shouting

What Annoys You on Author Websites?

shoutingToday’s blog post is intended to be more of a conversation than anything else. So … here goes.

There are tons of good author websites out there, and many others that are less than desirable.

So today, let’s focus on those that aren’t our favorites. Use the comments box below to share with us the pet peeves that you have about author websites. I’m going to start by sharing five of my “favorites.”

1. Music playing as soon as you arrive (there might be people around me!)

2. Too much design and not enough information (pretty only goes so far…)

3. A navigation with too many links (sites should be easy to browse)

4. Navigation that changes from page to page (this is how we know where we are, people!)

5. A Flash intro (need I say more?)

 

Okay, now it’s your turn. Share with us what really bugs you about author websites. Then make sure not to make these mistakes on your own site!

surprised-face

5 Commonly Misused Phrases Related to Author Websites

surprised-faceMost people, in general, like to think (or act) like they know a lot more than they actually do. Writers creating their own author websites is no exception.

With that in mind, here are five phrases that I’ve heard from clients more than once in relation to author websites. Everyone will start sounding a whole lot more tech-savvy when they stop using phrases like these…

  1. I want a web page.
    Yes, there is such thing as a “web page.” It refers to one page of a website. When a client tells me she wants to build herself an author webpage, it’s like nails on a chalkboard. If you want more than one page, it’s an author website you’re asking about.
  2. I want to download a video to my site.
    People commonly confuse “upload” and “download.” You download a file FROM a site. You upload a file TO a site. Uploading is sharing, and downloading is taking.
  3. What should the buttons on my website be?
    Those of us in the industry do not call them buttons. Nor do we call them title bars. They are the elements of your website navigation.
  4. What happens when people press on that link?
    Users don’t “press” on links. They click on links.
  5. Is my site search-engine friendly?
    Nearly every site out there today is search-engine friendly. Unless you specifically block the site from being indexed by the search engines (tech jargon, I know), it’s “friendly.” What you really want to ask is if the site is optimized for the search engines. Just because it’s friendly (i.e. It can be read by Google, Yahoo, Bing, etc…) doesn’t mean that you’ve taken the necessary steps to optimize it for your name, your book title and select keywords.

Designers/developers/web editors out there … are there other terms like these that you repeatedly hear people using mistakenly? If so, please share them with us in the comments box!

beach

5 Summertime Goals for Your Author Website

beachMemorial Day has come and gone, and we know what that means … the unofficial start of summer. But while everyone else is thinking about sunscreen, beach towels and barbecues, I’m encouraging you to take this opportunity to set some summer goals for your author website.

Here are five ideas….

1. Set traffic goals. I’m starting with the hardest goal of all. That’s because website traffic notoriously goes down in the summertime. (People have better things to do in beautiful weather than sit in front of a computer all day). But what’s better than a challenge? So if you don’t have one already, set up a Google Analytics account (it’s free) and integrate it into your website. Then you can check your website traffic reports as often as you’d like to find out how many people have visited the site, which pages/posts they visit the most, how long they stayed, etc… Analyze those numbers and make changes to your site accordingly. Then set a traffic goal for yourself. If, for example, you got 100 site visitors in the month of April, aim for 150 per month this summer. It’s a high goal — especially during the summer — but set it, aim for it, and do what you can to get it. After all, more traffic = more book sales!

2. Blog more often. Yup. It’s true. The more you blog, the more traffic you’ll get to your site — not only now, but for months and months to come. That’s because more blog posts will improve your site’s search engine optimization placement and encourage more people to sign up for your RSS feed or email newsletter. Make a promise to yourself that you will blog more this summer — say twice a week instead of once — and then see how your numbers may have improved by the time the summer winds down.

3. Get creative. It’s very easy to fall into a pattern with your website. Maybe you log in once or twice a week to blog. Maybe you post news or links every once in a while. Consider this your opportunity to think outside the box a bit more and add some new life to your author website. For example, think about adding a weekly poll to the site. Or hosting a live chat. Or having a free book giveaway contest. It’s summer, so it’s time to shake things up a bit.

