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8 Secrets to an Effective Author Email Campaign

email-keysYou know that email is an important marketing tool for selling your books. But how much do you really know about how to use it effectively? Here’s what you need to know about common email mistakes, and what you can do to maximize your email efforts.

1. Offer incentives for signing up. There’s a reason you hesitate to give out your email address to every Tom, Dick and Harry who asks for it. After all, if you did, you’d be getting hundreds of emails each day, many of which would be trying to sell you Viagra or SPAMming you with promotions from a restaurant you would never eat at. No, you only give out your email address when there’s a good reason for doing so; like a free giveaway or a discount at your favorite store. So in order to build your email list, think about what kinds of incentives you could offer your readers. Maybe it’s a downloadable discussion guide, or a discount off the subscription to your weekly audio podcast.

2. Make it clear that you won’t share email addresses. Sure, you know that you’d never sell your email list. But that doesn’t mean that everyone else knows you won’t share their email addresses. It’s such a simple thing; guaranteeing the security of the information people share with you. And yet, it can make the difference between someone giving you their address and not doing so.

3. Be clear about what people are signing up for. So you’re asking people to sign up for your e-mail alerts. But are you telling them what to expect? Do they know if they’re going to receive weekly updates? A monthly newsletter? Automatic alerts whenever you post a blog entry? Make sure you’re very clear about the frequency and the content of these emails. People will only sign up if they know what they’re signing up for.

3. Offer quality in your emails. This is so key … do NOT send out emails that are purely promotional. That’s a sure-fire way to turn off your audience. Instead, use your emails as an opportunity to share valuable information with your readers; something that they will appreciate. This will ensure that they open your future emails … and maybe actually respond to your promotions.

5. Always offer a call to action! Speaking of promotion; always make it easy for people to take action after reading your emails. Maybe that action is to “Like” you on Facebook. Maybe it’s to buy a copy of your latest book. Whatever your goal is in sending your email, make sure that you make it as easy as possible for the readers to actually do it.

6. Provide opt-outs. This is a legal requirement, so there’s no flexibility here. You MUST give people a way to opt out of your emails. If you don’t you may be reported … and then you’ll never be able to send an email again.

7. Don’t abuse your list. Don’t you hate it when you receive those daily emails from a clothing company or flower service? I mean, sure you like their stuff, but sometimes it’s just too much. They’re “abusing” their lists. And you should avoid making the same mistake. Only send out emails that are full of quality information. Put yourself in the position of a recipient; would you want to read this? Or is it just fluff? If it’s not important, don’t send it.

8. Provide share options. Let’s say you put together the perfect email to go to your readers. And let’s say one of those readers has a BFF that she thinks would love your email. Make sure you offer every recipient the option to share the email with friends. After all, the more the merrier!

Do you have any additional recommendations for a successful email campaign? Share them with us!

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The 3 Most Common Author Website Myths

green-unicorn-917170-mIn honor of this great pieces I just read on Book Promotion Myths from my colleague Sandra Beckwith, I have decided to present … three common author website myths.

1. An author’s website needs to be stunning.

Sure, a stunning website is a good thing. In fact, it’s often a great thing. But many authors make flashy design a higher priority than building  a website that’s functional, full of content, builds users, sells books and/or climbs the search engine rankings. And that’s a mistake that can cost an author a great deal.

You see, design is important. But also important is making sure that your site can be viewed on mobile devices, has regularly-updated content that draws viewers back regularly, that collects email addresses, that is search-engine friendly … and a host of other things. If you build a site that’s completely in Flash, for example, you’ll have a stunning site and absolutely none of these other essential elements.

Sure, it’s great to have a beautiful site that accomplishes all the other things. Just make sure you don’t build a stunning site at the expense of the other things.

2. An author shouldn’t have a website until they have a book published.

This is a HUGE misconception. It’s never too early to have an author website. For example, where do you think an agent or a publisher is going to go when they receive a solicitation from an author? The author’s website! And, if they decide to pick up the phone, do you know what questions they would ask that author? Questions along the lines of, “How many followers do you have to your blog?” and “How many email addresses have you collected already?”

