Introducing “Author Website in a Box” (beta)

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From The Digital Reader:

For the past couple weeks I have been working on a new project, and I think it’s gotten to the point where it’s ready for public testing and feedback.

The project has the working title of “Author Website in a Box”, and it is intended to provide a complete author website based on WordPress.

The site has everything from a home page to a contact page, about the author page, and even bookshelf pages. I even included dummy content that you can replace, and I installed SEO, security, backup, and other essential plugins.

  • Yoast (an SEO plugin – it helps readers find you in search engines)
  • Novelist (a bookshelf plugin that makes it easy to display your books)
  • All in One WP Security (a firewall plugin that keeps hackers out)
  • Contact Form 7 (the best free contact form plugin)
  • Mailmunch (a great plugin for integrating your mailing list into your site)

The site has a good general design which can be improved upon or customized with a little work. It is built using SiteOrigin’s pagebuilder, my preferred tool for building author websites. Almost everyone I know agrees that while it is not the best tool available, it is relatively easy to learn. It’s also free, which means I can include a copy for you to use with this site.

I have a version of the site myself (this is what I use to develop the site for you to download) which you can see here:

Link to the rest at The Digital Reader

PG thought Nate’s dummy site looked promising.

If you’re going to play with it with your own content, read Nate’s Caveats carefully.

PG will second some of Nate’s warnings:

  1. Never play around with new plumbing/apps/etc. on your principal business website. You can buy a weird domain name for $5 bucks at some places online. Install WordPress there and put some dummy data in to get an idea of how it looks.
  2. If the dummy site looks good, make a copy of your main website and move it over to your dummy domain. If you Google “moving a website to a new domain“, you’ll find techniques, tools and a WordPress video that talks about it.
  3. PG has moved some sites to new domains in the distant past, but can’t remember exactly which tool(s) he used, but it wasn’t terribly difficult or time-consuming. If you move your entire site, including your current theme, that might make it easier for you to compare the usability of your potential new theme with your current theme pretty easily.
  4. If this sounds daunting for you, contact Nate Hoffelder at The Digital Reader or somebody else who really knows what he/she is doing. (PG knows your unemployed brother-in-law will work on your site at no charge just for the experience, but if you’re in the business of writing instead of the business of fixing website glitches that appear and disappear at random and trying to live with a site that never looks quite right even without glitches, spending a little money for qualified assistance will save you lots of time and serious heartburn. A semi-functioning website doesn’t do a very good job of attracting new readers.)


19 thoughts on “Introducing “Author Website in a Box” (beta)”

  1. Two things:

    The post PG found earlier today with the 45 author websites introduced me to several ideas that I will be incorporating into the AWinaB production site soon.

    I don’t know that I explained what this is well enough, so here’s my third draft: AWinaB turns the complicated process of setting up a WP site into something as simple as installing an app.

  2. Seems decent enough, Nate. At least it’s Responsive! 😉 (see my comment in the 45 Author Websites post here)

    Good luck with it. Personally, I’m set using Genesis Framework (a premium WP theme).


    • Harald, that’s the second time you’ve used responsive today and I realise that I’ve no real idea what you mean. I do own a smartphone but am too much of an old fogie to use it for much more than emergency phone calls, WhatsApp messages, navigation and two stage authentication.

      I decided to try TPV on the phone and got a totally different theme than I expected – all blue and white with none of the right hand column links and messages. Is this not what you mean by responsive? I suspect that you may mean more than just switching to a mobile version but it certainly responded by changing TPV’s appearance.

      There was a choice at the bottom of the page between Mobile & Desktop and selecting the latter gave me the theme I’m used to, complete with tiny unreadable print in the right hand column (with a link to get back to the blue and white view hidden at the bottom of the page in tiny dark blue text on a dark brown background).

      • Hmmm… My reply is not showing up here. I included two links with definitions of Responsive. Is that the reason? Maybe PG will release the comment. If not, I’ll come back later and fill this in.

          • WordPress does that? Surprised it’s at that level vs. the theme settings level. Oh well, here are two definitions of Responsive for Mike Hall…

            from Small Business Trends:

            Responsive web design is an approach whereby a designer creates a web page that “responds to” or resizes itself depending on the type of device it is being seen through. That could be an oversized desktop computer monitor, a laptop or devices with small screens such as smartphones and tablets.
            Responsive Web design has become an essential tool for anyone with a digital presence. With the growth of smartphones, tablets and other mobile computing devices, more people are using smaller-screens to view web pages.

            and from W3schools:

            Responsive Web Design is about using HTML and CSS to automatically resize, hide, shrink, or enlarge, a website, to make it look good on all devices (desktops, tablets, and phones):

            Easiest way to check on desktop is this: grab the lower right corner of the web page window you’re in and move it around. If the page re-configures itself as you move, it’s Responsive. Right?

