4 Musts for Building an Author Email List

emailI stumbled across this article on Publishers Weekly about why it’s important for authors to build email lists. In this day and age of social media, too many authors think that Facebook and Twitter followers are enough. They’re not.

To paraphrase the author of the piece, here are just a few of the reasons you shouldn’t neglect building an author email list:

  • You own your own email list and can do with it as you wish
  • You control what messages people receive, and when they receive them
  • You can track your emails in a way you can’t track social media

But here’s the challenge: How do you motivate people to sign up for your email list? After all, people are always hesitant to give out their email address. What kind of SPAM will they get? Who will their email address be sold to? Is the reward going to be worth the risk?

Here are four musts for building a proper email list.

  1. Have a good email list management system. So a user enters their email address on your site. Where does that go? Make sure that you have a system in place before you start collecting this information; a system which stores the email addresses and keeps track of sign-ups, unsubsribes, etc… These types of tools not only take some of the day-to-day management away from you, but they ensure that you’re never breaking SPAM laws. There are some plug-ins within WordPress that do this for you, or you could sign up for an account with MailChimp, which is free until you have more than 2,000 names on your list.
  2. Promise security. You’ve seen the messages. “We promise not to share your email address with anyone.” This is a crucial message to share with your visitors, because too many sites collect your email address and then share it with a third party. For example, say you write a book about pregnancy. And say you collect email addresses of people visiting your site. It’s a safe assumption that a good number of them are moms-to-be. Then, say, that you sell that list of email addresses to Pampers or Gerber. Those industries would have a real reason to want access to your email list, and would probably pay you good money to do so. But your users probably wouldn’t be thrilled to start getting emails from a company that they never agreed to receive notifications from. This is a great example of why it’s so important to promise people that you won’t sell their information.
  3. Offer a real incentive. What’s the main reason you give out your email address? It’s probably not because you’re especially interested in receiving yet another newsletter. It’s usually because there’s some sort of incentive (financial or otherwise) for doing so. Maybe you’ll get 20% off your next purchase. Maybe it will get you access to some helpful white papers. Think about what you can offer your readers (book club discussion guides, an autographed copy of the book, etc…) as a benefit for signing up and highlight that benefit in a prominent place.
  4. Make it clear what people are signing up for. This is yet another reason why people may hesitate to give out an email address. What exactly are they going to be getting? Are you going to be sending daily tips? A monthly newsletter? Your newly-posted blog entries? Random emails whenever you have news to share, like a new book being released? Spell out for your readers what they should expect to receive if they give you their email address, which should help relieve some trepidation.

And here’s an extra perk if you’re successful: authors who have a robust email list are especially appealing to publishers. So follow these leads and watch your subscriber list start to grow.

13 Great Attention-Grabbing Lines on Author Websites

author-taglineSo often, I recommend that an author write a tagline or attention-grabbing intro sentence for their homepage. This helps visitors get a really good idea of whose site they’re on in about 5 seconds. After all, the author’s name across the top — “John Jones,” for example — could be an accountant, a spiritual consultant … or an author.

Plus, these first few seconds are an author’s chance to really grab someone’s attention and whet their appetite, or lose that potential reader forever. Sounds important, right?

And yet, many authors that I work with struggle over this. Sometimes they write three-paragraph soliliquies that are way too long. Other times they write something as uncreative as “Author” to appear right next to their name. And some authors just can’t figure out how to summarize their writing in a way that seems remotely interesting.

With that in mind, I have identified some author websites (some which we built, some we did not) that I think do an exceptional job of introducing the author’s writings in a brief blurb that really grabs people’s attention. Some of these appear right next to the author’s name, others are in a bolded sentence right in the middle of the homepage.

Hopefully one of these can be an inspiration for you.

1. MargueriteVardman.com

Life, death and everything in between

2. IsabellaLaFlesche.com

Best-selling author in search of all things chic

3. MaryMaddox.com

Writing that is not afraid of the dark

4. ThomasRichardHarry.com

Challenging today’s party politics

5. SteveRRoberts.com

Action-adventure, new characters, new places

6. CynthiaAttoney.com

I write character-driven teen novels with twisty plots–because life is complicated

7. EkaterinaBooks.com

Fiction for the young at heart

8. RichardAMDixon.com

Adventures of an infantry soldier

9. RichardSharpNovels.com

Words about time

10. FourHourBody.com

An uncommon guide to rapid fat-loss, incredible sex and becoming superhuman

11. PamelaMooreDionne.com

Is there something in string theory physics that can explain ghosts?

