Road to Publication: Questions to Ask Before Building an Artist Website

I’ve owned a personalized domain name (patrick-ross.com) for about fifteen years, but have done little with it during that time. For the past four years I have focused on this free WordPress site instead. But with Committed: A Memoir of the Artist’s Road publishing this October, I knew it was time to do something with that personal domain.

It's live! Feel free to check out patrick-ross.com for yourself.

It’s live! Feel free to check out patrick-ross.com for yourself.

Now I have. My new author site, www.patrick-ross.com, debuted yesterday. I’d love for you to check it out and let me know what you think. (For some reason it formats well in Firefox and Chrome; not as well in IE. Need to figure that out.)ย Below I’ll walk through some of the questions I asked in approaching a project like this that you might want to answer as well.

  1. What is the real purpose of my website? Just like an artist needs to know her audience, so does a website creator. In my case, my primary mission is to promote Committed, so “author” is the first tagline under my name in the banner, and the home page is dominated by a slide-show spinner promoting the book. I also have some information on the site about my teaching, but I’m not really using this site to land new teaching gigs or boost enrollment in existing ones, so that isn’t played up as much.
  2. Along those lines, what should I be putting on my home page?ย Many blogging experts would tell you, “not much.” We spend so much time online nowadays that we get fatigued easily by websites with lots of text, boxes and tabs. I’m struck by a move in the direction of sites that are mostly white space (something Google pioneered with its search engine page years ago). I considered going that route, but ultimately I decided that I could help promote a road-trip book with, well, photos from the road-trip. However, there is very little text on my page (I almost didn’t include a LATEST NEWS box, and I may remove it at some point) and I limited the tab bar to “Home” and four other tabs.
  3. Okay. But what about the rest of the content? For example, to what extent should I highlight my “day job” if it’s not central to the artistic platform I’m building? I spent a lot of time on this question. The reason I’ve had my own domain name the last few years was in part to promote my “day job” work as a professional writer and communications professional. Ultimately I envision my “day job” life summed up in a resume, and my creative writing life summed up with a curriculum vitae. So my new site has links to that curriculum vitae and I’m letting my public LinkedIn account serve as my resume.
  4. This is what my previous site looked like. Lots of white space. Also, really boring.

    This is what my previous site looked like. Lots of white space. Also, really boring.

    Do I hire somebody or do I try to do it myself? I am a big fan of paying professionals to do good work, particularly freelancers. As it happened, I solicited a bid from a loyal Artist’s Road reader and was very impressed with her proposed design and her price. What I realized, however, was that I’d still need to do a lot of work in terms of curating images and crafting prose. I have a bit of experience in web design. I built my first website in 1994 by learning rudimentary HTML but largely just copying code I found on websites I liked. I’ve overseen the construction of websites in my day-job work, and I decided to build this one myself using a “free” service that doesn’t require you to know HTML. (NOTE: It’s free to construct, but there are costs involved if you want a unique domain and email accounts attached to it.)

  5. But what about my blog? Should that move to the site as well? My answer to that would be “Yes,” but I have not done that myself. I would like to at some point; the straightforward approach would be to convert this free WordPress.com blog to a .org and embed it in my site. I don’t know how to do that, however, and for now I’ve decided to link to this blog from the site. I also have stripped from this blog out most of the content related to my writing and teaching to encourage people to come here only for the posts.
  6. If I’m already blogging, couldn’t I just use my blog as my main site? You certainly can. If I didn’t already own patrick-ross.com, I might have used The Artist’s Road blog as my website. Or I could have pointed that domain here. I decided, however, that the free WordPress.com software is fairly limiting in what you can do aesthetically.

There are so many creatives who have built spectacular online presences for themselves. If you’ve experimented along these lines, I’d love to hear what you’ve done. Be sure to include a link to your site in your comment!

 

About Patrick Ross

I'm the author of Committed: A Memoir of the Artist's Road.

47 Responses to “Road to Publication: Questions to Ask Before Building an Artist Website”

  1. Hi Patrick,

    I was really intimidated to make the switch from .com to .org but with a little grit, determination and a whole lot of how-to videos and websites later I made it happen. I wrote about it too, here’s the link: http://artistthink.com/2013/10/04/moving-from-wordpress-com-to-wordpress-org/. Someday, when I’m making my goal financially from my business I’ll hire someone out but for now, it’s up to my own creative prowess to sort it out. .Org has offered me a lot more flexibility for design and things like opt-ins for my newsletter subscribers I’m quite impressed with, so if you decide to make the switch and buy themes, etc. happy to share what I did. Bravo on your new site!!!๐Ÿ™‚

  2. I woke up this morning with this very conundrum on my mind, opened my e-mail, and saw this. I, too, am struggling with the decision to from Word Press blog to some sort of website under my own domain. The question I have is can I make my existing site, which wasn’t the best blog, disappear to start fresh, OR can I link the blog somehow to my new (not yet established) website if it is not WordPress. All advice is welcome!

