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Last updated on May 22, 2024

Live: Freelance Web Design on Reedsy

Below is the transcript from our live webinar on Freelance Web design on Reedsy, held on May 15, 2024 with professional web developers Elena Saygo and Stuart Grant. The talk gives insight on how to gain the necessary skills and knowledge to be a successful freelance web designer , especially working with indie authors.

This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

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Skip to 2:00 for the start of the talk.


Understand your niche & build your portfolio

Elena: Initially, when I started with IT and website building, I mainly worked in the nonprofit sector. Then, with the COVID shutdown, my husband started writing. He now has four books published. As I was helping him with his website, I began to delve more deeply into this niche. That’s how I came across Reedsy, a place where authors can come to get their websites done. With some experience building websites for authors and books in my portfolio, I applied to be a freelancer on Reedsy, and it’s been a fantastic journey ever since.

Stuart: At first, a couple of authors had asked me to build an app for them and in the process, they also asked if I could knock together a website for them. I looked around and found a platform called Strikingly, a neat and fast website builder. I built a couple author websites with it and began building other kinds of business websites with other tools. With a more solid background and portfolio, that included some author websites, in the bag, I submitted my application to Reedsy and was able to be listed. With only about 3% of applications accepted, Reedsy is quite a prestigious place to be. That’s how it happened for me, just garnering a little bit of work here and there. 

I think the most important part is to gain a real passion and understanding of what an author needs. You can listen to podcasts, read blogs, talk to authors, etc. to know the industry beyond just websites. Understanding what an author is and what they need is critical.

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What makes an effective author website 

Connect to the audience

Elena: First and foremost, a website is not only for the author but also for their target audience. This is something we, as web designers, often need to communicate with our clients. The author doesn’t need to be on every page, and not every image needs to be tailored to the author’s preference. The website should be a reflection of the book and connect to its target audience. For example, if it’s a horror book or author, the website should reflect that and include elements that attract horror fans. 

Ultimately, an author’s website is a place for readers to find their books and be directed to where to buy them.

Build a mailing list

Elena: Another goal that the website should aim for, in my opinion, is building a mailing list. Not every author would be comfortable with sending newsletters often or writing and connecting with their readers. However, at minimum, they should have a place where readers can stay up to date with them. A mailing list is essential to update their readers on where to find their books, what they’re working on, what’s coming soon, etc. It’s an effective tool for them to market themselves.

Learn more ways to build an author email list.

Promote promote promote

Elena: For a website to achieve its purpose, readers have to discover the website first. Nobody will just stumble upon an author’s website without finding it somewhere. It’s important for the author to go out and actively promote their website wherever they can. 

See some examples of author websites that get it right!

Educate your clients

Stuart: A big part of our job is to coach as well. It’s important for the designer to help their client understand why they need the website and how they can make the most of it. This is why I believe it’s critical to know the business, the industry, and why authors need your service. A lot of them, especially those who are new, come to us without any clue what email services are, what lead magnet is, etc. 

As the web designer, you have to know how to explain why they need an email capture service and what it's going to achieve. I must have been asked that a million times. There's a lot of explanation needed with clients, but that's actually a part I enjoy very much!

Get started as a web designer for authors

Elena: First of all, I would again advise anyone who wants to work in this niche to familiarize themselves with the publishing industry and learn what it means to publish a book. Knowledge about the industry, I would say, is crucial to get into this niche business. 

I know many designers like to list a wide variety of platforms they can work with. My preference is to choose one or two to specialize in. It’s wonderful to work with all the platforms, but you need to make sure you have all the right licenses for all of them. Same goes for any plugins and tools applied to them. 

Nowadays with AI generated images and graphics, copyright can also be a real issue. Make sure you have a good understanding of what assets (images, copy, videos, etc.) can be used on your website, and what assets require commercial licenses, and not just personal ones. Check with your clients to ensure they have the copyright for any assets they provide you with.

Check out these resources for royalty-free stock images!

Master your tools & choose what’s right for your project

Stuart: I tried many platforms when I first started out and I believe you just get a sense of what works for you. The platform debate can go on forever. I, personally, love Wix and what it provides. I’ve worked with Wordpress before and it just wasn’t for me. It would be counterintuitive for me to recommend a product I didn’t wholeheartedly believe in and understand well. That doesn’t mean it’s the right option for every designer. 

The ultimate goal is to get a great website. You want to use what’s right for you so that you can create the best end product for your client. You can have a bad website using Wix or Wordpress. It's all about skills, experience, and design choices. 

