Thanks for the Plug!

A special thank you to our author, Sherry Jones, who mentioned that we created her website. In a post on GoodReads.com, she said:

“I have a very cool website with lots of goodies, created by smartauthorsites.com.”

Thanks, Sherry!!

Do Blogs Belong on Writers’ Websites?

I recently came upon a post in The online journal of writer Jon Gibbs. He proposes that an author’s blog should be completely separate from their website. Here’s how he sums it up:

“From a strictly self-promotional point of view, there are two types of people in the world: those who’ve at least heard of you, and those who aren’t even aware you exist. … Your website is really for people who at the very least, know your name. Your blog, on the other hand, is for everyone, and that’s why it doesn’t belong on your site. It belongs out there in big wide world, where it has more opportunities to add to that list of people who know your name. It’s there to let people know you exist, that you’re an interesting person, and yes, that you happen to be a writer.”

I venture to disagree with Jon. It seems like he’s approaching this from the perspective that people who find your site or your blog do it by actually typing in your URL. So those who know you will go directly to your site. Those who don’t will go to your blog.

But what are the stats on how people really find websites? According to a consulting company called ISL, only 20% of a site’s visitors go directly to a website. The other 80% come from search engines (Google, Yahoo, etc…) or referring sites (sites that link to yours).

So what does that means for authors? Most people who visit your site (or your blog) will actually stumble upon it because they have searched for a particular keyword or visited another site that referenced yours. In my opinion, that pretty much negates the “site for people who know you” argument. They’ll wind up on your site whether they know you or not.

So the next question is this: Where do you want people to go when they stumble upon your content in a search result? Do you want them to go to a blog that’s completely separate from your website? Or do you want them to come to a blog that resides within your website? I would argue the latter. By having your blog as a piece of your site, it allows people to find your site based upon its subject matter, but also gain immediate exposure to your other work — your books, your speaking services, etc…

If that same visitor ends up on a blog that is not tied into your author website, then what do you gain from it? If you’re lucky enough for them to love your blog and want to come back regularly, then maybe, over time, they’ll become familiar with your name and dig further to find your author website. But why make it so difficult? Why not get the most out of the traffic and take advantage of each and every visitor so that they can see your book(s) and maybe even purchase it right away — just because they’re interested in the subject matter?

From a business perspective, I don’t see any reason to separate the two. What do you think?

How Interactive Should a Book Website Be?

Author Anna McPartlin is doing something very interesting with her website for the book “So What If I’m Broken.” She’s actually allowing readers to interact with her characters in cyberworld. The feature is being promoted as “A book that talks back.”

Anna says, “What is really exciting is that readers might actually change the story through their own interactions with the character.  So while it will return to the universe of the book by the end, it can go for a user led meander through the public’s contributions.”

You can read more about what she’s doing here.

This is an interesting idea. I love that she’s really bringing her characters to live in the online world and allowing readers to follow their blogs and twitter posts, visit their social networking profiles, etc…

But is allowing the readers to actually change the plot going a little too far? Does that allow people to purposely sabotage the story? I would guess Anna and her crew have ensured that sort of thing can’t happen. But it’s something we should all keep our eye on. Because this could be a great idea … or a great disaster.

What do you think?

Getting the Introverted Author Out There

I just stumbled across an article in the NY Times about introverts finding a path to career success in a world of extroverts (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/01/jobs/01pre.html?scp=26&sq=author%20marketing&st=cse). And it got me thinking about authors…

The majority of people in the world are extroverts (experts say it’s 70%). But there are a fair number of introverts, too (myself included). An introvert is described as someone who is energized by quiet solo activities, as opposed to an extrovert, who is energized by being around people. And I would venture to guess that the percentage of authors who are introverts is greater than the 30% in the general population. It makes sense … people who enjoy spending time alone are more likely to choose career paths that don’t involve heavy interaction. An introvert would enjoy writing for a living far more than they’d enjoy going door to door trying to sell vacuum cleaners.

But here’s where it gets tricky. An introvert may choose to become an author because it allows them some autonomy and privacy. But what happens when they need to market their book? That means they have to go outside their comfort zone and do what they hate the most … “selling” the book.

I can’t tell you how many authors I’ve dealt with who know they need to have an author website but just cringe at the idea of having to blog, gab on a message board, or join a social network. Introverts just don’t enjoy those kinds of things. And in an internet world that’s becoming more and more social — with tweeting becoming a common part of everyday life — introverts begin to feel more and more like outcasts.

But here’s the thing… if you want to have a successful career as a writer, you HAVE to do some selling of the book online. It’s a part of your job — even if you don’t enjoy it.