12. ChrisGuillebeau.com

The art of noncomformity

13. 2ndCenturyChristians.com

Explore the world of 2nd century Christianity

As you can see, these authors write fiction, nonfiction, YA novels, self-help books and more. A great tagline isn’t limited to one type of author or one type of genre. Think outside the box and come up with the right line for your website.

What’s Your Author Brand?

brandingLike it or not, today’s author also has to be a marketer. And what is it that you are marketing? Well, it’s your brand.

But what exactly is your author brand? What are your options? What’s going to stick in everyone’s mind after they’ve visited your site?

Here are four directions that I’ve seen authors go in terms of their branding, and examples of each one. I hope this sparks ideas for you!

1. Yourself. This is probably the case for 75% of the authors that I work with. Their brand is … well … themselves.

This is most relevant for authors who want to become household names (hello, Stephen King!) and hope to write multiple books in a specific genre. For a nonfiction author, your self-focused brand might also include any consulting or speaking you hope to do on the same topic.

For a self-branded site, your name would be both the URL and “title” at the header of your site. Your photo would also be prominent, and the site design should clearly reflect your personality and the genre you’re writing in.

Goals of an author-branded site would be to build followers (email sign-ups, likes, people “following” you, return visitors) so that people who like your first book will then be aware of your upcoming books, and you have a way to continue communicating with them as each future book comes to fruition.

See examples of author-branded sites that we’ve built at:

2. Your book. Maybe you were inspired to write this one book. It could be a biography. It could be your story of survival through a crisis. Maybe it’s a collection of stories you put together. But if your plan is to write this one book — and only one book — then it makes sense for the book to be the brand. After all, the goal is to sell the book, right? It’s not to build a legion of fans.

In a case of a book site, the site title and URL should reflect the book title, and the book cover should be front and center in the design. In addition, the site’s look and feel should directly resemble the book cover. After all, the site is an extension of the book in these cases, so it makes all the sense in the world to carry the colors and graphics from the book cover into the book-focused website.

The goal of a book-branded site is simple: sell the book. This type of site should should have “buy the book” buttons everywhere, and primarily should serve to whet people’s appetite until they make the purchase.

See examples of book-branded sites:

3. Your series. Let’s say that you want to be the next JK Rowling. You’ve just finished your first Harry Potter-like book, and plan to write the rest of the series over the next few years.

This site, in many ways, would be a hybrid of the two above. The title/URL should be the same as the name of the book series. The design should also be very closely tied to the book covers, and contain any color schemes, images or fonts that will run through the entire series. But the goals of this site would be closer to that of an author-focused brand. After all, not only do you want people to buy the first book, but you want to make sure you retain their attention for the future books. Collecting email addresses/subscribers/followers is key, because that’s the best way to make sure that you catch their attention again when the next book of the series is out.

See examples of series-branded sites at:

4. Your cause. Maybe your brand is much bigger than yourself or your book. Maybe you are trying to start a movement or build a new product line. That movement could be spiritual in nature, it could be political, or it could be a service that you offer. Regardless, in these instances, you and the book are only pieces of the puzzle. The true goal is bigger than both of you.

For sites like these, a uniquely-designed logo is key. That logo needs to have a catchy title — and picking a name for your brand is not something to take lightly — and should be something that will hopefully be recognizable to a wide audience in the future. Think nonprofit, like Autism Speaks, or for-profit, like, H&R Block. Sure those are big examples, but they’re good role models.

Front and center in your site design should be your mission and why people should be interested. This can be done in images, video and/or text … or all of the above. The book can be featured prominently in the design, but it should be viewed as a supporting item to boost the message, not the end all and be all.

The beauty of a cause-based site is that it can grow as much as you want it to. Plan to sell t-shirts and bracelets that advance the mission? That will fit nicely into the brand. Want to start a petition on your site, sell your services, or build an online community for people to connect on the issue? That also is an easy addition. All of it ties into the goal of your book and your website; you and the book are just part of the supporting cast, if you will.

