September Round-Up: 5 Must Reads for Authors

fall-photoOctober is here already, and fall is in full swing. With that in mind, here are five must reads for authors from the month of September. If you missed any of these the first time around, here’s your chance to catch up!

  1. An author reveals ten secrets to marketing your own book
    September 9, 2015
  2. 5 Things I Love About Haruki Murakami’s Author Website
    Smart Author Sites
    September 10, 2015
  3. What ‘Game of Thrones’ Author George R.R. Martin Can Teach You About Marketing
    Marketing Profs
    September 16, 2015
  4. Book Marketing 201
    Publishers Weekly
    September 25, 2015
  5. 3 Steps to More Social Media Followers
    Build Book Buzz
    September 30, 2015

Happy Fall! And happy writing!

should i self publish

Should I Self Publish? The Answer Seems to Be …

should i self publishBy pure coincidence, I came across three articles today that all, in different ways, conveyed the same message. Self-publishing is the way to go.

Why? Well, let’s go over what we can learn from each of these pieces…

1. In this infographic, we learn that self-published authors are now selling more books than the big five publishers, at least in the e-book universe. This is quite a change from even a few years ago.

2. Here’s a whole article explaining why traditional publishing will fail (and is, in fact, failing). Here’s my favorite segment from the piece.

A lot of traditional publishing companies are stuck in some pre-internet era purgatory. They spend an enormous amount of resources sifting through the sludge pile and investing all their time and money in a couple authors they hope will sell big. And sometimes they choose wrong.

The internet has changed things. Crowdsourcing quality work and letting audiences decide who succeeds is where publishing is headed.

And as the article points out, self-publishing companies have the opportunity to make 30% of a book’s profits, with little-to-no upfront cost in publishing the book. Why wouldn’t more entrepreneurs be jumping on that bandwagon?

3. Last by not least is this piece on book marketing. One of the takeaways? Being published doesn’t necessarily help an author.

In the article, the author, of book marketing firm Publishing Push, tells the story of meeting an author who went through a traditional publishing house … and ended up having to do all his own marketing after the fact. He compares that story to one of self-published authors he’s worked with who have had highly successful marketing efforts right off the bat.

In the latter cases, the self-published author got to choose his own marketing firm (and choose well), and the results were apparent. Less so when trusting the marketing department of a publishing house.

So for you self published authors … congratulations. Recent data is showing that you made a good choice. And if you are wondering, “Should I self publish?” The answer certainly seems to be “YES!”


What’s Your Author Brand?

brandingLike it or not, today’s author also has to be a marketer. And what is it that you are marketing? Well, it’s your brand.

But what exactly is your author brand? What are your options? What’s going to stick in everyone’s mind after they’ve visited your site?

Here are four directions that I’ve seen authors go in terms of their branding, and examples of each one. I hope this sparks ideas for you!

1. Yourself. This is probably the case for 75% of the authors that I work with. Their brand is … well … themselves.

This is most relevant for authors who want to become household names (hello, Stephen King!) and hope to write multiple books in a specific genre. For a nonfiction author, your self-focused brand might also include any consulting or speaking you hope to do on the same topic.

For a self-branded site, your name would be both the URL and “title” at the header of your site. Your photo would also be prominent, and the site design should clearly reflect your personality and the genre you’re writing in.

Goals of an author-branded site would be to build followers (email sign-ups, likes, people “following” you, return visitors) so that people who like your first book will then be aware of your upcoming books, and you have a way to continue communicating with them as each future book comes to fruition.

See examples of author-branded sites that we’ve built at:

2. Your book. Maybe you were inspired to write this one book. It could be a biography. It could be your story of survival through a crisis. Maybe it’s a collection of stories you put together. But if your plan is to write this one book — and only one book — then it makes sense for the book to be the brand. After all, the goal is to sell the book, right? It’s not to build a legion of fans.

In a case of a book site, the site title and URL should reflect the book title, and the book cover should be front and center in the design. In addition, the site’s look and feel should directly resemble the book cover. After all, the site is an extension of the book in these cases, so it makes all the sense in the world to carry the colors and graphics from the book cover into the book-focused website.

The goal of a book-branded site is simple: sell the book. This type of site should should have “buy the book” buttons everywhere, and primarily should serve to whet people’s appetite until they make the purchase.

