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Sara L Russell

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How To - and How Not To - Make a Literary Website
By Sara L Russell
Last edited: Thursday, January 17, 2002
Posted: Thursday, January 17, 2002

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Recent articles by
Sara L Russell

• How To Make An A5 Poetry Chapbook
• The most exquisite poem I have ever read is...
• The Case for The Existence of Ghosts...
• Tips On Making Video Poetry Recitals
• UK 2002: The Culture of Spite
• For Poets: Coping With Writer's Block....
• The Pains of Trying To Get Poetry Published by A Reputable Publisher...
           >> View all 10
Is your poetry or fiction website an inspiration or an irritation to others? Take a step back, maybe it's time for a site face lift this January...

We've all been frustrated by them. Websites overloaded with fancy java and Flash 4 or 5 gimmicks, with links that jump around when you try to click them, or animations that give you a twitch in the eyelid.

There are times when Shockwave Flash comes into its own, as a wonderful program for artists and webmasters. For example with simple games that you can play online, or a new artistic way to present a poem. I have seen one particularly brilliant, very stylish website, run by the poet Brian Wilhite. It is called Kinte Space. He has poems for download in text, PDF and Flash - but the thing is, the site visitor has a choice. They can choose which format they want to use. They do not get confronted with a slow-loading Flash menu the second they get to the main index page. Here is Brian's URL for Kintespace:

In this article I want to deal mainly with websites for poets and novelists. If you like messing around making your own web pages, a good idea for a really professional look is to go and visit big company websites, such as AuthorsDen,, etc... what do these websites teach you, in terms of a business approach to making a website? One thing I notice is that many of them use frames, so that the page is broken into smaller pages which load quickly. They rarely use music. Any graphics are quite small, again for fast-loading.

Another important thing on company webites, including Yahoo and Alta Vista, is that they use pale backgrounds, so the black text is very readable. They keep the text to a small size, in a simple font like Arial. Titles can be fancy of course, but remember that some fancy script fonts can be hard to read. This puts up a barrier between you and your readers.

If you are editing an ezine and you are still on your first year's issues, always copy the most recent issue and use it as a template. Then you can over-write the text between the codes and not have to work out the table columns all over again. Be sure not to leave old bio information next to the poetry of a new poet if you work this way. Also make life easy for yourself. Edit poems in a WP program that allows you to add HTML line breaks all in one go, using search/replace. For example in the WP program MS Works:
Highlight the poem.
Go to Edit menu.
Key in the symbol for a hard return
(click the button with the symbol on screen)
Replace with br (in pointed brackets) and the symbol for a hard return.
Click OK
- Now all of the poem's line breaks will have the line break code against them. Then all you do is copy/paste the edited poem into your HTML editing screen for the page. I'm afraid I don't know if you can do this with Ms Word. I have Word but have not tried it.

About poetry sites for individual poets:
Whatever you do, do not make your poetry website look like a shrine to yourself. Nothing inspires more derision from readers. Not everyone out there is as friendly as they are here on AuthorsDen. Think - do they really want to see a succession of pictures of you in soft-focus, smiling gently, or do they want to read your poetry? One or two pictures will do, discreetly-placed. They do not need to be recent pictures, of course. You could try writing in the second person about yourself. This gives an impression of your publisher writing about you. A nice little trick for looking more important.

Also, try not to over-do the copyright thing. A simple c in a circle will suffice, next to your name, with the date the poem was written. Endless copyright warnings might make your more critical readers think
"why would I want to steal work of that standard anyway?"

Police your guestbook. Someone might leave a link to a porno site, which would not amuse your web host. That once happened to me - I deleted it as soon as I saw where the link went. And if someone leaves a nasty comment, go in and delete it, no further action needed. This is your site, your piece of promotional material for your work. Your critics will eventually get bored and go away. Be a diva, not a prima donna. Also back everything up onto CDs and maybe a mirror site, in case your host server blows up. That also happened to me, but fortunately I do keep copies of everything.

...So who am I to be telling you all of these things, you may well ask? Well I have a career background of typesetting, so have always had a sense of propriety instilled into me by my training, my bosses and company clients over the years. What to do and what not to do. What looks great on the page and what looks too "busy".

One poet's website I admire is that of Christina Sng, who also has a page right here on AuthorsDen. It is very easy on the eye, business-like and simply laid-out. There are links to other sites featuring her work and pages of her poems. It is like the pages of a magazine - very accessible and fast to access each page.

To conclude this article, I leave you with a spoof page I made specially, as an example of what not to put on a website. Dead links, silly music and animations - it's all there. Click the link below...

Web Site How Not To Make A Website

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Reviewed by Mark Carroll

This is certainly valuable advice and well worth my time reading it. Thank you and I can't wait to review more of your work.

Reviewed by Janet Caldwell
Thank you, Just last night I asked my son to do a personal web-site for me in his spare time. Good tips.

JC xoxoxo
Reviewed by Paul Kyriazi (Reader)
I needed this article because I'm doing an upgrade of my web site now. And I enjoyed your "not to do" site, But I liked the flipping color changing title. Sure I got dizzy, but... Anyway, I appreciate the information and concise writing. Thanks.
Reviewed by J Michael Kearney
Excellent advice...and very well presented!

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