Elena: Essentially, you need to know the industry and your client’s needs. Then, test out different platforms just to see how everything works and choose the right stack — platform(s), plugins, etc. — for you. You need to make sure you are proficient at whatever platform(s) you choose. I started with Wordpress because I used to service an industry that required very complex features and coding. That’s why I specialize in Wordpress, and it’s my platform of choice. That doesn’t mean it’s the best or perfect solution. 

Remember, you’re giving your client a solution, not a tool. As long as it solves their needs and meets their requirements, it doesn't matter what platform the website is built on. Authors can sometimes come to you and ask for specific platforms. As the designer, you should assess their needs and recommend the simplest solution for them. Sometimes that’s a Wix website. Other times, the features they want are better achieved with WordPress.

Set your rates as a freelance web designer

Stuart: I’ve been at this for 10 years or so, and my advice is to be realistic when you're starting out and building your portfolio. You’re not going to get £10,000 for every website. I started out charging around £400. I’ve now doubled that at least. The more you grow and get more reviews and accreditation, the more you can raise your prices. 

Martin: You also don’t want to set your prices too low. One of the things we’ve noticed on the marketplace is that there are always a handful of people who will charge low in fear of losing out on particular author requests. And in most cases we’ve seen, authors rarely go for the lowest bid. If the rate is too low, some will think it indicates lower quality of work. It’s strange to see some really experienced people underbid newbies, which is what we're trying to combat. 

Elena: Ultimately, you want your business to actually be profitable. For me, here are some factors I consider:

  • The complexity of the project: I account for the time I need to allocate to each project. The more complex it is, the more time it will take and the more expensive the rate will be, especially if it requires custom coding. 
  • Licenses: Depending on the website, I will add some premium license features, which I already have a developer license for. This will give the client lifetime updates for those tools, instead of having to pay for those tools themselves. It might cost more now but saves clients money in the long run. 
  • Your margin: After all the costs are considered, you will have to decide on your margin and how much profit you want to earn. 
  • Personal preferences: If I come across a project that I am very fond of and I know it would look really good in my portfolio, I would be more open to negotiate my prices, or reflect that in my code. 

Martin: It feels like such an important thing that a lot of folks going into freelancing sometimes forget. One of the reasons many choose to go into freelancing is because they want the freedom to work on projects that excite them. One of our previous guests talked about a litmus test she uses to set her rates. She just kept upping her prices until she started getting enough rejections and then she knows that's probably a good place to be. If she's booked out every single slot, she's probably not charging enough. If she's got an entire month without anything, she’s probably charging too much. 

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Set clear expectations and stick to them

Stuart: Being clear about what you offer from the very first contact is really critical but does take a bit of practice. When starting out, a lot of designers tend to underestimate the amount of time they need for their projects. Things always take longer than anticipated, so you want to be realistic about what you can deliver for an author within a certain amount of time. I recommend sharing a clear list to outline what authors can expect you to deliver right from the start. 

Occasionally, I still do have to push back when authors start going out of scope and asking for features outside the list of deliverables we agreed on. This is why it’s important to make sure you have these clear boundaries set in your mind.

Elena: When it comes to handling client requests, it takes a bit of practice, as Stuart said. I always try to revise my communication templates and contracts after each project to make sure expectations are clearly stated. This helps me feel more comfortable pushing back when things are very clearly outlined in my code. 

Sometimes I do end up working outside the scope of the project if certain parts are not very clear or it is something I didn’t think of including. In those cases, I usually complete the client’s request and keep in mind to revise my template for next time. I also mention it to the client, so they know these things will need to be clearly outlined in the future. Some clients would be very understanding and even acknowledge when they make the request that it’s not something they asked for previously. Some even offer to pay more. However, for others, it can be a bit more challenging to communicate. It will be a lot of trial and error.

Check out these tips and templates for your freelance proposals!

Educate clients on what’s achievable

Stuart: We also need to keep in mind that it's a learning curve for us and for our clients. There will often be requests from clients that are simply not achievable or not a good idea for them to do. 

Most of them just stem from a lack of knowledge. In those cases, I’ll have to push back and help them understand why certain ideas can't or shouldn't be done. With authors, many will come in with a lot of ideas and details on exactly how they want certain things. It’s very understandable. They are excited about these ideas. They’ve been working on this book for a long time. They've created a Facebook page for every book they’ve written; they want a different domain for every main character. This is where the designer has to reign it in and let them know why certain ideas are not advisable. For example, with authors asking for multiple domains, I’ve had to let them know that it would end up costing them a lot to maintain so many domains, and their website should focus on who they are. The author is the key. They will have many books and characters in the future and be stuck with those domains.