4. Make your book essential summer reading. People may spend less time in front of their computers over the summer, but there is one thing they do a lot more of: read! Take a look at your website right now. Is there anything you’re doing to promote your book as good summer reading material? If it’s beach reading, make sure that you sell it as a must-read for beachgoers. If it’s good school-related summer reading for parents/teachers/kids, note that as well. Figure out how you can make your book a can’t-miss this summer.

5. Promote to new faces. There are probably a lot of people you’re going to see this summer that you don’t see the rest of the year. Maybe they’re parents of other kids at your child’s summer camp. Maybe they’re friends from the beach club. This is your chance to get your book and your website in front of a fresh set of faces. So get those business cards printed. Make sure to mention your book to other parents at camp. See if you can get your book’s poster hung up in the swimming club.

If you need any help accomplishing these goals, you can always reach out to us for a free consultation. But execute these ideas, and you should notice a significant increase in your website’s traffic numbers (and sales numbers) by Labor Day. Happy Summer, everyone!

keyboard-sphere

Two Way Street: How Adding Interactive Elements to Your Author Website Will Help You Gain Followers

Are you looking to really gain a following on your author website? Have you been struggling to drive traffic to your blog via social networking and post sharing alone?

You are not alone. It isn’t easy marketing your books online. The fact that there are so many means of online communication — and it is simpler than ever to make use of them — mean that standing out has become difficult, to say the least.

So how do you really capture interest? Establish a two-way street with your customers. If you can reach them and encourage discussion you will open new doors.

“But the blog section of my website already encourages comments…” you might say, “and I am not getting any/very many of those!”

The good news is that there are still many unique, interactive channels of communication that will help you stand out if you have the time to put some extra effort in. Here are a few:

1. Polls

Let’s face it — everyone loves to give their opinion. Make use of the wp-polls plugin to ask questions of your visitors and easily track their responses. Your visitors will love this.

You can even do a “poll of the week” with a new blog entry where you ask your readers what they thought of your most recent book, who their favorite fictional character in your trilogy was, or provide a multiple choice of their favorite genres.

Polls are easy to add to your WordPress website, and you can write an engaging blurb with your poll on Facebook to attract readers to your blog.

2. Quizzes

Don’t worry – you aren’t getting quizzed on this blog entry.

There is a great WordPress plugin that allows you to easily build tests and quizzes. How can you make use of this feature exactly? Here are some possibilities:

  • If you are a children’s author you can put together a fun quiz for kids about your books.
  • Psychologists can write up their own personality tests (we put one of these together for one of our authors). And here’s the catch: visitors need to buy the book to take the quiz!
  • Other authors can put together tests to see how well readers understand themes in the novels.

You might think that these tests are a pretty silly addition to an author website and will not help you gain readers. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Tests and quizzes are HUGE in the online world. At the very least, putting one together and sharing it on your favorite social networking outlet should get you a few clicks right off the bat.

3. Contests

One of the best tricks you can use in conjunction with a new release is to have a “free book giveaway.” You could put together a contest where the winner receives a free, signed copy of your new book, or other prize that you would like to use as a giveaway.

The earlier you announce the contest and the more you cross-post the details to social networking outlets and your blog, the more entrants you will receive.

And let’s face it — when it comes to the online world, the only thing people like more than personality quizzes is free stuff. This is a great trick you can use to build a fanbase right off the bat. Even those who don’t win the contest will feel more connected to your work.

4. Forums

This one is a bit tricker as I don’t recommend adding a forum to your site unless you already have a decent traffic base. If you are getting fewer than about 100-150 regular returning visitors to your author blog per month, it might be too soon to consider a forum. In fact, it might be a liability having a bunch of zeros in the “new posts” section — people will think that you aren’t popular. You wouldn’t want that, would you?

Still, if you already have a decent following, this will encourage readers to return to your site with some regularity and engage in discussion with other forum members. This is great for creating large increases in traffic and returning visitors.

It also will help you build up excitement for your current and future releases as you get to watch your fans discuss your books!

 

Are there other interactive elements you’ve found to be successful on your author website? Share them in our comments section below.

websites-for-authors

Websites for Authors: Marketing Tools or Personal Exhibitions?

websites-for-authorsDo you know what one of the biggest struggles we run into with authors is? It’s the difference between what the author likes and what we know works.

Rather than try to explain further, let me give you an example…

A Hypothetical Situation

Author Jane Smith just finished writing a book.  She reaches out to us about building her an author website.

