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Sunday, January 22, 2012


Website or Blog: Which Does a Writer Need?

Do you need to jump in and create an author site? The first question is what kind of site to create. There are a couple major differences in a blog and an html website.

An html website is static and doesn't change unless you go in and change the coding; coding can be done with various programs, or by hand.

A blog is a content management system(CMS): a CMS is a dynamic site, which is based on a database and is generated on the fly whenever someone visits the site. You have a database with slots for elements such as a header, a footer, sidebars, widgets and page content. When someone visits your site, the php code (a programming language usually used for blogs) queries the database and asks what should I put in this slot. Then it displays the page.

What this means is that updating the site is easy. If, for example, you have 100 pages on your site and you want to add the fact that you have a new book out, you must update 100 pages. But in a CMS, you only update one slot of a database, which updates everything. Or, if you want to change themes totally, you just change the template, which updates all the pages.

Blogs are usually organized on a reverse chronological basis, with the newest post on top. But most also have an option for pages that aren't in the timeline, and are displayed always. In Wordpress, which I use, there are Posts, which are the timeline posts in reverse chronological order, and there are Pages, which are the permanent pages outside the timeline posts.

If you want, you can use the Pages to create a site that looks like an html site. Just ignore the posts and you've got a "website."

There are a range of CMS programs from which to choose: Blogger, Wordpress, Joomla and others. Wordpress and Blogger are free sites that will have the URL extension of the site, such as Joomla can be only be hosted on your own domain, while Wordpress has a free option, or can be hosted on your own domain, which is what I do (

All of the major CMS have a support community where you can choose theme templates that determine how the site looks, and they are fairly easy to customize if you know just a bit of html or css. If you don't, then choose one that you like and just go with it. (Here's the Wordpress free themes page, where you can search by your criteria for design.) Or, you can go to something like and hire someone at a reasonable price to create a template for you.

One thing I look for these days in a template is will it adapt for mobile viewers. The one I am currently using on the site for my new book, WISDOM, THE MIDWAY ALBATROSS,, recognizes the device you are using to display the site and shows one, two, or three columns, whichever is appropriate. For iphones, it's one column; for ipads, it's two; for computers, it's three. In other words, don't be fooled by a "pretty" template. Go for functionality, too.

Or, look at the template for my site for my children's book, Prairie Storms,, which has a template specifically made for author. It features a book at the top and has other author-specific items. Here's a screen shot of that blog, showing the featured book and the author photo.

Whichever you choose, an html site or a blog, the key thing is content. What you write about is important; layout and design and the coding behind it all should just support what you have to say.


Darcy Pattison blogs about how-to-write at Fiction Notes.

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Anonymous T.K. Marnell said...

Forgive the former web developer here, but a blog is not a CMS. Blogger or WordPress is the CMS; the blog is plain old HTML. A CMS literally manages content; it's the application that ties together the backend the blog owner sees, the frontend the visitors see, and the raw content in between. It is not the website itself; ALL websites are HTML. The PHP (or ASP) just spits out the HTML for browsers and search engines to interpret. In other words, saying a CMS is a website is like saying Microsoft Word is a novel. It's not; it's just the tool used to create the product.

I also need to address the statement: "If, for example, you have 100 pages on your site and you want to add the fact that you have a new book out, you must update 100 pages." If your website was built in 1995 by a teenager with a GeoCities account, then this may be true. (Though it's not as bad as it sounds, as common editing programs like Dreamweaver will allow you to mass find/replace content across whole directories in a few minutes). Most websites nowadays, however, are built with PHP or ASP scripts that either (a) pull modular elements like headers and side bars from different sources, or (b) are a single document (or "template") containing these elements that simply swaps in the content requested. In either case, you should only need to update one element and it will be included in the other ninety-nine.

Finally, choosing between a "website" and a "blog" is not an either/or decision. It's perfectly feasible to have a website that incorporates a blog with installed or custom backend software. The real question is your level of technical skills, money, or personal contacts. If you don't have any experience in web development, you can base your entire sight through WordPress or Blogger without much of a learning curve.

7:19 AM  
Anonymous Savanna said...

