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SANDMAN REVIEWS


A gripping psychological read with characters that reach out and grab you. A real page turner.

SOPHIE KING
bestselling author of The Wedding Party and other novels

Sandman touches our primary emotions: jealousy, love, fear, hatred, and grief... Kingsley has written an intriguing mystery/psychological thriller with interesting, believable and well-developed characters. There are twists, turns, red herrings, and a healthy dose of hair-raising fear and suspense to keep even the most fickle reader captivated. The dialogue is authentic, and, along with the scene-painting narrative, you’ll feel like you’re on the beach witnessing the unfolding action.
Highly recommended to readers who enjoy a great mystery!

WILLIAM POTTER
Reader’s Choice Book Reviews
(5 Star Rating)

Simple website generation using website builders (Part 1)

While this article will be of particular interest to anyone with a business or something to sell, it is particularly relevant to authors. No pro-active author should miss the opportunity of having some form of web presence today, and your own website has to be the kernel of any other online presence. It is good to raise your profile on other websites, but it is essential to be able to link these to your own website: it is from there you can sell. Making yourself known on other websites without linking to your own website is to put the cart before the horse: every online article (or 'tweet') that misses this opportunity is a wasted opportunity (or 'squawk'); only on your own website can you say precisely what you want, in your own way, and with appropriate advertising alongside.
That's all very well, you might say, but how do I get a website without it costing me a fortune? That is the very question I hope to answer in this article. Obviously you will not bother to read on if you already have the skills needed to create a website, but for the many who do not, I hope to show you all is not lost—and that you don't need to have deep pockets (or purse)—or take a degree in web design!

The expensive and time-consuming option: use a website designer

If you are not prepared to put in any effort, then you must obviously be prepared to pay for someone else's effort. (And if you are an author, that's all taken from your hard-earned—and generally meagre—profits.) It might seem like the easy solution to just get a web designer to do it all for you, but consider the facts. You have to provide him with all the text needed on the site, so you will end up typing it anyway. So why not type it directly into the application which will produce it as a web page? Then there is the questions of style, layout, etc. You need to tell the web designer all that. Then what about updates? It is no use having a stagnant website or no one will ever come back more than once or twice, You need to keep it up-to-date and active in order to get people to return. So it's not at all like getting a sign painted or a brochure printed. This is hands-on stuff, and if the hands aren't yours it is going to cost you. At best, you will have to be taught enough to be able to update the site initially created by your web designer—or else you keep on paying him to do that for you, and suffer the inevitable delays waiting for him to get around to it and then you approving it. There are better—and much cheaper—ways. (It could even be free!)

The cheap and easy option: use a 'website builder'

You may not have heard of website builders, but this is definitely the cost-effective solution for someone without website design experience who otherwise considering themselves 'computer-literate'. Website builders are websites which offer you a choice of easy templates and the means of typing in text and inserting pictures much as you might do in your favourite word processor program.
If you can use Microsoft Word then you will be able to use your preferred website builder: but do try more than one out to see which one seems the most intuitive to you. That's a much more sensible approach than picking one at random, putting in a lot of creative work, and then getting stuck—or wishing you'd made a better choice. Website builders will meet most amateur's needs and have the great advantage of providing you with a really professional appearance: better than you could probably achieve after months—or even years—of gaining experience in raw website design.
So have I used one here? Actually, the answer is 'no', but it was not for the want of trying. Although I am a 'webmaster' by definition—I designed and produce a travel website called synergise.com—I could not quite achieve everything I wanted with the various website builders I tried out: but that's not to say you won't be able to. My experience on raw website design led me to having some very demanding requirements and that is why I did not use a website builder for this website. (I will be writing a separate article about how I achieve some of the effects on this website for the benefit of anyone creating their own website from scratch. I wanted to create variable content 'on-the-fly': such as the random review quotes which vary each time someone enters the page. )
Actually, you'd be surprised at how tricky it can be to get a webpage to look like a printed page—even the paragraph indents I'm using here, for example. It's not difficult, but you need to know the right tricks. Check out average website text paragraphs—including elsewhere on this website—and you'll see spaced paragraphs: because they are much more straightforward to achieve. That's not to say you cannot apply some of these tricks within website builders: it is just a case of what are their limitations? (Part 2 of this article tells you about some of the limitations I discovered.)

Plan your requirements first

Before you launch forth with a website builder, firstly sit down and very carefully plan all your requirements. Here are some of the built-in features many have on offer:

  • Templates. These allow you to choose a layout and appearance that appeals to you. Often you can even tailor these to change colours, etc.

  • Image galleries. These offer you a choice of copyright-free images you can use. It is very important to ensure any images you use are your own or that you are permitted to use them in your particular circumstances. (I once used an image from another website I was recommending in the belief I had their go-ahead and it was theirs; a couple of years later I paid a very high price for the mistake of infringing someone else's copyright. I am much more careful now!) Even if they don't provide this, there are websites such as iStockphoto.com which allow you to buy images very cheaply: providing you also include the required copyright statement somewhere.

  • Drag-and-drop editing. This allows you to chose where you want your text and graphic elements to appear on the page and to move them around.

  • Different content elements. These usually include most of the following additional features: pictures, videos, music, audio, documents, maps, photo galleries, blogging, slide shows, forums, RSS feeds (Really Simple Syndication). So, you can see how professional your site can look if you use a website builder.

Don't be put off if they do not include something which is readily available elsewhere, such as blogging facilities. Most of the latter can be styled to look very much like your website in any case and there are benefits from using a purpose-build blogger (ie it gives you free exposure on that blogging site). Do be sure all the basic facilities you ever expect to use are available, however, because you will seriously regret putting time-and-effort into a system that does not meet your eventual needs. Imagine starting over to achieve them before you dismiss this lightly!

