Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Websites and Writing: Basic Web Design

Most writers know they should be spending their free time writing, rather than fooling around on the Internet. But the knowledge of basic web design will come in handy, if you've decided to start a website. You'll need to know at least enough to update your website with the latest information. Here, I hope to get you started designing that spiffy website.

Learn The Language(s)

I recommend you begin by learning HTML (Hypertext Markup Language, to you) and CSS (Cascading Style Sheets). HTML is the foundation of most web design - a language that helps you craft the ideal webpage, and display it the way you want (as opposed to using a template designed by someone else, which isn't as flexible). Like any other language, HTML takes time to learn, but not as much as you'd think. I used a book whose current edition is called "Teach Yourself HTML and CSS in 24 Hours" by Sams Publishing. Boiled down, CSS is a dialect of HTML - a more specific and cleaner version of HTML that allows your pages to load faster, but you'll need to learn HTML first to understand it. Most web browsers will eventually use CSS more frequently than the older, messier HTML, so get the jump by learning it now, and code your pages so that they're compatible with future standards.

This isn't the forum for teaching you to use HTML and CSS - that's what the book is for - so I won't waste time on that. You can make your pages as simple or as technical as you'd like. I know learning a language, let alone two, takes time away from writing your books, but it's time well spent if you want more control over the appearance and layout of your website than someone else's template can provide. And it's cheaper and potentially faster than paying someone else to manage your website, since you control the complexity and the speed of updates. So, the minute you know your new book is coming out, you can pop that info right up on your website!

No Time? Try This!

Assuming you know the basics of HTML and CSS, you can save yourself some time by customizing a template, or taking a look at the source code of someone else's page (but don't copy without asking - it's just good manners) and then customizing that. My favorite template source is http://www.freecsstemplates.org - there are pages and pages to choose from, and customizing them is easy with a little knowledge of the languages.

You can view source code of others' pages by clicking on View > Source at the top of most browsers. It'll open a text editor like Notepad, which displays the code used to make that page. Again, ask before copying another person's layout, unless you're copying a free or open-source layout. If you're unsure whether the layout is free or open-source, ask the website owner. We'll get further into open-source material later on.

HTML and CSS Spoken Here

Now that you have read up on the languages needed to make your website, you are ready to build it. But what do you say? That's next time's topic. We'll get into what you should put on your website, as an author. Cheers!

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