In December of 2009, I had just put out my first book, Maids of Misfortune, when I published my first blog on my newly created website. Except for a little tweaking here and there, I haven’t changed the look of that website since then. However, I recently did a major update, and I would love some feedback from you all about what you think of the new look.
First, a Little History:
It is hard to believe, but in 2009, the whole indie author movement was in its infancy. The explosion of ebooks and audiobooks as alternatives to print and the expansion of the online market place as an alternative to physical bookstores hadn’t happened yet. And there certainly wasn’t a vibrant industry devoted to helping indie authors achieve success.
In fact, most of the advice that was out there for authors was still directed at people interested in traditional publishing (focused on how to get an agent, sell your book to a small publishing company, or organize a book signing tour.)
For those of us who had decided to forgo the traditional publishing route (see my January 2010 blog posts on this decision), there were only a few author pioneers (for example, Joe Konrath and April Hamilton) who were giving advice on how to get stories to readers (with Kindle Direct Publishing and Smashwords as the major methods for producing and distributing ebooks) or how to market these books once they were published.
Myspace! was the place authors were supposed to go and establish their social media presence; Facebook existed but had no author pages and had only recently instituted the like button on personal pages. There was no KDP Select, with its exclusivity or promotional tools, and there were just a few ebook promotion sites (BookBub wasn’t even a twinkle in someone’s eye.) And the various tools that many authors have become used to using–like Scrivener and Vellum–hadn’t yet been developed.
For new indie authors who are reading this, I feel like I am telling you about the time before telephones and cars, when we indie authors had to walk 5 miles in the snow to sell a book. And in someways this was true. But there were some real benefits to be an “early adopter.” First of all, there weren’t so many decisions to make. Mostly the advice was simple––build a website listing your books, publish a blog to attract readers, and experiment with price to get those readers to try your books. And, the competition for readers who had embraced ebooks or bought their books on-line was substantially less..
In addition, because I had no idea whether my one book would sell, and I definitely didn’t know if it would make me any money, I decided to do as much as I could myself–and only paid a professional to design my covers.
I had a few skills that helped me going into this brave new world. I wasn’t afraid of computers, I knew how to create a word document, I knew how to search the internet for advice, and I was good at following someone else’s written instructions. I also had a husband who knew html and could help me out when I couldn’t understand something too technical. Oh, and I like learning new stuff.
Otherwise, I was pretty much a DIY indie author, which meant I formatted my own books to upload as ebooks and in print and designed my own website, using the free wordpress.com software. The only money I spent was for a professionally designed cover (shout out to Michelle Huffaker!)
My Initial Website:
Since Maids of Misfortune (which was hopefully going to be the first of a series of books) was set in Victorian San Francisco, my guiding principle was that my website should reflect the Victorian era. I confess my original plan was quite ambitious. I had this idea that I could build a website to look like a Victorian house (with each page being linked to a different room in the house.)
On the other hand, I also wanted a website that I didn’t have to depend on someone else to build or maintain. The whole thrust of being an indie author, for me, was to keep as much control over the process of publishing and marketing as I could. So, I pretty quickly jettisoned the whole–Victorian House–idea and was satisfied with building a website with a very simple theme where I could use a Victorian wall paper pattern as my background and install an old-timely font. And, as a remnant of that original plan, I called my blog the “Front Parlor.”
And off I went, adding my books and short stories as they were published, and writing blog pieces about my indie author journey, the history of Victorian San Francisco, and announcing promotional opportunities. And the website and blog worked for me. For a number of years, I wrote 2-3 posts a month and averaged 40-50,000 visitors to my website a year. I also felt quite smug when I heard other authors complain about the expense or difficulty of upgrading or even updating their websites, which had been designed by professionals.
However, over time, I started to worry that the original design wasn’t working.
Enter the Paradisi Chronicles:
Four years ago, I published Between Mountain and Sea, the first book in an open-source science fiction world, called the Paradisi Chronicles, that I had helped create with multiple other indie authors. The question became, how did I reconcile the fact that I now had two series, in two different genres.
I didn’t want two websites. Not just because of the extra work, but because it was quite evident from the reviews of my science fiction work that (as I had hoped) fans of my historical mysteries were enjoying my science fiction. So I just added a tab for the Paradisi Chronicles and hoped for the best. However, as the number of works I have written in that series (a trilogy, a short story, and a novella that I co-wrote with my daughter) grew, the more dissatisfied I became with the way that the science fiction series felt like an un-appreciated step-sibling on the site.
Consequently, when two indie authors I respect (David Gaughran and Sarah Woodbury) both mentioned how pleased they were with their new websites, designed and installed by a fellow indie author, Caro Begin, I decided it was time to do something about my dissatisfaction.
My New Website:
First of all, I do want to say that Caro made the whole process very painless. She has created a website theme that is specifically designed for authors, which makes it very easy to keep book links up-to-date. Even better, it is a theme that I can easily maintain on my own.
Second, she did a great job of working with me to create a design that gave equal billing to both my historical mysteries and my science fiction, without making to abrupt a break with the old website. You will find the color scheme is pretty much the same, and that the blue Victorian wallpaper and the old-timely font still play a role, and none of the content was lost–just rearranged in a few places.
In short, I feel like the old site has had a great face-lift, just in time for me to embark on my second decade of indie authorship.
So, go and look around, and let me know what you think.
M. Louisa, April 20, 2019