By Chester D. Campbell
I'm not a trained graphic designer. Some might say I'm not much of a writer, either, but I'm a tried and true copycat. Back when I was a magazine editor, I had an art director to put the pages together with a professional look. I also had the help of graphic artists when I worked as an advertising copywriter. Over the years I soaked up a bit of basic design by osmosis.
Shortly before my first novel came out in 2002, I set up a website. It was pretty basic and not all that attractive, but it got out the message of who I was and that I had embarked upon the mystery writing venture. Over the years I visited dozens and dozens of websites, adding to my perception of what looked good and what appeared amateurish. I revised the site after a couple of years to add more content and improve the visual appeal.
With each new book, I added the cover to my home page, along with a description and, when available, some reviews. When my fourth Greg McKenzie mystery came out in 2008, I made a major revision in the website with a heading that featured the Nashville skyline and a new design with white type on a black background. I thought it looked more mysterious but since have learned many readers have difficulty reading the white on black combination.
I started a new series last year and featured The Surest Poison at the top of the page, with the four Greg McKenzie books below. When I recently received the cover art for book number six, A Sporting Murder, the fifth McKenzie mystery, I added it at the top of the page but knew something would have to give. Things looked too cluttered. I decided it was time for another major makeover.
I wanted to keep the heading but give the pages a more open, colorful look. Several author sites I admired used more color in the design. I borrowed a bit here and there and went to work. I have used Microsoft's Front Page program from the start, although they quit updating it after the 2003 edition. It still does everything I want to do in a fairly simple fashion. Over the years I've learned enough HTML to repair glitches in the code when something goes wrong. I decided on a page design featuring a brownish-orange background and color bars (green and blue) on opposite sides of the white center. Navigation links are on the left bar, which remains the same on all but a few ancillary pages.
The first thing I did was set up a page template with the heading, the color bars and the white center. I didn't realize until I got into it that I had thirty-four separate pages to create or re-create. Plus more than two dozen .gif or .jpg graphic files to create or manipulate. It took a couple of weeks to get it all together. I uploaded it late one night and had to do some tweaking after checking it out online.
I have always enjoyed creating stuff, and I suppose that's a trait you need to go all out at creating your own website. If you have a flair for this sort of thing and are a good copycat, you'll probably get a bang out of doing-it-yourself.