Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

How Not to Gain New Business

Theo Black, web designer and husband of author Holly Black, took to criticizing the websites of his former clients. I think Black is a talented guy but his vision of website design is style over functionality. I much prefer the functional and generic websites that he disdains because these sites are easier to navigate and faster to load.

But whatever your tastes in website designs are, it makes no sense to publicly criticize an author for leaving you. It’s bad for business and tacky.

I think that there are some schools of thought that because these are sites for authors who are artists, then the site should reflect their vision. I think sites are for readers and should cater to their preferences. Teddy Pig wrote an article on site design for epublishers and I think the comments at the Smart Bitches site are also instructive of what readers are looking for.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. Francois
    May 16, 2008 @ 12:27:25

    Good lord, those pictures take a long time to load. (maybe thats just me)

    I’d go for function over beauty every time. From the author’s point of view because styles go in and out of fashion so quickly and as a reader I’m only on an author’s site to get the info and get out. Leave the art for the covers.

  2. NHS
    May 16, 2008 @ 12:27:50

    My bother is in the “tech” industry and the prevailing sentiment amongst his peers is to have a very basic, straight forward, no frills website. The thought being that if you are spending all your time, money, and expertise on your website then you're not spending it on whatever it is that you are advertising that you do. Basically the point they try to get across with a simple website is that “I'm so busy doing my job I don't have time to play with this.” Of course they are the kind of people that also wouldn't be caught dead hiring out for web design. So I'm wondering if that trend will move into other industries.
    I do tend to agree with you I'd rather have more substance than style.

  3. (Jān)
    May 16, 2008 @ 12:46:48

    I don’t put up with websites that insist upon being stylish at the expense of my time.

  4. Erastes
    May 16, 2008 @ 12:55:48

    I have to agree – those images are beautiful, but not everyone in the world has broadband, I don’t – and if I’m still sitting here 2 minutes later waiting for a picture to load and the navigation buttons then i’m outta there.

    When I came out of the pit of wank known as fandom and stepped into (what I imagined would be) the rarified heights of professional writing, I stupidly thought that people would be grown ups. How wrong I was. this week in particular I’ve been pointed to so many “boo hoo the world owes me a living why doens’t anyone take NOTICE OF MEEEEE!” posts that I miss the healthy fandom wank. It seems the Darwin award could be awarded to anyone from free-published authors to those who sell millions of books

  5. Ann Somerville
    May 16, 2008 @ 13:00:32

    Of the three authors who ditched him, only Melissa Marr’s could do with more work. The other two are perfectly clean and usable. If I was a potential client of this bloke, I would look long and hard at how he treats his other clients. This kind of thing is unacceptable. If he wants to showcase the unused art, fine – but why call out the people who decided not to go with him? Jesus, businesses lose clients all the time.

    I wish more authors would go with nice, simple WordPress or other CMS sites instead of flash this and flash that, and in the last two days, following links from this and Karen Scott’s blog, I’ve seen more sites using graphics to replace substantial text than I’d want to see in ten years. People, people – if your text is a graphic, Google can’t search it. People can’t use text readers. You need to redo the entire graphic just to fix a typo. Why, why, why are you doing this?

  6. bettie
    May 16, 2008 @ 13:05:34

    This is just my $0.02 as a reader: When I go to an author’s website, it’s usually in search of specific information like when their next book is coming out. I’ve seen the earlier version of all of the websites Black listed, and I find the new versions easier to navigate and more helpful, overall. Yes, the new versions are less pretty, but pretty gets old real quick when it comes between a reader and the info she wants.

  7. Trout
    May 16, 2008 @ 13:21:58

    Holy crap. That was the most unfunctional, ugliest dang site I’ve clicked to in a long time. Horizontal scrolling? Did I miss something? When did the usability gurus say it was okay to start doing that again?

    In any case, after reading his blurb on his project planning/website building, the tone was so dang off-putting . Seems he doesn’t know about CSS since he points out if you change your header font he ::whines:: has to go back and change all of them and that takes away from his pwecious time to do really cool shit. Um. That should take all of 2 minutes to change.

