Thursday, 16 May 2013

When Writing Websites Go Wrong

In the heady days when I had money and the surplus cash in my bank account wasn't 0.03p, I paid a website designer around £500 to build me a writing website. It looked fabulous and I received loads of compliments, although interestingly enough, not one single commission or request for work. Instead I had lots of emails (well, one or two) from prisoners wanting me to "ghost" their life story, English graduates asking me for advice on becoming a writer (don't give up the day job) and school children wanting help with their homework.

However, the main problem with my website was what would happen if I needed to make even a tiny change, such as adding a news item or updating my biography. I had to email my designer with the changes, wait for him to email me back to say he'd done them, proof-read the changes on the site, email the designer again to say they were OK (or not), then wait for him to email me back to say the changes were now "live". Although he was pretty efficient at getting the changes done quickly and usually for no extra charge, it was a laborious and frustrating process.

Flushed with the success of building my own crafting website ( with one of the online design templates, I decided to have a go at designing and building a new writing website. It wouldn't cost me anything to build, the hosting fees were slightly cheaper than my current ones and I'd finally have control over the content. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, just about everything actually. Bearing in mind that I'm not a computer expert by any means, I began to realise that I'd probably created my crafting website more by luck than judgement. I had problems adding images. They flatly refused to go anywhere near where I wanted them to go, leaving me with some "unusual" page layouts. I had problems adding text (very important for a writing website) as the line spacing proved a nightmare. Also, linking to previously published pieces of work wasn't exactly easy either.

I managed to complete the site design eventually and was all set to go "live" when I discovered, much to my surprise, that transferring my existing domain name to the new site had resulted in me losing my main email service. No one had told me this might happen or what to do when it did. Without going into all the details, I ended up being without email for ten days. I was also suddenly plunged into a world of "IPS tags" and "File Transfer Protocol", none of which meant anything to me. The final insult was when I had to buy back my own domain name from the company I'd just transferred it from and re-set up my own email account three times! Then just when I thought everything had finally been sorted out, the new site "disappeared" and the old one came back in its place. I was not a happy bunny.

So, here are my top tips, based on my experience, if you are thinking of building your own writing website:

1. The companies offering a "build your own site" almost certainly assume that you have more computer knowledge than you probably have. Be prepared to be given information in "techno-speak", not plain English and don't expect a "step by step" hand-holding guide to building your site.

2. The profits made by these companies are low as they offer a low cost service. This means you may get "low-cost" customer service and support. This can be a real problem, especially "out of hours" or if your problem occurs just before a four day Bank holiday weekend as mine did. You may end up having to rant on their Facebook page to get attention!

3. Be prepared to conduct all your (numerous) communications with your hosting company entirely by email as they are unlikely to offer any form of telephone support. This can be a major problem if building your site has caused you to lose your email service! Certainly consider getting a back-up email service if you don't already have one.

4. Find out before you start building your site whether your new company only offers an email forwarding service as this may not be suitable for your needs.

5. Get someone else to build it for you.

I hope this helps. I'd love to hear from anyone else who has found building their own website as stressful as I did (if there is anyone else!) and in the meantime, maybe you'd like to take a look at my new website ( as it is finally up and running at last.