We talk to Alannah Moore, a DIY website specialist and the author of four books that show people how they can create their own websites. Her latest book, Create Your Own Website the Easy Way, is just out.
An interview with Alannah Moore, the DIY website expert
What made you decide to write your latest book?
I’d run a web design company for many years. Clients kept asking me if I could show them how to update their own sites, so they didn’t have to ask me to do it every time there was something new to add. Back in the days when sites were built with HTML using Dreamweaver, or some kind of similar software, that wasn’t really an option. Unless of course that person was really into techie stuff and wanted to learn the software plus a bit of necessary coding.
As soon as WordPress came along it became a real possibility for clients to update things themselves. In fact, with just a small amount of technical know how – how to register a domain name, sign up for hosting and install the software – it became possible for them to create their own website entirely by themselves. That’s how I got the idea for my first book (Create Your Own Website Using WordPress in a Weekend) – to take people by the hand and show them how they could create their own website using WordPress, without having to get into any coding or anything complicated at all.
Today an increasing number of systems exist that let you create really brilliant sites yourself, but then there weren’t many options other than WordPress to allow people to create something completely professional.
Why did you wait until you did to do it?
It all kind of came together in the way that sometimes happens when things are just meant to be. I had just penned an outline for my first book when entirely out of the blue an old friend, who I hadn’t been in contact with for years, tracked me down and gave me a call. She said she was still in publishing, and was now a commissioning editor, and would I like to write a book about web design? I said I already had an idea, I even had an outline all ready to go, so I emailed it straight over to her. It was looked at by the panel of decision-makers at their meeting the next day, and accepted more or less instantly!
Of course a book takes a long time to make. It has to be written, edited, designed, laid out on the pages, and printed, and this usually takes about a year, so it’s not as if my book appeared from one day to the next. But the speed with which my idea became reality was quite amazing.
Zara is still my commissioning editor, my original publishing company are now an imprint of Octopus, and we’ve just published my fourth book together. So, I didn’t actually have to wait – I had the idea, and as if by magic it came to fruition.
What are you hoping to accomplish?
I’m extremely clear about my mission. I think there is a huge amount of confusion around the area of website building. So many people need a website – if they have any kind of business idea at all, pretty much the first thing they need is something online about it that they can refer people to. But most people are entirely at a loss as to how to go about getting a site built. Sometimes they end up paying a lot to get one built, but because they don’t know what they need, they can’t ask for it, and it turns into a massive source of frustration for everyone concerned.
My aim is to demystify all this and show people there is in fact an easy way to get themselves a website. Most people have no idea that easy-to-use website builders even exist, or that using one is entirely within anyone’s reach.
(Provided they don’t need anything too complicated. I’m a firm believer in knowing one’s limits and getting professional help when it’s needed.)
How did you switch to doing more writing? What or who helped you?
I was absolutely ready to switch over from web design to writing. I really wanted to pass on the message, and I didn’t see that many other people were successfully transmitting it. Of course though, I had all my web design clients who still needed me and this was a huge challenge throughout the writing of my first two books. I really didn’t have the time to do both jobs at once, and I ended up not sleeping a lot, desperately trying to juggle web design and writing.
Then I had the amazing good fortune to come across the wonderful Claire Gallagher (www.clairecreative.com), a website and graphic designer from Ireland who was also living in Paris, and she successfully managed the website design clients for me while I carried on writing. I managed to get a whole lot more sleep once she was in charge!
Everyone was delighted to have a friend whose name was in print. It’s so funny, once you’re an author, people think you’re someone really special, although you know no more once the book is out than you knew before.
The funniest thing, though, is people’s reaction when I tell new acquaintances what it is that I write about. They’re impressed, you see, to hear that I’m an author, but then they have to rearrange their faces very quickly to hide their surprise when they hear what my books are about. They assume website creation is the driest topic around!
Actually, I find it’s fascinating, and you come across all kinds of inspiring, creative and original people, once you start meeting people who are building their own website, for whatever project it is they’re working on.
I try to make my books as fun and unintimidating as possible to counter this assumption, and to use bright colours and the most inspiring examples I can find. It’s not hard. I come across fascinating people with amazing, novel projects, all the time.
How has your life changed having gone down this path?
I used to meet with clients all the time but now my life is much more peaceful. I often write in my local café or just stay at home with my little dog at my feet. I’m not lonely working alone because I’m always interacting with people. In fact, it’s a supremely communicative job. And it travels.
