Choosing a WordPress Theme: Function and Appearance for Author Sites

One of the really cool things about using WordPress to create your author website is that there are thousands of themes available to get you started. 

The downside of so much choice is that it can be difficult to find a quality theme that will add to your website (instead of overpowering it or detracting from it) can be difficult. This is especially true if you are unsure of what features you want or are unfamiliar with searching for themes. 

Understanding how functionality and appearance relate to WordPress themes can help make your search for the perfect starting point easier. 

The Basics: Functionality and Appearance

When deciding which theme to build your site from, you need to consider both the functionality and appearance of the theme. 

Functionality is what your theme can do. For example, an author will likely need a way to organize and display the books they have available. This is part of the functionality of your website. Other aspects of functionality you may want to consider as an author include: 

  • How the theme links to social media accounts. 
  • Your ability to support and control comments. 
  • How easily the site integrates a mailing list. 
  • An online store (if you are selling your book yourself). 
  • An event calendar. 
  • A members Only area if you are offering premium content. 
  • Mobile responsiveness (This is absolutely necessary these days. You need. a site that works on a phone as well as it does on a desktop.).
  • SEO Optimization, so your readers can find you. 

Before trying to find a theme, you should make a list of all the things you want your theme to DO— the interactions you want to create with your readers. 

The appearance of your theme is… well, kinda anti-climatic: how it looks. Some questions you want to ask yourself regarding appearance: 

  • What kind of menu do I want? 
  • Do I want a sidebar? 
  • Should my menu always be visible? 
  • Do I want a minimal appearance? 
  • Do I want to feature text or images? Do I want to have a balance between both? 
  • What kind of typography and embellishments fit my brand? 

It can be helpful to sketch out your website (even if you can’t draw well) to get an idea of what you want it to look like. 

Theme Functionality vs. Plugins 

Before you get bogged down trying to find the perfect theme that checks all of your boxes, you should keep in mind that WordPress allows you a lot of freedom when it comes to changing the functionality and appearance of a theme. 

To add functionality to your site, you can use plugins, both paid and free. Plugins can increase the security of your site and add in features your theme might lack. For example, you don’t need to be tied into themes that offer a bookshelf because there are plenty of bookshelf plugins available. 

However, it’s a good idea to choose a theme that has most of the functionality that you want. When the functionality is built into the theme, there’s less of a chance of running into compatibility issues. Also, too many plugins can slow down your site (as can a theme tricked out with more features than you need), and a slow site will send readers running. 

What I try to do is find a theme that has most of the features I need (and no extra) and then fill in the gaps with 3-5 plugins. 

Customizing a Theme

Just like you can add plugins to customize the functionality of your site, you can tweak the appearance of your site as well. 

Almost all WordPress themes come with a basic level of built-in customization. You can usually change some of the colors, the layout, and organization of your site elements in the dashboard customizer. But each theme offers a different amount of customization. For example, I’ve run into themes that do not have an option for changing the “pop” color of the site. For these, you can dive into CSS customizing to fine-tune the appearance of your site. 

However, just like with functionality, it is best to start as near to your ideal site as you can. So choose a theme that is close to what you want your site to look like to save you time and energy and optimize your site’s speed. 

What functionality does your author site HAVE to have? We’d love to know. Do you have an author site you want to share? Link to it in the comments and share why you chose your theme. 

Koji Dae
Co-Founder, Lead Developer
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