Based on all the information we collect about her book, her audience, and her goals for the website, we put together a proposal that includes recommendations for site layout, color scheme and content. It includes a tagline that summarizes what her book is about, a navigation that is easy to use, a color scheme that resembles the book cover, and various functionalities within the site itself that we have found to be helpful in increasing book sales.

But Jane pushes back. She wasn’t happy with the cover to begin with, and doesn’t want the site to use the same colors as the book cover. She also wants a super-large banner at the top of the site (which would push the content below the fold) because her best friend had a similar site and she really liked the way it looked. Oh, and she doesn’t want those large “buy the book” buttons because they seem too promotional.

We have hit an impasse.

An Analogy

Now, let’s forget about websites for authors for a moment and talk about a similar situation in a different industry. In many cases, I like to equate building an author website with staging a home for sale.

If you were designing the interior of your home for the purpose of living in it, you would design it exactly to your specifications. After all, it would be for you, making it essential that you … you know … like it. And if your favorite color happens to be purple, then you should design your home with a purple theme. It’s for you, after all.

But if you’re redesigning the interior of a home with the purpose of flipping or selling the house, it would be a completely different story. In that situation, your goal would be to decorate the house in a way that other people would like.

And there are professionals who understand what needs to be done to get a house sold; colors should be neutral (it doesn’t matter how much you like purple), furniture should be sparse, personal photos should be completely removed, and everything should look fresh and clean.

Building an author website is much like doing interior design of a home for the purpose of a sale. Personal preference needs to come second. The expertise of professionals should come first.

The Lesson

There’s no denying the fact that an author should be happy with his or her website. Authors need to feel proud of the final product, and be comfortable promoting it as an extension of his or her professional self. That’s why we always work hard to find a compromise with Jane Smith and every other author who may have strong opinions about a site.

But at the end of the day, websites for authors are marketing tools. After all, you’re not paying the money and investing the time to get it built so that you’ll like it. You’re investing the time, money and effort to advance your career and/or sell books. And it’s important to keep that in mind when you’re working with a website design firm. They’ve done this before. They know what works (and what doesn’t).

repurpose-mannequins

5 Ways to Repurpose Content on Your Author Website

repurpose-mannequinsAs an author, you’re pretty good at writing. What you’re often not as good at is finding the time to do all that writing. For many, that can include blogging, social media posts, press releases, requests to agents/publishers/reviewers and more. It’s often more than one person can handle.

Enter repurposing.

First, let’s define what repurposing actually means. According to the Oxford English dictionary, to repurpose means to adapt for use in a different purpose: (i.e. they’ve taken a product that was originally designed for a CD-ROM and repurposed it for the Microsoft Network)

I’ve been working in website content for a decade and a half. I’ve repurposed content in every which way. But it occurs to me that many authors may not be familiar with the concept or how to repurpose to save themselves time.

With that in mind, I am presenting … how authors can repurpose content on (or from) their author website.

1. Repurpose book excerpts/short stories as blog posts. Can’t think of anything to blog about? This is a common problem for fiction authors. Use your blog as a place to publicize your new short stories. Or cut and paste brief excerpts from your book as blog entries, and really use them to whet people’s appetites. Creative writing and a blog do not have to be oil and water!

2. Repurpose your blog posts for social media. Think you need to write an entire blog post and different status updates for Facebook, Twitter, etc…? Wrong! Put your time and energy into your blog posts, and then use social media as a vehicle for promoting them. Write brief teasers for each post, and put them (and links, of course) as status updates on all your social media presences to keep your accounts active.

3. Repurpose your website content as marketing material. Writing a bio for your website? Use it as part of your press kit? Creating a book discussion guide for your website (which I often recommend that authors do)? Include it as a free giveaway when you’re doing book signings. Writing promotional copy about the book for use on the website? Reprint it on a flyer that is distributed to local booksellers. You get the idea…

4. Repurpose your website videos. This is huge! Are you making any videos for your website? Are you creating a book trailer or doing a “welcome” video? These should be promoted everywhere. While their original intent may have been for your website, they should also be making the rounds on YouTube, Vimeo, etc… People love sharing videos, and these can become huge social sharers for you.

