book-secrets

Creating a Book Secrets Page on Your Author Website

book-secretsAlmost every author website has the basics — a book description, excerpt, blog, contact page, about the author, news, etc…

But when I’m talking to an author about what we can do with their website, I like to try and think outside the box as well. One of my common recommendations for fiction authors? A “book secrets” page.

So what exactly is a book secret? It’s something that you — the author — knows, but someone who has read the book probably doesn’t know. Examples of the types of information that would be conveyed on a book secrets page includes:

  • The inspiration for the book
  • If any of the characters in the book are based on real people
  • How your characters got their names
  • Hidden secrets/clues in the book
  • Where in the story you might have hit writer’s block
  • Places in the book where you shifted course (i.e. you were originally going to have this person commit the crime, but then changed your mind)
  • Segments of the book that might have been cut during editing

These are just a few of the ideas … you can probably come up with more on your own. And wouldn’t these be interesting things to know about your favorite novel? Your readers would feel the same way!

Just this morning, I stumbled across an article about a perfect example of a book secret (albeit, a sad one). Do you know that children’s book, “Love You Forever”? It’s the one that includes this infamous song/poem:

“I’ll love you forever,
I’ll like you for always,
as long as I’m living
my baby you’ll be.”

Just recently, the author of the book, Robert Munsch, used his website to share the story about where the idea for that song came from. Warning, it’s a tearjerker!

And while you probably don’t have nearly as emotional a story behind your book, if you think hard enough, you’ll probably find some really interesting things that you can share with your readers via a book secrets page. Consider this page some bonus material for your loyal readers.

a-b-testing

Report: Author Website Copy That Sells

a-b-testingI stumbled across an absolutely fascinating report today. It was put together by BookBub and includes some interesting details on what they learned doing A/B testing of copy on author websites.

For those of you who don’t know, A/B testing refers to dividing site visitors into two random groups, each experiencing the site with one difference. For example, half of the people who arrive on a site would see the text in black (group A) and the other half would see it in red (group B). The testing then measures how the two groups behave differently, ultimately determining whether you get a better response from the group seeing the text in black or the one seeing the text in red. In the case of authors, a good response = a book sale.

This study focused primarily on what authors were featuring in the copy on their websites, how they worded book descriptions, how they included reviews and more.

This really is a must-read for authors. You can view the full report yourself here, but I’ve taken the liberty of including some key takeaways…

What Sells Books

  • When including reviews….
    • Mention authors, not publications. When the site quoted the actual author (not the publication) that gave the book a rave review, there was a 30.4 percent higher click-through rate.
    • Include the number of reviews. When a book had at least 150 five-star reviews on Amazon or Goodreads, mentioning the exact number of five-star reviews in the copy increased clicks an average of 14.1 percent.
  • When writing book promo copy…
    • Mention your genre up front. The example in the test compared “If you love thrillers, don’t miss this action-packed read!” to just “An action-packed read!” The one that clearly mentioned “thrillers” got 15.8 percent more clicks.
    • Cite the time period (when applicable). In the case of historical fiction, the site that clearly cited the time period had increased clicks at an average of 25.1 percent.
  • When promoting yourself…
    • Don’t forget awards! If you have won any writing awards in the past — either for this book or other writings — mentioning it would increase clicks an average of 6.7 percent.

What Doesn’t Sell Books

The report also includes a list of things included in author copy that made no difference at all in the A/B testing. Examples included:

  • Mentioning if the book is a bestseller (surprisingly, people didn’t care)
  • Writing the book promo as a question (i.e. “Will Sandy find her daughter?” vs. “Sandy searches for her daughter.”
  • Citing the ages of the characters in the book
  • Mentioning if it is a debut novel

The report goes on to explain various ways that you can try A/B testing on your own site to find out what is working best in terms of selling books.

I don’t know about you, but I find this information absolutely fascinating. It certainly is going to help me better guide authors that I work with on the dos and don’ts of author website copy going forward.

june-calendar

June Round-Up: 5 Must-Reads for Authors

june-calendarI can’t believe June has come and gone already! So in case you missed it … here are the five must-reads for authors from the month of June.