    • So much to process, right? One thing I don’t fully understand is if I convert this to a .org and thus essentially shut it down, what happens to my subscribers? Do they automatically move? Do they have to resubscribe? Ugh!

  3. HI Patrick! I’m always fascinated to see how other writers approach this – what they include, how they organise the material, how they lead the reader around everything they need to show off. We can’t throw everything at them all at once!

    I used to have a WP.org blog but broke it by being too creative. Since then I’ve happily used .com sites with upgraded URLs. I’ve customised heavily with pics and logos.

    For those of you who are wondering, it’s dead easy to transfer the material from a WP blog, whether .org or .com. Just ‘export’, then ‘import’ toyour new destination. Delete the old blog to make it disappear (gritting your teeth against the alarmed messages to stop you doing this accidentally).

    In case you’re interested to see the result of my .com customisation, here they are
    http://www.rozmorris.wordpress.com
    http://www.nailyournovel.com
    http://www.mymemoriesofafuturelife.com
    http://www.lifeformthree.com

    Helpful post, Patrick – I’m off to tweet!

    • Honestly, Roz, I don’t know how you do it! The books, the sites, the engaged social media. I’m exhausted just thinking about it.

      I like the notion here of simply acquiring a domain for a WP.com site, and the fact that you have different sites for different books. Oh, and your author site is beautiful and clean.

      • Thanks, Patrick! The separate sites for the books started because I wanted the URL for each book, then had to have somewhere to point it. Fortunately I only finish a novel every couple of years so I don’t have to create too many of them๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Hello Patrick,
    Your perspective on promoting and running a new blog is very interesting and helpful. You made good points about using the personalized website to promote the new book. I’m a long ways from there, but your information definitely helps me for future decisions. Right now I have a wordpress.com site, where I talk about my journey as a writer as well as promote my services that I offer. Depending on the direction of the blog, I may have to split that into two different pages.
    If anyone would like to take a quick gander, I would appreciate it!
    https://new3creationservices.wordpress.com

    • Thanks for the encouragement, Musu, and for sharing your link. I like how you have the visitor land on a welcome page, rather than just the running tally of posts. I have considered doing that in the past with this site. Oh, and I love that Weird Al video on grammar, I shared that late last week on my FB page!

  5. Partrick, it seems like everything I’m reading on this subject at the moment claims that serious authors ‘must’ have their own, independent website for promoting their work (i.e. not one hosted by a third-party blogging servers like Blogger or WordPress) so I think you’ve made a very smart move, even if it might be a bit of a hassle bouncing between the two sites. The new site looks gorgeous, by the way – loving the slidey-glass-panels-over-the-background effect you’ve got going on!

    • Thanks, Wendy! I like the “slidey-glass-panels” description; they had various templates to choose from, and while my site ended up looking different than the mocked-up one I started with, it had the slidey feature and I liked it!

  6. I often wonder if I’m going to have to face this at some point, so having your list of things to think about is a WONderful tool, Patrick, so thank you for that๐Ÿ™‚ Along with the great suggestions in the comments, too!

    Since I’ve been trying to get post-conference submissions out, I STILL haven’t touched my blogs which are both on WordPress.com. I’m treating them more like a website and may upgrade to premium, though haven’t decided yet. Must soon, though!

    I think you did a great job on your site, Patrick. The content is all good and I love the pictures and slide show. Photos are generally easy to absorb in a flash, and add color and interest๐Ÿ™‚ I have a couple of suggestions—all aesthetic—which I’ll throw into an email. Of course, it’s from my own artistic perspective and taste, so “suggestions” is the operative word๐Ÿ™‚ Congrats on a GREAT job launching!๐Ÿ˜€

    • I don’t think you need to decide soon; you need to decide when you’re ready to take the project on and maintain it. So no worries there.

      I look forward to your feedback by email!

  7. Hi Patrick;
    Long gone are the days where “view source” was a tool for learning to build a website! LOL!

    My website has undergone numerous transformations from plain HTML to pure WP in its current form – which is the least work to maintain and requires the least knowledge.

    I have always used my own domain. My first blog was a .org installation in a sub folder of my main HTML website. That was a lot of work and even though it was all on the same server, it was essentially managing two sites. I made the move to a WP friendly host that would maintain and upgrade WP so all I had to do was manage the design and the content. They also migrated the old blog. At that point, I moved fully to the WP platform for even the static parts of my site. Best decision ever.