When working with authors, there will be situations like that, and you have to push back and help them understand.

Elena: I’ve had clients coming in with drawn out documents of what they want the website to look like. Sometimes clients forget that a website is a fluid layout. So certain things can look good on paper, but won’t look the same on all devices. Your website layout needs to shrink, shift and move on mobile and different screen sizes. Some features are not supported in different browsers. For example, some will want music playing or auto play video and a special loading screen, etc. However, a lot of browsers block sound and auto playing videos and some features don’t work on mobile. 

There are a lot of cool features out there but not all of them will be in line with the technical requirements. I’ve also had a lot of requests that are just not practical, like pop-ups. A lot of authors want pop-ups on their website to ask people to subscribe or promote certain things. I had to tell them that, realistically, when browsing a website, how often do you actually look at the pop-up and not just close it out immediately? Almost never. 

Those are the kind of discussions you will have to have with authors and advise them on what would be best for their website.

Find the right fit & see the warning signs

Stuart: For me, the best kind of clients are the ones who don’t know much about what they’re looking for or what they need to do with a website. They know they need a website but are not sure what they want. To me, those are the easy wins. You get to help them through the process and surprise them by solving problems they didn’t know they would have. They usually just let you do your thing.

The toughest clients will be the ones with a lot of preconceived ideas of what they want, and you simply do not fit into that box. Sometimes you can read between the lines with the briefs that get sent in. From the way they talk about the project, you can get a sense of the type of client they are and if you’ll be the right fit for them.

Elena: There are a few warning signs I tend to look out for with clients, such as:

  • Sending mockups from another designer - I’ve had an author come to me with a mockup from another designer that they didn’t go with for whatever reason and ask me to take elements from it. I’m definitely not going to do that. There are 2 problems with that: 1) it’s not ethical, and 2) there could be a copyright issue when you’re using one designer’s ideas and work to request services from another one.
  • Too many details - Another sign for me is when there are too many details in the brief of how they want things to look. If you’re coming to me as a client, you have to somewhat trust that I am the expert in this and that I can advise you on those details.
  • The mythical cousin and short turnaround time - I’ve had some clients tell me they want something very simple. It shouldn't take more than two days. Or they ask me to set them up with this theme template, and then they'll have a cousin finish it. That immediately tells me what kind of quality of work they’re expecting.

There are probably more that I can’t share now, but those are the main ones to look out for.

Stuart: One of the first things I insist an author sends me is their book cover. I can tell straight away from their choices what they're expecting from me in terms of the quality. I’ve had book covers made in paint sent to me before. It made me question where this person is on their journey as an author. They say they want the best of everything but this cover is not reflective of that. That's a big big red flag for me. 

It’s important to manage expectations from the start to make sure the client is the right fit for you. There are authors who do turn up and think they can just send their things over and it will be done in two weeks. That’s not how it works. If it does, it’s going to be a different price, especially when the designer is fully booked. You will have to be clear about what they can expect from you. If that turns them away, then you are not a good fit for them to begin with.

More on managing your freelance clients:

Make a strong Reedsy profile

Quality over quantity

Stuart: With the 200+ projects I’ve had at Reedsy, it’s not a good idea to show them all. 

Here are a few things I consider when choosing projects for my Reedsy profile: 

  • Combine with good reviews - I always like to show the projects along with good reviews. When a project completes and it’s a 5-star review, I try to make sure to go in and add it to my portfolio as well.
  • Create good mockups and assets - It can be quite time consuming to make all the assets - all the 3D mockups, getting the screenshots, etc., but you want to choose projects that you can create high quality mockups with. 
  • Working website - you need to have the website URL for each project you display. Sometimes, authors would go in and change the website afterwards, and it’s no longer quite what I created. I won’t use those projects in my portfolio.
  • Pin more recent and best projects at the top - This feature wasn't available before, but you can now pin certain projects at the top of your portfolio on Reedsy. That's how I like to organize my portfolio. 

Martin: At Reedsy, our suggestion, especially if you've worked on a lot of projects, is to start off the project section of your profile with 4-5 projects and add more project photos to your portfolio gallery. We tend to have more clicks on those. You don’t want to add too many projects because viewers will have to scroll down quite a bit to reach your gallery, which is the more compelling section for our authors. You also want authors to reach the review section of your profile quicker as well.