1. Facebook Advertising for Authors, by Mark Dawson: Part 1
Reedsy Blog
June 4, 2015

2. How to Sell Out a Book Signing Without Being a Celebrity
Build Book Buzz
June 2, 2015

3. Author Websites: 5 Big Ways to Create Loyal Readers
Reedsy Blog
June 16, 2015

4. How to Ask for Book Endorsements
A. Piper Bergi
June 17, 2015

5. Designing an Author Website Without a Book Cover
Smart Author Sites
June 25, 2015

Enjoy your month of July everyone!

author-tic-tac-toe

Author Wisdom: What I Wished I’d Known Sooner

author-tic-tac-toeI stumbled across this really interesting converstaion on LinkedIn. The question was posed to authors: “What’s the one biggest surprise or thing you wish someone would have told you about the authoring or publishing process?”

Here are highlights from some of the responses:

—–

You’re not just an author, you’re a marketing expert and a full-time promoter of your work. Writing the book is the easy part; selling it is a full time job and that job is now yours. If you know that going into it, and you educate yourself well, it’s great fun. If you don’t realize it ahead of time you’re in for a shock.
Susan Veness

This is such a great question and my mind is reeling with things I’d like to share, having been a professional cover designer for over 25 years ….new authors don’t realize that spine width drives that attention-grabbing factor, and that they can manipulate the book’s interior to arrive at a page count that increases perceived value. The ideal page count for a healthy minimal spine width of about a half-inch is 200+.
Kathi Dunn

If you’re going to be commission the photographer or illustrator yourself, make sure you have a robust, clear agreement ideally assigning copyright, or at the very least an exclusive right to publish in all formats without a time limit. You also need clear written (non-exclusive) permission to use any pre-existing material, text or illustrations, that falls outside fair usage allowances, again in all formats and without time limits. Permissions aren’t sexy but if you don’t get them right they can really bite you in the backside. Good luck with it all, look forward to seeing the result!
Alison Jones

That publishing one or two books is quite an accomplishment and you should be proud, but don’t quit your day job: there usually isn’t much money in books anymore.
Shawn Tassone, MD, PhD(c)

That 99% of the work would be the marketing of the book…. i thought it was all about writers block and empty screens.
Jeff Smith

As someone who helps authors build online presences for themselves, I find that the thing that surprises authors the most is the fact that they really need to build a brand — whether that brand is their name, their book title, their series, or their business name (of which their book is one piece). That brand has to be able to be summed up in one sentence and have a logo/color scheme. It’s difficult to take something as complicated as a writer or book and make it easily digestible, but that’s exactly what authors need to keep in mind all along the way.
— Me

———–

What surprised you? What do you wish you’d known sooner? Share your own author wisdom below!

book cover

Designing an Author Website Without a Book Cover

book coverIt’s one of the most important questions I ask an author when we first talk about designing their site: “Is your book cover finalized yet? If so, can I see it?”

The Relationship Between the Design and the Cover

An author’s website should — to some degree — resemble their book cover. If the site is focusing solely on the one book, it should resemble the cover a lot. If the most recent book cover is simply one of the many books, products, etc… being featured on the site, then it should only be a close resemblance. But either way, they should be related in some shape or form.

The one thing you don’t want is a site that doesn’t match a book cover. For example, imagine a site that’s purple and blue with a fancy script font. Then imagine a book cover sitting on it that’s black and green with a bold print. The cover clearly wouldn’t match the rest of the design. It would look like it was simply pasted somewhere it didn’t belong. It certainly wouldn’t help contribute to the brand that the author is trying to build.

The Conundrum

Many of today’s agents and publishers won’t even consider working with an author who doesn’t already have a following. So how does the author get that following they need to get published? That would be through their blog, their social media, and yes, their website.

And that’s the conundrum. An author needs a website to build the following that it takes to get published. But that means that he or she needs to build that site BEFORE there’s a book cover available to build it around. So what’s an author to do? What should go into designing an author website without a book cover?

Things to Keep in Mind

Here’s some advice that I give to authors who are faced with this situation:

1. Go with a flexible design. You very well may want to make some tweaks to your website design after your book cover is finalized. So make sure that you go with a template or design that can be adjusted down the line. For example a simple design with a space for a header bar would give you the flexibility to redesign the header bar down the line without having to rebuild the entire site.

2. Stay with muted colors. If you want to make sure that your ultimately-green book cover doesn’t clash with your orange design … well, don’t go with an orange design. Keep things simple in your initial design. Stick with a white, tan or gray background, and keep the accent colors relatively simple and neutral. This way, there’s no book cover that would look totally out of place.