Here are some examples of cause-based websites

See how different your website will be depending on which type of branding you decide to go with? Choose wisely … it will make a big difference in the success of your book, your website, and ultimately, your brand.

3 Musts for Titling Your Author Blog Posts

article-blog-titleNow how’s this for playing with reality? I’m blogging about blogging.

But seriously, each week, I have to first come up with an idea for a blog post, and then come up with a good title for that post. I’ve written extensively about the former — ideas for author blog posts. What I haven’t yet talked about is the strategy for writing good titles for those blog entries.

With that in mind, here are three things to keep in mind when you are coming up with your titles…

1. Keywords, keywords, keywords. For each blog post you write, have one particular keyword or series of keywords in mind. That string MUST make it into the title. For example, this particular blog entry has the term “author blog posts” as its primary key term. That string of words is in the title and in the body of the piece. So when someone goes to Google and searches for “author blog posts,” this piece should show up on their search results. Also, each post you write  should have a different keyword term to focus on … otherwise, you’re basically competing with yourself.

2. Think about numbers. For the last decade and a half, one thing has consistently been true about story/blog titles on the web. People love numbers. Have you ever noticed that a large percentage of my own blog entries start with “5 ways to …” or “3 things not to …”? There’s a reason for that. Titles that start with numerals quickly send a message to users that this piece will be easy to read and digest. It also gives them an idea of length. In other words, they know before they even go to the piece that it’s going to be a quick and easy read, and not a lengthy NY Times magazine piece.

3. Be provacative. Here are two potential titles for a blog post. Which one would you be more enticed to click on?

  • The Struggles I Had Writing My Book
  • 5 Reasons I Felt Dirty After Writing My Book

I think, if you tested these two, the second would get far more clicks than the first. Why? Well, it’s more provocative. And, like it or not, that’s what sells. A title like that would pique people’s interest. And not only would users be more likely to click on it, but they would also be more likely to share it with their friends. In other words, don’t be afraid to be a little bit daring with your titles and push the boundaries.

Now, obviously, it’s difficult do to all three of these things in the same title. If you can, great. If you have to settle for two, that’s okay. But I highly recommend you go through this checklist each and every time you’re adding a new blog post. At the end of the day, your site traffic numbers will benefit as a result.

5 Tips on Writing a Good Author Website Bio

author-website-bioNearly every author website has an “About the Author” page. This generally contains the author’s biography so that visitors and fans can learn more about the person behind the book.

In the decade plus that I’ve been working in this field, I’ve seen tons of different types of author bio pages. Some are written in the first person, some in the third person. Some are long, and some are short. Here’s a list of five tips I’ve put together (and examples of ones done right) that every author should keep in mind as they work on their author website bio.

1. Consider an unusual format. How many bios have you read in your lifetime. 100? 1000? And you pretty much know what to expect when you land on one, right? Well, maybe it’s time to throw your readers a curve. Consider moving away from the traditional bio and setting up the page in a Q&A format, or something else that’s a little less traditional. Use your imagination!

Example: http://chrislittlebooks.com/about-the-author/

2. Stick to the basics. I’ve seen author bios that include thousands of words. They talk about their childhood, education, professional career, etc… Keep your bio short and sweet. Make it easy to read and touch on the points that are especially interesting to your readers. It should not take five minutes for a visitor to get through your bio page.

Example: http://chipwagarbooks.com/about-the-author/

3. Include cute details. What would you like to know about your favorite author? Something fun and personal, right? Like if they have a pet. What they do in their spare time. Or their favorite guilty pleasure. Think about including these types of elements in your bio. They may not be the kinds of things that you expect to find on a page like that, but I’ve found them to be especially interesting to fans.

Example: http://www.marvinamazon.com/about-the-author/

4. Tie the bio into the book. Maybe you’re a nonfiction author who writes political books because of a personal passion. Maybe you’re a novelist who has always loved mysteries and is finally following her dream. Make sure that you tie your life into your bio, and explain why you’re writing about what you’re writing about. Don’t leave someone who has read your bio still wondering about your connection to the book.

Example: http://authorbillpowers.com/about-bill/

5. Include photos! This is incredibly obvious, and yet some people tend to forget. People go to your about page because they want to understand who you are. Are you 20 years old or 80 years old? Blonde or brunette? What kind of smile do you have? Are you a sophisticated urban gal or at home with nature? Include multiple pictures of yourself on your bio page to allow people to really get a peek into your world.

