Website review: entrancing entrance

I promised to showcase enviable writer websites, and here's my first pick: TidePoolsInc by Emily Sohn. Land on TidePoolsInc and fun stuff immediately begins to happen. The Flash intro is so inviting that you can't not click and stay to read more.

Emily has been writing about science and health for both adults and kids full time since 2003. Her work has appeared in Science News for Kids, The Los Angeles Times, Backpacker, Smithsonian, Self and Health. She launched TidePoolsInc in 2006. I interrupted Emily from working on a story for the Discovery Channel one morning to get the low-down on her site.

NA: What a cool site you have! Has it sent editors flocking to contact you?

ES: I can't say that the website has resulted in a direct hire, but editors have mentioned it to me. I have had so many positive comments about it over the years that it's definitely been worth it. I love having the site and have no regrets.

NA: Why is it important to you to have a website?

ES: Every business should have a website, and I'm a business. Although most of my work comes from steady relationships with editors, it can't hurt to have a place where potential editors can go if they've read or heard my name and want to see some clips. They can poke around on TidePools and see what I've done and who I am as a person.

NA: What are the goals of TidePoolsInc?

ES: To reflect my experiences and the five areas I write about: science, health, environment, kids and adventure. My first job was as a science writer for an interactive, educational website for kids, where I was sent on expeditions around the world. When the job ended I wanted to keep aspects of multimedia, travel, writing for kids, and interactivity, in my work.

TidePoolsInc screenshot

NA: I love your site, especially that map unfurling across the desk complete with crinkly paper sound. How'd you do that?

ES: I hired a designer. Nathan Strandberg of EightHourDay in Minneapolis is a friend of mine. He's just brilliant. He knows me well and we talked about what I wanted to do. He suggested possible images and rollover pages that move. I wrote the text, but EightHourDay is responsible for all of the Flash features.

NA: Is it difficult to update?

ES: Not difficult, but it takes me a long time. I use DreamWeaver for the site itself and PhotoShop to scan covers. It recently took me three hours to put up two new stories. I'm not sure whether it makes more sense to spend the time doing that or to hire someone else to do it.

NA: Your work is pretty diverse, from Science News and The Los Angeles Times stories to graphic novels for young adults. Yet TidePoolsInc ties it all together well.

ES: I wanted a foot in both worlds. I get a lot of satisfaction from writing features about the environment for adults and I also love the kids' stuff that I do. I think both are equally legitimate forms of writing, and they help to inform each other. So I wanted TidePools to have a playfulness, but didn't want it to be strictly a kids' site.

Emily Sohn, hiking on Mt. Lemmon, Tucson, Arizona

NA: I notice that you included an Adventure page, showing photographs of you in far-flung places. Why use those on a writer's site?

ES: There are so many marketing decisions to make. I want TidePools to reflect who I am as a person. I've led outdoor adventure trips, I love to travel, and would happily take more overseas assignments. I think of the site as a presentation of myself rather than direct mail. I hope that the photos help to show that I'm versatile and up for adventure.


Shortly after my conversation with Emily, I contacted EightHourDay and got nosey with co-owner Katie Kirk. She graciously answered my questions about TidePoolsInc and the value of having a professionally designed website.

NA: Hi Katie. For a blog on freelancing for NASW, I troll the 'Net for the best writer sites that I can find, profile their owners to see how their websites work for them, and ask designers questions like, "Wow, how'd you do that?" I just spoke with Emily Sohn about her site and she credits EightHourDay with making it so inviting.

KK: Yay - we are honored!

NA: I love the look of TidepoolsInc and guess my first question is: Does the average person have any chance of making that sort of site happen?

KK: Maybe ... obviously a lot of that depends on the amount of coding knowledge a person has and their creative abilities. Emily's site is mainly done in Flash with the clips portion done in html.

NA: I haven't consulted a designer for my own site for several reasons. Mainly because I'm not sure what I want and don't want to show just how clueless I am. Not to mention, I assume that the initial design will be too pricey for me, and then I'll have to pay someone for the rest of my natural-born days to update the site (see clueless part).

KK: Yes — it does cost money to bring on a designer. However, just like hiring any other kind of professional, the outcome is usually better. Most people are clueless when it comes to web design, and really, why shouldn't they be. As a good designer it is our job to walk people through the process (branding, setting up a server, etc.), letting them know what can be done and what the best approach might be. Along with that, we can often find budget-conscious solutions that make the most impact. A well-done site speaks to professionalism and ultimately is a strong business investment for the future.

NA: As a designer, what would you suggest writers try to do for their own sites (aside from hiring EightHourDay) in their bids to present their clips, sell their books, or simply present themselves well?

KK: Definitely have a presence online, even if it is just using preexisting blog tools like Blogger and Wordpress. Try to make it look nice and make it easy to navigate. Link to other writers and start networking your way into these communities.

NA: What might a writer expect to pay for a professionally designed site?

KK: Obviously we can only think about how we would approach such a project and what we would charge, but for a smart, branded, simple interactive site for a writer — we would place it somewhere in the $4,000-$6,000 US range. If you have any more questions, feel free to contact us at EightHourDay.

Nancy Allison

Nancy Allison writes about the fascinating research, art and scholarship occurring at universities, in galleries, and on the web. She blogs at Writer on Board. Send your web and blog picks to her at: nancy@nasw.org.

Apr. 14, 2009

Drexel Science and Health Communication Concentration