3. Keep your design within your genre. You may not know exactly what your book cover will look like yet, but you probably have a pretty good idea of what the feel of it will be. For example, if you’re a romance writer, you probably won’t have a cover that’s brash and bold. If you write about investing in the stock market, your cover isn’t likely to be pink with a frilly font. You get the idea. Make sure that whatever site design you go with fits the feel of your book, and your cover is likely to fit in later.

Talk to your designer and make sure he or she understands the general feel of your writings. It’s so important that as soon as someone arrives on your site, they get the sense of exactly what you write about — even without a book cover in place.

Happy designing!

should-i-sell-the-book-myself

“Should I Sell the Book Myself?”

should-i-sell-the-book-myselfEvery author plans to have a “Buy now” button on their site, which allows visitors to purchase their book with one easy click. But the more complicated question is where that link goes. In other words, should authors simply link out to Amazon/B&N to sell their book? Or, as many authors ask me, “Should I sell the book myself?”

There are a lot of things that go into such a decision, but here’s what you need to know about the benefits and drawbacks of delving into online sales.

Benefits of Selling Yourself

  • There’s more money to be made. Obviously, when Amazon sells your book, they keep a large percentage of the profit. When you sell your book, that money all stays with you. So, for example, instead of earning $3 a book, you can make $10. That’s a significant difference.
  • You can offer bonuses, like a signed copy. When you are selling the book yourself, you can sweeten the pot for people interested in buying it. For example, you could offer to sign each copy before you send it, or throw in a fun extra, like a tote bag or bookmark to thank people for buying from you. This can help solidify your relationship with readers, and may increase the likelihood that they’d buy your next book.
  • You can collect information about who is buying your book. As C.J. Lyons, a self-published author of 27 novels who runs the NoRulesJustWrite.com, recently told Publisher’s Weekly: “The greatest success stories I’ve seen in POS have been nonfiction authors, particularly those who have other offerings and can use the ebook sale to upsell a course or webinar … The greatest value comes not from the financial gain from selling the e-book but from the lead capture.”
  • You can take it on the road. Going to an event to promote your book? Doing a book signing? This Publishers Weekly article points out that indie authors can use these accounts on point-of-sale systems at events as well. Authors can use Square, Stripe, PayAnywhere, or PayPal Here and simply swipe a book buyer’s credit card at a reading or conference on their tablet or smartphone.

Warnings About Selling Yourself

  • You need to set up a system to collect payment. Collecting credit card information is no easy thing. To do so, you need an account with a merchant. The easiest one to work with is PayPal, but just about all of them require setting up an account, synching it with your bank account, and/or paying a monthly fee to keep it active.
  • It’s a fair amount of time/trouble to sell and distribute yourself. Yup, you very well may find yourself in a whole new business if you go down this road. You’ll be keeping track of orders, packing/shipping books, and making lots of trips down to the post office (if you’re lucky enough to sell lots of copies). Joel Friedlander, a book design and self-publishing expert who runs TheBookDesigner.com, tells Publishers Weekly that his recommendation is for authors to avoid selling books directly on their websites. “The time and energy it takes to work out these e-commerce platforms, install the necessary code, landing pages, buttons, etc. are not that productive for this group.”
  • Taxes, taxes, taxes. Are you selling a book to someone in California? Are you collecting California sales tax on that purchase? And are you keeping track of your profits/losses to pay your own income tax on what you’re selling? I highly recommend that before you commit to selling yourself, you consult with a local tax expert to make sure that you’re following all the rules.

So there you go! Now it’s up to you to decide if you’re going to sell your book yourself … or leave the work (and the profits) to the pros.

And if you’ve ever sold yourself through your site (or through an on-the-go payment collection system), please let us know what you’ve learned!

may

5 Author Must Reads From May

mayApologize for posting this a little late this month. But with May quickly behind us (this time of year goes so fast!), here’s a summary of the the author must reads from the month.