Example: http://jtcopeiv.com/about-j-t/
Are there other author website bio pages you like or recommend? Want feedback on your own? Use the comments feature below!

Creating a Book Secrets Page on Your Author Website

book-secretsAlmost every author website has the basics — a book description, excerpt, blog, contact page, about the author, news, etc…

But when I’m talking to an author about what we can do with their website, I like to try and think outside the box as well. One of my common recommendations for fiction authors? A “book secrets” page.

So what exactly is a book secret? It’s something that you — the author — knows, but someone who has read the book probably doesn’t know. Examples of the types of information that would be conveyed on a book secrets page includes:

  • The inspiration for the book
  • If any of the characters in the book are based on real people
  • How your characters got their names
  • Hidden secrets/clues in the book
  • Where in the story you might have hit writer’s block
  • Places in the book where you shifted course (i.e. you were originally going to have this person commit the crime, but then changed your mind)
  • Segments of the book that might have been cut during editing

These are just a few of the ideas … you can probably come up with more on your own. And wouldn’t these be interesting things to know about your favorite novel? Your readers would feel the same way!

Just this morning, I stumbled across an article about a perfect example of a book secret (albeit, a sad one). Do you know that children’s book, “Love You Forever”? It’s the one that includes this infamous song/poem:

“I’ll love you forever,
I’ll like you for always,
as long as I’m living
my baby you’ll be.”

Just recently, the author of the book, Robert Munsch, used his website to share the story about where the idea for that song came from. Warning, it’s a tearjerker!

And while you probably don’t have nearly as emotional a story behind your book, if you think hard enough, you’ll probably find some really interesting things that you can share with your readers via a book secrets page. Consider this page some bonus material for your loyal readers.

Report: Author Website Copy That Sells

a-b-testingI stumbled across an absolutely fascinating report today. It was put together by BookBub and includes some interesting details on what they learned doing A/B testing of copy on author websites.

For those of you who don’t know, A/B testing refers to dividing site visitors into two random groups, each experiencing the site with one difference. For example, half of the people who arrive on a site would see the text in black (group A) and the other half would see it in red (group B). The testing then measures how the two groups behave differently, ultimately determining whether you get a better response from the group seeing the text in black or the one seeing the text in red. In the case of authors, a good response = a book sale.

This study focused primarily on what authors were featuring in the copy on their websites, how they worded book descriptions, how they included reviews and more.

This really is a must-read for authors. You can view the full report yourself here, but I’ve taken the liberty of including some key takeaways…

What Sells Books

  • When including reviews….
    • Mention authors, not publications. When the site quoted the actual author (not the publication) that gave the book a rave review, there was a 30.4 percent higher click-through rate.
    • Include the number of reviews. When a book had at least 150 five-star reviews on Amazon or Goodreads, mentioning the exact number of five-star reviews in the copy increased clicks an average of 14.1 percent.
  • When writing book promo copy…
    • Mention your genre up front. The example in the test compared “If you love thrillers, don’t miss this action-packed read!” to just “An action-packed read!” The one that clearly mentioned “thrillers” got 15.8 percent more clicks.
    • Cite the time period (when applicable). In the case of historical fiction, the site that clearly cited the time period had increased clicks at an average of 25.1 percent.
  • When promoting yourself…
    • Don’t forget awards! If you have won any writing awards in the past — either for this book or other writings — mentioning it would increase clicks an average of 6.7 percent.

What Doesn’t Sell Books

The report also includes a list of things included in author copy that made no difference at all in the A/B testing. Examples included:

  • Mentioning if the book is a bestseller (surprisingly, people didn’t care)
  • Writing the book promo as a question (i.e. “Will Sandy find her daughter?” vs. “Sandy searches for her daughter.”
  • Citing the ages of the characters in the book
  • Mentioning if it is a debut novel

The report goes on to explain various ways that you can try A/B testing on your own site to find out what is working best in terms of selling books.

I don’t know about you, but I find this information absolutely fascinating. It certainly is going to help me better guide authors that I work with on the dos and don’ts of author website copy going forward.

Designing an Author Website Without a Book Cover

book coverIt’s one of the most important questions I ask an author when we first talk about designing their site: “Is your book cover finalized yet? If so, can I see it?”