In days of yore, publishers marketed the books they published. Not any more! Today, each and every author needs to take control of his or her marketing. And that starts with an author website. If an author waits until after the book is published to build that website … well, that book may never be published. Even if the author decides to self-publish, having that ready-made list of followers and/or a blog that people are reading is going to be a huge first step in getting that book sold when it is available.

If you’re waiting until your book is available for sale before building your author website, you could be making a serious mistake.

3. Authors don’t need websites any more. They have social media.

Bzzzzz. Wrong.

Social media is a huge part of marketing in today’s world. There’s no arguing with that. But social media is only a piece of an author’s online marketing campaign.

An author’s website is his or her portfolio. It’s the place where he or she controls all the information. It’s the site that sets the scene for how people experience the author and his or her writings.

Who owns the information you put on Facebook? That would be Facebook. How about Twitter? That’s right … that’s not yours, either. In fact, social networking sites have the right to do with your posted information whatever they want to. And, as a writer, that should concern you.

So how should you use social networking sites? They are promotional opportunities. And those promotions should take people to … that’s right: your website. Because THAT’S where you control the message, the appearance of those messages and (most importantly) that’s where you own your own content.

So use social networking. But don’t use it in place of an author website. Use it to support your author website,

 

What other mistakes have you made along the way in terms of author websites? Share them with us!

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5 Reasons You Should Never Take Down Your Author Website

page_not_foundI have had multiple clients over the past few weeks ask me to take their site down — either temporarily or permanently. Now, for those who have asked my opinion, I have been happy to offer it: DON’T TAKE THE SITE DOWN! However, not everyone has asked … nor have I told them. I’m a believer in keeping my opinions to myself unless they are solicited.

That said, I’m going to use this blog post to explain why no author should ever take down his or her website. Like … ever.

1. It will hurt you badly with SEO. I had a client contact me recently, asking that I take his site down temporarily while he finalizes his second book and decides what to do with the site to accommodate that book. But here’s the problem … You see, his site launched several years ago. During that time period, it had climbed up the Google search results for his name and his book title. I always tell people: there’s nothing like time to help with SEO. The longer your site is alive and kicking the higher it will rank. And so, what do you think will happen when that site is taken down; even temporarily? Google will realize those links don’t work any more and will take the site off its search results completely. When it relaunches, the site would be starting all over again at the bottom of the results. That’s a mistake that can be very costly.

2. You will lose followers. Maybe you haven’t been getting a lot of traffic on your site and blog. Maybe you want to take it down just to regroup and think about what direction you want to go in with the site. Well, those “mere” 50 followers that you have will be lost — probably forever — if you take the site down completely. It’s much better to let it sit while you make a decision, rather than potentially lose /piss off people who like you.

3. The buzz is gone. We launched a new author website about two weeks ago. We spread the word about the new site via social media and such, and I assume the author did as well. But then, for no good reason, the author reached out to us yesterday and asked us to temporarily take the site down. She gave us no explanation why. It could be that the book wasn’t available for sale yet and she didn’t like the fact that it couldn’t be purchased through the buy the book link. It could be that some of the information on the site needed to be proofed/corrected. I have no idea. What I DO know is that any links that had been sent around driving people to the site, any social sharing, etc… was all wasted. People clicking on those links today will be taken to a “Page not found” message. And that is never a good thing. Instead, there are a multitude of other options, from creating a quick one-pager to hold the site’s place until it’s ready to re-launch to removing/changing a few items in no time.

4. There are always affordable options. I sometimes get lovely emails from long-time clients explaining that they can no longer afford to keep a site up and running, and nicely thanking us for our services. But here’s the thing: there are varying levels of author websites. What we offer clients is top-notch; with premium hosting, technical support, etc… However, there are free — yes, free — sites available through WordPress and such. Rather than lose everything that they have done up until now, authors in these situations should simply rebuild their site on a free (or cheap) platform. Sure, it won’t be as beautiful. But it’s better than nothing.

5. You could lose your domain name! A domain name is pretty darn cheap; usually about $15 per year. And if you give it up? Well, someone else could scoop up your domain name and then you may never be able to own it again. And that can be a problem if, five years from now, you decide you want to resurrect your author presence on the web. So if you own JamieFoster.com (for example), hold on to it for dear life. Otherwise, JamieFoster.com may soon be the site for a photographer or a wedding planner. That URL is worth a whole lot more than the small cost of a domain name.

