New Client: Joe Abercrombie

I’m delighted to report that I’ve (all-but) finished a thorough overhaul of www.joeabercombie.com, online home of fantasy novelist Joe Abercrombie.

This is actually another case of ‘Welcome Back, former client!’, as I worked with Joe on the initial setup of his website up a few years back, when his career was just starting to take off and he was wondering what this blogging lark was all about and whether he should give it a go.

Six hugely popular fantasy novels (with a seventh, Half a King due to be published in July) later, and Joe (a.k.a. @LordGrimdark to 12,000+ Twitter followers) is an established star in the fantasy firmament. But his faithful old website just wasn’t delivering enough oomph in the content and display departments.

This time around, whilst Joe wanted to keep the overall aesthetic of the site, which ties in rather nicely to the cover designs of his First Law series, I worked on adapting the homepage for a more wide-screen era, as well as boosting both the calls to action on the homepage and the utility of the sidebars. This is the general view from the new homepage:

JoeAbercrombie.com, March 2014

The bulk of the work was carried out on the bibliography section of the site. The main Books page has been enhanced with stronger use of the book covers, and the individual book pages now contain much more in the way of useful information and search engine friendly keyword-hooks. I’ve also introduced a full set of retailer links for each title, and a downloadable sample chapters, for new readers and fans alike to share around (and around 470 were downloaded over the weekend alone, in case anyone else is wondering whether sample chapters are worthwhile…)

Mind you, I say ‘all-but finished’ because there’s still one last job to tackle: my original flat-HTML design was ported to a WordPress theme by someone else a while ago and said theme isn’t particularly responsive or mobile-device friendly. So I’ll be looking to address that at the earliest opportunity.

All in all though, I think the finished product is a good example of a site that covers the core aims of any author website: information provision, social media connectivity and search engine friendliness. Joe certainly seems pleased with the end result, saying: “Regular visitors may have noticed an extensive redesign of the site over the past few weeks, courtesy of the marvellous Darren Turpin, who actually built this site in the first place way back in the mists of time shortly after the fall of King Arthur.”

Yeah, I’ll definitely take “marvellous” from @LordGrimdark. In fact, I think I’ll see if I can get that printed on a t-shirt in time for Fantasycon 2014.

New Client: Liesel Schwarz

I’m delighted to welcome genre fiction author Liesel Schwarz to the DTL client roster. Liesel’s two published novels to-date are the parts one and two of the Chronicles of Light and Shadow steampunk adventure fantasy series, and the conclusion to the trilogy will be published by Random House in the UK and US in the summer.

Liesel previously had a WordPress.com hosted blog but wanted to expand on the potential of her website as a more general promotional platform. So we set about re-building the site from the ground up, moving it to a full self-hosted version of WordPress to take advantage of additional plugin functionality and design options.

I used the Hybrid base theme to provide the essential framework and layout. I worked up a colour scheme based on Liesel’s preferred – and Alphonse Mucha inspired – palettes, then applied some simple but effective CSS effects to give the site a more rounded, less boxy feel.

LieselSchwarz.com re-launch screenshot

Once the re-worked theme was finalised we then went to town on the site content. The amount of useful information in the Books section has been hugely expanded, we’ve provided a full selection of downloadable sample chapters and have adding social media functionality to the blog section and to the site in general, via the sidebar.

I’m very glad to say that Liesel is very pleased with the results. I look forward to working with her to develop and expand on the site further as she marks the launch of Sky Pirates and moves on to her future writing projects.

New Client: Rachel Neumeier

I’m hugely pleased to announce another addition to my growing client roster: fantasy author Rachel Neumeier. Rachel writes character-driven, intensely plotted fantasy novels for both adult and young adult audiences. Her work to-date includes the Griffin Mage trilogy and House of Shadows for Orbit Books, and her new YA fantasy novel, Black Dog, will be published by Angry Robot’s YA imprint, Strange Chemistry in February 2014.

I actually set up Rachel’s website three years ago whilst I was working for the Little,Brown Book Group. I worked with a hugely talented freelance graphic designer by the name of Richard Marsden, who has since returned to full-time employment and so isn’t as available for commissions as he used to be, alas. He delivered the wonderfully Griffin-esque atmosphere and I looked after the nuts and bolts WordPress setup, site build and content management elements of the project.

RachelNeumeier.com, December 2013

For this update Rachel was keen to keep the fantastic graphics, so I focused on providing a full content overhaul and delivered it in the form of a complete re-working of the Books section of the site, along with a full set of on-screen and downloadable extracts from her books, plus the addition of various functionality enhancements and social media integration tools.

I’m delighted that Rachel was very pleased indeed and was kind enough to say so in a blog post:

“I’ve been very, very happy with freelance website content manager Darren Turpin. I went to Darren because he’s worked for both Orbit and Strange Chemistry and specializes in work for publishers and authors … As far as I’m concerned, doing website design or re-design is like doing taxes: complicated, uninteresting, intimidating, and with a steep learning curve. If you have or want a website but, like me, your eyes glaze over when you think about having to deal with the ins and outs of website design yourself, you might want to check out Darren’s site.”