The Relationship Between the Design and the Cover

An author’s website should — to some degree — resemble their book cover. If the site is focusing solely on the one book, it should resemble the cover a lot. If the most recent book cover is simply one of the many books, products, etc… being featured on the site, then it should only be a close resemblance. But either way, they should be related in some shape or form.

The one thing you don’t want is a site that doesn’t match a book cover. For example, imagine a site that’s purple and blue with a fancy script font. Then imagine a book cover sitting on it that’s black and green with a bold print. The cover clearly wouldn’t match the rest of the design. It would look like it was simply pasted somewhere it didn’t belong. It certainly wouldn’t help contribute to the brand that the author is trying to build.

The Conundrum

Many of today’s agents and publishers won’t even consider working with an author who doesn’t already have a following. So how does the author get that following they need to get published? That would be through their blog, their social media, and yes, their website.

And that’s the conundrum. An author needs a website to build the following that it takes to get published. But that means that he or she needs to build that site BEFORE there’s a book cover available to build it around. So what’s an author to do? What should go into designing an author website without a book cover?

Things to Keep in Mind

Here’s some advice that I give to authors who are faced with this situation:

1. Go with a flexible design. You very well may want to make some tweaks to your website design after your book cover is finalized. So make sure that you go with a template or design that can be adjusted down the line. For example a simple design with a space for a header bar would give you the flexibility to redesign the header bar down the line without having to rebuild the entire site.

2. Stay with muted colors. If you want to make sure that your ultimately-green book cover doesn’t clash with your orange design … well, don’t go with an orange design. Keep things simple in your initial design. Stick with a white, tan or gray background, and keep the accent colors relatively simple and neutral. This way, there’s no book cover that would look totally out of place.

3. Keep your design within your genre. You may not know exactly what your book cover will look like yet, but you probably have a pretty good idea of what the feel of it will be. For example, if you’re a romance writer, you probably won’t have a cover that’s brash and bold. If you write about investing in the stock market, your cover isn’t likely to be pink with a frilly font. You get the idea. Make sure that whatever site design you go with fits the feel of your book, and your cover is likely to fit in later.

Talk to your designer and make sure he or she understands the general feel of your writings. It’s so important that as soon as someone arrives on your site, they get the sense of exactly what you write about — even without a book cover in place.

Happy designing!

“Should I Sell the Book Myself?”

should-i-sell-the-book-myselfEvery author plans to have a “Buy now” button on their site, which allows visitors to purchase their book with one easy click. But the more complicated question is where that link goes. In other words, should authors simply link out to Amazon/B&N to sell their book? Or, as many authors ask me, “Should I sell the book myself?”

There are a lot of things that go into such a decision, but here’s what you need to know about the benefits and drawbacks of delving into online sales.

Benefits of Selling Yourself

  • There’s more money to be made. Obviously, when Amazon sells your book, they keep a large percentage of the profit. When you sell your book, that money all stays with you. So, for example, instead of earning $3 a book, you can make $10. That’s a significant difference.
  • You can offer bonuses, like a signed copy. When you are selling the book yourself, you can sweeten the pot for people interested in buying it. For example, you could offer to sign each copy before you send it, or throw in a fun extra, like a tote bag or bookmark to thank people for buying from you. This can help solidify your relationship with readers, and may increase the likelihood that they’d buy your next book.
  • You can collect information about who is buying your book. As C.J. Lyons, a self-published author of 27 novels who runs the NoRulesJustWrite.com, recently told Publisher’s Weekly: “The greatest success stories I’ve seen in POS have been nonfiction authors, particularly those who have other offerings and can use the ebook sale to upsell a course or webinar … The greatest value comes not from the financial gain from selling the e-book but from the lead capture.”
  • You can take it on the road. Going to an event to promote your book? Doing a book signing? This Publishers Weekly article points out that indie authors can use these accounts on point-of-sale systems at events as well. Authors can use Square, Stripe, PayAnywhere, or PayPal Here and simply swipe a book buyer’s credit card at a reading or conference on their tablet or smartphone.

