What Should an Author’s Homepage Accomplish?

Look at a dozen author websites — and websites in general — and you’ll find vastly different types of homepages. Some are flashy and exciting … some are informational … some are promotional. So what’s the best type of homepage for you? And what should the ideal homepage accomplish? Here are some ideas:

The Flashy Homepage
Who it’s for: This type of homepage — one that’s heavy in images or Flash — can work for an author whose writing style is dramatic fiction.

Benefits and drawbacks: An author who writes dramatic books should have a website that visually conveys the same feeling as the text in the book. If done correctly, it will certainly entice visitors to delve into the site to learn more. However, these types of homepages carry several risks. One is that the lack of text can seriously hurt you in terms of search engine optimization. The other potential drawback is losing people … someone who winds up on your site through a link or search engine result may or may not be interested enough in delving further into your site to learn more about you or your book.

Examples: We haven’t built too many sites like this, but here are a few:
http://www.llanosfigueroa.com/
http://www.farrelltrading.com/

The Informational Homepage
Who it’s for:
A homepage that provides a lot of information — about the book, the author and/or the subject matter — is perfect for a nonfiction author who has an expertise in the subject or wants the site to serve as a resource for people who may have already read the book and want to learn more.

Benefits and drawbacks: An informational homepage can serve as an index of sorts, providing a taste of the various pieces of the site and what people can find if they delve deeper. It can include the beginning of an author bio, the most recent blog entry, links to resources, book excerpts, etc… Almost everyone who visits a site like this will find something on the homepage that they want to click on. And the drawbacks? Well, some authors would find homepages like these “boring.” If you’re the type of author who wants something dramatic, this type of homepage may seem a little too much like an online newspaper to you.

Examples:
http://www.watereddowntruth.com/
http://www.unbecominganurse.org/
http://www.quangxpham.com/

The Book Promotion Homepage
Who it’s for:
A homepage like this is for an author who isn’t afraid to really be a blatant marketer of their books. Everything on a promotional homepage is with the purpose of selling the book. The text and pictures are promotional and site visitors aren’t really encouraged to click around the site. Instead they’re directed to buy the book NOW!

Benefits and drawbacks: Well, the benefits are obvious. If done properly, a promotional homepage makes someone more likely to buy the book immediately, rather than delve deeper into the site. But some site visitors could be turned off by the promotional tone and decide that they’d rather visit a website that provides them more information before asking them to pay.

Examples:
http://www.financialstrategyfordivorce.com/
http://www.richardzwolinski.com
http://www.danwald.com/

The Author Promotion Homepage
Who it’s for:
This is similar to a book promotion homepage, but its goal is to “sell” the author. Whether that be to publishers, agents or readers.

Benefits and drawbacks: Much like the book promotion homepage, the benefits of this type of homepage are obvious. For authors who already are established, it can get site visitors to join the email list or pre-order a future book. For those who are looking to get published, it immediately gives publishers or agents a chance to get to know you and your writings. The drawbacks are similar as well, in that some people could be turned off by self-promotion.

Examples:
http://www.joycechapmanlebra.com/
http://www.julieschumacher.com/
http://www.authorsherryjones.com/
http://www.cherylwilsonharris.com/

So which type of homepage best suits your needs? We’ll be happy to help. Contact us today for a free consultation about building you the right website.

Special Offers on Author Websites

Like it or not, an author website really is a sales tool. And whether you’re talking about selling the book or “selling” the author, the philosophy is very much the same as any other sales tool. People like special offers.

But this isn’t a Macy’s holiday sale. How exactly can a writer’s website use special offers to its advantage? Here are a few ideas…

  1. Offer a discount. Are you selling your own book (as opposed to selling through Amazon or B&N)? If so, offer a special discount to people buying from you. You’d still make more money than if you sold it through a third party.
  2. Prompt people to order in advance. Amazon often does this. Encourage people to pre-order the book at a discount. This can not only increase sales, but give you a better idea of how your book is going to do before its released.
  3. Sell autographed copies. Now this is something that no one else can do. Encourage people to purchase autographed copies of your book. You can offer them at the same price as others, or jack up the price to make some money. But it’s certainly a special (and unique) offer. Rick Niece, one of my clients, does this. Click here to see it.
  4. Encourage newsletter sign-ups. While it may not bring in as much money as a sold copy of the book, the email address of someone interested in your writing is worth a lot. A hearty list will give you a ready-made audience to send special offers to, or promote your next book. So offer a reward for someone signing up for your e-mail newsletter, such as a free book excerpt.
  5. Have a contest. The theme of your contest can vary depending on your genre, but think along the lines of readers submitting stories, book reviews, etc… Then you can have a winner declared each month. That winner would get some kind of prize, such as an autographed copy of your book or their story featured on the website. This is a great way to make your site unique and interactive. Kimberly K. Jones is one client of mine who has done this. Click here to see a sample.

Do you have any other ideas for special offers? Share them with us!

