Do you have preferences for colors, images, layouts, and the like?
I interpret this type of question as a plea for guidance on style choices. Will particular style choices -- an orange background versus a green background, two columns versus three, etc. -- impact the way people view the site? The answer is both yes and no. If the layout and graphics appear professional and communicate a brand or type, that was a point in favor.
It sometimes happened that the blog or website would look sort of patched-together and sloppy, like something straight of of 1996 DIY-pagemaking, complete with sparkly Myspace-style graphics. This always baffled me because it's so easy, in this day of templates and pre-fab graphics, to make it look good with little effort and expense. For the record, I'm not talking about particular color preferences or other visual aspects that would appeal to me on a personal level. I'm talking about things that looked like errors on the page, like text that scrolls on top of graphics (when the graphics should scroll with the text instead of remaining static). (By the way, yes, I did once reject an author after seeing her very awkward website. I was on the fence about the submission and might have rejected it anyway, but the website was what tilted me toward a no.)
With that said, it's important to keep in mind that people do respond negatively to things like music that plays in the background. Certain colors, like orange, are more likely to draw strong love it/hate it responses. Certainly, it helps to pay attention to that sort of thing, but don't get crazy with it. I once knew a woman who spent months -- literally, months -- researching color preferences and color therapy and searching for particular graphics for her website. When the website finally launched, the internal links didn't work properly. Her time would have been better spent learning html than learning the demographic breakdowns of responses to an orange-red versus a blue-red. Keep your eye on the prize! The goal is to create a working site which will appeal to readers of your type of story.
What if there's a typo?
I'll let you in on a little secret. Editors live in a land of typos, missing commas, wordy clauses, and other niggling errors. Obviously, we want everything to arrive on our desks in perfect condition. But we don't anticipate that happening. So make your text as clean as possible, and make it internally consistent on style and usage points, and don't stress too much about debatable points. Chances are, no matter what you do, we'll edit it in our heads as we read it anyway. That's just what we do. It's not you. It's us.
But if the text is flat, poorly written, or otherwise a poor representative of someone's writing skills, that's a point against. But this can go beyond the basic typo/crappy writing thing. Think of it this way. You're a writer. Your blog or website should showcase your writing skills. I once saw a website where all the content was aggregated blog posts from other sites, quotes, and the like. The content was selected well and presented well, and the writer had obviously spent some careful thought on what to include and how to include it. However, it was still a point against, because my first thought was, "This one can't even write her own web page." This is not the impression you want to make, is it? That said, a few judicious quotes or other outside references can add personality to a page. Just remember that the overall goal is to communicate something about you, the writer. (For the record, I've never rejected someone for having occasional minor errors in the website or manuscript. But I have rejected writers whose blogs were just plain bad throughout.)
Do you need your own domain name? What if you just use a freebie platform?
There might be a split of opinion here. On the one hand, who cares what shows up in the address bar? That's not really important. As long as people can find your page, they probably won't care if the words wordpress or blogger show up in the address. On the other hand, it's probably a good idea to grab domain names so that you can't be prevented from using them later, should you want them. I can't make a website under my own name because other people own those domains. This is not something that puts joy in my heart.
When we set up this blog four years ago, we chose blogger because it was free and easy to use. I had been using it myself for a few years at that point for a couple of other projects, and I knew Alicia would be able to pick it up quickly. In any case, I'm not going to fault an author for using a free platform when we made the same choice here. (I have never rejected an author because of their url, but I have gotten some giggles out of the strange email addresses people choose.)
How important is the bio/background/bookshelf stuff?
Pretty important, actually. When I go to an author's page, other than the general impression made by design and content, I was looking for specific things.
- Had the author published? If so, where? When? How many books?
- Is there a platform?
- Do I think I might like working with this person?