Warnings About Selling Yourself

  • You need to set up a system to collect payment. Collecting credit card information is no easy thing. To do so, you need an account with a merchant. The easiest one to work with is PayPal, but just about all of them require setting up an account, synching it with your bank account, and/or paying a monthly fee to keep it active.
  • It’s a fair amount of time/trouble to sell and distribute yourself. Yup, you very well may find yourself in a whole new business if you go down this road. You’ll be keeping track of orders, packing/shipping books, and making lots of trips down to the post office (if you’re lucky enough to sell lots of copies). Joel Friedlander, a book design and self-publishing expert who runs TheBookDesigner.com, tells Publishers Weekly that his recommendation is for authors to avoid selling books directly on their websites. “The time and energy it takes to work out these e-commerce platforms, install the necessary code, landing pages, buttons, etc. are not that productive for this group.”
  • Taxes, taxes, taxes. Are you selling a book to someone in California? Are you collecting California sales tax on that purchase? And are you keeping track of your profits/losses to pay your own income tax on what you’re selling? I highly recommend that before you commit to selling yourself, you consult with a local tax expert to make sure that you’re following all the rules.

So there you go! Now it’s up to you to decide if you’re going to sell your book yourself … or leave the work (and the profits) to the pros.

And if you’ve ever sold yourself through your site (or through an on-the-go payment collection system), please let us know what you’ve learned!

7 Must-Have WordPress Plug-ins for Author Websites

wordpress pluginsWe build all of our author sites in WordPress. And there are many good reasons for that. One of them is the multitude of plug-ins that WordPress allows you to use — from ones that create photo slideshows to contact forms and more.

Here are seven that we install on each and every author website we build. Best of all, they’re all free!

1. WPNewsman Lite. Do you want to easily collect email addresses and send out newsletters, blog alerts or general updates to everyone on the list? This plug-in allows you to do just that with very little work on your end. The list of email addresses is maintained by the system (you don’t need to keep your own spreadsheet), and all the legal issues surrounding SPAM are taken care of for you with confirmation emails. Simply install the plug-in, craft your messages, and everyone who opts to sign up is automatically added to your email list. It’s easy and oh-so-valuable.

2. All in One SEO Pack. You know that you need to optimize your site for various keywords. This easy-to-use plug-in allows you to do that. In one place, you can put in the site-wide title, description and keywords. The plug-in also allows you to customize that same information on a page-by-page or blog post-by-blog post basis, if you so desire.

3. Sucuri Security. The simple explanation for this plug-in is that it keeps your site safe from hackers. Here’s the more complicated explanation that the creator provides: It “will check for malware, spam, blacklisting and other security issues like .htaccess redirects, hidden eval code, etc.” To keep your site safe (and to make sure you’re notified if a SPAMmer is trying to access your site), this plug-in is essential.

4. Ultimate Google Analytics. What good is having a site if you don’t know how many people are looking at it, what they’re viewing on your site, or how they’re finding your site? Sign up for a free account with Google analytics and then enter your account number into this simple plug-in. You can then log back into your Google analytics account any time to find out how many visitors you’ve had, which pages of your site they’re visiting, and where they came from.

5. Contact Form 7. You want people to be able to contact you through your website. What you don’t want is your email address printed on the site for every person (and every SPAMmer) to have access to. This simple plug-in allows people to fill out a contact form, which then comes to you in an email. It essentially allows people to email you without actually having your email address.

6. Akismet. Do you have a blog with a commenting feature on your site? Most authors do. But here’s the problem: those comment areas can be bombarded with advertising. I hear from authors all the time who are getting a massive amount of SPAM through this form. Enter Akismet. As the makers of the plug-in describe it, “Akismet is quite possibly the best way in the world to protect your blog from comment and trackback spam.”  Enough said.

7. Simply Sociable. In today’s world of social media, you would be remiss if you didn’t make it easy for your readers to share your pages or posts via Facebook, Google+ etc… Simply Sociable is an easy plug-in that, once you install it, automatically adds share buttons to the end of each blog post for Google+, Twitter, and Facebook. To quote the famous infomercial, “Set it, and forget it.”

Now, this is far from a full list of plug-ins. There are thousands of them out there; many of which are helpful to authors. And while we often install many additional wordpress plug-ins for author websites (i.e. one that creates a slider on the homepage or allows people to open a book cover and take a peek inside), these are the seven that we think all authors should be taking full advantage of.

Happy plugging.