Sunday, December 6, 2009

Creating An Online Presence

I started writing this post about two weeks ago.  I was pretty close to posting it when events in my personal life started spinning out of control.  Those events are still spinning, but there is little that I can do about them right now, so I have decided to finish this post before moving on to Christmas shopping, working on the new website, writing, editing, and the rest of the items on my list.

What Follows Is From Two Weeks Ago, With Some Recent Edits

I have spent a fair amount of my free time recently working on creating a website to host my story, Gods Among Men.  I have had numerous false starts and tried more than a few approaches that ended in failure.  This is to be expected in any new venture; it is part of the learning curve that such efforts entails. 

From the outside it may appear that progress has stalled, but I have worked long enough as a computer programmer to know better.  I have amassed the information required to sustain my efforts into the future.  The fact that there isn’t much to show at the moment is not indicative of what I have learned how to do in the last few days.

Initially I was using software called SiteBuilder to build my new website.  It had several advantages, including the fact that it was freely available on the servers hosting my site, had a plethora of sample themes to choose from, and it let me quickly throw together an initial set of pages that I could later change to suit my needs.   

Once I had the initial pages created, I planned to use Microsoft Expression Web to modify the pages.  Expression Web, as far as I can tell, doesn’t have options like those in SiteBuilder for quickly building an entire website with a few clicks.  That said, it does have terrific options for managing existing sites and building new pages.  

I soon ran into the problem that SiteBuilder and Expression Web don’t play well together.  Actually, a better description would be that SiteBuilder doesn’t play well with anything else at all.  After making various changes using Expression Web, I decided I needed new pages that would be easier to add in SiteBuilder.  When I loaded my site back into SiteBuilder I discovered that it didn’t see the changes I had made using Expression Web.  Since I had a copy of everything on my local hard drive, I decided to plow ahead and see what SiteBuilder would do after I added the new pages and republished the site.  What happened is that SiteBuilder wiped out everything I had done and recreated the website from scratch, with my new pages now added.

Nonplussed, I considered just using Expression Web to build my site.  This would give me total control of the content.  The drawback was it meant I had to become much more familiar with the ins and outs of website development.  A task requiring a substantial commitment of time and effort on my part. 

As I was debating this problem, I was also working with WordPress, the software that I chose for my website’s blog.  Here I had a different problem, namely the theme for my blog was not the same as my theme for my website.  I liked the initial theme I choose for my blog, but it had some limitations that proved frustrating.  Fortunately there are a gazillion prepackaged themes available to choose from, including a large variety of free ones. 

With a bit of exploration I found a theme called Atahualpa.  This highly customizable theme not only removed the restrictions I had been laboring under with my previous theme, but it made me wonder how far I could push its limits.  After playing with it I decided it would be possible to make my blog the home page for my entire website and create custom pages for hosting my story.  This also addressed the problem that my blog had one appearance and my initial website had another.

I still had a problem with Expression Web.  I couldn’t use it to directly manage pages hosted by WordPress, but I discovered ways around this limitation.  To be precise, I found out how to create a page or part of a page in Expression Web, then copy the generated HTML and paste it into a page created by WordPress.  While far from perfect, this process let me have my cake and eat it too.  That is, I could quickly generate an entire website that would look professional and consistent from page to page, and I could tweak it to display anything I wanted.

And Now I Am Adding New Material

Since I wrote the above I have spent some time adding new pages to my website.  I put customized, if somewhat crude, graphics of my own creation on the site.  I added an “about the author” page, and created a menu and associated page with options to go to any of the books in Gods Among Men.  I also added a page with the synopsis of the series' plot, including a spoiler alert for those who prefer discovering the story for themselves.  I designed a format for the title page I will use for each chapter I post, including copyright information and appropriate disclaimers.  I used this format to create a PDF version of the first chapter in the series and put a link on the website to download it.  I also created an XPS version of the first chapter, but have had some difficulty putting it on the site.  When I try to upload the file, WordPress bleeps out an obscure message stating that it is not secure enough.  I will do research later to find out what the heck that is all about. 

There is still much work to do, and I have grand plans for the site’s future that may exceed both my time and abilities.  Still, it is better to aim high and fall short than to never test your limits.

The new site has, in the upper right corner of the home page, ways for visitors to subscribe to the blog I have there.  Sometimes I will post the same information both there and on the blog for the Magic City Writers’ Group, such as this post.  My long term plan is to post about writing in general on the Magic City Writers’ site, and about Gods Among Men on my new site.  I hope everyone will sign up for both.

Given the holiday season and the upheavals in my personal life, new posts as well as progress on the new site may be sporadic for the next few weeks.  Hopefully things will settle down in the near future and I can resume a more normal schedule.

Until next time, take care and have fun.

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