1. Develop Your Author Platform to Position Yourself as a Leader
Eunice Nisbett/LinkedIn
May 1, 2015

2. Kick Ass Book Launch Tips (from Two Authors Who Really Know)
Publication Life
May 13, 2015

3. Another Reason to Perfect the Mobile Version of Your Author Website
Smart Author Sites
May 14, 2015

4. Author Blog Tips
Build Book Buzz
May 19, 2015

5. 5 Free (or Almost-Free) Ways to Market Your Book
Smart Author Sites
May 28, 2015

Happy June, everyone!

paid-ad-campaign-scale

Should I Be Running a Paid Social Ad Campaign?

paid-ad-campaign-scaleI get this question from authors all the time. I’ve even seen recent conversations about it on LinkedIn. Here’s the primary question: “Should I be running a paid social ad campaign — like Google Adwords, Facebook ads, or Amazon ads — to increase awareness about my book?”

And the answer? Well, that’s almost always a resounding “no.”

Why Not?

Any time you invest money in something — especially advertising — what you’re looking for is a good ROI, or return on investment. In other words, you want to make sure you get more money back than you put in. That’s a pretty basic concept.

And yet, when it comes to authors investing in paid advertising campaigns, the ROI generally doesn’t add up.

Here’s why: If you sold jewelery, for example, and your margin of profit on each piece of jewelry sold was $500, you’d be more than willing to invest a fair amount in advertising in the hopes that you sold just one piece of jewelry. As long as you spent less than $500, you’d have a good ROI.

But when you sell books, the numbers are drastically different. As one LinkedIn user by tne name of Richard Milton breaks it down in regards to Amazon’s ad campaigns:

As the most efficient book retailer in the world, Amazon knows perfectly well (but don’t tell you the advertiser) that the industry standard click through rate is 0.1 per cent (one visitor in a thousand will click your ad) and the highest industry standard conversion rate (Amazon’s own) is 4%. This means that if 25,000 people see your ad, 25 of them will click on it and 1 will buy your book.

The average cost per click on Amazon currently for fiction is around $0.60 – $0.65.

Unless you are a megastar author or your book is a runaway best-seller, this means that you will spend more than receive.

I have found the same soft of logic to be true in relation to Google Ad campaigns and the like.

Let’s Do the Math

Here are the basic numbers that I saw when I was looking at these types of campaigns for authors…

Let’s say you’re spending 75 cents per click on your Google Adwords campaign, and you’ve capped your budget at $500/month. That means you get 667 clicks a month.

If you have a conversion rate of 5% — which would actually be relatively good — that means that 33 of the 667 visitors will have bought your book that month.

Now, let’s say you yourself make $3 per copy sold (and that would be a lot less for Kindle versions of your book). You would be bringing in $99 that month, significantly less than the $500 you invested.

Is It Ever Worth the Money?

I’m not one to be making grand statements that something does or doesn’t work for everyone. If you happen to write a great book about a topic that is extremely popular, it’s possible that you could make money off of these types of campaigns. After all, if your conversion rate is a lot higher than the 5% cited above (more like 25%), you would at least break even.

But based on everything I’ve seen, heard and read, I have yet to find one author for whom this is the case.

As another author in a similar LinkedIn conversation added: “Unlikely. I tried it for a while but got nowhere with it.”

So What Can I Do? 

I highly recommend authors use many of the free promotional online tools. These include:

  • Search engine optimization
  • Creating Facebook/Twitter profiles
  • Starting a blog
  • Reaching out to other sites about guest blogging

Here’s a recent post I wrote about free (or almost-free) ways to market your book. All you need to invest is time.

Happy promoting!

free-ways-to-market-your-book

5 Free or Almost-Free Ways to Market Your Book

free-ways-to-market-your-bookWe build websites for authors. And no, we don’t build them for free. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t provide authors with lots of ideas about other ways they can market their books at little to no cost.

Based on what I’ve heard from authors in the decade I’ve been doing this, here are five ideas for free or almost-free ways ways to market your book.

1. Facebook and Twitter. If you haven’t done so already, create your own professional profile on Facebook. Make sure it’s completely separate from your personal Facebook profile.  Same thing with Twitter. Then use those platforms to post teasers about your book, share news about its release, and send traffic to your blog, YouTube page, etc… (more on that below).

2. A virtual book launch party. Celebrate the launch of your book by hosting a virtual book launch party. Here’s a great read on how to plan such a party, who to invite, and how to make it a can’t miss event. Again, the cost is minimal, and the potential benefit is plenty.