    I use the Genesis framework, purchased a theme and just customized the CSS (style sheet) so it looks like it’s fully custom. It’s pretty easy actually. It has required so little attention that your post reminded me that it’s time for some housekeeping!

    Without a doubt, using self-hosted WP for the whole thing was the best possible decision for me. It meant my whole site was consistent and integrated, maintenance is easy and I can focus on what’s important – the art – and not on the website and all the little skills that I used to need to have it.
    http://artscapes.ca

    P.S. I saw the comment on migrating subscribers. I think there is a plug-in for that. I’d give that a search. Once migrated to something like MailChimp, you can set up RSS driven campaigns that will automatically e-mail your blog posts and you can separate newsletter and blog subscribers and give people the option to have both!

    • I love your site, Michelle, but I think I’ve told you that before. So clean and elegant, appropriate for a visual artist.

      I find myself wondering if I should have aimed to build the new site from the start with WP migration in mind, or even tried to do it directly through WordPress. I looked and my site says you can port WP blogs over into theirs and has directions. I’ll think about that some other time!

      In the early 1990’s I used a program called WordPerfect, which in my opinion was far better than MS Word and the products Apple had. It had a “reveal codes” feature (ALT-F10 I think) that showed the formatting code for your text document at the bottom. The symbols for italics before and after the text, for example, were so intuitive, and when I started looking at HTML code, I thought “Oh, this is just like word processing code!” Of course I was not doing anything very complex with that 1990’s site!๐Ÿ™‚

      • Thanks for the compliment, Patrick! I really appreciate it.๐Ÿ™‚
        I remember WordPerfect. I used BBEdit. I think they’re still around! Lol!
        The changes to your site that others suggested have made a great difference to your home page. It’s looking great! One thing I noticed this time that affects all the pages is the background image. I’m on a tablet and I noticed it reloads when I believe it should scroll. Might be the tablet?

        • Hi Michelle!

          You may be on to something re: tablet vs. desktop view. Wix provides a way to view/edit it in “mobile” mode, but doesn’t say anything about tablets. I would have assumed there is no difference between a desktop and tablet version, but when I look at my site on my Microsoft Surface (yes, I’m not all cool with an iPad!) it just shows the first half of the bridge background (cuts off the part with the actual road/cars) and doesn’t scroll. Perplexing.

          One reader emailed me recommending I replace the image with a monochrome color like navy, perhaps with some gradient change from top to bottom. For now I like the image, but all of this is subject to revision.

          • I like it too.
            I wonder if the file size of the image is too large?

            • I’m sure it is, actually. I’ll experiment with that later today.

            • So it didn’t seem to change the layout on my tablet, but I did change the background to a resolution size formatted for websites and I’m sure that will make it easier to load on folks’ devices. It’s a wee bit blurrier than before but still fine for a background.

              • Well, the background image doesn’t appear to move at all on the laptop (the content moves over it as I expect you intended) and on my screen resolution, I only see the sky and top of the bridge. On higher resolution screens, you’ll probably see more. Looks good to me! On the tablet, however, I get the whole image now, but it still reloads when I scroll instead of letting the content move over it like it should.

                If you’re just selecting an option in the web software to either allow or disallow a static background, I’m not sure you can fix it. It’s a bug in their mobile conversion. If it were me, I might send the issue to their support. If you can turn that feature off in the mobile version, that might be enough for now. I’m just betting you don’t have that option!

                As for resolution, for a background image it’s great. Too sharp competes with your content anyway.

                Forgive me if I’m being too helpful! Lol!

  8. Hi, Congratulations on launching your new site! I really like the slide show–very involving. Unfortunately, the text box in which you have the “book coming soon” messaging covers up most of the type identifying the location of the slide–part of the fun. Maybe that’s because I’m using Safari on a Mac, but I thought you’d like to know.

  9. What a coincidence! This evening I opened your post only hours after seeing my publisher’s first attempt to set up my new website. They haven’t contacted me yet for my input. I hope I’ll hear from them tomorrow. There are many things I want to change. Here’s the link: http://nickichenwrites.com/wordpress/ Sorry. It’s really ugly at the moment, but I can’t do anything about it until I talk to the designers. They’ve taken over my admin. I did set up my own blog a year ago, but I’ve never set up a webpage, so I didn’t dare try.

    I like the simplicity of your new website a lot. Congratulations on putting it together. I also like the blue and gray colors. To be truthful, though, I don’t like slide shows on websites. (This is just my opinion, but I thought I should say something.) I love to look at pictures, but when I’m reading and pictures are flitting by behind the words, it feels nerve-jangling to me. I think the problem is: It’s not controlled by the reader, and if he or she is focusing on something else, the jerky movement is still there. I didn’t see anyone else making this comment, so maybe I’m the only one it bothers. If so, just ignore me.