See examples of book-branded sites:

3. Your series. Let’s say that you want to be the next JK Rowling. You’ve just finished your first Harry Potter-like book, and plan to write the rest of the series over the next few years.

This site, in many ways, would be a hybrid of the two above. The title/URL should be the same as the name of the book series. The design should also be very closely tied to the book covers, and contain any color schemes, images or fonts that will run through the entire series. But the goals of this site would be closer to that of an author-focused brand. After all, not only do you want people to buy the first book, but you want to make sure you retain their attention for the future books. Collecting email addresses/subscribers/followers is key, because that’s the best way to make sure that you catch their attention again when the next book of the series is out.

See examples of series-branded sites at:

4. Your cause. Maybe your brand is much bigger than yourself or your book. Maybe you are trying to start a movement or build a new product line. That movement could be spiritual in nature, it could be political, or it could be a service that you offer. Regardless, in these instances, you and the book are only pieces of the puzzle. The true goal is bigger than both of you.

For sites like these, a uniquely-designed logo is key. That logo needs to have a catchy title — and picking a name for your brand is not something to take lightly — and should be something that will hopefully be recognizable to a wide audience in the future. Think nonprofit, like Autism Speaks, or for-profit, like, H&R Block. Sure those are big examples, but they’re good role models.

Front and center in your site design should be your mission and why people should be interested. This can be done in images, video and/or text … or all of the above. The book can be featured prominently in the design, but it should be viewed as a supporting item to boost the message, not the end all and be all.

The beauty of a cause-based site is that it can grow as much as you want it to. Plan to sell t-shirts and bracelets that advance the mission? That will fit nicely into the brand. Want to start a petition on your site, sell your services, or build an online community for people to connect on the issue? That also is an easy addition. All of it ties into the goal of your book and your website; you and the book are just part of the supporting cast, if you will.

Here are some examples of cause-based websites

See how different your website will be depending on which type of branding you decide to go with? Choose wisely … it will make a big difference in the success of your book, your website, and ultimately, your brand.


5 Things I Love About Haruki Murakami’s Author Website

harukimurakamiVery rarely do I stumble across an author website that I wish I had built myself. This was one of them.

This brilliant Japanese novelist, author of Norwegian Wood and Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, admits to being a bit of a recluse. And that’s what makes his author website so special: it is, in many ways, a peek inside his world that no one ever has gotten to see before.

Here are the five things I love most about HarukiMurakami.com.

1. It’s the perfect balance of photos and text. Many author websites are too heavy one way or the other — they are all text with just a photo or two strategically placed, or they’re all images with little to no words. This site happens to find the perfect balance, with different photos on different pages, and just the right balance of graphics and powerful words.

2. Check out the amazing interactive picture of his desk. Want to know where Haruki does his writing? Check out the photo of his desk on his author page. And oh … that’s not just a static photo. Click on the plus sign on any of the items on his desk (like the coffee mug, for example) and read his commentary on the role that particular item plays in his writing. Brilliant!

3. There’s so much information on each individual book. Visit any individual book page on the site and see the cool slider function at the top, chock full of quotes from the book itself. What a great way to actually whet people’s appetites. Below that is the cover, the description and links to reviews, excerpts, discussion guides and more. It’s almost like each individual book has its own site, and there’s no shortage of things to learn about each book.

4. It also has a wealth of information about what’s behind the books. This section of the site may be hard to find (one of my only criticisms), but it’s well worth it once you do find it. The section called conversations includes excerpts from his conversations with his publisher/cover designer, interviews with him about the books, letters from his editors and more. It’s truly a sneak peek inside (and behind) the books. Plus, visit the music pages on his website and learn about the songs and the artists that have inspired him and his writings.

5. It has an interactive community. I love, love, love the community section of the site, which allows visitors to share their favorite characters, favorite scenes, and how fans discovered Haruki’s books. Fill out the simple form to share your story, or click around to read what other readers have shared. This really makes it an interactive experience, in which readers can speak to their favorite author … and each other.

This website is truly one that I see many others — myself included — modeling future sites after. It’s the perfect blend of information and interactivity, design and functionality. Kudos to Haruki and his Philadelphia-based design agency Blue Cadet. No wonder they won a Webbie!


August Round-Up: 5 Must Reads for Authors

august-must-readsAs hard as it is to believe, it’s Labor Day weekend already. August has come and gone. With that in mind, here’s a summary of the best links we found in the month of August. These are must reads for authors who want to take book marketing to the next level.

1. Creating a Social Media Hashtag Campaign to Promote Your Book
Smart Author Sites
August 6, 2015

2. Extending Your Social Media Reach: Working the Facebook Author Tag Feature
Huffington Post
August 8, 2015

3. Stop Grading an Author’s Social Media Presence
Digital Book World
August 12, 2015

4. “Keep a Small but Dedicated Street Team” — Interviewing Eliot Peper
August 21, 2015

5. One Author Social Media Campaign Gets Creative
Smart Author Sites
August 27, 2015

Happy September, everyone!


One Author Social Media Campaign Gets Creative

legacy-of-kings-twitter-campaignSocial media is an important key to an author’s success. That’s especially true for fiction authors, since most readers don’t find their next read by searching on Google; they find it after they’re exposed to it through their social circles. Hence, the need for an author social media campaign.

But one of the challenges many authors have is figuring out how to tie the theme of their book in to Facebook or Twitter. For example, what should the writer of a mystery/romance book tweet about to gain traction?

Well, here’s a creative idea, just launched by Harlequin Teen. It’s a Twitter campaign for Legacy of Kings, the first book in Eleanor Herman’s new YA series.

Here’s a blurb from Publishers Weekly about it.

Bryn Collier, digital marketing manager at the publisher, said she created the technology with a freelance developer over the course of a few weeks. The “bot,” as Collier referred to the oracle, will respond to the hashtag #asklegacyofkings with one of 100 statements. The idea, she said, is that readers can tweet a question to @HarlequinTeen with the hashtag—sent examples include “Will I achieve my goal of going to college abroad?” and “Will the guy I love ever love me back?”—to receive a “prediction” written by Herman.

The promotion, which launched on Monday, ties into the theme of the historical fantasy series, called Blood of Gods and Royals. One of the main characters in the books, Kat, is on a mission to kill the queen in order to avenge her mother, who was an oracle.

Herman, an adult author who is breaking into the YA space with the series, is also a historian. Collier said that the author relied on her knowledge of Greek history to create a digital oracle that “channels the [Greek] gods and goddesses” as well as “other prolific thinkers.” The responses therefore include tidbits like this one, credited to Athena: ‘It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.’ There is also this nugget, from Poseiden: ‘Journeys that start out rough often end in smooth sailing.’

In other words, this YA novel ties into Greek history. The twitter campaign takes advantage of a readers’ interest in sci-fi, Greek history, gods and goddesses, etc… to let them have their questions answered with wise words of wisdom. Brilliant!

So how can you do something similar? While you may not have the budget of a publisher to build a database like this, you can use this type of idea as a jumping off point. For example, if you’re a fiction writer, maybe the main character of your book series can answer questions about her life on twitter via a hashtag. Or if you’re a nonfiction writer, maybe you, the author, can respond to reader questions that tap into your expertise through a twitter chat?

This type of example is one all authors can follow — both those who are self-publishing and otherwise — to figure out what resonates with their readership and build a successful social networking campaign around it.

Happy Tweeting!


3 Ways E-Book Readers Are Changing How They Read (and Writers Write)

reading-on-the-beachI just read a fascinating article about how more people are becoming e-book readers on their phones (not even tablets or Kindles anymore!), and how that’s changing the whats and hows of their reading.

And, of course, when their reading habits change, then … well … an author’s writing needs to change as well. After all, it’s the law of supply and demand.

Here’s a summary of three types of changes in how people read, with quotes from the article on exactly how and why, along with a summary of how this will ultimately impact writers.

Reading change #1: People are skim reading more. 

We read webpages in an ‘F’ pattern: the top line, scroll down a bit, have another read, scroll down. Academics have reacted to the increased volume of digitally published papers by skim-reading them. As for books, both anecdotal and survey evidence suggests that English literature students are skim-reading set works by default.

Reading change #2: People have shorter attention spans and are often multitasking while reading.

[American linguist Naomi] Baron reports that a large percentage of young people read ebooks on their cellphones – dipping into them in the coffee queue or on public transport, but then checking their work email or their online love life, a thumbswipe away.

Reading change #3: People get less emotionally involved in the stories they’re reading.

…with the coming of ebooks, the world of the physical book, read so many times that your imagination can ‘inhabit’ individual pages, is dying. 

So how are writers and publishers reacting to these habitual changes? What does the future hold?

  • Publishers are experimenting with newer, shorter stories to cater to readers’ shorter attention spans.
  • Today’s novels have clearer plots and less twists and turns than their 20th century predecessors; this prevents readers from getting confused or lost when they check out of the book mid-chapter to browse Facebook.
  • Writers are using less complex prose and are doing less experimentation with fragmented perception. Skimming readers have more trouble absorbing sentences phrased that way.

Finally, here’s a quote from the end of the article on the general change in the role of novels in people’s lives today:

I remember reading novels because the life within them was more exciting, the characters more attractive, the freedom more exhilarating than anything in the reality around me, which seemed stultifying, parochial and enclosed.

To a kid reading Pynchon on a Galaxy 6 this summer, it has to compete with Snapchat and Tinder, plus movies, games and music.

Sad? Sort of … But in a business like writing and publishing, it’s something we’re all going to have to get used to.


3 Musts for Titling Your Author Blog Posts

article-blog-titleNow how’s this for playing with reality? I’m blogging about blogging.

But seriously, each week, I have to first come up with an idea for a blog post, and then come up with a good title for that post. I’ve written extensively about the former — ideas for author blog posts. What I haven’t yet talked about is the strategy for writing good titles for those blog entries.

With that in mind, here are three things to keep in mind when you are coming up with your titles…

1. Keywords, keywords, keywords. For each blog post you write, have one particular keyword or series of keywords in mind. That string MUST make it into the title. For example, this particular blog entry has the term “author blog posts” as its primary key term. That string of words is in the title and in the body of the piece. So when someone goes to Google and searches for “author blog posts,” this piece should show up on their search results. Also, each post you write  should have a different keyword term to focus on … otherwise, you’re basically competing with yourself.

2. Think about numbers. For the last decade and a half, one thing has consistently been true about story/blog titles on the web. People love numbers. Have you ever noticed that a large percentage of my own blog entries start with “5 ways to …” or “3 things not to …”? There’s a reason for that. Titles that start with numerals quickly send a message to users that this piece will be easy to read and digest. It also gives them an idea of length. In other words, they know before they even go to the piece that it’s going to be a quick and easy read, and not a lengthy NY Times magazine piece.

3. Be provacative. Here are two potential titles for a blog post. Which one would you be more enticed to click on?

  • The Struggles I Had Writing My Book
  • 5 Reasons I Felt Dirty After Writing My Book

I think, if you tested these two, the second would get far more clicks than the first. Why? Well, it’s more provocative. And, like it or not, that’s what sells. A title like that would pique people’s interest. And not only would users be more likely to click on it, but they would also be more likely to share it with their friends. In other words, don’t be afraid to be a little bit daring with your titles and push the boundaries.

Now, obviously, it’s difficult do to all three of these things in the same title. If you can, great. If you have to settle for two, that’s okay. But I highly recommend you go through this checklist each and every time you’re adding a new blog post. At the end of the day, your site traffic numbers will benefit as a result.


Creating a Social Media Hashtag Campaign to Promote Your Book

hashtag_campaignHere’s an interesting idea for promotion of your book … tie a social media hashtag campaign to it.

How would you do that? Well, start by following the idea currently being executed by Random House Children’s Books in conjunction with the ASPCA as an offshoot of the new, bestselling Dr. Seuss book.

Here’s a summary of the campaign they’re running, courtesy of Publishers Weekly:

RHCB announced that it would be teaming with Dr. Seuss Enterprises on a social media campaign that will support the work of the ASPCA to help animals in need across the country. The campaign celebrates the author’s “love for animals,” the publisher wrote in a statement, and calls for all pet owners nationwide to share a photo of their pets, tagging it with the #whatpet campaign hashtag. For every photo shared on Twitter or Instagram with #whatpet, RHCB and Dr. Seuss Enterprises will donate one dollar to the ASPCA, up to the first 15,000 photos.