So create that Facebook page. Start blogging and twittering. Unlike the people who do those things for fun, you don’t have to use these online tools to share your innermost personal stories. You use them to promote yourself as an author and expose as many people as possible to your writing. Just like an actor has a persona, an author needs one as well. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, here.

You can still be a quite, private and, yes, introverted person for 23 1/2 hours each day. But use that last half hour to put on your marketing hat and use the internet to advance your career. Your books will thank you for it.

A Blog Entry About Blogging

I was reading an interesting article over the weekend in Internet & Marketing Report magazine. It had to do with the benefits of blogging and how anyone can blog to drive traffic to their website. Here are some of the highlights of that article, and how the information specifically pertains to websites for writers.

According to the article, a major study has shown that blogs do pay off in terms of site traffic — even those that don’t require a lot of research or writing.

The study found that sites with blogs had:

  • 55% more visitors to their sites. That means more book sales.
  • 97% more inbound links. Other sites are more likely to link to a blog than to static web content. This can also help with SEO.
  • 434% more indexed pages (those that can show up on search engines). The more pages that have been “indexed,” the more likely your site is to show up on search engine results.

So the fact that a blog increases your site traffic is pretty much a no-brainer at this point. But what’s more challenging is authors figuring out what to blog about. Or finding the time to blog. Or differentiating their blog from others. Here are a few ideas mentioned in the article to help people start blogging…

  1. Go with the bare bones. You don’t need to spend hours writing detailed blog entries. Your blog entries could be press releases about your book, or links to industry news stories that are of interest to a similar audience.
  2. Let the ideas come to you. Not sure what to blog about? Maybe you don’t have to come up with the ideas. Again, industry news — and your take on them — is a great source of blogging material. Or ask your site visitors to tell you what they’re interested in hearing about from you and then blog on those topics. Take a frequent question that you get and use your blog to answer it.
  3. Go multimedia. A blog doesn’t have to be straight text. You can include photos from a recent book signing, an audio transcript of a reading, etc… Again, these are things that you can use elsewhere, but can also serve as blog entries.

See? Blogging can be a lot easier than you may think. And it can increase your site traffic by 55%! That’s not something to sneeze at!

SEO vs. SEM for Authors

I have worked with many authors who ask me about search engine optimization. Many aren’t sure what the difference is between SEO and SEM/Google Adwords, another service we author. So hopefully this post will clear things up a bit.

First, here are the simple definitions of each one:

Search engine optimization (or SEO) is the process of improving the volume or quality of traffic to a website from search engines via “natural” or un-paid (“organic” or “algorithmic”)

Search engine marketing (or SEM), referred to on Google as Google Adwords, involves paying for your pre-written search result text to appear when someone searches for a specific keyword, and paying the search engine for each click you get on that ad.

Now, on the surface, SEO looks far preferable to SEM, since it’s free! You can get as many visits to your website as possible and not have to pay a penny for them. But it’s not so simple. Which of these methods works best for you (if not both) really depends on your situation.

With organic SEO, getting to the top of search results generally takes 6 months to a year of effort. We’ve done it for our business (search for “websites for authors” and we’re the top result), but it takes a great deal of time and effort. If you have a book coming out in two months, SEM is a lot more effective in terms of allowing you to appear on the first page of search results immediately.

In addition, the search engines are always changing how they rank sites. So even if you put in loads of effort to get to the top of search results, you may or may not stay there over time. It could all go to waste if they change their ranking system.

Organic search engine optimization also limits you to focusing on several keywords. For example, as I described above, our site shows up at the top if you search for “Websites for Authors,” but not necessarily “Author Websites” or “Writer Websiters” (although we’re working on it … partially by making those words links to our homepage right here). It takes a lot of work and very specific keyword focus to get it to work. So if your priority is to show up at the top of search results if someone searches for your name or your book title, that’s very doable through SEO. But if you have a variety of different areas you want to focus your keywords in, it gets a little more difficult.

SEM also allows you to keep incredible statistics of the clicks you get. You can see how many people searched for each keyword you’re bidding on, what percentage of people clicked on that keyword, and what percentage of those clicks turned into purchases of your book! In this case, you get what you pay for.

Now, this all may sound like I’m down on SEO and pushing SEM. I’m not really. They both work. But too many people opt for SEO simply because it’s free. And then they get upset when they’re not showing up at the top of search results right away. SEM can get you immediate results within your control — just at a price. SEO takes a lot longer and a lot more work — but it’s free. See how that works?