5. Repurpose any external press releases or articles. Did you (or your publicist) write any press releases about you or the book? How about articles or guest blog posts for other sites? Why should these only exist elsewhere (unless you signed a contract stipulating that, of course)? Use these as blurbs in the “news and events” or “media and press” segments of your website. Simply writing a brief update and linking to the full pieces makes your site look more current, and you more high-profile.

See what I mean? Tweaking, re-printing, sharing and more allow you to take one piece that you wrote and turn it into multiple pieces of content that serve different purposes for you; both on and off your author website.

Happy Repurposing!

secret

How Much Is Too Much (or Not Enough) on an Author Website?

secretI’ve played a role in building hundreds and hundreds of author websites. Some are as thin as a few pages. Others have 50 pages of content or more on them, including articles by the author, various book excerpts, photo galleries and more.

Seeing this vast disparity can be tricky for authors: after all, how much is the right amount of information to include on an author website?

What Are You Goals for the Site?
Figuring out how much information to include is dependent upon what you actually want people to do while they’re on your website.

Is your goal to promote yourself as an author?
Do you want to build a fanbase? Get an agent or publisher? In these cases, providing a lot of information about yourself is a good thing. Not providing enough can leave visitors feeling unfulfilled.

Is your goal to spread the word?
If you wrote a book, let’s say, about climate change, and your goal is to inform the public about this crisis, then you want to include tons of information on the subject. Link to articles, studies, etc… Allow readers to post their own comments and discuss the subject. They say that knowledge is power … well, information breeds knowledge.

Is your goal to sell copies of the book?
This is where it gets tricky. In the previous two instances, there’s really no such thing as too much information. For instance, sharing photos of your favorite pet may not interest everyone, but it won’t hurt your cause if you’re looking to build a following. Where you really can get into trouble with sharing too much information is when your goal for the website is to get people to take the plunge and buy the book.

What to Include?
So you want to get people to buy a copy of your book. It’s time to put on your salesman’s hat. If you’ve never worked in sales before, this can be a bit tricky.

The key in getting people to make a purchase — just about any purchase — is to provide just enough information that you’ve whet their appetites, but not too much information that they feel like they’ve already gotten a sense of it without spending a dime.

Some examples of including too much information would include:

  • Including excerpts to more than one chapter of the book
  • Showing all the photos/illustrations from the book
  • Telling a full story of what happens in the book, even giving away the ending

On the other hand, there’s such a thing as too little information. Since visitors can’t actually open the book and browse it on your website like they can in a store, you have to make sure you include all the important things that someone would want to know before making the purchase, including:

  • A link to at least one featured excerpt (to let people get a sense of the voice and tone)
  • A table of contents (if it’s a nonfiction book)
  • A book teaser
  • Publishing and purchasing details, like which websites/stores sell it and ISBN number
  • Quotes from raving reviews/testimonials
  • Any awards the book has gotten

Remember: When you’re building a website, it’s all about what you want people to do while they’re on it. And if your goal is to get them to buy the book, then think about exactly what you can include that might make that happen … and what you might include that would prevent that from happening.

Happy website building!

mail

Keeping in Touch: Updating the Contact Form on Your Author Website

If Smart Author Sites has built your author website and you have a contact form on the “contact” page of your site, you may be wondering if it is possible to update the fields on your own.

Here’s the good news: it certainly is! With the helpful guide below, you will learn how to modify which fields your readers can fill in, and even create more complex options — including Dropdown menus, checkboxes and more.

Contact Form 7 for WordPress

We like to use the Contact Form 7 plugin to create your contact form (unless otherwise specified, of course). This is a great plugin that has many different options and features. You can get quite creative with these forms and you don’t even need to know any coding or HTML. This is a really nice bonus — after all, you are an author, not a web developer. That’s our job!

To get started modifying an existing form you can follow these steps:

1. Log-in to WordPress

2. In the navigation menu on the left, go to “Contact” and select “Contact Forms”.

3. You will see a new screen that lists all the contact forms you currently have running on your author website. Go ahead and click the name of the form you wish to modify.

Adding a New Field

On the next screen you will get a first-hand look at the nuts and bolts of the contact form fields. The top left-hand box is the place where the fields are generated. This section is compiled by using some basic HTML with fields that are generated by Contact Form 7. It might look intimidating, but it is relatively simple to add new fields.

