My bright, shiny new website, www.valerielaws.com, went live this month. I built it all by myself, sporting hard hat, boots and builder’s bum, carrying hods of words and pictures and mixing e-cement to hold them together. Only this building involved no sucking of teeth, costly materials, or industrial accidents, though there were many extended tea breaks involved. I thought you might like to know how I did it, the more so because it's FREE!! I used Weebly (there are others available like Wix and Jimdo etc) because it seemed lively and attractive, and I must say I’m thrilled with the results. My old website had been stagnant for a shamefully long time, especially as online presence is vital for me, and I do a lot of different things - crime fiction, poetry, performance, plays, science-themed poetry art installations, non-fiction - which all need flagging up and keeping up to date. My lovely website designers were the gate-keepers, so any changes had to be sent to them and paid for. I’d asked for a news section I could update myself, but I found the resulting system so awkward to use, I got discouraged. Also it involved scrolling down to see the news whereas

WEBSITE RULE ONE: SCREEN, NOT SCROLL. People don’t like scrolling! My chiropractor sees several a week suffering from ‘scroller’s forearm’ as the stress goes up your finger that mans the mouse wheel, and up to your elbow. It’s best to keep all your web content comfortably on the screen. I wrote a massive amount of updating for the old site, but realised I wanted control, and a change of homepage and format, and had gained more techie knowledge. Now for BELLS AND WHISTLES because

RULE TWO:  PEOPLE LIKE VARIETY on the screen and between pages. I’d wistfully longed for such exotica (or they were when I had my first site made) as photo galleries, videos, slide shows... they were expensive and seemed complicated to implement. But now, with Weebly, despite my wobbly worries I was able to have all these bright and gorgeous things, not only free but with the ability to pop in and change anything, any time.

I did wobble quite a bit. A fair time ago I signed up and started looking at Weebly's shedloads of ‘themes’ which are basic layouts of pages, styles of headers, etc,  many with different colour options. I became overwhelmed and also looked at a Weebly site on my phone because

RULE 3: PHONES ARE COMPUTERS TOO! Lots of people look at sites on their phones or mini-tablets. And back then it was dowdy, wordy and the pix had vanished. I went away sorrowing, but then spurred on by shame I returned, to find they’d vastly upgraded their phone-compatible views, yay! So I chose my theme, and my colour scheme (these can be changed at any time, even after it’s finished, a click and the whole thing will look different, so decisions don’t need to be too agonised-over), plunged in, and started building. Their system is simple, you go into your site, and you can add pages, name them, and decide on the layout of the page, eg big/small header or none. Then the  'elements'; Title, Text, Picture, Video, Picture Gallery, Slide Show, Column dividers, all just icons you drag and drop onto the page, and start writing (with choice of font, size, colour) or uploading. It’s all explained clearly and there’s a lot of support well set out with vids and step by step help. Deciding which labels to use for my ‘pages’ was the hardest bit for me, but I split them into categories.

You create ‘sub-pages’ just as easily which flash up on the homepage menu and 'sub-sub-pages' so I can have, say ‘Crime Fiction’ as a ‘landing page’ with general fun stuff about my crime novels, then sub-pages each for THE OPERATOR and THE ROTTING SPOT. QUANTUM SHEEP, my live sheep poetry installation, is reached as a subpage from ‘Sci-Art Installations’ page, and from there you can go to two sub-sub-pages with different elements - the sheep-created poems, and the media frenzy it inspired. I went nuts all through with videos, slide shows, picture galleries, all just as easy as text, so my landing page for plays has a slide show of my playbills, then a page for each play with synopsis, poster pic and reviews; my BEACHBALLS ‘quantum haiku’ poetry installation (commissioned by the BBC for BBC2’s documentary Why Poetry Matters with Griff Rhys Jones) has the Youtube video (cut down from the whole programme using Windows Live Movie Maker) embedded cheerfully on it, and a subpage with a colourful photo gallery of the Live performance of it at Royal Festival Hall with a large audience throwing the balls to create new poems.
LYDIA BENNET’S BLOG gets her own page. You can create links either to online URLs or to other pages within the site, useful for me with a book linking to an installation featuring poems from it, linking to news and events as it opens in an exhibition, linking to... and so on.
Anyway, after much effort and choice, I finally finished all the pages and categories. Now the domains... Weebly have three versions of sites, the free one, then two paid ones, and it turns out that many free websites make you use their domain name, ie you choose part of it but it’s got ‘weebly’ or ‘blogspot’ or ‘wordpress’ in it too. I already owned valerielaws.co.uk, which my site guys were holding for me with Astutium. If you want to register a domain name yourself, Nominet lists them and who owns them because