    Also, his site does not resize if you shrink your windows down. Another really bad design element there.

    Can I go on? Please? Jakob Nielsen would have a field day…

  8. whiskeyjack
    May 16, 2008 @ 13:42:37

    Really classless. Really stupid.

    Strike one.

    I can’t fathom how people think this is appropriate. Ms. Frost made a post on her blog about it:

    That being said, as a web developer (not designer) I guess I’m just not getting this. Websites aren’t more matter and less art or vice versa. There’s a balance. Usability is king. People absolutely need to be able to QUICKLY find what they want but doesn’t mean it has to be ugly or boring or plain.

    Theo looks pretty damn good at graphics. He can make some nice stuff. It’s not all to my taste but I quite like some of it.

    But the dude don’t know websites. He looks like a print designer working on the web. People can do both but I don’t think he’s put in the homework.

    Strike two.

    I couldn’t even get to all the sites in his portfolio.

    Strike three.

  9. ilona_andrews
    May 16, 2008 @ 14:29:44

    :raises paw:

    From the financial point of view, my website cost me $40. I got a template. No, not the greatest site in the world but I like it and it gets the job done.

    Paying 5K for the website is just ridiculous. Especially when, by all indications, the designer uses the kind of software that prevents you from updating and is extremely slow to respond to update requests.

  10. Shiloh Walker
    May 16, 2008 @ 15:32:54

    IMO, a reader doesn’t need an ‘arty’ website, and most of them probably don’t really want one.

    They want info on books, not to get lost in graphics. An author website is to showcase the author and her books. Anything beyond that is going to make it too easy for the necessary info to get lost.

  11. Lynne
    May 16, 2008 @ 16:05:21

    My site is just a canned WordPress template with a few simple customizations I did in about ten minutes. Eventually, I’m going to want something a little prettier, and when I do, I’ll hire one of my artist friends to do some header graphics.

    Once upon a time, I hired a web design firm that does a few other writers’ web sites. Unfortunately, I wasn’t happy with any of their proposed designs and just didn’t have the time to go back and forth a dozen times about it, so I severed the contract. As per the terms of the agreement, they kept my deposit and ended up selling the design to someone else, all of which was fine with me.

    In my dealings with them, they were very professional, and I can’t imagine seeing them publish a list of ex-clients like Mr. Black has done. Zoinks.

  12. Mary
    May 16, 2008 @ 16:42:20

    Ann said: “I wish more authors would go with nice, simple WordPress…” and I TOTALLY agree. An author/website goddess friend of mine turned me onto WordPress, and I use it for ALL my sites. Seriously. The templates make it great to get something pretty and functional, and if you have any graphics knowledge you can make a new header image as I did, or you can pay someone (like my website goddess friend) as I also did.

    I am really starting to hate sites with flash intros. Just get me to the page already.

  13. Jia
    May 16, 2008 @ 17:45:02

    I have never, and will never, understand the allure of flash intros. They drive me insane.

  14. Kristie(J)
    May 16, 2008 @ 21:31:32

    Wow – that seems like very bad business practices – dissing on former clients like that. And I checked out Ms. Frost’s rebuttal and what he did makes even less sense.

  15. Rosie
    May 17, 2008 @ 01:23:24

    Checked out Mr. Black’s site and some of his clients. He does have some pretty stuff, some of the sites I found a bit busy, but different strokes for different folks. Nothing took too long to load for me, but I have broadband.

    I also read Ms. Frost’s post today since whiskeyjack so conveniently provided a link. It appears pretty straight forward to me.

    What’s the beef Mr. Black? Sounds like business to me.

  16. GrowlyCub
    May 17, 2008 @ 12:33:44

    I went and looked at his site. I’m on DSL Ultra and even so some of the buttons took a while to load. Uncool.