3. A blog. I’ve written many, many posts before about the importance of an author blog. In short, a blog is one of the best ways to attract an audience and expose potential readers to your book. Hook people with your blog, then present your book to them. And those “people” can be readers … or they can be agents or publishers. As another writer recently shared on LinkedIn: “E L James who wrote 50 shades of Grey had a blog for two years and each month had a new chapter she ended up with over 200,000 followers before the book was published.”

4. Video, video, video. Video is only becoming more and more popular. Check out this post on why video is practically becoming a must for today’s author. And while video can be very expensive (if you hire a top-notch production company), it can also be free. Equally free is the YouTube channel that you can use to share your video and get the word out about your book. Think about this: YouTube is now the second most-used search engine after Google. Without video, you are excluding yourself from the second largest search engine.

5. Guest blogging. Almost every blogger would love to have someone in their genre offer to write a guest post for them. I know I would. It’s free work that someone else is willing to do for you. Plus, a guest blogger is often willing to share that post with their audience, thus driving more traffic to your site. So consider bringing guest bloggers on to your blog. And, even more importantly, offer to guest blog for other bloggers in your genre. It can just be a short post about your subject matter, with a reference to your book. You can even offer a copy as a prize drawing. Again, it’s a great (and free) way to introduce your book to a new (and engaged) audience.

Do you have other ideas about free ways to market your book? Share them below!

wordpress plugins

7 Must-Have WordPress Plug-ins for Author Websites

wordpress pluginsWe build all of our author sites in WordPress. And there are many good reasons for that. One of them is the multitude of plug-ins that WordPress allows you to use — from ones that create photo slideshows to contact forms and more.

Here are seven that we install on each and every author website we build. Best of all, they’re all free!

1. WPNewsman Lite. Do you want to easily collect email addresses and send out newsletters, blog alerts or general updates to everyone on the list? This plug-in allows you to do just that with very little work on your end. The list of email addresses is maintained by the system (you don’t need to keep your own spreadsheet), and all the legal issues surrounding SPAM are taken care of for you with confirmation emails. Simply install the plug-in, craft your messages, and everyone who opts to sign up is automatically added to your email list. It’s easy and oh-so-valuable.

2. All in One SEO Pack. You know that you need to optimize your site for various keywords. This easy-to-use plug-in allows you to do that. In one place, you can put in the site-wide title, description and keywords. The plug-in also allows you to customize that same information on a page-by-page or blog post-by-blog post basis, if you so desire.

3. Sucuri Security. The simple explanation for this plug-in is that it keeps your site safe from hackers. Here’s the more complicated explanation that the creator provides: It “will check for malware, spam, blacklisting and other security issues like .htaccess redirects, hidden eval code, etc.” To keep your site safe (and to make sure you’re notified if a SPAMmer is trying to access your site), this plug-in is essential.

4. Ultimate Google Analytics. What good is having a site if you don’t know how many people are looking at it, what they’re viewing on your site, or how they’re finding your site? Sign up for a free account with Google analytics and then enter your account number into this simple plug-in. You can then log back into your Google analytics account any time to find out how many visitors you’ve had, which pages of your site they’re visiting, and where they came from.

5. Contact Form 7. You want people to be able to contact you through your website. What you don’t want is your email address printed on the site for every person (and every SPAMmer) to have access to. This simple plug-in allows people to fill out a contact form, which then comes to you in an email. It essentially allows people to email you without actually having your email address.

6. Akismet. Do you have a blog with a commenting feature on your site? Most authors do. But here’s the problem: those comment areas can be bombarded with advertising. I hear from authors all the time who are getting a massive amount of SPAM through this form. Enter Akismet. As the makers of the plug-in describe it, “Akismet is quite possibly the best way in the world to protect your blog from comment and trackback spam.”  Enough said.

7. Simply Sociable. In today’s world of social media, you would be remiss if you didn’t make it easy for your readers to share your pages or posts via Facebook, Google+ etc… Simply Sociable is an easy plug-in that, once you install it, automatically adds share buttons to the end of each blog post for Google+, Twitter, and Facebook. To quote the famous infomercial, “Set it, and forget it.”

Now, this is far from a full list of plug-ins. There are thousands of them out there; many of which are helpful to authors. And while we often install many additional wordpress plug-ins for author websites (i.e. one that creates a slider on the homepage or allows people to open a book cover and take a peek inside), these are the seven that we think all authors should be taking full advantage of.

Happy plugging.