Hi! Thanks for posting this.

I actually think there's no harm in having both, but that does require a little more work. I have both, but I do tend to neglect my website. Another cool thing to keep in mind is that a writer can make a little extra money on the side with a blog if they keep it up to date and have good content.

Thanks again,
Savanna (MyForgottenPen (A Progressive Writing Guide))

11:01 AM  
Blogger Darcy Pattison said...

TK -
Thanks for the technical distinctions on CMS. OF course, the blog isn't the CMS, the program which handles the content is the CMS.

As for updating an HTML website, many people still commonly understand it as a strictly HTML site, which doesn't rely on php or asp.

And a question: If it DOES rely on php or asp, isn't that a CMS, aren't you managing content?

And yes--of course, you can do a blog AND a website. Or, multiple websites, as I do. But beginners need to start somewhere and they usually need to focus on one or the other at the start.

Savanna: Yes, blogs can make money. What is your favorite way to monetize a blog?


12:59 PM  
Anonymous RookieMom said...

I've been blogging for a few months. I've always been interested in writing a book but started blogging for now. I'm assuming any writing is important but I don't know if blogging is a turn off to potential publishers because everyone seems to be doing it. Any advice?

7:55 PM  
Blogger Darcy Pattison said...

RookieMom -
Blogging is great for your career!
Many people find their audience by doing a blog and build a "platform," which means they have a built in audience for their books because of their online activities. It's a way to kick-start a career! Keep it up!

7:21 AM  
Anonymous Margo Dill said...

I just want to second what Darcy said, RookieMom. Two stories--one personal--I have gotten at least three speaking engagements because of my blog. I have been CONSISTENTLY blogging with a focus since August 2008. Without this blog and being consistent and focused, I would not have gotten those three speaking engagements. I also teach a blogging online course because I have been blogging.

Recently, a girl in my writing group queried a small publisher---which means they don't have a lot of marketing dollars. They said they were interested in seeing her manuscript but they couldn't find any consistent online prescence because her blog hadn't been kept up-to-date. So, small publishers and maybe big ones too are looking at this.

8:22 AM  
Anonymous T.K. Marnell said...

@Darcy: A PHP document in and of itself is not a CMS. A CMS may /use/ PHP, but the PHP itself is just a series of commands. It doesn't interact with or store the content beyond doing exactly what you tell it to (e.g. include this file, print this line, calculate this date etc.). What really makes a CMS is the backend the site manager uses to interact with the content.

I don't think I explained it very clearly before, so here's the best metaphor I can come up with: Imagine you run a family grocery store. To manage this store, you have several options. First, you can run everything yourself. You can go around putting price tags on all the products, ringing up everyone at the cash register, etc. This is a lot of work for you; every week, for example, you have to go around changing the price tags to reflect the sales. This is like using pure static HTML, updating 100 pages to show one announcement, and it's highly inefficient.

So to save yourself the headache, you hire staff to do the work for you. You tell them, "Every Monday, consult the sale prices and make changes accordingly" or "If the customer wants to return something, check X, Y, and Z before you refund their money." This is like utilizing PHP. Your workload is considerably lessened, but you're still interacting with and managing your store directly (i.e. you need to code in PHP and manipulate your files as they are on the server).

But now say your shop is in Russia, all your staff speak Russian, and you're fresh off the boat from America armed with high school Spanish. You can't understand the labels on your cartons of milk, much less manage your staff. So you hire a translator who speaks English to help. You can interact comfortably with the translator, who will interpret the product labels ("HTML") for you and pass your commands on to the staff ("PHP").

The translator is the CMS. For people who don't speak PHP/MySQL/HTML, the CMS puts everything in plain text in one attractive, easy-to-access place with pre-programmed scripts for common tasks like "put this data in a new row of the POSTS table" or "delete the banner image on the server and replace it with this new one." It's usually a PHP-created website in and of itself, and you submit your content through form elements for the scripts to parse and spit out your final HTML site or blog.

Hope this helps a bit,

12:42 PM  
Blogger Gina Gort said...

Thanks so much for posting this. As someone who is aspiring to be published I really feel that blogging does help.

1:51 PM  

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