Author Website Tech: Themes

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This month-long series of blog posts will explain author websites and offer tips and writing strategies for an effective author website. It alternates between a day of technical information and a day of writing content. By the end of the month, you should have a basic author website up and functioning. The Table of Contents lists the topics, but individual posts will not go live until the date listed. The Author Website Resource Page offers links to tools, services, software and more.

What Does Your Site Look Like?

WWW under construction building website

It’s time to think about how your site looks. Finally, you say. I know. We SEE websites all the time and don’t think about the back end. But the time you’ve spent on the back end will make the site functional.

Websites are a work in progress, and as such, the theme you choose today, you will change in a year or two. Don’t stress out about whether you choose a free or premium theme at first I believe the most important thing is to dive in and then do continual incremental changes to your site. Some will argue that you should purchase a Premium theme or hire a high-priced web designer. I argue that you should get content up on your site and then prettify it as you can. Tinkering is good.

But for those of you who are visual first, you can certainly explore a web designer, a Premium theme, or hiring someone from Odesk.com or Elance.com.

FREE

From the web: Go to http://wordpress.org/themes/ to study the various free themes possible. Or log into your WordPress as described next to see a preview of how the theme would look on your site.

To load a free theme, log into your WordPress dashboard. Click on Appearance/Themes. You’ll see a list of themes already downloaded and ready for use on your site. At the top are two tabs, Manage Themes and Install Themes.

Click on Install Themes to find a search engine. You can choose the colors and features that you prefer, and you can add a keyword. If your work revolves around nature and science, for example, you might want to search for Animals or Forests.

Unless there’s a perfect keyword for your work, though, you should search for “Responsive.” A responsive site is one that adapts easily to the different size screens on smart phones, tablets and desktop computers. Finding a theme that bills itself as responsive isn’t a magic bullet, because there are different ways to approach the responsive issue. Still, mobile devices proliferate and it’s wise to plan for them.

The search results will show thumbnails of the home pages of different themes. Below each thumbnail are three links:
Click Install Now, if you want to try this theme on your site.

Click Preview to see what the theme looks like. In order to keep everything consistent and easy to compare, website designers are required to use the same filler material for these previews. Also, any image you see can be changed and customized. You’re really looking for the general layout: how big and where are sidebars positioned? How big is the site name and how much white space is around it? EVERYTHING can be customized from photos to background colors to the fonts used. What you see on the preview is just a suggestion from the designer. Still, you’ll probably go with these designer choices at first, so pay attention to the decisions the designer made, while understanding that it is ultimately in your control.

Also, most themes allow for drastic color changes, from white to black backgrounds, to any color you can imagine. Try to overlook all of these “pretty” issues to the bones and structure of the site. Imagine your information slotted into the structure—does it look like you want?

Click Details to find out more, including the name of the designer and a link to their website, screen shots and compatibility issues.

Have fun playing around and looking at possible themes. When you find one you like, Install Now. Install a dozen themes, if you like. You can delete them later when you decide on the perfect one.

TRY OUT THEMES ON YOUR SITE


When you have several options on your site, go back to the Manage Themes tab. Try the Live Previews for each theme. This time, instead of the canned content, it will show you the site with your own content. When you find the theme you like, Click Activate. Most WordPress themes allow you to Customize in some way, so click on the theme’s options and try it out.

I often go back and forth between several themes before I decide on one I like. There are no rights or wrongs, only preferences. You’ll be writing content for a couple weeks before the site goes live, so play around and change the themes every day if you like, till you find one that sticks.

PREMIUM

For a Premium Theme option, you will go to websites such as Themeforest.net that offer Premium themes and look around till you find the perfect theme and purchase it. On your website’s dashboard, click on Appearance/Themes/Install/Upload. Follow the instructions to upload and then go back to Manage Themes to activate the theme. Customize as allowed.

Tweak

Most themes today come with a variety of options for customization. Usually, you can change fonts, colors, location of sidebars and much more. Take advantage of these options and play around. Try out a couple different photos. If you can’t customize it enough yourself, hire someone from Odesk.com or Elance.com. Starting with a pre-designed theme will cut down the amount of work needed and save money.

Hire a Designer

If you can’t find a theme you like, or you want a custom theme, then look for a good website designer. This is the right time to do this because you’ve already written much of the material for your site and have a much better idea of what you want from an Author Website.

And when you get it just right–post the URL below. I’d love to see your FamousAuthorWebsite!

4 Comments
  • Madison
    March 14, 2014

    Hi Darcy,

    I’m really enjoying this website series of posts and looking forward to the rest of the month. I’m (very) unpublished and not in a hurry, so I’ve been building/fixing my website slowly. It’s great to read fresh advice and to see how I can apply it if I haven’t already :D Thanks for all the great posts!

  • Lynne Kelly
    March 14, 2014

    Darn it, I found one I really like the looks of, but it doesn’t allow for more than four tabs! Any more than that covers up the title of the site:

    http://www.templatelite.com/coffee-desk-free-wordpress-theme/

    I installed it anyway in case I learn enough later about modifying the template so I can move the tabs to be below the title. I do like the ones that look like desks, so for now I’ll keep the “Messy desk” theme that I have.

  • Darcy Pattison
    March 17, 2014

    Lynne:
    When I do a new site, I wind up trying lots of themes before I find what I like. 4 tabs does seem a little short.
    A Messy Desk sounds fun!
    Darcy

  • Darcy Pattison
    March 17, 2014

    Hey, Madison!
    Glad the series is helpful. Really, a website is never finished! It always needs tweaking.
    I like the gold colors of your site.

    Darcy