Why Book Authors Need Their Own Websites

Still not convinced that you should have your own author website or book website?

Phyllis Zimbler Miller, marketing guru, book author, and owner of the Internet Marketing company www.MillerMosaicLLC.com, recently wrote an article called “Why Book Authors Need Their Own Websites.”

Here’s an abbreviated version of the list of reasons she gave:

  1. If you use social networking sites to promote your book, you’ll want to have a dedicated site to send your “fans” to so they can learn more about you and the book.
  2. Your publisher site is essentially a site you share with other authors. You don’t want to potentially have visitors distracted by other books and other authors being promoted on the same site.
  3. You want to collect site visitor information, so that you can have a list of contacts to use in the future to promote your current book or a future book.
  4. You can incorporate your blog, video, etc.. to your author site to enhance the interactive, multimedia experience.
  5. If you have book signings or speaking engagements, you can use your website to promote them.
  6. You can add book reviews or testimonials that help make your book look more appealing to site visitors.

All of these benefits mean that your site visitors will have a good experience on your website … and, done properly, that will lead to increased book sales. I’m sure Phyllis will agree with me when I say that an author website will ultimately pay for itself.

Ready to get started? Contact us today for a free consultation!

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!

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.

Should You Sell the Book Yourself?

Here at Smart Author Sites, we’ve worked with many authors, a fair amount of whom are self-published. And one question that I frequently get asked by authors who are self-publishing is how easy/difficult it is for an author to sell their book themselves through the book web site. If you’re wondering whether to take the plunge, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Think $$$. There’s no question that the profit on book sales is much, much higher if you sell the book yourself (as opposed to linking to Amazon to sell the book). You get to set the price and keep a much larger percentage of it.
  • Don’t forget about distribution. Some authors intend to actually house copies of their own book and manually send them out to people who purchase the book through the site. That’s great when you’re talking about selling 10 books a month, but what do you plan to do if your book takes off like wildfire? You may want to look into distribution right off the bat so that you know what you’re getting into.
  • Talk to an accountant about taxes. Depending on which state you live in, there may be different laws about how you have to tax purchasers of your book both in and out of your state. Make sure you do your proper research on this before selling the book on your own, as not charging tax could get you into some hot water.
  • Choose the right shopping cart for your needs. The only thing that’s a given when it comes to selling books online is collecting payment. But there are so many different shopping cart services that go above and beyond just payment collection. Obviously, the simplest and cheapest way to go is simply to allow people to pay you through PayPal, but that doesn’t really allow you to charge different tax rates for people in different areas, etc… There are also shopping cart services through web hosting services (GoDaddy, Network Solutions…) that offer more enhanced services, such as product details and tax rates per county, but they are a bit more expensive and can involve a lot of setup work. Do your research into different types of shopping carts and figure out which one best meets your needs before jumping in.

If you want to see what other authors are doing, here are a few of the clients that we’ve worked with who are selling their own books:

Bob Abrams — Watered Down Truth
Paula Davies Scimeca — Unbecoming a Nurse
Randy Kempf — Happiness Lost and Found
Lynn Butler — Buzzin With Buzzy

Feel free to contact us any time for more tips and advice on selling your book through your author web site!

Why All Authors Should Build an Email List

Every author web site has a “contact” page. It usually includes information on how to contact the author’s publisher, agent, etc… It may even include an email address where the author himself can be contacted. But here’s why it SHOULDN’T.

If you allow a site visitor to simply send you an email, you aren’t taking full advantage of the contact you’re making with them. You may or may not get their full name, which you might want to use later. And, more importantly, you won’t have the rights to send them an email newsletter down the line.

Instead, an author contact page should include a contact form. You can see examples of this on all of our SmartAuthorSites.com client websites (e.g. http://www.thelossofcertainty.com/contact.html).

By requiring that people contact you via this form, you’re collecting any information you might want about your readers (full name, location, etc…). More importantly, you also have the chance to add a simple line at the bottom of the submission form which, unless the site visitor un-checks it, gives you the legal right to add their email address to your mailing list.

This is HUGE! It allows you to start building an email list of people who are interested in your book, your writing, etc… This is like a ready-made marketing list (which some people would pay a lot of money for). It allows you to send out a simple email to everyone on that list when you have news you want to share (i.e. an interview coming up) or a new book coming out. Such a mailing list puts the ball in your court. Rather than people having to come to your website to learn about what’s going on with you, you can now reach out to them. This can help exponentially in terms of promoting yourself and selling your book.

Maintaining an email list is quick and easy. It’s as simple as keeping an Excel file with all the contact information. It’s something that you can do on your own, or our production team can do for you, should you build a site through us. Ditto with the actual email newsletters. You could send out simple text newsletters through your personal email address, or you could send out fancy, designed, HTML newsletters through us for as little as 2 cents per recipient.

No matter what you decide to do with your list (and even if you don’t know what you’ll do with it), make sure to start building one. There’s nothing to lose and a whole lot to gain.

Ready to get started? Contact us today to start discussing your writer website!