchants, which of course harks back (Hark! Bill waxeth Biblical!) to the old concept of tithing.

    On no account should you allow yourself to be bamboozled into “a huuuuge time and money suck” of unpaid work. My idea for you is to create a sub-specialty in NFPs at 90% of your regular rates that both pulls them out of their web site quagmires and also gives you good buzz on the NFP circuit for your brilliance and generosity.

  10. Erica Ridley - Reply

    Oh, charge them?

    *erica thinks for a minute*

    Curse my bleeding heart! This totally did not occur to me. I suppose I could try the discount-rate tack for a NFP or two… Hmmm…

  11. B.E. Sanderson - Reply

    One thing about registering your own domain, if I might. Maybe this isn’t pertinent any more, but I once registered a site with the extension .ws. Turns out the registry was in Western Samoa, and I couldn’t figure out how to contact them to change the DNS settings. $75 (at the time) down the drain.

    That was 1999-2000, so if it isn’t a problem any more, ignore me.

  12. Bill Clark - Reply

    utilizing free, open-source content management software such as WordPress

    (This was from yesterday’s Maven blog.)

    So I clicked on WordPress and found that it seemed to be a blog site much like Blogger; although nowhere in the TOS did I see any caveat about profit-making activity (which I seem to remember was not allowed by Blogger).

    My “commercial activity” question was actually directed towards the party of the first part, not the third, i.e., encouraging people to send checks directly to one’s own mailbox, not Amazon’s. And the PayPal button would, naturally, link directly to one’s own bank account.

    The reason, of course, is that many authors (who, me?) buy their own books at wholesale directly from the publishers, and thus, in addition to getting the regular (pittance of a) royalty, can add value by affixing their signatures to the books and then pocket the (rather significant)difference between the publisher price and the cover price. Every week people call me up and request personalized copies of one or more of my books as gifts, which brings smiles to faces all ’round.

    How nice it would be if the whole world beat a path to my doorstep!

    Are there any free sites – including WordPress – where one can engage in such unapologetic self-merchandising? There’s always eBay, of course; but there are some minimal costs involved, and the whole operation is by definition transitory (start date, end date).

    I am mindful of Thoreau’s famous quote: “I am the owner of a library of about 750 books, over 700 of which I have written myself.” He was referring, of course, to his stash of “A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers,” which did not sell very well at the time (but try to find a pristine copy today!). What would you advise Mr. Thoreau to do by way of cleaning out the boxes in the guest room?

  13. Karen Lingefelt, partial slacker - Reply

    Erica, mea culpa and an e-mail is on its way to you! I was on one big final push to finish writing that book to the exclusion of everything else. As you know, I finally finished it, but I’m still catching up on aforementioned everything else.

    (See, I’m not a total slacker!)

    You are my Good Karma.

  14. Erica Ridley - Reply

    B.E.: Right, that was a much bigger problem back when Network Solutions was one of the only places to buy. But still, you bring up a good point: Don’t put your money anywhere that you can’t change domain settings yourself!

    Bill: Ah, WordPress. The thing with WordPress is that you do not have to use their web site. You can download the code and install it on your own server for your own web site, and designate the equivalent of blog posts as individual web pages. Maven Lacey is the best one to ask about this. She did her chapter web site Eastside RWA by installing WordPress.

    Karen: Yay! And super-yay for hitting The End! Whooo! Squee! =)

  15. Cole - Reply

    I love some of your comments on ideas and thoughts for creating ones brand, look and so forth with the websites!


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Erica Ridley