Convinced yet?

In short, there are always options that are better for an author than taking the site down completely. Ask me what I think … and I’ll be happy to provide you with a better option.

 

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Should You Create an App Spinoff of Your Book?

It’s hard to believe, but the word “app” has become an essential part of the English language. Nearly every person with a smartphone uses apps in one way or another; from the app that helps you find the nearest gas station to the one that keeps you abreast on the latest news and events.

But books have been kind of late to the party. Very few authors have thought about taking their books and creating corresponding apps (and potentially increasing their profit margin).

Here are a few stories of successful app offshoots of print books:

shifter_book_app‘Shifter’ Book App
According to Publishers Weekly, “Anomaly Productions, an indie comics publisher specializing in digitally enhanced graphic novels, has released an app verision of Shifter, a sci-fi graphic novel with augmented reality technology that features actor Wil Wheaton and a cast of voice actors. Since its release last week the app has been the #1 selling book app in 25 countries. … The app features 200 pages of comics material, 65 interactive touch points and two and a half hours of audio.”

berenstain_bearsThe Berenstain Bears and Too Much Car Trip App
Yup. There’s an app for that. This app allows kids (and their parents, I suppose) to join the Berenstain Bears as they embark on a family road trip. The app claims to help children learn new vocabulary, while they personalize the story with their own narration and select-a-scene navigation.

draculaDracula: The Official Stoker Family Edition
This app was recommended by Common Sense Media as a one of the best apps for tweens/teens. As they describe it, this “classic tale makes for bloody, unique iPad book experience.” Sounds … fun?

So what do these apps have in common? And should you think about having an app made for your book? A few things to keep in mind…

  • The genre that has most saturated the app market is children’s books. This isn’t a surprise, as apps keep kids busy (and that keeps parents like me happy).
  • The only other genre that has really delved into the app market is graphic novels. Again, this makes sense: the visual, interactive qualities of that genre are perfect for an app market.
  • A book has to be successful before an app can take off. It costs a fair amount of money to make an app to correspond with your book. And you have to be confident that you’re making a sound investment. Everyone knows who the Berenstain Bears are and who Dracula is. Being a “fan” of these books will make people buy the corresponding apps. But, if you’re a new novelist, the likelihood that your app will sell before your book becomes mainstream is relatively small.

In summary….

  • If you’re a children’s author or a graphic novelist, an app may be in your future.
  • Once your book takes off, you should definitely think about an app for it. After all, who can say no to an additional revenue stream?
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What Is Your Goal for Your Author Website (and Your Writing Career in General?)

It’s probably the most important question I ask authors before putting together a proposal for them: What are your goals for your author website?

Generally, there are three overarching goals that an author may or may not have for the site. Many authors are interested in more than one. They include:

  1. Self promotion
    For some authors, the most important thing is getting his or her name out there to build a fanbase, get speaking engagements, and pre-sell future books before they come out.
  2. Selling books
    Other authors want to put more focus on the books themselves and keep his/her profile in the backburner. For these authors, the books speak for themselves. I’ve had many authors who fit in this category tell me, “I’m just not that interesting.”
  3. Spreading the word
    For some non-fiction authors, the most important thing about publishing the books and building the website is to get the message out there. Maybe the books are about mental health. Or animal rights. Or something political. Regardless, this type of author website focuses on using the web to further enhance the messages of the books.

Clearly, each one of these three types of websites would be different. For example, an author-focused site should would have a large photo of the author in a prominent spot in the design, while a site that’s more focused on spreading the word would have other images and graphics that represent the message of the books. In addition, a site that’s focused on selling the book would have a larger “Buy the Book” button, while a site for an author who is trying to build a following would be encouraging people to enter their email address and join the mailing list.

These are just a few examples of the ways that an author with different website goals might be vastly different in design, layout, action items, etc…

Now, I’ve always been focused on an author’s goals for his or her website. But what about an author’s goals for his or her career? That’s what I stumbled across on a conversation on in a LinkedIn group.

The question posed was as follows: How do you define success as an author?