(Ah, if only I could fit it all on a business card…)

Have a browse around www.rachelneumeier.com and then if you’d like any input to a similarly functionality-driven website project, please feel free to drop me a line.

WordPress 3.8 Out Now – Time to Upgrade Again

Wordpress!WordPress 3.8 was released on Friday and I’ll be rolling it out across my clients’ sites and my own project sites later today.

Most of the changes in WordPress 3.8 take place behind-the-scenes. The main admin theme has been streamlined – with various .png icon images replaced by scalable vector icons – and ‘modernised’: the previously-experimental MP6 plugin is now integrated into the main package. There are also another seven admin colour-schemes to choose from. Personally I quite like ‘coffee’ and ‘midnight’, but I don’t think ‘ectoplasm’ or ‘sunrise’ will be putting in an appearance any time soon…

WP 3.8 Admin Colours

Various other bits and pieces of admin functionality have been tweaked as well, and there are new theme variables to make designers’ and developers’ tasks a little easier. On the front end, there’s a new, magazine-style default theme: Twenty Fourteen. I’ll be checking that out at a later date.

All in all, a simple, mainly cosmetic version release, nothing too radical or world-shaking, which I understand was always going to be the plan. Full details can be found in the WordPress Codex as usual. And if you’re interested in what’s next for WordPress, check out the Make WordPress sub-site.

Dodgy ‘Desk-Jockey’ Posture? Bad Back? Try This.

I’d imagine the vast majority of people who work at a desk or type away on a computer keyboard all day have pretty terrible posture. Probably a bad back, neck ache and shoulder stiffness, too. It’s something I’m prone to and even though I’m aware of the need to avoid slumping forwards, get up, move around, there are still too many sessions when I’m focusing in on a task and the time just disappears. Next thing I know I’m a hunched-over ball of imminent lancing agony as I try to de-contort my torso and regain some semblance of human form.

Anyhow, last week James Clear shared a very short exercise video by a chap called (or who calls himself?) Max Shank. I watched it, attempted the ‘thoracic bridge’ exercise that was recommended and… it worked. A minute or so of twisting and stretching on the floor (it’s a bit more technical than I’m making it sound – watch the vid below to get the proper picture) and my shoulders felt looser, my back stretchier. Even my neck stiffness wasn’t as pronounced as it tends to be. Good stuff. I’ve been clambering and stretching in the same configuration twice a day since.

Here’s the demo video. If you’re a fellow back-neck-shoulder pain casualty, give the thoracic bridge a go, let me know if it works for you.

New Client: Dragonwell Publishing

Dragonwell PublishingI’ve just completed a project for Dragonwell Publishing, an independent genre fiction publisher based in the U.S. and selling both print and ebooks to a global audience via the Dragonwell webstore and Amazon.

Dragonwell’s Publisher Dawei Dong contacted me via a referral from one of Angry Robot’s authors. Following our initial discussions, I prepared a full overview report on Dragonwell’s online assets and social media channels. I was able to make a number of recommendations for potential enhancements, which Dawei was very pleased with.

By way of a first-stage project I’ve now re-vamped Dragonwell’s email templates – which involved an encounter with Mailchimp’s admin interface for the first time and a fair bit of HTML and CSS work – to boost the social media interactivity and cross-selling potential of their customer and reviewer ebulletins, whilst keeping everything clean, minimal and responsive on the design front. Hopefully the results are suitably simple-but-effective, as per Dawei’s brief. I hope to be given the opportunity to work with Dawei on other elements of Dragonwell’s online marketing mix in future.

If you’re a publisher – whether you’re an small press / independent, an author-publisher, or you work for a larger company or imprint – and would be interested in finding out what I could do to help you boost your online marketing results, please feel free to get in touch to discuss your requirements.

WordPress 3.7 Now Available – Time to Upgrade

Wordpress!The latest version of WordPress, WordPress 3.7, is now available and is being rolled out via the usual dashboard reminder.

WordPress 3.7 is a system functionality and security release. Rather than adding any particularly impressive new user features or styling, it’s a quiet, understated upgrade that improves some of the core functionality.

WordPress users can now benefit from automatic sub-version (security and bug-fix) updates – so no need to trigger an update if WordPress clicks from 3.7 to 3.7.1 in a couple of weeks – along with options for developers to control the process. There’s also an improved password strength checker, to make sure you’re not using a password that hackers are likely to guess right out of the gate.

We’re also promised better search results via an improved algorhithm and non-English language sites will surely appreciate automatic language file updates.

In short: not much new to see or play with, but a few useful enhancements nonetheless. More info at the WordPress blog (along with a heads-up that the next version is due in December).

Upgrade now, folks.

New Client: The British Fantasy Society, FantasyCon 2014

I’m very pleased indeed to announce that the British Fantasy Society has engaged my services for the build and content management of a website for their annual convention, FantasyCon 2014.

