Picture Book Websites for the Artistically Inept
A few years ago, I really wanted to create an author website. I wasn’t quite sure why, it just felt like the sort of thing I ought to have. After all, I had one for my business book and training, so why shouldn’t I have one for my children’s books?
Websites are a largely visual medium, so I knew I’d need some images. After all, you can’t have a picture book website without pictures, can you?
I don’t have any pictures.
I can’t draw particularly well, I don’t have a published book (so no cover pictures, characters or spreads), and I didn’t want to pay to get a load of illustrations done and tie myself to certain designs that may change when the books are published.
So, I grabbed the bull by the horns and gave up.
Now, if you are reading this, then you know I now have a website, even though I’m not yet published. So, what’s changed? I think the correct phrase is ‘critical mass’. I’ve reached the point where I found I had enough ‘stuff’ – ideas, opinions, experiences and awards – to commit.
If you’re in the same boat, and thinking of creating a website, here’s what I learned:
Why bother? Who would visit your website? Would you be better just on social media or writing a blog? Because websites are so visual, a bad website is often worse than none at all. Ask yourself if it is really important to showcase yourself through a website now. If it’s not, maybe wait a bit longer.
Pick a platform you can work with. If you can afford it, you can use a professional web designer, but I’m going to assume you are going the DIY route, like me. Pretty much all the main online hosting services have good editors and templates, including WordPress, Weebly, GoDaddy and Wix. I went with Wix, which has a good range of stock content.
Remember mobile. Chances are, your website will be viewed more on a mobile platform than on a desktop. Most editors allow you to optimise your site for mobile, but that doesn’t mean it always works how it should on all devices.
Add colour with a fixed background. One of the great things about modern websites is that you can include a fixed or parallax scrolling background, with the text scrolling over the top. This means you can use a single image as the background on all pages, which is a really simple way to add colour and visual appeal.
Focus on Fonts. Playful and interesting fonts can act as an alternative to images. For my ‘tales from the critique’ blog posts, I recreated the ‘tales from the crypt’ logo (and hence had a picture to use) simply by installing two new fonts.
Create icons. Icons are another way to create visual appeal on a page, and have the advantage that they can be much more crude than big illustrations. It also doesn’t force you to define your characters too precisely. I commissioned some icons for my site (more on that below) to illustrate a bunch of story synopses, which is far more impactful than just having the text.
Add your social media feeds. Apps can display your twitter or Instagram feeds, which multiplies your content for no extra effort.
Create projects. Create a story for kids to illustrate. Run events you can photograph. This creates lots of visual content, without it necessarily having to be high-quality illustrations.
Invest in an illustrator. It’s not as expensive as you think, provided you know exactly what you want and how to use it. I created a character for my blog, plus a set of synopsis icons, so it is a set of discrete elements used carefully to keep the cost down. Again, none of these force me to define a ‘look’ for any of my books/characters.
The wonderful members of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) provided their thoughts on the topic, too:
Lizzie Simpson (www.lizziesimpson.co.uk/) – create a colour palate and use it consistently across your website. Also, use paid stock image sites (e.g. Adobe Stock, Dreamstime) or free ones (e.g. Freepik, if you don’t mind attributing the artist) to fill out your pages.
Charlie Brown (www.authorcharliebown.com) – Google "websites for unpublished writers" and read some examples for content ideas. Charlie has also included a podcast (great non-visual media).
Emily Kenny (https://emilykenny.co.uk/) - like me, Emily commissioned a couple of pictures, and then used them several times throughout the site.
Victoria Smith (www.victoriasmithchildrensbooks.com/) – Victoria’s site does feature illustrations a book, but also lots of real-life images of play, models, etc connected to the book, providing lots of colour and life. It also links into her Instagram feed.
Dan Brockington (https://livelihoodchangeta.wixsite.com/website) - Dan got round the problem of illustrations by using photos of the actual place that inspired his story.
Heather Steed (www.haddockseye.com) got help from the Apple shop Bluewater where they do training days. Advice from a designer will help you create visual appeal without needing lots of original graphics.
Please add your top tips in the comments below, and happy web designing!