I got an interesting e-mail a few days ago, one that has prompted the discussion for this week’s blog. No, it was not a glowing review coupled with an offer to turn my books into array of movies and fill my bank account enough that even my driver could have his own cocaine fountain. Good on you for guessing that, though. It was a simple reminder that my Squarespace subscription was going to automatically renew unless I stopped it from doing so.
Last year around this time I wrote my blog Shit I Wish I Knew Before Starting a Web-Novel, and in it I discussed the various platforms that were available to those eager beavers who wanted to launch their own site. Here’s the thing though: Much of what I said there was based on research and word of mouth, and while it was accurate it’s not the same as data I’ve gleaned from actual experience. Today I want to revisit the subject, focusing on the two main platforms at your disposal as a budding web-serial writer: Squarespace and Wordpress.
One Quick Aside
Before I get into the meat of this analysis, I do want to take a moment and acknowledge that Wattpad is a thing. I’m sure some of you who are considering taking up this gig are thinking of going there, and so far as I’ve seen there are no major issues with it. However, I don’t consider Wattpad in the same category as the platforms I’m discussing because it’s more like a content aggregation system than a personal site. You don’t see profits, you have control over only your content; ultimately it’s someone else’s page that you’re working in. And, to be clear, there’s nothing wrong with that. Hell, it’s quite similar to what I tried to do with Starter Serials. The point here is merely that at some point, you’ll likely want to split off and own your own domain, and those the tools I’m looking at for the purposes of this blog.
I’ll you this part right up front: I am definitely not going to stop my subscription from auto-renewing. When I first bought a year at Squarespace, I wasn’t sure it would be worth it, but I was in a hurry to get moved and didn’t want to find myself with a shoddy half-site that I’d be forced to re-create on a different platform in a couple of month. To that effect, I spent the cash and paid for Squarespace, easily the most expensive of your web-serial platforms out there.
The price is a big factor, especially for those you not earning off your work yet, so I’ll tell you upfront that the package you need to support a web-serial is going to be about $200 per year. That’s almost four times as what it can cost to run a Wordpress server, but with good reason.
What Squarespace does, they do very well. In my year with them I have never had my server go down once, not even for a second. The minor issues I hit have been easily resolved because they have 24 hour support, and for what you pay they are there and ready to help when you call. The upgrade to the new Squarespace 7 has actually made content management much easier, and it was already pretty simple to start with.
In terms of set-up and maintenance, this is by far the easiest one I’ve ever seen. With pre-made templates, drag and drop functions, and injectable CSS code, you can create your site without knowing a lick of programming, and can tweak it with just a few google searches for very specific code snippets. Between the two platforms, Squarespace is vastly easier to use and more stable.
Now, with all of that said, there are also some areas where Squarespace is notably lacking. There is no native forum within the system, which means you have to port in separate ones like I have, disconnecting users from their site names with the forum names. The user registration system is also very limited. That’s why you don’t see a lot of the functions that were on the Drupal system, they simply don’t exist over here, and even trying set up users with different permission (like commenting without approval) is so much a pain in the ass that I gave up on trying to find the time for it. Additionally, there is no way to change the default direction in which content displays, meaning if you want older chapters being the first ones visible you have to back-date them. Newer first is good for blogs, but not at all workable for most web-serials.
Those gripes aside, I’m sticking with Squarespace for my main site this year, and probably for the foreseeable future. It’s a solid, professional platform that justifies its cost with ease and consistency.
Wordpress (SuperPowereds.com & StarterSerials.com)
For the record, I’m talking about the sort of Wordpress where you rent out server space and host your own site there, as it’s a far cry from the simple site you can get by going to Wordpress.com and punching in a bit of personal info. There’s nothing wrong with that function, but it’s very limited and today we’re discussing the options for setting up a serious site to host things on.
Wordpress is much cheaper than Squarespace; I was able to get a year of hosting and 6 domains for around $50, so it definitely wins from a budgetary standpoint. That said, $50 doesn’t buy you that much server space, and as you all have no doubt seen from time to time, the sites do go down unexpectedly. It’s never been so much that I’ve had to seriously consider moving, just that they get overloaded and things crash. I could allay this by buying a better server package, but as you get into higher costs with that the fiscal benefits ober Squarespace diminish.
Cost aside, Wordpress does have one big advantage over Squarespace: Customization. Think of a function and there is probably a plug-in out there to fill the need. Need your chapter to list oldest content first, book style? Done. Want to create a drop-down of your categories that are filling in as various serial names? Done. Want to host multiple authors, but limit what categories they can post under? Diggity-Fuckin’ Done. You can tweak and shift Wordpress into being damn near anything you want it to be, and for those out there with serious programming chops you can even alter the code of the plug-ins to make them run exactly the way you want them to.
I would also be bereft if I didn’t mention that the user system for readers of a Wordpress blog is miles ahead of Squarespace, and it allows for the hosting of multiple authors/contributors without having to give everyone access to each person’s content. There’s also technically no native forum, but with plug-ins like SimplePress there may as well be one.
All the customization comes with a cost, however, and that cost is stability. Lots of plug-ins are well-made and useful, but some are junk that mess up the system, and a few are deliberately viral. Sometimes a simple update of your plug-ins can crash the whole site, or just disable functionality that you don’t even notice until it;s an issue. And that’s on top of having to hope the server doesn’t crap out on you as well.
The set-up for a Wordpress site is also far more intensive than for a Squarespace one. If you’re tech-savvy then it’s not that bad, but if you’re unfamiliar with dealing with the back-end of systems then you’d best brace for a lot of trial-and-error until you figure out how to get the site up, and only then can you move on to design and content.
Wordpress is a solid system, and the cheapness makes it very appealing. Where it shines most is its multi-user capabilities though. I’d recommend this most for a group of authors wanting to work together, or a lone author allowing for guests to come in and contribute to their blog.
Like most things in life, there isn’t really an answer here that’s right for everyone. I prove that case quite well, as I use Squarespace for one project and Wordpress for two others, and that system has turned out to be great for my needs. Both of these sites offer some free trials/options, so my best advice to use those to really get a sense of what it will be like to work in the system before committing to either. Trust me on this: You do now want end up having to move four years of web-serial content to a whole other system. That is one lesson I definitely learned the hard way.