Fantasycon2014.org screenshot

At this stage, with the event just under a year away, the role of the site is to provide key info to potential convention attendees. I’ve deliberately kept the site quite minimalist in design, with a focus on usability, clarity and ease of navigation. The site will be developed further over the next few months as additional information requirements arise, event programmes are finalised and additional guests are announced.

If you’re running an event or convention and would be interested in a website to help promote the event and provide information to attendees, do get in touch and I’d be happy to discuss your requirements.

A Few WordPress Security Tips from WebDev Studios

Wordpress!If you’re running your own WordPress installation – and even more so if, like me, you’re running sites on behalf of your clients – then the security of your WordPress site(s) and content is something you really should be taking Very Seriously Indeed. Don’t assume that WordPress is a ‘safe’ product – it’s only every going to be as good as the security measures that you apply to the server you’re hosting it on and the computer(s) or device(s) that you use to access the site.

This handy presentation, by Brad Williams and Brian Messenlehner from WebDevStudios was shared by hosting provider Siteground, following a webinar on website security that they ran recently (video of the full webinar is also available at that link).

I’m already using a fair few of the security methods tips in the slides, but there are a couple more that I’ll be implementing shortly. Much better to be safe than sorry.

Hat-tip to Brian Krogsgard’s Post Status for the link.

For more on WordPress security, try the following articles:

Talking About Website Essentials at Bookmarketology.com

I’ve posted my first two articles for the Bookmarketology.com project, in a series on Website Essentials that I’ll be developing over the next few weeks.

So far I’ve introduced the subject area in 15 Must-Have Elements for Your Author Website and have kicked off the discussion on The Vital Importance of Creating a Good First Impression Online with reference to Malcolm Gladwell’s 2006 book, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, which is one of my recommended reading picks.

Your feedback would be hugely welcome, if you have any comments you’d like to leave on either article. And if you’d like to keep up with the rest of the Website Essentials series, please do subscriber to the bookmarketology.com RSS feed, or even better, Join the Bookmarketology Ebulletin List.

New Project: Bookmarketology.com

Bookmarketology.com - Practical Marketing Techniques for Authors, Publishers, Agents and Booksellers

For the past few weeks, m’colleague Alasdair Stuart and I have been working on the behind-the-scenes setup for a new website, social media and podcast project: Bokmarketology.com.

The big idea behind the Bookmarketology project is to help more people in the publishing industry – writers, published authors, publishers, agents and booksellers alike – sell more books, by improving their marketing skills. We’ll do so by sharing practical advice, tools and techniques to tackle common marketing problems and make the most of marketing-driven opportunities. We’ll also be talking to movers and shakers in the publishing industry who are already successfully applying these tools and techniques, as well as marketing thinkers, service providers and software developers with practical solutions to offer.

My first post is a summary of 15 Must-Have Elements for Author Websites, each of which I’ll be talking about in more detail in subsequent posts in the Website Essentials series. That’s just the very tip of the iceberg; Alasdair and I have brainstormed and identified dozens of potential subject areas to discuss and explore, so we’ll have plenty to talk about in the weeks and months ahead.

If you’re involved in publishing, whatever your capacity or level of interest, please do take a look at the site. Alasdair and I would love to hear your feedback.

You can also sign up for the Bookmarketologists ebulletin list, subscribe to the Bookmarketology.com RSS feed, follow @Bookmarketology on Twitter, join the Bookmarketologists Group on LinkedIn or check out the Bookmarketology page at Google+.

Jeff Bullas Offers 50 Top Tips for Bloggers

JeffBullas.comContent Marketer Jeff Bullas posted a great article on his blog yesterday: 50 One Sentence Tips for Bloggers.

Packed with useful, easily-digestable portions of advice on everything from blog post structure and composition to social media and community engagement. Highly useful advice for anyone who uses a blog to support their business, or who wants to build a blog that’s successful in the long term.

My personal favourite wasn’t actually one of the fifty, but a point that Jeff made in his intro to the ‘Structure and Composition’ section: “Don’t wait to be perfect. Write, edit and hit the publish button.” All to often it’s easy to get sucked into endless rounds of tweaking, polishing and trying to perfect a blog post that might not have much wrong with it in the first place. Better to get the content out there. You can always add an edit or correction – or even write a whole new blog post to correct or contradict an earlier point – at a later date if you need to.

A few more of Jeff’s blogging top tips:

  • Structure and Composition: “Blog posts can be informational or editorial, detailed or high-level summaries, but not all of the above at the same time.”
  • Search Engine Optimisation: “Google wants to give highest search visibility to content that is authoritative, relevant, useful, readable and shareable.”
  • Tech Stuff: “Use WordPress unless you have very good reasons not to.”
  • Layout: “Avoid ads and pop-up windows unless you have a very, very, very good reason to use them.”
  • Creative: “When you borrow an idea or gain inspiration from it, give credit (and a link) to the source.”
  • Marketing, Community and Engagement: “Community building takes far more time than writing.”
  • Miscellaneous: “Rather than being enslaved by a rigid publishing schedule, publish when you have something to say.”

Read the full article at www.jeffbullas.com.