RULE FOUR: BUY YOUR NAME NOW!  It’s worth bagging any domains containing your name or business or project, even if you don’t plan to use them yet, as someone else might bag it first. It’s not expensive. So, at first it seemed I could only use my well-established, Google-friendly domain, bought via someone not-Weebly, if I upgraded to a paid site. They are not expensive, however if you want more than one site, you have to pay separately for each, which can rack up quite a bill. I resigned myself to a Weebly domain, and arranged with my previous site builders to ‘redirect’ my old domain name to my new site, so anyone clicking on an old link to valerielaws.co.uk would go to the new site. At first this seemed slow but soon speeded up to seamless. Also, Weebly told me that valerielaws.com was still available, and if I bought it through them, I could use it on my new site, and keep the site free - so I did, I’ve paid two year’s rent on the name and so I’ve got both .com and .co.uk versions of my name domain. So then it was just click on PUBLISH and briefly panic as I seemed to vanish from Google, a strangely scary feeling of non-existence, and then I was back, in my new form, my coat of many colours, with the added domain name and all the bells and whistles.


Do pop in and visit the new site, have a browse, and I hope you like it. I’ve not found an ‘element’ for tea and cupcakes to drag and drop yet, but no doubt it’s in the pipeline.

My Kindle crime novels:
Amazon UK   Amazon US  Amazon.CA  Amazon.IN

Amazon UK   Amazon US  Amazon.CA  Amazon.IN




Lee said…
Thanks for the info! When my web designer gets tired of helping me, I may just try this.
Jan Needle said…
our generous friend cally talked me through this, and demonstrated it, when i visited her in the wilds of sco'l'nd, and it is certainly do-able (even by me, she claimed!) in the event i decided i needed to write a few more books before torturing my brain with a new learning curve (and as cally well knows, having met me, i also have an idleness problem) but it's lurking in my cerebral store room, and this is a further inspiration. thanks.
glitter noir said…
Well, thanks for sharing this, Valerie. This'll be at the top of my list when I go into full siege mode in 2014.
Susan Price said…
Looks great Valerie!
Chris Longmuir said…
I'm impressed. I built my website using Dreamweaver, and it's hosted by Freeola. It was a bit laborious to build, although challenging, and I do like a challenge. However, the Weebly way seems to be a lot easier.
Lydia Bennet said…
thanks folks! Jan, there's no reason not to put up a nice homepage and pix of your books with links, you can build it up as and when you need more space or feel like putting in more bells and whistles.
julia jones said…
RESPECT! Is there no end to your talents, Valerie?
Lydia Bennet said…
thanks Julia, actually it's not really a humblebrag or anything, more to say that non-specialists can build sites now with the easy free site-builders.
JO said…
Well done, Val - having also built a website from scratch I know just how much congratulations are in order - it's a huge achievement!
Lydia Bennet said…
aw thanks Jo, and Julia and you all, blushing now.
Dan Holloway said…
I love your new website
Lydia Bennet said…
thank you Dan, I don't know now why I agonised about it for so long! the great thing is with these free site builders, you don't need to commit until you click Publish, so you can mess about and try things, go away for months, come back, mess about some more, get it how you like, sort out your domain position, then publish, or abandon the whole thing, with no obligation.

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