To get a sense of how the form works, you will see options like Name, Email, Subject and Message that will match what appears live on your contact page. This section will vary slightly depending on what fields already exist on this form.

To add a new field, there are a few easy steps to take. For the purposes of this example, let’s say you want to add field that reads “How did you hear about me?” and offers  a dropdown menu with a few options that a user could choose from.

To do this, take a look at the blank box on the right-hand side of the page. There will be a dropdown menu here that says Generate tag. Here you can select this dropdown menu and one of the many field types to add to the form. In this example you will select Drop-down Menu.

When you make this selection, a new box will appear that shows several small fields including Name, id, class and choices. This is a simple builder that will allow you to customize your own fields to add to your contact form. Follow these steps to create a new field with options:

1. In the Name field give your new field a unique identifying title rather than the default name and number that appear in the box. It should probably be one word and should be descriptive of your question. In this case you can use “referral.”

2. In the choices field you will add the items to appear in your dropdown menu as selectable options for your website visitors. Go ahead and fill out an option on each line.

3. You will see some code appear in a field that says “Copy this code and paste it into the form left.” Go ahead and copy the code, and then paste it in the location on the left box where you would like the question to appear. It can appear anywhere on the form, but should always go before the Send code at the bottom which usually looks something like this:

[submit "Send"]

4. In the left box, go ahead and add text before the code you pasted that asks the question. In this case you can say, “How did you hear about us?” So in the left box you might end up adding something like:

How did you hear about us?
[select referral "Google Search" "Via a Friend" "Through my Book" "Other"]

5. Back in the right-hand box you will see a box at the very bottom that reads “And, put this code into the Mail fields below.”

Go ahead and copy this code and then scroll down on the page. In a box on the bottom-right you will see a box that says “message body”. This is the e-mail you receive when the form is sent. To make sure the new field you created sends the field go ahead and add the code you copied in step #4 to the place in this field you would like to appear when you receive the email. You can also write a line of descriptor text so you recognize your new field. So you might paste:

How did you hear about us: [referral]

Into the box.

6. Finally, save the form and give it a test run!

Other Things You Can Do

It is possible to add all types of fields into the contact form — and even make certain fields required. Just make sure to fill out your preferences on the right-side box then paste the code that Contact Form 7 generates in the appropriate places.

With a bit of practice you will get the hang of it quickly! However, if you do have questions feel free to get in touch and we will be happy to help!

shoes

Why All Author Websites Are Not the Same

shoesHave you ever wondered why many restaurant websites look exactly the same? That’s because every restaurant pretty much wants the same thing out of a website: a page for the menu, a page for directions, a page for hours/contact info, and possibly a way to order food for pick-up.

As a result, there are businesses out there which have created templates for these types of sites. They allow restaurant owners to simply upload their logo, enter their information, and voila! It’s cheap and easy for everyone. And restaurants, for example, can do this because all restaurants build websites with the same goal: your business.

So what makes authors different from restaurants? And why can’t we just create one template for author websites and adjust it with a different name/photo/book cover for each individual?

Different Genres
Let’s start with the most obvious reason: books in different genres need drastically different websites. Imagine that a website that’s promoting a children’s book looks exactly the same as a site promoting a novel about alien invasions. Now imagine a website for a self-help book about resume writing or healthy eating. Should any of these look the same? Absolutely not!

A children’s book website needs to have a design and layout that is warm and friendly. A website promoting a novel needs to look like the setting of that novel. And a non-fiction site should clearly convey the subject matter of the book. In short, one type of website could not — and should not — be used for all of these genres.

Different Goals
What’s your goal for your author website? Is it to sell books? Is it to build a fanbase? To lure a publisher into publishing your next book? Every author has a different reason for building their website. In fact, for some authors, it’s more than one reason.

Understanding an author’s website goals is essential for designing the site properly. In other words, a website that focuses on a particular book is completely different than one that focuses on the author … which is completely different from one that focuses on a series of books or a political issue. Each and every author has a different website goal, and the site needs to reflect that goal.

Different Things to Promote
Some authors have multiple books already written and want to promote and sell them all. Other authors have written one book and want to sell complimentary items (like jewelry with their brand name on it) as well.

