I don’t know whether this is an interesting topic or not. I always wonder, when I look at authors’ websites, about how exactly they arrived at that particular design. What made them choose those colors? How did they find their designer? How much input did they have? How much input did they want? Etc. But I never see other authors blogging about this topic, so perhaps I’m the only person to whom it’s of interest.
And, as my army of regular readers can attest, that‘s not about to stop me from blogging about anything! So here’s the story of how my website came to be:
How I found my designer: Back before I sold or even had an agent, I was reading a blog about author promotion, and in the comments thread someone said, “This is who I’m going to hire when I sell my first book for big bucks,” with a link to xuni.com. I followed the link and was just knocked out by her designs. They all hit me on a visceral level; I couldn’t tell you what worked about them except that they just felt right.
However as an unsold author (whose household runs on two part-time incomes), I couldn’t justify the expense of a professionally designed website by xuni or anyone else. So when I accepted my agent’s offer on November 9 I got busy trying to design my own. And basically squandered a lot of valuable writing time learning just how little I know about design.
The offer came from Bantam on December 4 and it re-aligned my priorities. They were paying me to write. I needed to be writing, not fumbling around trying to design a website that had no hope of being commensurate with what they were investing in me. And you’re supposed to put half your first advance into promotion anyway, right? I fired off an email to Madeira James at xuni.
I did not shop around at all, which is absolutely uncharacteristic for me. She says her rates are reasonable, and I have no reason to disbelieve her, but beyond that, I did not care. I thought “This is what I want, and I can afford it,” and that was as far as the evaluation process went. I promise you I’m usually a much more conscientious consumer than that.
How we arrived at the design: You’re supposed to decide, before you build a website, exactly what your identity is. You know, what is it that makes your historical romances different from other historical romances, and how can your website convey this?
I didn’t do that. I tried, during the month I was struggling to build my own site. But the problem, I’ve gradually realized, is that I embrace a lot of opposites. There’s a slightly arch sensibility to my books – I get a kick out of giving a prototypical brooding-hero surname like Mirkwood to a sunny-optimist hero – but there’s also earnest swoony stuff and angst. I don’t know yet how to distill that into a single message.
So the design happened without a lot of conscious thought on my part. Madeira had a waiting list at the time I contacted her, and proposed to build a temporary “holding page” until she could get to the real one. She pointed me toward a few stock-photo sites and told me to choose one or two images out of which she’d build the holding page.
Several numbing hours later (those sites can be really overwhelming), I came back with a few images of gloves, which seemed vaguely historical. Madeira put a couple of them together, and when I saw it, the colors (sort of peach and tan, with black in the background) reminded me of 1930s-40s lingerie. Which has absolutely nothing to do with the Regency period, but which connotes all kinds of things – some of them opposing each other! – that I suddenly wanted for my site.
Forties-vintage lingerie, to me, says elegance and sophistication, but also warmth. It’s sexy almost as an afterthought, merely because it’s lingerie. And it is straight-up pretty. And I realized that yes, I wanted my website to be sleek and professional and suitable for an author who expects to be taken seriously, but dammit, I wanted it to be pretty too.
So when the time came to pick more images, for the real site, I gravitated towards peachy-pink colors. I even found vintage writing on pinkish paper. And while the left side of my brain forced me to include some images that more explicitly said “Regency” or “romance” (a photo of a building in Brighton; a photo of a couple models in period dress), Madeira deftly steered me away from those (the models did look a little costume-partyish) or just couldn’t find a way to fit them into the design (the Brighton building clashed with the color scheme), and assured me anyone looking at the site could tell I wrote historical romance. And then humored me by actually adding the words “historical romance” when I wasn’t 100% assured.
So there is my website. It makes me happy to look at. And you know what’s funny? Back when I first started trying to design my own, one of my kids said, “Just don’t make it pink,” because my kids, like 88% of the population, believe we romance writers are like a bunch of high-powered Mary Kay saleswomen driving around in our pink cars in our pink feather boas, pink martinis in hand.
And I laughed, and said, “Don’t worry; it won’t be pink.” So the joke is on me. Now where’s my pink martini?