And, of course, the responses varied greatly. Here are a few of the more interesting ones…

Success as an author (for example, with regard to a book) entails several components:
–Making a contribution in terms of the “message”–whatever it might be. . .leading to
–Enhancing one’s reputation. . .
–Furthering one’s career and,
–Generating meaningful royalties:or other remuneration.
George Gold

The short answer for my definition of success as an author is to reach a readership significant enough to sustain my writing as a full time vocation.
Sam Edge

Money! Unless you write as a hobby.
Kim Hillman

I know no author in the field of gardening writing that makes a living only off of royalties from a publisher. And I know some VERY famous garden book writers. The money comes from consulting, design work, lectures, workshops and other media events. (I do all of these in order to keep on writing.) Books are a good springboard to new professions. At least in my “field”. (My web site generates only about 10% of my income.)
Robert Kourik

For me, success as a writer is much, much more about the satisfaction of seeing my words in print, and envisioning some young reader discovering one of my books and becoming inspired by something inside.
Andrew A. Kling

Books sales are great, don’t get me wrong, but to me, it’s the human connection that’s priceless :-)
Bonnie Groessl

How do you define success as an author? What are your goals? Share them with us!

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5 Signs an Author Is Ignoring His/Her Website

An author writes a book. An author builds a website to promote that book. A year or two passes. The author starts ignoring the website. It becomes like a “portfolio” — somewhere that he may send people if they’re interested, but not something that he things about all that often.

Here are five tell-tale signs that an author has stopped paying attention to his or her website (and why that’s a problem).

1. The last blog entry was months ago. This is probably the most tell-tale of the signs. Authors are often told to blog. And when they first launch their site, they invest the time in blogging. But, after a while, they feel like they’re talking to a wall and stop investing their time and energy in the blog. Sure enough, a visitor comes to the site, goes to the blog page and notices that the author hasn’t updated it for months. Do you know what would go through that user’s mind? Something along the lines of … “Well, if she isn’t paying attention to the site, why should I?”

2. The copyright at the footer of the site is outdated. I confess. I haven’t yet hanged the copyright at the footer of our site to 2014. But if your site still says 2010 or earlier, then that’s a pretty good sign you haven’t been paying close attention to the site recently. Seriously … just change the date. It’s not that hard. And it sends a clear message to users that you’re on top of things.

3. Your site isn’t mobile-friendly. Have you looked at your site on a mobile device? Nearly all sites built today are somewhat mobile-friendly; that is, they are viewable and navigable on smartphones and tablets. If your site was built more than 2 or 3 years ago, make sure you check how it appears on mobile. With more people than ever accessing sites from mobile devices, this is something authors need to stay on top of.

4. There are no social media links/widgets. When we started building websites for authors in 2006, social media was not something we paid much attention to. Boy, how times have changed. Now, every author site needs to either have links to connect with the author via Facebook, Twitter, etc… or (even better) widgets that feed in the most recent activity on those social media profiles. If your site still doesn’t have them, clearly you haven’t been paying close attention.

5. There is very little new information on the site. Let’s say you go to an author’s homepage. And let’s say that the top “news” item on the site is about an award the author won five years ago, or about a “newly released” book with a pub date of 2010. What does this tell you? It tells you that the author isn’t paying very close attention to his or her website. Or, that the author hasn’t been doing much in terms of writing over the past few years. Either way, it’s a clear message to visitors: “Time to go!”

Authors: take a look at your website. Is it showing any of these tell-tale signs? Have you been paying enough attention to it lately? If not, then you may be turning away potential readers without even knowing it.

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An Interesting Observation About Bookstores…

This blog post is very much off the topic of my usual posts (author websites), but I had a realization over the holiday break that I had to share with all my author friends.

You see … I took a day to myself during the holiday break. That’s right, an entire day dedicated to doing whatever struck my fancy. I decided to spend it visiting my old stomping grounds: the neighborhood in New York City in which I lived for over a decade, but that I moved away from nearly a decade ago.

I spent the day walking miles and miles, retracing every step that I used to take. I found myself excited to see when some of my favorite stores and restaurants were still there, and appalled when others had been replaced by Starbucks.