So here’s how I sum things up. If you’ve just built a writer website with the goal of promoting an upcoming book, you’re better off paying for clicks and ensuring that you get traffic to your website right away. If you’re building your author web site as a long-term resource, promoting your writings and your books over the next several years, then SEO may very well do the trick for you.

I could go on for ages about this (hence, there being books on the subject), but I won’t. Should you be interested in learning more about SEO or SEM, I’ll be happy to go through the details with anyone willing to listen. Just contact us.

Author Webcasts

On November 9th, Oprah.com, CNN.com and Facebook are holding a live Oprah’s Book Club webcast for the latest book in the Oprah book club, Say You’re One of Them by Uwem Akpan. People can submit questions to the author now, and the chosen questions will be answered on the live webcast. The video will be streamed live from CNN.com’s video player on Oprah.com.

Now, all authors wish their book was as popular as one recommended by Oprah. But no matter how many readers and fans you may have, you can still steal this idea. Even a small-time author can take full advantage of the web and hold their own webcasts.

Collecting questions in advance is always a good idea. That way, no matter how many people show up for your live cast, you won’t be left “questionless.” If you plan to take any live questions as well (and why wouldn’t you), you might want to have a friend or two as a plant on the live webcast to start the conversation.

Webcasting has many advantages for authors; it allows you to really interact with readers, it shows people in the publishing industry just how tech-savvy you are, and, most of all, it creates a buzz. After all, what could be better for an author trying to promote him or herself than buzz?

The key is giving the webcast the proper promotion beforehand. The place to start is with your current base of readers and fans. Make sure to send them an email newsletter with the announcement — and don’t hesitate to send multiple emails. Ask them to pass it on to their friends. Contact local bookstores in your area to let them know about it. Tell your publisher. Whomever you can think of.

You never know. This could be the first step on your route to Oprah!

What Do Your Customers Want? Find Out With Skribit

Another great book marketing idea, courtesy of Michael Volkin…

If there is one thing I know, that’s book marketing, and from time to time I learn about a neat new tool that makes selling books online just a little bit easier.  I would like to introduce you to Skirbit.  Skirbit.com allows an author to easily add a small widget to their blog which gives readers a chance to communicate directly with the author. At the end of the blog, this small widget asks one simple question “What should I write about?” What a perfect question. This allows an author to customize blogs based on reader suggestions.

If you want to be one of those authors who are really in touch with your audience, Skribit allows you to do just that.  Learning how to sell books on the Internet is a meticulous process but if you can get feedback, not only from customers, but potential customers, it will make the process much easier.

Once you create an account with Skirbit, you are presented with an easy to use dashboard to easily create your widget.  Simply code the code given to you in your blog and you’re done.

Michael Volkin is the author of the new book Social Networking for Authors-Untapped Possibilities for Wealth. Check out his book and book marketing services at www.SellaTonofBooks.com.

Keep Author Website Content New, Fresh and Interactive

How many writers websites have you looked at? What seems to be missing from most of them?

Based on my experience, one of the biggest problems with author web sites is that they’re stale and dull. They’re more like a portfolio than a website. They include author photos, a bio, and details on the books. But do sites like this really have readers coming back regularly? With hardly any new content, why would someone visit more than once?

Lesson number one in website content strategizing: Never let your homepage stay the same for too long. If someone comes to your website and the homepage hasn’t changed (barring them coming on the same day, of course), the odds are they’ll never come back. If you want people to continue to visit your site on a regular basis, use your homepage to feature the latest news, reviews, blog entries etc… It’s absolutely essential in getting return traffic.

And this ties in with another thing missing from many author websites: interactivity. After all, an author isn’t taking full advantage of the web unless they use their site to interact with readers. That could be done in a variety of ways — a blog, a message board, an “Ask the Author” section, a poll, a contest, reader-submitted reviews, etc.

Use your book web site as an opportunity to build and maintain a relationship with your readers. Don’t be afraid to communicate with your site visitors. And make sure these communications are on the website instead of in private emails … people love seeing that you read and respond to what they have to say. It makes them much more likely to feel actively engaged in your website.

These types of interactivity are just some of the ideas that I give to authors when I put together their free proposal. This is one of the greatest strengths of our company. We understand the importance of incorporating fresh, interactive content into an writer’s website. And based on the author’s book and genre, we come up with creative ways to do that in a style that’s perfect for their audience.

So contact us today and we’ll put together a free proposal for you.  Whether you’re a novice in terms of websites or a seasoned expert, we’ll help guide you through setting up the perfect writer website to achieve your goals. One that’s always fresh and interactive.