            P.S. Nate’s The Digital Reader is Responsive. So is my site. Click either/both of our names.

            • Thanks for the explanation and for providing you site as an example for me to look at. Playing around with the size of the Chrome window demonstrated exactly what you mean – TPV gave me horizontal scroll bars and your site responded (though it took me a moment to find the recent posts listing when it decided to move from the right hand column to below the comments).

              • You’re welcome, Mike.

                And yes, a two-column page format will morph into one long column in a narrow screen, with the top-most item on right going under the bottom-most item on left.

  3. I’m not a great website developer– several people have told me I am graphically challenged, but I prefer to call it “uniquely talented.”

    Nevertheless, rather than registering a dummy domain, I have found it quite helpful to set up an http server (Apache) on a machine that is not visible outside my home network. This is quite easy, if you have some familiarity with computing. There are step by step tutorials for setting up Apache that are easily found.

    I use an old clunker running Ubuntu as my http server and the old-time /etc/hosts file to configure my private internal network, which MSFT has conveniently added to Windows 10.

    I test on my internal server, then copy to my managed host provider to make material public. This has saved me many embarrassments. It’s cheaper than setting up a dummy domain and there is no possibility of an outsider seeing my gaffs.

    • Ah, I use Node.js on my desktop computer for the same purpose, and before that, WAMP.

      For everyone, the simplest option for testing WordPress offline is to just use WAMP. You can easily install WordPress on a WAMP server, too. The directions at the link include setting up the WAMP server, so even if you don’t want to use WordPress, the instructions are still handy for setting up the test server.

    • Both Jamie and Nate take a more modern, and probably better, approaches than me. I enjoy dusting off old skills I learned while we were inventing distributed computing as we went along and using my pack rat classic computer collection that my wife says occupies far too much space in our house.

      Jamie’s method is for folks who prefer not venturing into Linux/Unix and setting up their own network. Nate’s is the most modern, eschewing hardware for the cloud. Both avoid using an obscure public domain as a way of keeping test runs private, which is both a hassle and not nearly as private as running tests on an isolated network.

      Gabriele’s comments on managing hosting services are exactly what I would do if I were running a commercial site. As PG notes, in business, DIY approaches can quickly become impractical, even if you know how to do it yourself. Properly managing a web service is a full time job that requires vigilant expertise. If your livelihood depends on a site, managing it is a job, not a hobby.

      From my technical viewpoint, Nate’s project looks good. If I were setting up a self-published author site, I would certainly give it serious consideration.

      Aside to Nate: if you built a capacity for authors to host their own eBook downloads so they get 100% royalties, I think you would have something truly unique and attractive.

      • “Aside to Nate: if you built a capacity for authors to host their own eBook downloads so they get 100% royalties, I think you would have something truly unique and attractive.”

        Thanks for the suggestion!

        I’ll add that to the list. I think I might end up reserving it as a paid upgrade (this is something that requires custom setup on a site by site basis).

  4. I agree with point 1, but I would suggest an improvement on the execution at point 2:

    If the dummy site looks good, make a copy of your main website and move it over to your dummy domain. If you Google “moving a website to a new domain“, you’ll find techniques, tools and a WordPress video that talks about it.

    The idea of Democritus Jr. is great, if you have the technical expertise. That is what most developers do.

    However, if you are running a business on your website and you are using WordPress, it is safer and easier to just use a professional managed hosting service that provides a staging version of your site.

    A staging version is another installation of your site, hidden from public view, on which you can test stuff. You can copy from and to the staging version and the production site with a click. You save time and can see exactly how it will work on your production website. This is crucial if your business depends on your website, because there are configuration issues that can hit you and that you cannot see them on a local copy of your website. Plus you save time.

    The only downside is that such hosting services costs a bit more, but they are worth the cost for anybody that earns money with their website.

  5. I must be the only person left who hates the New Web Look of giant graphical blocks with tiny floating text on a page that seems to scroll eternally. It reminds me of the old Wired magazine layouts, which I also hated when they were avant garde in the 90s.

    I don’t want a succession of splash pages. It’s visually confusing. The point of a splash page is that it’s different from everything that follows it. -_-

    Ugh. >.>

    • I hate big graphical blocks as well, but I think I understand the reason. Google set out a few years ago to force people to adapt their sites to be mobile friendly or suffer in the search results. These designs tend to meet the elements of what the powers on high have determined to be mobile friendly sites. As people see these more and more, it becomes an expectation. Additionally, I think there are a lot of people that grew up in the age of smartphones that prefer that kind of design.

      I would say Nate’s offer here looks pretty good for authors. It fits current design expectations well.

  6. The AWinaBox business site is live.

    It’s not done, but I am going to pause development so I can go work on the AWinaBox production site (I have ideas I want to implement).

    I plan to alternate the development of the two sites; I’ll work on one while studying how the other could be improved, and vice versa.

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