But there’s one particular thing I noticed that I feel compelled to share with all of you… and it has to do with bookstores.

What Stayed, What Went
Interestingly, all the big, multi-level bookstores that I used to frequent are gone. The Borders. The B&Ns. They’re replaced by Staples. Or a gym. There really are no more super-sized bookstores. They’ve been usurped by Amazon.

But do you know what was still there? Every single one of the little, mom-and-pop, specialty bookshops that I had visited for years. The travel bookstores, the gay bookstores, the tiny little bookstores that you can barely fit through the door of. They are all still alive and kicking.

So no matter what anyone says, small bookstores are still going. Even Amazon hasn’t squashed them.

I take some solace in knowing that all those bookstore owners are still doing enough business to stay afloat. Do your part to support them. I hope when I go wandering those same streets again (hopefully in less than a decade!), they will still be there.

 

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5 Things That Have Changed Author Websites in 2013

This is my last blog post for the calendar year! And what a year it has been! We have built more than 50 new author sites, redesigned/rebuilt dozens of others, and added a variety of social networking assistance to our services.

A lot has changed in the world of author websites (and websites in general) as well this past year.

Here are five things that we’re doing differently now than we were a year ago.

ipad-and-iphone1. Mobile, mobile, mobile. This wasn’t exactly a surprise, but it has been one of the biggest changes in the industry over the past 10 months: more than one quarter of website viewers today are accessing author websites on mobile phones or tablets. The latest trend is to build sites in “responsive design” — a design that can determine the type of device that a user is viewing the site on and adjust the layout to fit its specifications.  If you have an author website that isn’t in responsive design — or doesn’t have a custom mobile version — you may be losing readers.

2. Homepage sliders. This was all the rage in 2013; homepages that have sliders that rotate. So your first screen might have a photo of you. The second might have your book cover and a brief blurb. The third might feature details about your upcoming events. See an example of a slider here: themanopauseman.com. Whereas Flash homepages were all the rage five years ago, sliders are now the hottest item in web design.

social_networking3. More social networking buttons. Remember when it was just Facebook and Twitter? Oh, how 2012. But seriously, an author’s series of social networking icons should include GoodReads, Pinterest, Google+ etc… Obviously, not every author is active on every social networking site. But it’s not uncommon to have up to 10 social networking icons at the top or bottom of an author website. The more, the merrier!

4. Videos galore. Videos have always been hot on the web. But never more so than this past year! Almost all of the new author websites that we’re building include a video of some kind smack dab on the homepage. Maybe it’s a book trailer. Maybe it’s an author interview. Maybe it’s a clip from a press appearance. Regardless, today’s authors are thinking outside the box and figuring out all the different ways to utilize video to promote their books. See an example at http://samarhatoum.com/.

5. Larger fonts. According to an article on Forbes, larger fonts are essential. Author websites are no exception. According to Forbes, “One major reason for this is the improved screen resolution and greater screen sizes of the computers and other devices now used; which makes the standard font sizes of yesteryear seem puny.” So, I guess size does matter…

What else have you found to be the biggest changes in web design in general (or author websites specifically) in the past year? Share them with us.

Happy New Year, all!

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9 Ways to Get Book Reviews (Not All of Them Ethical)

newspaper_book_reviewRemember when getting a book review involved a pre-pub copy of your book being sent to the NY Times, Publishers Weekly, etc…? Boy, how times have changed.

And while those reviews are still golden, today’s world of self-published authors, Amazon, and online reviews have turned the concept of book reviews upside down.

With that in mind, here are some ways that authors like you can get reviews of their books nowadays (and my commentary at the end):

1. Reach out to reviewers and bloggers in your genre. Submit an e-copy of your book to a reviewer or blogger and explain why his/her readership would benefit from exposure to your book.

2. Offer to exchange reviews with another newly-published author. This type of authors swap is becoming very popular.

3. Email friends and family asking them to post reviews of your book on Amazon. Extra points if that same person has actually purchased it from Amazon; that way, the review is labeled as a “verified purchase”

4. Communicate with people on GoodReads who are interested in books in your genre. Bring your book to their attention.

5. Look for Amazon reviewers who commonly review books in your genre. Tell them about your book and see if they’d be interested in a free copy.

