Rebuilding my site under such a new system was pretty labor-intensive, and also required a lot of amazing programs and services. All of them deserve a shout-out. If you’re looking to build or do something similar, think of this as an ingredients list. (Or if you’re looking to hire someone to do it for you because it looks like a whole lotta work, I can introduce you to LaraRebooted…) Below is everything that was used to pull this all together.
WordPress is an amazingly flexible content management system that may have begun as blogging software, but which can be configured to do practically anything you need a website to do. I can’t sing its praises enough because it took over for a long-defunct archiving program and a bunch of out of date image gallery software.
Configuring WordPress for something this unique isn’t exactly a simple task, and we made use of a number of spectacular plugins to get us there:
Oh and, you need a webhoster too, obviously…
I cannot tell you how many webhosting services I went through in the early days. Some of you who knew me back then may remember my gripes about more than one of them. AoVD’s very first webhoster royally screwed Lilith. Our second webhoster was okay for a while and then became profoundly inept, and the third one’s security issues culminated in the outright disaster that saw AoVD get knocked offline for a second time in 2004. The next webhoster was… mediocre… but then I found Dreamhost and while I can’t recall precisely when I got my account with them, it’s been a decade and a half now, at least, and they’re still taking good care of me. I mean, yeah, the sites went more or less offline, but that wasn’t their fault or anything; nobody was minding the stores anymore on our end. Dreamhost kept faithfully serving up our pages, even if those pages didn’t work they way they should anymore. Anyway, they have a lovely Shared Hosting plan that’s perfect for a small-scale site like mine, and more powerful plans if you need them, too.
One small caveat: most webhosting services like to offer to sell you your domain name, at a discount, along with webspace. I do not recommend this. Remember how I said AoVD’s first webhoster screwed Lilith over? The TL;DR version of this is that they changed their bandwidth caps without telling her, waited until she owed them roughly a grand for bandwidth overages, and then took her whole site hostage until she either paid them or (as ultimately happened) forced them to admit that their practices were illegal under UK law and let her off the hook. Because she had purchased the domain name through them along with the webspace, she couldn’t simply point her domain at a new host and AoVD was down for more than a month while she and her allies battled their legal team. Always own your domain name via a separate service. (And always have nice, current backups of your site content stored on your own hard drive, too.) If you ever have a falling-out with your webhoster, you don’t want them to be able to take your whole site hostage the way AoVD’s first hoster could.
No-Budget eBook Building: Calibre is all you need.
I first heard about Calibre several years ago, when LaraRebooted was feeling cranky about how ugly some eBook covers were in comparison to the glorious covers their print editions had come with. A friend suggested that she could use the program to substitute in covers she actually liked. She says she never did actually get up the nerve to break her Kindle editions’ DRM protection to do that… but when someone casually mentioned in passing that Calibre can also create empty eBooks that you can populate with whatever you like… things took off and a plan for revitalizing this site was born.
The Starving Artist’s Photoshop: GIMP!
No, this has absolutely nothing to do with Pulp Fiction, you weirdo. GIMP, which stands for GNU Image Manipulation Program, is a super-powerful open-source image editing program. As its name implies, it was originally developed for GNU/Linux users, but it’s now compatible with macOS and Windows, too.
Every single eBook cover in the archives was produced with GIMP. All of the cover images, graphics, and lettering were processed through GIMP. All of the Noel Mollon graphics that I used in the original iteration of the site were resized and cleaned up using GIMP. It’s a serious workhorse.
Graphic Design Elements Don’t Have to Cost a Fortune…
…Or Anything at All, Really.
Dirty little secret: back in the day, most fan artists just plundered whatever caught their fancy, from whatever commercial site it appeared on, and used it with a fairly carefree disregard for issues of intellectual property. Within the confines of transformative works, this was — if neither legal nor protected — more or less winked at. Friends of mine who made icons and icon bases for LiveJournal accounts would routinely hit places like Getty Images and other stock photo services that expected to be paid for their goods and just… kind of slip those goods in their pockets and bolt out of the “store” instead. What can I say? The Internet was the Wild West back then. And, I mean, we would occasionally hear about someone being hit by a DMCA Takedown Notice or having their account closed for copyright violation, but even then most of the artists I knew would shrug it off and get back to ’shooping the publicity stills they had just looted off of Getty or wherever.
As fan fiction and fan art became more respectable and commercialized art forms, however, that became a bit more of a fraught issue. This especially concerned me because although my site is reopening with just its fan fiction and fan art in place, I’m working on original fiction and plan to promote that through the site (for people to actually buy with actual money) in the future, so finding places where I could acquire graphics, fonts, and images that I was fully licensed to use suddenly became very important indeed. Fortunately, since many friends from AoVD had made the leap to independent publishing ahead of me, I got lots of great advice about places to look for just the right photo, or graphic, or font… and hell yeah I’m passing that knowledge on!
Photos and illustrations
I have four services I especially like using for free images. Thousands of artists and photographers from all over the world contribute images to the sites, and the materials are available for use for free. Just try browsing through even one of these sites without falling madly in love with a picture and developing plans for how to showcase it. I dare you.
Having just the right font for a cover image, or a graphic, is so important. And fortunately, there are thousands upon thousands of fonts out there that are available for use. I have always loved collecting pretty fonts, myself, so a lot of the ones that have been put on my book covers have also ended up in my Macbook’s font album. The big issue, of course, is finding just the right one and making sure that you’re using it in a way that conforms to its accompanying licenses. This is relatively easy when you’re using them in a personal, non-commercial setting like a fan site, but it can get trickier if you are planning on using a font in a commercial setting. Fortunately, there are lots of great collections online that you can browse. I’ve arranged them below by how frequently we plunder them and how comfortable we are with their terms:
Fan art and the like, of course, implies the inclusion of elements from the source material. And while it’s not hard to find publicity stills from extremely popular and influential works, that would be an incredibly limited set if that was all people used. Often artists want to evoke a specific moment or emotion from a story, after all. This is where Screen Captures come in.
The process of taking screen captures from a video used to be much easier than it currently is; back when I was building RGFC in the early ’00s, my media player software allowed me to go frame-by-frame and capture images off of any DVD I loaded into it (although it unfortunately saved them as .bmp files, so I had lots of editing to do and never did complete a few of RGFC’s screencap archives). It’s trickier now, and I really haven’t found a program I personally like for it (although I’m looking at a few right now. Fortunately, several sites already have lovely collections of the screencaps needed for images based on Pitch Black and The Chronicles of Riddick, and other works of interest to me.
It’s important to note that this definitely falls within the intellectual property restrictions of fan fiction and fan art — that is, the rules that govern non-profit transformative works — and making or using screen captures from an existing copyrighted property for any kind of commercial use is an absolute no-no. But for the covers of free eBooks? 😜🤞
While I still have access to the materials that were in AoVD’s and RGFC’s image galleries in the past, and some of those materials made it into the covers in question, below are some of the existing online Screen Capture galleries that were also plundered to make the covers happen:
Last But Not Least…
And finally, a big shoutout for the person who did most of the legwork with this stuff: LaraRebooted. She’s been too busy building this site to launch space of her own, but if you’re a self-published author who’d like to hire someone to make your ebooks for you, or design their covers, or build a small webspace you can use to promote yourself… seriously, I will put you in touch with her in a heartbeat. Because yeah, this is currently a relaunch of my fan space, but I’m planning on going pro myself in the near future, and guess who’s helping me build toward that moment? She can do the same for you.