Keep your service overview clear and simple

Elena: For the overview section, for clarity, I make sure to include a clear description of my services and all the platforms I work on. However, I do notice that I still get requests for marketing services and platforms I don’t work on. That’s why I don’t think a lot of authors actually read everything in your overview section. It can be overwhelming for them if you go into too much detail.

Use your profile to screen the right client & show appreciation

Elena: Personally, I have a different approach to the project section of my profile. Having a maximum of 5–10 projects wouldn’t work for me. I try to always keep adding in new projects with reviews and some information about the project. For me, it’s a way to show my authors that I care about their project and appreciate that they took the time to leave a review. I would also let them know that I featured their project on my profile. 

I have had clients mention some of the first projects on my profile. I was surprised that they scrolled back that far to see it. For me, that shows that this person really took the time to review my work. If a client prefers a minimal, low-effort project, they won’t want to spend time reading through a profile. In that case, they may not be my ideal client. It depends on what you’re comfortable with, but I think your profile can be used to give you an idea of what client is the best fit. 

Check out Stuart’s and Elena’s Reedsy profile for inspiration!

Understand authors’ search behavior

Martin: To illuminate a bit on the search behavior of authors we observed at Reedsy, here is the process of how an author looks for a freelancer and sends requests on our website. 

  • Select the website category > refine it by genre, or subgenre keywords > scan through the first few pages of results, maybe expand the results to see the experience section > Check off select and add designers to the list > send request for quotes.
What authors tend to focus on when searching for a web designer on Reedsy.

What we see is that a lot of folks will actually not make it past the search result page before sending out requests for quotes. Here is what they can review on the profile preview to make their decision:

  • Your profile photo - a lot of designers like to stay cryptic and have a backlit profile picture. However, we found through testing that the profile photo is incredibly important. A smiling face can be very effective. Your clients are working with people online. They want the assurance that these are actual, real people, and they won’t get ripped off. 
  • The first few entries in your portfolio - From the result page, they can get a preview of the first few projects in your portfolio and a picture that comes with it. Mainly, the title of the project would catch their attention first. If you’ve worked with authors, having the author's name in the title can attract clients who know of their work, and it’s a quick way for your profile to register in their minds. 
  • The short description line - this short description line is the first thing they see under your name on the search result page. You want to make sure you’re highlighting yourself well to pull attention, and maybe mention which platform you work with. 
  • Experience - they can also click to expand and quickly see your experience. You definitely want to make sure you’re paying attention to this as well.

Learn more about Reedsy profiles:

Advice to new web designers

Charge your worth

Elena: In the beginning, to build up my experience, I offered free services just to build up my portfolio. And I think those were some of the worst projects I’ve ever had. Don’t try to charge very, very low prices either. It will only attract the wrong type of clients. You will not be treated like a real professional. Just trust your abilities and charge your worth.

Work-life balance 

Elena: This is probably the most important one. I know from personal experience that in the beginning, you want to build your business, you want to be the best, and you tend to work weekends and evenings. Don’t overwork. Make sure to look after yourself, your family, and your health.

Manage your stress 

Stuart: My motto to myself is to never get stressed about stuff you can’t stress about. No matter what happens — good clients, bad clients, life-changing events, etc. — you will make it from A to B one way or another. It might feel overwhelming. You might not be getting any work, but just keep changing things and finding ways through, and eventually you will move on to the next stage of your life. 

See how this blogger transitioned into a web designer on Reedsy.

Q&A session

Should web designers specialize in a genre?

Stuart: I would say no. Personally, I like working with all genres. We’re already working within a particular niche of web design. There’s no need to niche yourself even more. I have genres I work with a lot, but I would not turn down requests from other genres. I think working with all genres is a good way to stretch my design skills.

Elena: I have my favorite genres to work with, but I would not limit myself to a specific genre either. I do have my preferences and exclude certain types of authors or books if it’s a topic I’m not comfortable with. For example, I tend to not take on projects that are political; it doesn’t matter which way. I also won’t take on projects that are extremely religious. I also tend to not take on erotica, just because I don’t know how to best showcase that work. There are better ones out there. Other than those three, I would say everything else is a good challenge for me. 

Martin: I really want to thank you both for your time. If you are a designer and wish to get into this wonderful world of book website design, head on to the link below and sign up for the marketplace. Here, you too can join Elena and Stuart as a Reedsy website designer. Thanks everyone!


For more tips and guides on how to find success with freelancing, the publishing industry, or notifications about events like this, be sure to follow us on LinkedIn.

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