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6 Tips for avoiding website agita

As writers and academics, most of us recognize the necessity of having a website about our work and services. With WordPress and other DIY websites becoming ever easier, many writers are savvy enough to design and mount their own sites. But some of us aren’t, or can’t face trekking up that learning curve.

When I needed a website for publication of my book, Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams, at first I procrastinated mightily. I didn’t want a prepackaged site (à la WordPress), although they can be fine. I knew I needed a site for promotion and wanted one that reflected the themes and gorgeous cover of my book. I was willing to spend a few dollars. So, to allay if not cure my website agita, I hired a professional web designer.

Once I did, I learned some shocking lessons. Whether you intend to create your own site, redesign it, or hire a specialist, I share my baptism warnings and questions to help ease your plunge into the arctic waters of the website world.

1) Watch out for new website shock. Writers deal with, and for the most part, love words. That’s why we’re not artists, photographers, architects, or graphic designers. When you design a website—alone or with a professional—you must trigger, or learn, a visual sensitivity to photos, color, graphics, proportions, layout . . . all this in addition to supplying the written content. So start looking at sites for their visual impact.

2)  Find a good website designer. I first contacted a friend who did sites—big mistake. He was a sophisticated tech professional and had designed and mounted many websites for himself and others. But he was returning to graduate school and completely preoccupied with applications and majors. And he had little affinity with my book.

Then a fellow writer (who had designed his own site) suggested I look at sites of authors with works and viewpoints similar to mine. This was great advice, and I gravitated to one author I greatly admire. Her site was not only beautiful but inspirational, and I had often visited it to pull myself out of the writing dumps. At the bottom of a subpage, I saw a tiny credit—the designer’s. Click and redirect: found her!

3) Are you simpatico? I emailed the designer, who responded quickly, and we arranged an initial call. The moment I heard Margaret’s voice, I knew she was everything I wanted: firm yet gentle, confident yet modest, understanding of writers’ trepidations and perfectionist penchants, and very ready to explore many options. And reasonable.

4) What do you like? My web designer, I discovered, was not only an expert but also a professional: submerging her own tastes, she was truly interested in what I wanted, even if I didn’t quite know.

Before Margaret rendered one virtual pixel, she sent me a multi-page “thinking paper,” with boldface instructions, to elicit my thoughts, feelings, visualizations, and the best-imagined purposes of my site. Completing her questionnaire was more rigorous than a real estate exam. It also forced me to decide what I really wanted. My desires were hiding timidly somewhere in my subconscious, and it took her questionnaire to coax them out.

A relentless taskmaster, Margaret asked for photos of sites I liked. Not satisfied with easy images, she demanded why. She also asked for descriptions: By look and “feel,” what did I want the site to evoke in the viewer/reader? How many columns and subpages? What categories? How many colors, font styles? Eeeek.

And more. She asked for photos and illustrations for the banner and color combinations I preferred and hated, fonts I loved and couldn’t stand, and many other issues that required input. At first I groaned at all this nonwriting work, but I knew that responding fully to her questions would only render the final product closer to my ideal. Happily too, all this forced thinking and verbalizations provided much promotional material for my book.

5) What are you getting back? Once I managed to complete everything, Margaret and I shot multiple pdfs of designs and color palettes back and forth. We tested sizes, colors, and margins. I wrote, and rewrote and repositioned, a great deal of material. She continuously refined everything to meet my preferences.

After eight drafts of my temporary site (Margaret showed them to me “privately,” the Internet equivalent of WitSec), she mounted this site “live” on the Internet. We continued working on the full site, and the temporary site acted as preliminary publicity, with the basic information about my book.

The larger site proved no instant posting either; it took more time, attention, revisions, drafts, corrections, etc. etc. etc. Margaret’s patience was saintlike and her attention to my obsessive details totally satisfying. When we finally finished, I was very happy with the site. And started getting compliments . . . .

6) What are you learning? You will undoubtedly learn a great deal, if only from all that back-and-forthing. And you will probably learn something about site-building itself. Far from being an expert, I was also concerned about après-site editing and maintenance. Many web designers offer regular maintenance or as-needed help, usually for their hourly rate. When we finished, I made sure Margaret offered thes services.

More important, and something you should request, was inclusion in our agreement of a lesson in editing the site yourself. We had a tutorial call, with the site on both our screens (again in a “private” space). With great good nature Margaret mowed down my list of 347 questions and, by the end of this lesson, I felt almost like an expert. From her masterful tutelage, I knew that, with all my notes, I had the basic tools to refine and add to my site as needed.

At the same time, I knew from talking with other writers that a website is never done and always a work in progress. All the more reason to learn some essentials. As I taught myself a little more, I gained a little more courage to keep improving my site.

What started out as a fearsome, long-avoided project became less mysterious and exasperating because of my expert and angelic web designer.

Now, even though site-tweaking is still not my favorite sport, I count it as a necessary if not wholly gratifying activity. I keep reminding myself of Margaret’s incisive questions and ask them of myself every time I adjust the site. Best of all, I no longer suffer from website agita.

© 2017 Noelle Sterne
For reprinting, please contact Noelle Sterne through her site:

Noelle SterneDissertation coach, nurturer, bolsterer, handholder, and editor; scholarly and mainstream writing consultant; author of writing craft, spiritual, and academic articles; and spiritual and emotional counselor, Noelle has published over 400 pieces in print and online venues, including Author Magazine, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Children’s Book Insider, Graduate Schools Magazine, GradShare, InnerSelf, Inside Higher Ed, Inspire Me Today, Thesis Whisperer, Transformation Magazine, Unity Magazine, Women in Higher Education, Women on Writing, Writer’s Digest, and The Writer. With a Ph.D. from Columbia University, Noelle has for 30 years helped doctoral candidates wrestle their dissertations to completion (finally). Based on her practice, her Challenges in Writing Your Dissertation: Coping with the Emotional, Interpersonal, and Spiritual Struggles (Rowman & Littlefield Education, September 2015) addresses students’ often overlooked or ignored but crucial nonacademic difficulties that can seriously prolong their agony. See the PowerPoint teaser here. In Noelle`s Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams (Unity Books, 2011), she draws examples from her academic consulting and other aspects of life to help readers release regrets and reach lifelong yearnings. Visit Noelle at

The views and opinions expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect that of the Textbook & Academic Authors Association. Read more about TAA guest posts here.