So what website builders are there to choose from?

The simple answer is: many! Google "website builders free" and you will see over 12 million entries! So I'll concentrate on some of the best known. I will provide you with the links so you can visit their websites and mesmerise yourself with their possibilities—and marvel at the low cost involved! They all have their pros and cons, but the end result looks much the same for most of them: a professional-looking website. (Most of them are based in America but don't worry about that folks: the net is a 'global village', after all!)
I think the most important thing to look out for is the ability to try them out for free and see the results online. Try out a pilot-scheme which involves testing all the effects and requirements you have in mind: to make sure they can achieve everything you want. There may be some bitter surprises in store otherwise. (For example. I almost settled on one of these in the belief it would be perfect, only to later discover it could not cope with long articles like this. Since this was an essential requirement for me, that particular web builder was out—even though it was great in practically every other respect!
So here are some of the website builders I suggest you investigate.

Website Builder

Notes

One of the biggest and most visited sites on the web. Look at their 'WebsiteTonight' offering, where the name implies it is quick and simple to create your site. According to price, this offers 5-page, 10-page and 999-page websites and over 1,500 templates (ie 'appearances') to choose from. (Personally I found a number of things I didn't like. Most significantly, this was the way they force you to buy and associate a domain name with your account right from the start if you want to see your test site online. This trick is clearly designed to discourage you from moving elsewhere since you then have the hassle of moving the domain name with you.)

Hundreds of pre-designed websites for you to alter to your needs—or create from scratch. Lots of video examples. Can get a bit complex because of 'layers', but has extensive help. Things might just go a bit pear-shaped, as well, if your layers are not quite right. Only the technically proficient should consider this option.

2,000 templates. 250,000 free images. Try it out.

Creating text and other objects is rather similar to using Microsoft Word. Try it out. 300+ templates.

Advertising-free website generator with 70+ templates.

Dazzling 'Flash' website creation. But do you want Flash? (See Part 2 of this article series for more on this.)

Another 'Flash' based website creation tool that is very intuitive. But, once again, do you want Flash? (See Part 2 of this article series for more information on this great builder—and why I did not choose it.)

Everything you need for a complete business or personal website for a small monthly fee. You can attach your own domain or even have a '.co.uk' one for free in the UK. Take their website tour video to discover more. Whether you want an easy site, or to dig deep and complex, there seem to be options here to suit.

Most of these website builders let you create a free website. If you only need four or five pages then it might be they can provide all your needs absolutely free. Many, however, will require you to pay a nominal sum to create bigger websites and that is fine: once you have proven they can achieve everything you need.

Buy a domain name

When you have your site up-and-running, and before you go public, I strongly suggest you buy a domain name and get that assigned to your website. So what is a domain name? Basically, it is an easy-to-remember shortcut to what would otherwise be a meaningless string of numbers called an 'Internet Protocol Address' (Or 'IP Address'), rather like a telephone number with full-stops (periods) embedded within it. This tells a person's browser where to find you.
Firstly you need to pick a name that is available. Be warned, most of the ones you think up have already been used. Google something like "buy domain names cheap" to find a site that will allow you to explore this. (Click here for an example.)
If you use a website designer to create your site, ask them to do this tricky bit for you. It's easy to buy a domain name, but a little trickier to get it pointing to where you want. It should not be too expensive because even the sought-after '.com' domain names are relatively cheap. Ensure you are happy about your test-bed website before you assign a domain name to it, though, for it can be quite a pain to make the domain name point elsewhere. (See also my separate article offering tips on choosing domain names.)
Why bother with this? Because a domain name such as: 'yourname.com', 'yourname.info', 'yourname.co.uk', shows you mean business and are professional. It is also much more flexible in the longer-term. If you use a domain name based upon your website host or website builder, which would be something like: 'yourname.anotherwebsitename.com', then what happens if you want to part company with 'anotherwebsitename.com'? The answer is that you then have an entirely different web address and all the people who once knew where to find you no longer can.Even worse, if you have made good ground in search engines, all that goodness is lost as well. You become an orphan on the worldwide web! If you have established your own domain name then this can be pointer at your new host or builder and all will be well in the virtual world.

A possible downside of a website builder

Once you cast your lot with a website builder, your website is just as sound as they are! In other words, if they go out of business then so do you. This is not the case if you have your own website built from scratch for you should have a separate copy of it and if your web host goes out of business, you can simply upload it to a new web host. The obvious security policy here is to make sure you go for one of the biggest names of website builder. All those mentioned above are pretty big.

Conclusion

I hope this has given you new hope that it is possible to generate your own website without taking a university degree on website design or employing an expensive website designer.
Please read Part 2 of this article series to discover some of my findings and preferences when sampling any of the above website builders. This will show you that when it comes to ease of operation they vary immensely. In most cases you can try them out for free, and I strongly encourage you to do just that and come to your own conclusions. I found some slow, some less than intuitive, some difficult. There are also limitations if you want to do any clever stuff. If your needs are modest, however, and a few simple pages are all you require, probably most of the above can do the job. But do read Part 2 if you want the low-down on the ones I tried out—and maybe save yourself days of frustration with the wrong one!


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If you feel I've saved you some serious money through the advice given in this article, there's a great way to say "thanks": just buy my one of my books! If you do, please accept my grateful thanks; I hope you enjoy it. If you do enjoy my book or have success creating your own website with a website builder after reading this article, why not tell me about it on the forum? (If you built a site, this will also give it some free publicity at the same time.)