One of the things that I was interested in talking about on my blog was discussing the tools that I used to plan, write, edit, publish, and promote my digital novels. For this reason, I begin a series today that I like to call the “Tools of the Trade”. Essentially, I’ll talk about what I use and why I use them. One of the challenges that I had when I started writing was that all I had was a pen and a piece of paper. The last fifteen years have a dramatic shift in how we write, distribute, and promote books.
For today, I would like to discuss this website. One of the things that I’ve always avoided during my 31 years on this earth is managing my own website. First and foremost, I always thought that they were too egotistical. Who really cares about the opinion of each and every person who creates a web site. Web sites to me had always seemed an exercise in shameless self-promotion. Just by putting your name of something does not make what you say all that interesting or important.
Note: the author is very aware of the irony of the previous statement due to his using HIS OWN NAME in his domain. The author accepts the irony and the mandatory round of mocking that it entails for reasons that will be discussed below.
However, when I decided to publish my fiction anonymously, it became apparent that I would have to create a website and blog. Otherwise, how else are people going to find out about my work. To this end, I patterned my strategy after the fine cellist Zoe Keating. Zoe Keating is a musician that you’ve probably never heard of but through her unique music and savvy website she has been able to make a comfortable living doing what she loves while never having to go through a large scale music label.
Thus the decision was made and the battle was joined. There was only one problem.
I had absolutely no idea what I was doing.
Despite my degree in computer engineering, my videogaming hobby that borders on the obsessive (must get … double shotguns), my experience in building web sites was limited to a summer working as a CAP Youth Intern on behalf of Industry Canada. At that time, we used HTML. WYSIWYG editors had not really caught on and CMS modules had not yet appeared.
So I took the logical thing that far too many people are incapable of – I asked for help. To be more accurate, I asked my friend Kevin Bhookun, an experienced web developer. He advised that I sign up with 1and1.com. And so I did. I bought web space with the domain scottblurton.com (Ego Alert!) used the included Website Builder to build a basic shell. He also suggested that I do my blog using WordPress. And so I did. I created my blog at digitalnovelist.blogspot.com. Thus with the two parts of the whole all ready to go, I tried fulfill my life-long dream of three weeks and integrate the two together.
And I fell flat on my face.
I went back to Kevin and explained to him the difficulty that I was having with 1and1.com. He sighed, reached down for a whiffle bat labeled “For Morons Only” and smacked me across the face with it (rhetorically speaking). He then calmly explained everything for me as simply as he could.
You see, what I had missed was the distinction between WordPress.com and WordPress.org. You see WordPress.com is a website that will host your website for you using a default yourname.wordpress.com URL or one that you purchase from them. All of the data that your create or add to the site is stored on wordpress.com’s servers. WordPress.org, on the other hand, is a tool set that you download and install on your server. So in my case, I downloaded the wordpress.org software package and installed it onto my webspace at 1and1.com. I then set my domain to the installed folder, de-activated the Website Builder (thank you 1and1 tech support), and activated the WordPress.org plugin.
After the installation, I logged back into my internal WebPress account and everything moved like silk. Did I want to download and install a new theme. No problem, just point and click. Did I want to add widgets to my sidebars? No problem, just drag and drop and it just works. Oh no, there is no Twitter widget installed. What do I do? Easy, you go to plugins, search for the plugin you want, install it, and then activate it. No problem.
After learning how to code the hard way, the unnerving ease of use of WordPress was astonishing. I was creating better results with little or no work than I could ever have accomplished by hand-coding it myself. It was so easy and intuitive. It was like using an iPhone. It just worked.
Thus in the end, I would have to fully recommend WordPress. Once installed (which is certainly not intuitive) it runs like Apple had designed it. Even a web neanderthal like myself has no troubles using it.
And what about 1and1.com. What did I think about them? First and foremost, WebsiteBuilder sucks. The faster you can replace it with WordPress, the better. But as a webspace and a service, I have been impressed. When I encountered problems on the weekend, their technical support was available and extremely helpful. Once I told them my problem, they had the problem fixed in ten minutes and helped me to understand what had caused the problem. As someone who worked in technical support for a year, I appreciate the value of expert and courteous advice. Thus far, I would have to recommend them wholeheartedly recommend them. Their service has been excellent thus far.
Now, I’ve got my website ready to go. It isn’t finished by any means, but its a great start that I can no put content into. There are still problems like my twitter feed is buried at the bottom of the screen but as of this moment it looks great, is easy to use, and allows me to focus on building content. That’s good enough for me.