There are other authors who want to “sell” more than just goods. They want to promote their side businesses, for example, which is related to their book’s subject matter. Or they want to build speaking platforms for themselves and create a second career as a public speaker in that subject matter.

 

So, you see, authors are NOT like restaurants. They are individuals — ranging from doctors to lawyers to novelists — each with their own types of books, plans for the future, and additional services.

Just like each author is unique, each author website must be unique as well.

vhs-tape

Vlogging for Authors: Why a Video Presence is a Great Way to Connect (Part 2)

In my previous post, I discussed the ins and outs of video-blogging (or vlogging) for authors and why this can be a great way to keep your readers interested.

These days almost anyone can create a great video blog!

All you need is a decent internet connection, a laptop or desktop computer purchased in the last several years and a YouTube account and you can become a star.

Ok, it takes a bit more time and effort than just that, but it has never been easier to begin your vlogging career. Are you ready to make the plunge? If so, here is a guide on how to get started.

Step 1: Record your vlog(s)!

It is always good practice to begin with a few good bits of original content (rather than just one). There is a lot of information on the web and if you “launch” your career with more than one video, you probably have a greater chance of obtaining subscribers right off the bat. This shows that you intend to keep vlogging.

You can film yourself with a built-in webcam on your desktop or laptop computer. Here is a simple guide on how to record your first video blog!

Make sure that the subject matter is engaging and interesting to your audience. I know… easier said than done! If you aren’t sure just what to start talking about when you get in front of the camera, one good piece of advice is to think about some of your favorite video blogs. What makes these interesting? What type of content really grabs you?

Here are some good ideas for authors if you need a good starting place:

  • Upcoming book tours
  • The meaning behind certain events or characters in your books
  • Current events related to your genre
  • Ideas inspired by themes in your book
  • Other books you are reading and why you enjoy reading those authors
  • Potential future releases

Step 2: Start Your YouTube Career

Ok. Why YouTube?

There are endless reasons, but I explained one of the biggest in part 1 of this article. It just allows a huge degree of flexibility and makes it easy for you to track who is following your videos.

Once you have recorded your first videos, you can create a YouTube account and channel. This process is also very simple. You will be asked to link your YouTube account to you Google account, and then you will be asked to create a channel. Your channel name should be the name you go under as an author, even if it is a pen name. It needs to match what is on your book covers. This is because it makes you easy to find on YouTube via search. It would not be helpful if readers were looking for Michael Crichton’s YouTube channel and he has called himself Peyton Manning, for example. You get the idea.

YouTube’s video upload system is extremely simple, and from a technical perspective, it’s functionality is kind of amazing. You literally just need to drag your video file into the box that appears from your desktop and it will compress your video (pretty much any file type under the sun) into a viewer-friendly YouTube video which can be seen in multiple sizes across the web in many languages. Isn’t technology amazing?

The next screen (once your video has completed uploading) will encourage you to add keywords, a video title and a description for the video, all of which you should do.

It is important that your video can be discovered not only through your website, but through your YouTube channel as well. All the videos you upload are stored on your channel, and others can subscribe to your channel with ease.

The little red “subscribe” button is a key element to watch on your channel, as when others subscribe this number will continue to go up!

Step 3: Embed Your Videos on your site

The final step is to cross-post your vlogs onto your website. YouTube makes this EXTREMELY simple. This is all you need to do:

  1. Click on the main URL of your YouTube video you would like to embed on your WordPress author website, which will look something like this (just an example)
  2. Below the video click the “share” button (underlined in the image above)
  3. Click the “embed” button which appears beneath the row with the “share” button.
  4. If you want to size your video appropriately you can select a different video size from the dropdown menu beneath. This will determine how large the video will appear on your website after embedding
  5. You will see a few lines of code appear once selecting “embed”. Go ahead and copy this code, then go to your WordPress author website.
  6. Open your vlog post and click on the “Text” tab that appears above and to the right of the post editor (if it is not already selected), as you need to be in text move to embed videos
  7. Paste this code directly into your editor in the place you would like your video to appear.

That’s it! You are done!

You have just created a YouTube channel, added a video to YouTube’s system, and then cross-posted it to your website.

I hope this was a helpful guide in getting started adding videos to your repertoire of blogging. It really as a great way to reach your audience and is a very good way to jumpstart your traffic numbers in the early going.