I love writing and creating through my writing. I think that finally, I’m in my zone.
What advice do you have for women considering a similar life change?
For people who are going into the world of authorship, never underestimate the time it will take to produce your books. You don’t just submit your text and then the editor fixes it up and turns it into a book. There’s loads more work in it than that. You have several rounds of edits that have to be checked, and you usually have to work with the editor to adjust page layouts so they show your content in a way that makes sense. The author also usually has to manage all the visual material that goes into a book, and in my case this has meant a large amount of time and energy spent on admin each time, getting permission to print all the images I wanted to include.
All in all, a book takes many, many months of work and you won’t have time to do much else, so if you have a full time job already (which of course is the most likely scenario), take my advice and plan to have someone help you with your normal work, otherwise you’ll have more than you can handle on your hands.
The other thing is that a book won’t usually bring in much income by itself, so you’ll need to have it feed into another stream of revenue. Don’t be delusional about this, however tempting it is to dream of becoming a full-time author. In my case, I’ve been running workshops throughout the time I’ve been writing books. Other authors do public speaking, teaching or consulting work.
What are you proud of and what keeps you inspired?
I know my books do help people because I get a stream of emails from my readers. It’s extremely satisfying to know all that work was worthwhile. When people show me the sites they’ve built having read my books and say they wouldn’t have done it without me, it’s immensely pleasing.
People seem to genuinely enjoy using my books, which is even more gratifying given most assume it’s an offputtingly dull and tedious topic. They often write of their pleasure and delight in seeing the lovely design of the book (the publishing company’s work of course – nothing to do with me), flicking through the book admiring the examples, and seeing instructions that are clear, perfectly followable, and not full of gobbledegook.
I’m constantly surprised, even amazed, to hear what people are up to with their small businesses. It’s the contact with the enterprising people of this world that really keeps me interested.
What do you love most about being the age you are?
The experience that’s behind me. I don’t have to be angst-ridden any more. I can be confident. I can be myself.
And because I work for myself, and see myself doing so for the remainder of my working life, I’m more relieved than I can express at the idea of never having to show my CV to anyone ever again!
What do you hate most about being the age you are?
The fact that some younger people might consider me a bit past it. It had never even occurred to me until a younger friend said how funny it was to see me, a mother, having fun, and how I inspired her to realise that one still could. Excuse me?!
It’s weird. Myself, I feel I’m only just coming into my prime.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known in your twenties?
That it’s totally ok to be yourself! In fact, that’s the only way you can ever be.
What are the most important business and/or personal lessons you’ve learnt along the way?
Self-confidence. Don’t be afraid to stand your ground. If you don’t know something, it’s ok to say so. Listen to your instincts and try to get rid of any reflex you may have that silences them, because they stand you in good stead.
I had a business long ago that didn’t come to fruition the way I wanted it to, basically because I lacked confidence as a much younger person. At the end of the day though, it’s ok, although the struggle at the time was painful. It’s what you go through that makes you learn.
Do you have a mantra that has guided you more than any other?
It’s not exactly a mantra, but I am persistently optimistic by nature and I think this has stood me in good stead.
Which woman do you most admire and why?
Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, official portraitist to Marie-Antoinette, a woman of flair who used her talent to survive, alone, in a time of crisis, with enormous aplomb. When the French Revolution got nasty, her husband divorced her for his own safety and she had to flee France with her young daughter Julie. For the next decade or so she supported them by painting her way around Europe, eventually becoming a highly sought-after celebrity portraitist as she moved from one country to the next.
Also Mary Wollstonecraft, writer and intellectual, mother of Mary Shelley, who as an early feminist was wildly ahead of her time. She swore never to marry because this meant she’d become the property of her husband. Sadly, she died after giving birth to her daughter.
And I have always admired Charlotte Bronte, who had such spark and spirit, despite living in the most depressing of circumstances and in times when a woman’s lot couldn’t have been more dismal. She also tragically died young, most likely from dehydration resulting from extreme morning sickness.
Is there anything people consistently misunderstand about you?
Yes! They often assume I’m a really techie person. In fact, I’m quite an arty person who just happens to not be intimidated by tech.
How can Mutton Club readers find out more about what you do?
They can visit my website at www.alannahmoore.com where I have loads of information about DIY website building.