I’m so excited to have as my guest today website and graphic designer a.k.a. visual designer, Brad Fitzgerald, president of Apt Design. Brad, has a degree in graphic design and more than ten years experience in the biz. He launched Apt Design in 2007 to help businesses and their markets connect and grow.
Guess what authors? The moment you get published and your book is out there, you are running a business. So you need to think of yourself that way. Yes, you are artists, but you are also entrepreneurs and you have to connect to your readers – a.k.a. your market! And THE BEST WAY to do that is with a kick-ass website. Brad Fitzgerald‘s work is GORGEOUS. But not only that, his websites are functional and user friendly. So important for authors who are not techno-geeks and who need to be able to make their own updates and changes on their websites. And so important for readers and fans who want to peruse your site and find out more about you and your books. Finally, the cost is reasonable and worth it. An author web site is an investment in YOU. When a reader, or a potential reader, visits your site, you want them to feel welcome and excited. You want them to feel like they have just entered into a magical/unique/fascinating/world that they will come back to again and again. And best of all, you want them to feel engaged by the content you offer on your site. Think of your website as an extension of your books. It is where your books live and wait to be discovered by potential readers.
Tell us about your background and how you got into web site design.
I got my graphic design degree from Harding University in 2004. After my wife and I moved to Washington State I worked for two different companies for a bit before starting my own business. I thought when I started that I would just do print design, but clients were mostly asking for websites, so it was really just an answer to demand. I began using WordPress the day I started my new business, and taught myself how to code basic websites. Since then I have expanded and use other developers to create better code for larger websites. That allows me to focus on client relations, helping with content coordination, and my favorite part—website design.
Tell us about some of the authors that you’ve worked with and the sites you designed for them.
I’ve worked with quite a range of authors in the past few years. Everyone from self-published authors (like Justen Forge), to authors to have their own publishing company (like Tom Mullens), to popular bloggers (like Devon Corneal), to best-selling authors with hundreds of thousands of followers on social media (like Timothy O’Brien and Jennifer Skiff). Currently I’m doing a lot of work with Random House, helping create new, easy-to-use websites for their Teen division. In the last year we’ve put up new sites for Marcus Zusack, Ann Brashares, James Dashner, and a new site coming in the next few days!
Great question. I do have a few things I recommend every author website have, but a big part of the process is also just asking authors what they like to see on their site and how much they want to update and work on their site. I have some clients who contact me anytime they want a word changed, and some who (with the power of WordPress) are constantly updating, tweaking, blogging, and enhancing their site. My clients are never expected to come to me with a certain level of tech-savviness – I enjoy working with whatever knowledge people have and helping them learn a little more.
The main question I have from authors is about social media and how much they should use it. I do recommend that authors use social media, but I recommend they only sign up on social media sites that they plan on actively updating and using. I (and most visitors) would much rather see only one social media feed that is active than six different social media feeds that haven’t been touched in months.
Authors need websites for a few reasons. First, it is your place online to own your content about your self and your writing. You may not have control over what is said on any other sites, but the information about you on your website is owned, created, and curated by you.
Secondly your website is a great place for readers to find out about you and your books. For potential readers this means learning more about your book and why they should read it, and for current readers it’s a way to connect to an author and to explore the world around the book.
Lastly your website should be the central hub of your online presence. While you may have a Facebook account and Pinterest page, all of your marketing (both online and offline) should be driving your visitors to your website. Your website should in turn drive your visitors to take an action. In this case, probably buy your book!
A great website can create the base of your author platform. You can engage your readers and put them in the mood of your writing in just a few seconds with visual imagery that reflects the personality of your books. You can make your readers feel connected to you in a way that few other things can by offering a rich world of information outside of – but connected to – your books. And it can promote you to readers 24/7 by giving information about upcoming events, feeding news about your book, and letting them know when your new works are available! And that leads to what a great website can really do for an author – help sell their books.
How can a web site enhance an author’s social media appeal or “reach”?
As I mentioned before your website should be the hub of your online presence. It’s the place that everything revolves back to. For one reason that’s because it’s a place for you to write long form content (often difficult on social media). It can be a base for answers people have about your books, a single spot for people to go to buy your book, and give a complete overview of yourself and your books all-in-one place. Your website can also be a steady standard while some social media channels come and go.
A lot of authors shy away from a hiring a professional to create a web site for them because they think the cost is prohibitive. How can investing in a web site save money and make money for the author in the long run?
In my office I have a small charred memento that taught me a valuable lesson. Before a camping trip one time I went to a big box store and bought the cheapest camping cooking pan I could find. The next day as I heated my supper over an open fire the pan itself actually begin to melt and burn away. All that remained was a little fragment of the handle. I kept that twisted metal to remind me that you always get what you pay for.
I totally understand that websites can be expensive and cost prohibitive. If an author is just starting out, has no books published yet, or totally strapped for cash hiring a professional designer might not be the best option yet.
Hiring a professional is not necessarily the upfront cheapest option when it comes to creating website – there are plenty of pop-up banners everywhere advertising free websites! But cheap or free sites will often create headaches and frustrations for any client. The time, energy, and constant drip of money that “cheap” sites can use up could be much better spent elsewhere – like on your writing!
Dealing with a true professional should be the opposite experience – it is easy, invigorating and I’ve even had some clients describe it as fun! Getting to see your books translated into a visual design is a thrilling experience, and knowing that you have a website that is easy for users to use and that sells books for you can be a big relief.
What do you love to read? Who are some of your favourite authors?
I’ve always been a big fan of science-fiction and fantasy, I can remember devouring the Dragonlance Chronicles in my room as a young boy. The classics are always great as well, especially ones old like Dante’s Inferno and Ovid’s Metamorphosis – where the context provided in the footnotes makes the story come alive.
Since my first daughter was born five years ago I’ll admit that there has been a lot less reading of Dante and Ovid and a lot more Dr. Seuss and Karen Katz. In kid’s books Mo Willems’ books are favorites of everyone in our household.
Thank you so much Brad for sharing your insight and knowledge with us today. It’s clear that your web sites are not only beautiful but also engaging and unique to the author.
You can contact Brad Fitzgerald (Apt Design) on his web site. He is also on twitter and facebook.