    • Hi Nicki! Thanks for the feedback. I hear you on the slideshow. One thing I might do is slow down the speed. I share your feeling of distraction when reading, but for now I think since I’m trying not to ask the visitor to do a lot of reading on the home page I’ll leave it; I don’t distract them on the subpages that have text.

      Thanks for sharing the link. There’s a lot to like there. I can’t quite figure out what the background is supposed to be. The mountains shown on your book cover? It’s attractive, but I feel like I’m supposed to know what it is. Oh, and this may be your decision, but I like it when on an about-the-author page there’s a photo. But kudos on having a site!

      • Slowing down the speed of your slide show might be a good idea. And you’re right, the visitor doesn’t do much reading on the home page. Thanks for your comments about my website. I have no idea what the background is supposes to be. That’s one thing I hope to change soon. And yes, I should have a photo on the author page. I hadn’t thought of that yet. You’re quick.

      • Patrick, just wanted to say I really like the idea of slowing down the slide show๐Ÿ˜€

  10. Hi, Patrick — like you I lead dual (or several) lives: business, acting, writing and speaking. For a long time I kept the “arts” and “business” sides separate. A blog in one place, a website devoted to acting in another. Then I did a “split-screen” website, with the arts-related stuff on one side and business on the other.

    Finally, I realized that all these things feed into who I am. The acting makes me a better business person (and is the basis for my presentations/workshops) and the business side informs the acting side as well.

    So I decided to put it all in one place, and moved the blog from wordpress.com to wordpress.org. A marketing expert might say I should focus more directly on each audience, but this just feels right to me:

    http://www.RobBiesenbach.com

    • Hi Rob,

      I admire you taking the step to merge your online identities, as of course the skills you developed in either “role” fed into the other.

      Your site is quite professional, and strikes me as having that user-friendly and informative style I would expect of a skilled consultant.

  11. I was wondering if you could give advice or recommend a book/article on the problems I am having with my website. I wrote about it here: http://goddessenterprise.wordpress.com/2014/07/19/websitewoes/

    I still have not fixed the problem, and really could not be less excited about figuring out http://FTP...

    • Hi Kalen,

      For what it’s worth, you’re ahead of me in that you’ve actually worked in the WordPress.org format; as you can see by my post, I have not yet done so. Carrie had some links to harmonizing the dot-com and dot-org side of things, perhaps that will help. My post was meant more to focus on things you should be asking yourself in terms of serving your visitors.

      By the way, I must say I’m partial to the WordPress theme you chose, which was mine before I paid a modest amount for the style I use now!

  12. First, I was totally impressed with your site, Patrick. Very professional and eye-catching. Looks great. I wondered how you did it and noticed wix.com, which I’ve already been mulling over. Then I came here and saw all the amazing comments, addressing the exact same things that have been driving me nuts with uncertainty. Thanks for the great advice and links, folks!
    P.S. I remember WordPerfect too. It was a good product and not too long ago I was surprised to see it still in use at a government office here in France…

    • WordPerfect lives! I think of it like Betamax to VHS, the latter prevailed because it quickly became ubiquitous due to price and multiple manufacturers, but Betamax offered higher quality. (Again a dated reference!)

      Thank you for your kind words on the site, Patricia. I chose Wix because a friend of mine used it and I was really impressed with her site. I spent a total of two weekends on it (not full time either day). I never did any HTML coding; you just click on styles and formats and colors, etc. The hardest part was picking an initial template, but actually I think that isn’t such a big deal because I then modified the one I chose significantly, as it’s easy to add and remove elements.

  13. Great job, Patrick!

  14. Hi Patrick! Hope you are doing well๐Ÿ™‚ I am very interested in your blogging/newsletter and book promotion site. This is a full-time job alone! I’ve been working with an new writer on a self-published book over the past 4 years. There are a lot of steps along the way. You mentioned IE bugs so I did a screen test of your home page. I tested 2 times and it appears as if Safari 6.0 (OS X) might be an area to debug. I am not seeing the slideshow at all. Instead I see the background which is simply brown. Hope this helps.
    http://www.mbpgraphicdesign.com/

    • Hi Maria, great to see you here! You are of course the expert in graphic design. I honestly don’t know if the Wix software can provide me any guidance on how things appear on other browsers or what to do about things that aren’t working. The site displayed fine on my daughter’s MacBook (and my son’s iPhone) but I don’t know what her OS or browser version is. Ugh.

  15. The new website looks fabulous, Patrick. I really like it!

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