    I also looked at his client list. Books must pay better than I thought, if they can afford 1k to 6k for a website presence. But that might be just jealousy since I designed a couple of sites for my friends for free. he he

    The question that I had was whether I’d want to be associated with this person as a writer and as I decided no, would the fact that I’d be out such an extraordinary amount of green make the decision to pull or not.

  17. JaneO
    May 17, 2008 @ 15:06:35

    This is something I used to argue about at work all the time. NOT EVERYONE HAS THE MOST UP-TO-DATE COMPUTER AVAILABLE!
    For those with older/slower computers, sites that are heavy on graphics and gimmicks take much too long to load and may not load at all. Is the idea to show how clever and artistic you are or to communicate with people?

  18. Mischa
    May 17, 2008 @ 22:21:24

    Am I missing something? How do you get that he is criticizing them for leaving? All he says is that they canceled his service; replaced it with less artsy web pages; and he doesn’t know why they canceled. He comes across as complaining sure, but criticizing?

  19. Ann Somerville
    May 17, 2008 @ 22:25:33

    He comes across as complaining sure, but criticizing?

    He said

    three authors canceled web site service with me in favor of more generic web sites. Their reasons for canceling service are still unknown to me. .[emphasis mine]

    In other words, not only did they decide to use an inferior product, they didn’t even bother to tell him why. (Which is untrue, according to at least one of the people he names.) He’s calling them bad customers with lousy taste. Sure sounds like criticism to me. Man should go on the list of business with which not to engage, in my opinion.

  20. MD
    May 18, 2008 @ 00:31:49

    I always click away from sites with flash intros, instead of hitting the “skip through” button. I have a year old computer and fantastic DSL, but I’m still not going to watch the “show”. It just comes across as tiresome showing off to me. I’m an old-fashioned girl with disposable cash at hand and I like simple, straightforward sites. I can think of two off-hand–authors Anne Brooke and Rob Thurman–who have clean, appealing sites. No fuss, no clutter, and easy to navigate. I appreciate that and it makes me want to explore the site further. Shove a flash intro in my face and you can be sure I won’t visit your site ever again.

  21. Jana Oliver
    May 18, 2008 @ 12:07:52

    I used a template as I’m constantly futzing with or updating the site. I kept trying to get myself psyched up for a flash intro. Still hasn’t happened. Every few years I change website design. I’m about due again, though I love the current site. I’ve already bought the template. It’s that “control” thing, you see.

  22. azteclady
    May 18, 2008 @ 20:30:05

    Flash intro? sure fire way to get me to leave and never look back.

    Give me simple, easy to access, quick to load, user (meaning me, the reader) friendly over pretty every time.

  23. Shar
    May 19, 2008 @ 20:46:34

    I have DSL broadband. Doesn’t take long at all for me to load up. I will admit the graphics are pretty, but I want a clear cut template site so I can easily find the information I need. You would not believe the various authors sites I have come across recently that are either too busy/fussy that it is a chore to find the information (book release info or what it is about) on a site like that. Also, if you are an author, make sure to HAVE information ABOUT THE BOOK. I came across one YA paranormal popular bestseller who had everything and the kitchen sink EXCEPT for information on what the book was about. I had to go to amazon to find out. That is just….sad.

    Woe…just found out it was Theo who designed that site as well. A lot of extras, but no book descriptions. Does the author put that up or the designers?

  24. Lynne Connolly
    May 21, 2008 @ 15:06:43

    I keep stripping my site down. I’ve just done a big redesign (not launched yet) because I wanted a single template site that I could update quickly. I like to do my own, because I don’t like waiting around for other people to get stuff done for me.
    I’ve done a few sites for myself now, and every time the design gets simpler and simpler. I got rid of drop-down menus, then fancy backgrounds and now I’m getting rid of the 4 or so templates I use. I tried to separate the historicals I write from the paranormals, but they’re all me, so I might as well have them on the same site, just make it clear which is which.
    And the sites I like to visit best are attractive but load fast. I won’t wait too long for anything to load.

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