Yesterday Barnes & Noble's PubIt! Facebook page posted an interesting article with some tips for creating an author or a book blog. If you are wanting to create a blog for your book or series, or a promotional site for yourself as an author, the article is worth a quick read-through.
Author Blogging 101: Blog Design
It appears this blog post is one of a series — you can get to the entire series of posts here:
Author Blogging 101
It sounds like the rest of the series has some basic tips such as buying your own domain and that kind of thing — general things that make your blog appear more professional.
The post on blog design boils down to a couple of important points, so I'll give my one sentence summary: Don't get too hung up on all the widgets and other add-ons in your sidebar, but DO make sure you have an attractive, professional-looking header that can be used for branding.
Beyond that, he says, your main focus should be the content.
I agree, but I do think that a well-laid out blog should contain some other design elements. Blogger, WordPress, and most other major blogging platforms these days make it very easy to customize templates without having to hire a graphic designer (except for perhaps your logo and/or header). You can tinker with color schemes and font sizes, experiment with various sidebar widgets, and just in general have a lot of fun designing your blog.
After your header and content, I think the next most important thing is to make sure your blog is easy for readers to navigate. This means links in the sidebar to previous posts and/or archives, and maybe a labels cloud so that they can see posts grouped by label (subject). Other things — web badges and awards, ads, etc. — can be added and may make the site look more professional or more credible, but aren't necessary.
One final thing that I think is pretty darn important, and that the blogger did not address: Your blog design needs to include, prominently, some way to purchase the book (or a placeholder for that space further on down the road, if you are still working on the book). For instance, my blog here has a "Books" page (link in the top nav bar) where the book covers, teasers, and sale links will go as the books in the series are published. Once the first one is published, I'll also be putting a linked cover image in the sidebar for faster purchasing power.
If you have a book or author blog, feel free to post the link in the comments, and let us know why you designed it the way you did!