There’s something magical about writing a novel, a poem or something else brand new and unique. So, I was very excited when Penny Hancock asked me to create a website to promote her fiction writing. She needed a refresh of her online presence in advance of her new novel, I Thought I Knew You, being published in March 2019. As well as having three novels under her belt to date, she has been featured on the Richard and Judy Book Club and served as a Royal Literary Fellow, teaching at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, UK.
We first met at Milton Country Park on a beautiful sunny day and decided to take down her ‘broken’ website, putting up a holding page, while I worked on a new site – creating the layout and framework for the content that she would write herself.
She reflected a lot on the kind of content she wanted to provide on the new site and decided her novels and other writings and her popular Writing School classes should be the main priority. I organised the site navigation to make those things very easy to find. She also retired her blog and decided instead to feature occasional articles when she has something important to say, without the pressure to create blog content on a regular basis.
For colours we chose an aubergine purple shade, a serious, grown up colour with a bit of class, along with paler yellow and green for backgrounds in sidebar (the section down one side of a site) and footers (the section at the bottom, often used for copyright notices and general contact information). I used a colour wheel tool to get the combination and tweaked the shades until they felt right to both Penny and me.
Social media is an increasingly important way for writers to connect with readers and promote their books and other activities – readings, book festival appearances, reviews, writing classes, etc. So the site has clear links at various places to her social media accounts where she can replace her blog with shorter posts on a more regular basis, and interact with readers.
Revisiting her website design and thinking about her marketing plans as a whole made Penny take the plunge and get organised with an author page on Amazon Central which means we can link from her site to a page featuring all her books where potential customers can easily buy them. Penny was keen to prominently support independent bookshops so we have an attractive button (thanks to the Booksellers Association), taking you to a page where you can enter your postcode to find your nearest bookshop. Finally, we link to hive.co.uk, an online book retailer supporting local bookshops. We would consider adding further links to local book shops on request.
Understandably, Penny wants writing to be her ‘main thing’ and not have to get dragged into too much faffing with a website but have clear guidelines on what she needs to do. We’re working together intensively in the first couple of months of her having the site ‘in her own hands’ so I can learn which bits she needs a tutorial on, and which bits are easy to use intuitively. I’m also learning about the various formats for creating tutorials so I can find the right way to support clients. It’s always intriguing to see how a site gets used once you hand it over to a client and I’m looking forward to sharing more sections of it with her as she gains in confidence.
One key part of using the site will be learning how to source and manipulate images and then add them to the website in the right way. To keep the budget reasonable we chose some fantastic free-to-use images from Unsplash and are delighted to credit the photographers below. We used pixlr.com to crop and resize them for the web – an excellent free web-based tool that allows people on a budget to adapt their images in quite sophisticated ways without much outlay (except time to learn how to use the system).
In terms of the system behind the site I used WordPress.org, as always, in conjunction with the versatile GeneratePress theme. It was my first time using GeneratePress and I drew on support from their excellent customer services team several times. I’ll be back for more advice, I’m
sure, as I plan to use this lovely theme again. I also use a number of plugins which add functionality to the site as required.
I’m looking forward to having further contact with Penny and hoping some of her creative magic will rub off on me! She has some pages for reading group questions planned so watch this space…
See the website: www.pennyhancock.com
Thank you to the following Unsplash photographers for the images we used when designing the site: