Photo credit: Foter.com / CC0

What Authors Should Read: November in Review

what authors should read

Photo credit: Foter.com / CC0

Another month has come and gone (and we are in the midst of the holiday season). We did a lot of posting and sharing in November — both of our own content and of other sites’ interesting articles, blog posts and more.

In case you missed any of it, here’s a summary of what authors should read to stay on top of industry trends.

What Authors Should Read From November

1. Is Passion for Your Book Enough? Include These 10 Hot Selling Points
Knowing these before you write your book will make all of your copy more organized, succinct, easy to read and engaging.
Book Coaching, November 5, 2016

2. Author Website Templates: 5 Things You Need to Know
So you want to build an author website. Here’s what you need to know about selecting and utilizing the right author website templates.
Smart Author Sites, November 7, 2016

3. Guest Blog Post: Author Website Tips
This article offering author website tips is our second guest post from Irish children’s book author Avril O’Reilly, who I met when she took one of my book marketing courses.
Build Book Buzz, November 16, 2016

4. Social Media Marketing Evolves
As social media platforms get more crowded, indie authors are recalibrating their marketing efforts.
Publishers Weekly, November 18, 2016

5. 4 Steps to Selling More Books with Less Social Media
Traditionally and self-published authors use Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms to help sell books. But should they be doing that?
Digital Book World, November 28, 2016

Happy reading!

selling books online

Selling Books Online: 5 Things You Need to Know

selling books onlineOkay, you’ve written your first novel and you’re interested in selling books online … so how do you actually go about that?

Here are five basic tenets to help you get started selling books online…

1. It’s not that difficult to get a book listed on Amazon. Even if you didn’t publish your book through Amazon, that doesn’t mean you can’t sell it there. It just takes a few easy steps to create your Amazon page and sell your book. Here are some instructions from Amazon’s Author Central on how to do that. And the nice part about selling through them is that you don’t have to worry about collecting money, distribution, etc… It’s all pretty simple.

2. There are other options for selling books online. Let’s say you don’t want people to have to go through Amazon to buy your book. Maybe you want to keep 100% of the profits. Or maybe you want to incentivize people to buy it directly from you by, say, offering a signed copy of the book to your buyers. In that case, there are several simple ways to sell the book yourself, assuming you have an on-site platform already. The simplest and most efficient way is via PayPal. This will allow you to create a product page, set prices for the book (and for shipping) and then easily embed that “buy” button on your author website. If you want to get even more sophisticated (or if you plan to sell more than just a book — say, your book and corresponding t-shirts, hats, etc…), you can set up your own online shopping cart. That takes a bit more work to build, but it would allow people to do all their shopping right there on your website. You can learn more about these various options in our post on how to sell books through your author website.

3. … but if you do, be aware of tax implications.
This is an important message for those of you who plan to sell the books yourselves. Talk to a financial professional in your state before beginning this venture! Find out about sales tax in your local area and what you’re required to charge buyers. The last thing you want is to get in trouble with the authorities.

4. Have a firm marketing plan in place. Just having a way to sell your book (or even having it listed on Amazon) is not what’s going to actually sell your book; just like setting up a lemonade stand on your street isn’t going to sell much lemonade. In order to successfully begin your venture of selling books online, you need to follow these basic steps: 1) Identify your audience; 2) Figure out how to reach that audience; 3) Drive them to where the book is sold; 4) Incentivize purchasing it. Now, those four steps sound pretty simple, but they’re not. If you’re not a marketing person at heart, I recommend you talk to someone who has some background in this. Even if he or she is just serving as a consultant for a short time, that consultation can help you firm up those plans and kick off your campaign. For example, if your book is a romance novel, you might be able to determine that your audience is female, ages 30-60, they spend a lot of time on Facebook and Pinterest, and could be driven to your site via paid ads on Facebook and/or viral pins. Once they get to your site, you might then want to offer them some kind of discount/donation to a charity for buying your book, or a cool bracelet if they recommend it to their book club. This is just one very specific example, but it’s a good idea of the detail involved in doing this right.

5. Make good decisions about selling print books, ebooks or both. Books aren’t just books anymore. Nowadays, you could sell your book in print (hardcover/softcover), an e-book, a PDF, etc… Again, this ladders back up to knowing your audience and how they prefer to read. A younger audience may prefer Kindle, while an older audience wants to hold the book. Genre matters as well. Now, you could certain decide to go with all of these options and offer your book however someone wants to read it. But be aware that each one is an investment in time and money, so choose wisely.

Selling books online may be easy in theory (technology does wonders, doesn’t it?), but it requires a lot of time, thought and planning to do it right. If you want help with any of these steps, you’re always welcome to reach out to us for a free consultation.

Good luck and happy bookselling.

marketing tips for getting an agent for a book

Getting an Agent for a Book: Why Self-Marketing Is Essential

So you’re starting to think about getting an agent for a book. Your manuscript is almost finished and it’s time to get it out there. Where do you start?

In today’s world, I would argue, becoming a self-marketer before getting an agent for a book is essential. Now, not everyone agrees with that. I was just looking at a conversation on LinkedIn specifically about this. Here’s how it went…

marketing tips for getting an agent for a book

I personally got a kick out of the “trying to get your kid into Harvard before you meet any women” reference. But I would venture to say that argument is wrong. Here is why.

Point #1: You Need to Prove Your Marketing Chops Before Getting an Agent for a Book

In the olden days, authors were just authors. Publishers did everything else — from book editing to cover design to marketing. Well, the world has changed.

Some people mistakenly think that only self-published authors have to wear all those hats. But what they don’t realize is that the publishing industry has changed significantly in the last decade. Sure, publishers invest lots of time and energy in making sure that the upcoming books of their bestselling authors have the perfect covers, press releases sent to premium media outlets, and great presences on social media. But that’s only done for the authors that have already made them loads of money. Every other author they work with? They are on their own.

And that’s where pre-pub marketing plays in. Since a publisher knows that the success or failure of your first book depends, in part, on how good a marketer you are, they want to work with authors who understand marketing and have shown some success with it in the past. And agents know that. In other words, “good marketing=agent interest=publisher interest.”

Point #2: You Need to Sell Yourself to An Agent, So They Can Sell You to a Publisher

You may have written the best manuscript in the world. But unless you know how to sell it, it’s for naught. Trust me: the last thing an agent wants to have to do is spend his time helping you rework how you’re positioning your book before reaching out to publishers.

So as you start the process of getting an agent for a book, you need to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Who does my book appeal to?
  • Why is it different or unique from other books out there?
  • What is the most compelling aspect of my book?
  • How can I summarize my book in several paragraphs?

Keep these points in mind as you craft your inquiry letters and book summaries. These are questions a marketer would ask herself as she starts to scope out her brand — whether she was selling jewelry, real estate, or a book. So put on the hat of a marketer before reaching out to an agent. You need to show that you can sell your book before he will put himself out there to sell your book.

So How Do You Start Marketing Yourself?

While the term “marketing” can sound somewhat intimidating for some, here are some simple ways to get yourself started:

  • Build yourself an author website. I could go on and on about this. Or you can just contact us for a free consultation.
  • Create at least one social media presence for yourself. Here are some ideas on how to choose the right ones.
  • Start blogging to drive traffic to your site and help build your brand.
  • Collect email addresses. When an agent asks you how many names you have collected, be prepared to answer.

There’s obviously plenty more you can do, but taking these four steps are a great way to dip your toes in the marketing necessary for getting an agent for a book.

author website templates as a house frame

Author Website Templates: 5 Things You Need to Know

So you want to build an author website. It used to be that doing so would require a large technical team to design your site and then hand-code the whole thing in HTML. Not very practical (or cheap). But now, with author website templates, that process can be a whole lot easier.

author website templates as a house frame

Courtesy of Photo by khunaspix/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

So whether you work with a design/development/consulting firm like us, or choose one of your favorite author website templates and create your own site, here are five things you need to know.

Important Facts About Author Website Templates

1. A “WordPress theme” is just another name for a website template. We build all of our author websites in WordPress. And within WordPress, there are thousands and thousands of themes available. A theme is just WordPress lingo for an author website template. They are one in the same.

2. Think of a template as the frame of a house. An architect designs a house. He/she determines how the house will lay out, how the entry foyer will be shaped and where the bathrooms sit. But that’s just the frame of the house. Notice that an architect doesn’t decide what colors the walls will be, where the couches will sit or whether or not there is trim around the floorboards or a wooden handrail on the staircase. Your author website template is pretty much the same thing as the work of an architect. It spells out for you how your site is laid out, but not what is on it. In other words, it might designate some space for a header image, but what exactly is in that image is totally up to you.

3. Most author website templates today are mobile-responsive. I’ve written many, many posts about the importance of mobile responsiveness in today’s world. Today, nearly every author website template is mobile responsive. In other words, each of these themes is built in “modules” — sections of the page that lay out differently on desktop and on mobile, with the purpose of giving users the ideal experience regardless of which device they are viewing the site on. However …. some older themes that haven’t been updated may not be mobile-responsive, so it’s definitely worth making sure the one you are choosing is current before diving in.

4. Different author website templates offer different amounts of customization. We talked about the framework of the house. But the analogy kind of ends there. Because different themes allow you to do different things with them. Some author website templates give you more flexibility than others to move things around, change sizing, etc… Do your research (and study other users’ reviews of the theme) to make sure that the one you choose will give you the flexibility you’re looking for. And without going into too much of a shameless plug, I will say that when you work with Smart Author Sites, who has developers who can really dig into a theme, your flexibility to adjust that author website template is multiplied.

5. You get what you pay for. There really is a difference between free themes and paid themes. The majority of WordPress themes are free. But you will also find some that are “premium”; those that require paying a fee to use them. So are the ones that require payment better? Well, yes … especially if you’re building this site on your own. Just a few of the reasons why include:

  • a premium theme often comes with a support team if you need help
  • they generally look more professional/less templated than free themes
  • there are more options for customization of these themes
  • they are updated by the developer more often, reducing long-term security risks

Now, obviously the cost associated with some of these (sometimes $100 or more) make them out of reach for some authors. It’s up to you to decide the best route to take.

We work with clients all the time to find the right author website template to meet their needs, and then customize that theme to be exactly what an author wants it to be. But if you decide to go it alone, choosing the right author website template and adjusting it as you see fit is crucial to building yourself a successful presence on the web.

 

author tips october

5 Author Tips from October

author tips octoberIt’s time for our monthly round-up again! If you missed any of these five author tips that were published in October, this is your chance to catch up. Enjoy!

October Author Tips: 5 Must-Reads

1. Your Author Page: 5 Questions to Ask Yourself
In this post, we explore a few different approaches to a successful author page, and examples of people who have done interesting things with theirs.
Smart Author Sites/October 11, 2016

2. Anatomy of a Book Cover
We are always admonished to not “judge a book by its cover,” but that’s exactly what happens, because your book cover is a retail package.
BookCoaching.com/October 11, 2016

3. Pitch Your Book to Holiday Gift Guides
Would your book make a good holiday gift? Now’s the time to start thinking about how you’ll pitch it to annual holiday gift guides that run in newspapers and on websites and blogs.
Build Book Buzz/October 12, 2016

4. Is Social Media Toxic to Writing?
What happens when an author won’t join social media?
Publishers Weekly/October 14, 2016

5. Website Hack: 5 Reasons Your Author Site Might Be Down
Here are five possible causes of your site being down, and what you can do about each one.
Smart Author Sites/October 27, 2016

Happy November!

website hack 404 error

Website Hack? 5 Reasons Your Author Site May Be Down

website hack 404 errorLast Friday, there was a huge website hack. Without going into too much detail, a large percentage of the sites we visit every day — like Twitter, Spotify and PayPal — were completely unavailable for a good chunk of the day. There were many author websites that were impacted as a result of this huge outage.

But chances are, this won’t be the only time you log on and notice that your author website isn’t working. Here are five possible causes of your site being down, and what you can do about each one.

1. Domain name has expired.

The first thing you probably did when you decided to create an author website was to purchase a domain name. You might not even remember doing this, since it didn’t cost much (usually $10-$20) and you’ve barely touched this account ever since. But whether you reserved the domain for one year or 10 years, that domain will expire eventually. You’ll likely receive email alerts from the company through which you purchased it as it comes close to expiring, but you may not pay attention to those. You might have even changed your email address since you set up the account. If your site is down, you can quickly find out if your domain name has expired by going to http://whois.com and entering your domain. That site should also tell you where the domain was reserved so that you can reach back out to them about renewing.

2. Hosting has expired.

Yes, the account through which you purchased your domain name may not be the same as the one through which your site is hosted. Many authors think these are one in the same, and that can lead to a lot of confusion. But, to be clear, your domain is simply the name of your site that you are reserving the rights to and no one else can use. Your hosting, which is generally more expensive than your domain, is where all of your files live. It is essentially your rent paid for space on the internet. If you suspect your hosting may have expired, follow up with your hosting company or firm to determine if your account is still active. Much like the whois.com link above, you can visit http://www.whoishostingthis.com/ to check your site’s hosting status.

3. File security issue.

Now that author websites are self-updatable, our clients are always adding blog posts and uploading files — including photos, downloadable PDFs and more. But sometimes, when these files are uploaded they can create problems for the site. In other words, they might contain elements that are considered a security risk by your hosting company — whether or not they actually are. If that happens, there’s a chance that your host will shut your site down and send you an email informing you that the site needs to be cleaned before it can be restored. Don’t ignore those emails! Follow up immediately and determine what you can do to ensure that your site is clean and that it won’t infect others with whom you share a server.

4. Server hiccup.

In the 10 years that we have been hosting author websites, we have had server problems at least once a year. That’s not exclusive to us. Nearly every hosting company will have problems from time to time with their servers — these can crop up as sites that are down for a short time or error pages being displayed instead of website homepages. If you notice that your site is down, call your hosting provider and report the issue. If you get a recorded message from them about a multitude of sites being down, know that you’re not alone and they’re working to fix the issue. Otherwise, make sure to get a customer service person on the phone and report your particular issue. Sometimes, if it’s only your site that’s having a problem, they just have to reset things and can get your site back up and running while you’re still on the phone.

5. Website hack.

That’s how we started this piece, and that’s how we’re ending it. Entire servers or systems go down sometimes for a variety of reasons. And, while you and I may never understand why, there are people out there who make website hacking a hobby. But here’s the good news/bad news: If your site is the victim of a website hack, there’s not much you can do other than wait. That means you don’t need to call customer service, log on to your cPanel or anything else. Just be patient and know that people a lot more tech savvy than you are working to fix this website hack and get your site — and probably thousands of others — up and running again.

Technology is fun, right? Sometimes, I wonder why I didn’t just go into print…

how to promote your book

How to Promote Your Book on Your Website

how to promote your bookEver wonder how to promote your book online? Whether or not you already have an author website, there are definitely right ways and there are wrong ways to feature (and hopefully sell) your book there. Here are some examples of the dos and don’ts.

How to Promote Your Book: The “Do’s”

  • DO make sure your book is prominently featured on your homepage … “above the fold” as we call it.
  • DO have a separate “book” page that people can land on if they are looking for more information.
  • DO include your book cover and links to purchase it on every page of your site.
  • DO create/highlight a book trailer … or even a video of you talking about the book.
  • DO have a book teaser on your homepage, and a longer book summary available for readers on the book page.
  • DO offer a free chapter and/or book excerpts that will allow people to get a sense of the tone.
  • DO include reviews/testimonials about the book.
  • DO add some “book extras” to your website, like a “behind the book” story or secrets about how certain characters got their names.
  • DO make it super clear who your book speaks to and why that audience would want to read it.
  • DO maintain a blog and/or a social media presence to continue tying your book into current news and events.
  • DO optimize your site for the search engines so that people can easily find your book.
  • DO include any honors your book may have won. Why not???
  • DO make it clear all the ways your book may be available (hardcover, paperback, e-book, etc…)
  • DO make it clear if you’re working on another book or if your book is part of a series … you want to build a legion of fans who follow your writing.

How to Promote Your Book: A Few “Dont’s”

  • DON’T only feature your book on your homepage. It deserves a page of its own!
  • DON’T expect people to buy a book when the description of it is only a paragraph or two long.
  • DON’T make it hard for people to buy the book. Make the buy buttons prominent and clear.
  • DON’T make your book excerpt so cool or flashy that it’s not readable on all devices. A PDF is fine!
  • DON’T use a low-quality photo for your book cover. You want this to be large and attention grabbing!

Do you have any additional dos or don’ts you’d want to add to this list? Anything on other author sites that impressed you (or did the opposite)? Share them with us!

author page deidre havrelock

Your Author Page: 5 Questions to Ask Yourself

So you’ve decided to build an author website. Among other things, that website will include an author page.

First, let’s define what an author page is. In it’s simplest terms, it’s the section of your website in which you would include information about yourself — like where you’re from, what your background is, why you write, etc…

But an author page can be much more than that. In this post, I explore a few different approaches to a successful author page, and examples of people who have done interesting things with theirs.

Questions to Ask Yourself Before Creating Your Author Page

author page ig hughes1. Should I write it in the first person or the third person?
This may seem like a silly question. After all, a whopping majority of bios are written in the third person. But not everyone’s is. In fact, some might argue that an author page that has a bio written in the first person is a bit warmer and more welcoming than the traditional bio. After all, you might feel like “Judy Adams” is really talking to you if she says, “I have the most adorable little puppy dog named Larry,” as opposed to reading a sentence like, “Jane lives with her husband and puppy.” It’s really a personal preference thing, and obviously would not be applicable to someone who wants to maintain a more business/professional writer profile.

See examples of a few author bios written in the first person:

author page alison kartevold2. Should I include a photo? If so, what kind?
Yes, you should include a photo. Obviously, there are people who — for whatever reason — really don’t want their picture out there. And that’s fine. But know that your readers are going to want to see a picture (or multiple pictures) of you on your author page. As far as what type of picture to include, I’ve seen all sorts. Some of them are casual. Some of them are more professional. In general, I lean toward recommending that an author have some professional photos taken for this purpose. After all, this is an impression on your readers and you want it to be a good one.

See a few examples of good author photos:

3. What kind of information about myself can (or should) I share?
Again, this is a personal preference thing. It also depends on the genre of your writing. For example, if you’re writing a book chock full of financial advice, then you want to use your author page to talk about your background in finance and what makes you qualified to write such a book. A different type of nonfiction author — say, one who writes about history — would want to talk about what made them interested in history in the first place, why they felt compelled to write this book and retell a story, etc…

A fiction author, on the other hand, probably has less to talk about as it relates specifically to the subject matter of the book. So her bio might be a little more personal, like what novels she likes to read, her hobbies, where she grew up, if any of the characters in her book are based on real-life people, etc…

Here are a few in particular that I like:

author page deidre havrelock4. Should I format it like an interview?
I’ve seen a few authors go this direction with their bio. And I think it’s an interesting one, so I’m including it here. It allows the author to tell his story in the form of questions and answers, instead of a traditional bio.

See two examples here:

5. What else can I do on my author page that’s unique?
I’ve seen author pages include “10 things you don’t know about me.” I’ve seen others that include video of an author talking about him/herself, comic strips, the author’s life in chapters and more. Think outside the box about how you can really connect with your audience and stay true to your brand. Then get creative!

See examples of a few such authors who really “got creative” with their author page:

Hopefully a few of these will spark ideas for you. But if I had one word of advice about building your author bio page it would be this: make your author page your own. Make sure the format and the photos reflect who you are. Your readers will appreciate it.

web novel sample

Web Novel: What Is It and Should You Release One?

web novel sampleI sometimes get asked the question: “What is a web novel?” Authors hear the term and want to know … is a web novel the same thing as an e-book? How do web novels get distributed?

Here are five things you need to know about web novels, and whether or not you might want to consider releasing one.

5 Web Novel Facts

1. A web novel is exactly what it sounds like: a novel published on the web. These can also be referred to as a “virtual novel,” or “webfiction.” But note that these do NOT encompass e-books that are published through Amazon or other online retailers. Web novels are usually released in blog format … and if they end up being published, they are often referred to as a “blook” — a blog that turned into a book.

2. A web novel is usually released by the chapter. While most books (including e-books) are usually released all at once in their entirety, a web novel is usually released chapter by chapter — so one chapter this week and one chapter the next … and so on. That keeps users coming back regularly to keep reading.

3. Web novels are generally offered for free. That’s right. Since most web novels are not available via Amazon and such, they are almost always offered free of charge by the author for people who are particularly interested in their writing. There have been a few cases in which an author charges for access to their web novel, but those are few and far between.

4. A web novel can be a good jumping off platform for an author. Some aspiring novelists use a web novel to gain recognition and a fan base for their work while they try to get the attention of a publishing company. Some web novels can actually end up being turned into full-fledged print books, should a publishing company choose to work with that author. Of course, there will be some editing and tweaking of the story that happens during that time.

5. Anyone can write and release a web novel. It’s true. Basically, all you need is an online platform or author website. Then you can use the blog tool (or something similar) to start releasing your story. Make sure to invite all your friends, social networking followers, etc… to subscribe to your feed so that they can be notified whenever a new chapter is posted.

So is a web novel for you? Well, if you are a fiction writer who is trying to build a following, it may be worth considering — assuming you’re willing to give away your work for free. Based on the information above, it’s up to you to figure out whether this is the right starting point.

sell books

How to Sell Books Through Your Author Website

It’s one of the primary reasons an author creates a website: to sell books. And yet, these same authors still seem to be confused about some of the logistics of how to sell books. Here are some frequently asked questions.

sell booksCan I include links to Amazon, B&N, etc… to sell books?

Linking out to Amazon, B&N, your publisher — or any other sites that sells your book — is incredibly easy. In fact, we often recommend that authors include links to ALL the sites that sell their books (so as not to appear to favor one seller over another). All you have to do is choose the text and/or icons that you want to serve as links, and then use the handy dandy link feature in WordPress to make sure each one goes to the right place. Voila!

Can I sell books myself?

Absolutely. There are a variety of ways to do this — some easier than others. The simplest is to create a PayPal account. PayPal will then allow you to set a price for the book, a shipping charge, and a tax percentage. You then get an embed code from PayPal that you can put on your site. Once someone clicks on that “buy” link, they make the payment through PayPal, you get notification via email, and then you can take care of shipping it to the buyer.

There are far more complicated systems as well, but most authors start with the basic PayPal function. If you want more detail on your options, check out this blog post on the various ways to sell books.

How do I know if someone has bought my book through my site?

This is actually more complicated than it sounds. Obviously, if you’re selling the book yourself via PayPal, you know if someone has purchased it. But tracking that purchase can be a lot more complicated when it’s simply someone coming to your site, clicking a link to Amazon and then making the purchase.

My recommendation is that you set up an Amazon Affiliate account. This will allow you to put a specific tracking code on your links. Not only does this let you see who has gone from your site to directly to purchase your book on Amazon, but it also actually gives you a small percentage of the sale price as a commission! That’s a win-win.

What kinds of incentives can I offer on my website to sell books?

If you plan to sell the book yourself, there are a variety of incentives you can offer for someone to make the purchase. Since you’ll be doing the actual packaging and shipping, you might opt to include a “bonus” gift along with the book. That could be a printable discussion guide, some swag that relates to the book … or whatever else you can come up with. I’ve also worked with authors who autograph each and every copy of the book that someone buys through them. So if it ever becomes a bestseller….

Incentives are more challenging when you’re not the one selling the book. But if anyone has found a successful idea, please share it with us!

How do I get people to my website in the first place so that they’ll buy my book?

It’s true. People actually have to arrive on your website before they can decide to buy your book through your website. And there are professionals who make careers out of telling authors how to drive traffic to their site, so it’s not exactly a science that i can explain in a few sentences.

But here are some strategies (and more info on each one) that we have found to be successful for authors:

Any last tips on how to sell books through my author website?

Yes! Make it easy for a visitor to your site to buy the book. Don’t make people click around in order to figure out how to make the purchase. Have a “buy” link on each and every page. Make sure it’s clear and prominent. It’s a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how often I see that happen.

Happy book sales!