Lost in Development
Platform, platform, platform.
As you're first diving into the writing world, you hear a lot about developing your writing for publication and developing your writing platform. There is a lot of discussion about what the first move is towards publication, do you join writing groups or develop your personal brand? While that is more of a personal argument, there is strength in establishing a primary platform after you have cover-art.
When you establish a writing platform, it's not only about creating a medium for your voice, it's about branding yourself and your work. This is where things can get interesting. Personal branding is not only about developing a tone for your work but a distinct style that is identifiable with you. This is the very definition of branding, distinctive style, iconic images and specific tag lines that convey everything that is the brand.
So, when I first launched my platform last year I hoped it would be effective and I had no idea if I would write anything anyone wanted to read or if it would be a representation of my style, my brand. Writing Files and now The Surveillance Report have been very effective both at establishing my voice and presenting my persona, my style and brand. While a blog is essential for any writer's platform, even more essential at challenging your writing skills, it is only a piece of a true platform.
If a blog is the core, the heart of any writer's platform, then the website would be the actual body.
A website presents a unified brand, there are continual updates, video, photo, and easy to use links that tie together all of the author's platform elements. This is where things can now become very confusing. In the past it was as simple as choosing to build a website to represent yourself, today a blog can carry all of the same functions. So, what are the advantages of a website over a blog? Is there even a distinction today? Many websites are actually built using blogging platforms, wordpress, blogger, etc.
As a designer that can also develop I found myself in quite a bit of a conundrum. I had to pull myself away from writing and editing the sequel to Nightfall just to develop a platform that suited my current needs and answer all of the fundamental requirements by readers. Jody and Roni have great insights here and here.
I started scrounging around looking for inspiration, what should an author site have? What are the essential elements, what do the best author sites have in common? Well, to my dismay as a designer, I was absolutely horrified by what I found. Not only do authors violate branding rules, but also every internet marketing premise when it comes to their websites. I could only find the Huffington Post's article on the top Author websites. It was very telling, even top named authors have atrociously bad websites. It's clear that some of these authors would never make it as fresh-blood today.
So, avoiding the mistakes and aiming for a very savvy site, I wasted an entire week building a website that still didn't turn out the way I had envisioned. It was all too easy to stop and call it done, but as a writer today either just starting out or a fresh-blood author platform and branding are just as integral as the writing that you produce. This first effort cost me two weeks and it was a complete waste of time. I did not want to waste my time any further and I certainly did not want to be another of the authors where you stumble across the site and say "Wow, when was THAT built?"
It was about this time I stumbled across an article by fellow wordsmith Roni Loren that discussed her new website and how she put it together with a new platform. So, I followed her advice and gave this platform called 'squarespace' a chance. I gave it a couple of hours and thought it was terrible, I couldn't get it to do anything I wanted. Then it clicked. After perusing the squarespace boards I could get the site to do anything I wanted it to with a few clicks.
I devoted a couple hours to designing the site and with only a bit of fussing I had the entire site built and not one but two blogs constructed (including pulling in all of the Surveillance Report and comments). It was clean, modern and matches all of the needs. While it's not revolutionary in layout or styling, I love the look of it and it is me. It was completed in just a few short hours and now I'm back on track.
-Side note - Particularly proud of the design with the headers. -
So what is the takeaway? Well, if you're a writer then you need something that defines and presents your brand but you also need something that won't hurt your writing time. Writers are some of the best individuals, and the last thing anyone wants is to hear laughter because of their heinously bad website. A website is the very structure of a writing platform it needs to be built well and it needs to cater to a host of needs including your blog.
In short, writers have precious little time. While you might be able to build, design and orchestrate a platform from scratch, it doesn't mean that you should.