6. Make it easy for readers to contact you. Then, when people send you comments about your book, ask for their permission to use it as a sort of review. You can also ask them to reprint it on Amazon, if they don’t mind.

7. Remind, remind, remind. Do you have followers on Facebook? People who read your blog? Keep reminding them to review your book on Amazon or GoodReads.

8. Pay for a Kirkus review. Yup, you can do that now. Say what you wish.

And now on to #9 … a really interesting (albeit, controversial) method I read about on LinkedIn…

 

9. Incentivize it for your readers! Here’s the quote from one author, who will remain nameless:

Basically, readers earn points for making recommendations. A reader gets so many points for each recommendation and a larger number of points if the person emailed to purchases the book. Readers then earn a proportionate share in the profits based on the ratio of their points to total points.

In my case, I’m going to share 50% of the cash receipts (instead of profits because I think that works better) hoping that the extra volume of sales will provide me with a greater net return than if I did not share the cash receipts.

Well, that’s …. creative. Is it a marketing tactic? Of course! Is it legal? Yup. Is it ethical? Well, that’s questionable. After all, what reader would write a negative review of a book if he/she has a potential to reap a percentage of the profits?

And that’s where all of this gets sticky. In the old days, you knew that a book review you were reading was a real review. If a review had five stars, that’s because the book was good enough to deserve five stars.

But today, when you read a review, you have no idea about the “agreement” that went into the review. Was the reviewer a relative of the author? Was he/she being paid for it? Is he/she getting a percentage of the profits from the book?

So are these techniques ethical? Well, that’s not my place to judge. But they are techniques that can be used to generate some reviews for your book. Use them at your own peril.

And if you have other techniques for getting reviews, please share them with us!

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5 Things CoverCake Has Taught Me About Books and Social Media

book_tweetsFor the past few months, Publishers Weekly has been printing a monthly report from CoverCake about the most talked about books in social media. And these lists (and the corresponding analysis) have taught me a thing or two!

First, here’s how CoverCake describes itself:

At CoverCake, we are focused on helping organizations, their brands and their products engage with people. Our philosophy is based on a platform that simplifies and cuts through huge amounts of data in the social media universe to provide you with the necessary information you need to have a meaningful relationship with your customers.

And now on to what their stats about books and social media have taught me…

1. It might be nice to have your book turned into a film. This certainly is no surprise, but it is noteworthy. According to Publishers Weekly, and based on the monthly report from CoverCake, “Thanks to the warm critical reception and box-office domination of the film adaptation of Catching Fire, released November 22 and starring Jennifer Lawrence and Liam Hemsworth, the second book in Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games trilogy was the most-talked-about book on social media for the month of November.”

2. When a book catches fire on social media, it really catches fire. For the past two months, the book that’s #1 on the CoverCake list far outperforms all the others on the list. “Like Catching Fire in November, Allegiant, in October, was the subject of twice as many social media conversations than the second most-buzzed-about book that month,” Publishers Weekly reports.

3. Men and women talk about different things on social media. It’s no secret that women use social media more than men do. It’s also no secret that women read books more than men do. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that  for most of the titles on these lists, women generated more of the chatter than men. But that’s not always true. In fact, according to Publishers Weekly, “Men initiated 61% of the social media conversations about Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard’s Killing Jesus, and 62% of the commentary on Mitch Albom’s The First Phone Call From Heaven, which was released November 12.”

4. Books can hover near the top of the social media list for months on end. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins has hovered consistently in or around the top 10 books in CoverCake’s ranking for the entire year, according to Jeff Costello, v-p of CoverCake. This just goes to show you that good buzz can continue for an extended period of time.

5. A book doesn’t even have to be released yet to be a hot topic of conversation. In the CoverCake report for the month of September, two of the most talked about books hadn’t even hit the printer yet. They were House of Hades, by Rick Riordan (released in early October) at number two, and Allegiant, the final installment of Veronica Roth’s Divergent trilogy, which was released on October 22nd, at number four. The lesson to be learned here? It’s never too early to start building buzz for your book.

Want do do some analysis of your own? Here is CoverCake’s list of the 10 most buzzed about books on social networking sites in the month of November. Enjoy!