So what would it take to run your own social media hashtag campaign like this? Assuming you already have your own social media accounts on Facebook/Twitter (if not, consider that step 1), here are the simple steps to take.

  • Step 1: Decide on a theme. Think about what types of images/stories are a natural fit with your book. For example, let’s say your book is about reinventing your career; a good idea for a hashtag campaign around it might be asking that people share inspiring photos and/or short stories about their first day at their new job.
  • Step 2: Create a hashtag. Continuing on this example, you might decide on a hashtag like #NewCareer. Before running with it, make sure it isn’t being used on any other large campaigns.
  • Step 3: Set a timetable. Social campaigns like this can’t go on forever. So pick a start and end date for it. It could be tied to holidays, seasons, school years, or just the number of people involved (i.e. the first 15,000, as in the Dr. Seuss campaign).
  • Step 4: Come up with a hook. What would be someone’s motivation for participating in this campaign? Is it a donation (like the Dr. Seuss example)? Is it to enter a raffle? Is it for possible inclusion of their story in your next book? Will there be a winner for best photo/story? Make sure you offer some kind of benefit for someone taking the time to send their story or photo.
  • Step 4: Make sure your book gets the proper promotion through the campaign. How is someone who buys into the campaign (be it by uploading a photo/story or viewing other people’s photos/stories) going to learn about your book? Without a connection to the book, all this is for naught. So make sure that your book and/or your website gets fair promotion within the campaign through links, ads, etc…
  • Step 5: Launch the campaign. Now it’s time to spread the word! Share a brief, well-written, engaging blurb about the campaign via social media (and your website, too). Ask your friends and family to share as well. The more eyes it gets in front of, the more participants there will be.

Voila! Your social media hashtag campaign is underway! And if all goes smoothly, you’ll not only have a new set of followers and increased book sales as a result, you’ll also have some meaty material to include in your future writings. It’s a win-win.


5 Tips on Writing a Good Author Website Bio

author-website-bioNearly every author website has an “About the Author” page. This generally contains the author’s biography so that visitors and fans can learn more about the person behind the book.

In the decade plus that I’ve been working in this field, I’ve seen tons of different types of author bio pages. Some are written in the first person, some in the third person. Some are long, and some are short. Here’s a list of five tips I’ve put together (and examples of ones done right) that every author should keep in mind as they work on their author website bio.

1. Consider an unusual format. How many bios have you read in your lifetime. 100? 1000? And you pretty much know what to expect when you land on one, right? Well, maybe it’s time to throw your readers a curve. Consider moving away from the traditional bio and setting up the page in a Q&A format, or something else that’s a little less traditional. Use your imagination!

Example: http://chrislittlebooks.com/about-the-author/

2. Stick to the basics. I’ve seen author bios that include thousands of words. They talk about their childhood, education, professional career, etc… Keep your bio short and sweet. Make it easy to read and touch on the points that are especially interesting to your readers. It should not take five minutes for a visitor to get through your bio page.

Example: http://chipwagarbooks.com/about-the-author/

3. Include cute details. What would you like to know about your favorite author? Something fun and personal, right? Like if they have a pet. What they do in their spare time. Or their favorite guilty pleasure. Think about including these types of elements in your bio. They may not be the kinds of things that you expect to find on a page like that, but I’ve found them to be especially interesting to fans.

Example: http://www.marvinamazon.com/about-the-author/

4. Tie the bio into the book. Maybe you’re a nonfiction author who writes political books because of a personal passion. Maybe you’re a novelist who has always loved mysteries and is finally following her dream. Make sure that you tie your life into your bio, and explain why you’re writing about what you’re writing about. Don’t leave someone who has read your bio still wondering about your connection to the book.

Example: http://authorbillpowers.com/about-bill/

5. Include photos! This is incredibly obvious, and yet some people tend to forget. People go to your about page because they want to understand who you are. Are you 20 years old or 80 years old? Blonde or brunette? What kind of smile do you have? Are you a sophisticated urban gal or at home with nature? Include multiple pictures of yourself on your bio page to allow people to really get a peek into your world.

Example: http://jtcopeiv.com/about-j-t/
Are there other author website bio pages you like or recommend? Want feedback on your own? Use the comments feature below!