How to build a website with a quality free WordPress theme

Writers need to have a platform and the best base for that platform is still a website. Social media is a vital part of an overall platform but it can’t replace your own website.

Having your own website adds massively to your discoverability, which is the biggest challenge facing writers and publishers. A website can be a showcase to make your own name more widely known and help boost your book sales and opportunities.

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Graphene is a free WordPress theme that can be customised easily.

There are a variety of ways that you can set up your own website and I feel that WordPress is the best choice and it is the most widely used. You can set up a hosted WordPress site at WordPress.com, which is a great service but has its disadvantages, including you can’t upload your own themes or plug-ins.

There is also a major drawback for authors in that WordPress.com doesn’t like sites that link to external services and vendors. This is mainly to stop pure affiliate sites but it can also hit authors and publishers who link from their site to their books on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple, etc. This is particularly the case if you are, for example, an Amazon affiliate.

Website hosting

All things considered, I find the self-hosted version of WordPress to be preferable as you are free to do what you want with your site. I’m not looking at hosting in this article but some choices I’ve been recommended by normally reliable sources include Websitehostingbuzz and A2 Hosting which both offer reasonable pricing.

I host this website on Lightning Base which I have found to be a superb service but it is more expensive (although still reasonably priced) than some hosts as it is designed for sites with growing traffic. If you’re just starting out or have a blog with relatively low traffic then hosting in the $5-$7 a month range should be fine. Most hosts support WordPress one-click installation so it should be easy to set up the framework for your site.

Finding a WordPress theme

The problem then is finding a WordPress theme to fit your site. This can turn into a full-time task as there are thousands of themes available. Some of them are free and some are so-called premium themes available at a cost of anywhere between $5 and $50. Some of these themes, particularly free ones, are not robustly coded, are not updated and do not offer support so they soon become useless. But there are many, both paid-for and free, which do offer great service and support.

I use a couple of premium themes on this site: Genesis and the child theme Dynamik for Genesis. These are produced by Studiopress (Genesis) and Cobalt (Dynamik) and offer a fantastic range of easily accessible controls to design and build websites of all kinds.

However, I’m always looking at different themes to use and in this article I am going to focus on the free WordPress theme Graphene, which offers a range of options to customise a website rivalling many premium themes.

The Graphene WordPress theme was released in 2010 and has been regularly developed and updated since then with a massive total now of over 750,000 downloads from the wordpress.org website. A website at www.graphene-theme.com features a  support forum with a beginners’ section. Although the theme is free, there is a mobile option to make it fully responsive and this costs $24 (£16).

The theme features a wide array of easy customisation so it can be adapted for all types of websites but I am going to show how it can be customised as an author’s website or for books in general.

This is a long article, so I’ve split it into three parts. The second part can be found here and the third part can be found here.

The basics of the Graphene WordPress theme

The first thing to do is to download Graphene from wordpress.org or graphene-theme.com and install and activate it on your website. The current version of Graphene that I’m using is 1.9.2.

I’m testing the theme out on a website I’m developing at www.mysteryreading.com and this is what the initial activation of the theme looks like “out of the box”.

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The initial activation of the Graphene theme without any customisation.

I have activated the theme with a slider at the top of the page, the main body and one sidebar on the right but you can easily change this into a three-column configuration. The choices include a sidebar left and right of the main body, two sidebars to the left of the body, two sidebars to the right, one sidebar on the left, one sidebar on the right, no sidebars with the main body filling up the width of the site. You can also change the dimensions for the slider or get rid of it altogether.

The width of the overall site and its components can be set and I’ve set the overall width to 960px (pixels).

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You can set a variety of column configurations easily with the Graphene theme.

You might be happy enough to just use the standard installation as it’s perfectly serviceable with some nice individual features such as the calendar-type dates on posts and white on blue for the Read more… breaks.

However, it’s a bit cookie-cutter for me and I don’t like the typography but it’s simple to make a website that’s more individual.

If you log in to your WordPress side and go to Appearance on the left-hand side under the dashboard you will find when you hold your mouse over Appearance that there are two entries called Graphene Options and Graphene FAQs. Click on Graphene Options and you will see the global settings for the theme.

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Graphene Options offer a huge range of choices to customise your website.

 

There are four tabs at the top of the Options:

  • General: Set the basic parameters for each component.
  • Display: This covers what you want to show and how. You can set number of columns and configuration, text styles and size and much else.
  • Colors: Change colours of components, navigation menus and text, includes full colour pickers so you can choose your own colours throughout.
  • Advanced: This is more for adding various tags and hooks which I won’t be delving into, so you can largely ignore this tab although you might want to check the box under Preview to enable a preview of your site on the Graphene Theme Options page as this can save time rather than having switching to another window and refresh to check on changes to your site.

On the next page I’ll clear up the website’s background