author-website-bio

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!

book-secrets

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.

a-b-testing

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.

book cover

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 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!

wordpress plugins

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.

mobile-friendly

Another Reason to Perfect the Mobile Version of Your Author Website

mobile-friendlyLike it or not, mobile is the wave of the future. As each year goes by, a larger and larger percentage of people surfing the web are doing it on a smartphone. This further enhances the need for every author to have a mobile-friendly design.

But, apparently, having a functional mobile version of your author website can now even impact your desktop users. How? Google.

As Google begins to acknowledge the growing impact of the mobile audience, they are changing the rules. According to a recent article on Mashable, starting this month, “when you do a Google search on mobile, search results will prioritize websites that the search engine deems “mobile-friendly.”

Here are some common questions about this change.

Who will this affect?

The truth is that this change will impact nearly everyone. Forrester Research estimates that a whopping 38% of web sites for businesses with 1,000 or more employees don’t meet Google’s criteria for being mobile-friendly. That number is expected to be much higher for small businesses — let alone individual authors.

Also, if your author website is more than a few years old, it’s likely not to be considered up to snuff.

As the Mashable article explains, “The change will impact millions of sites, more than Google’s last major search ranking algorithm update, Google Panda. Panda, which was launched in 2011 and has been updated several times since then, downranked 12% of all sites that Google rated low-quality.”

What’s the impact of the change?
The change is simple to explain, but may have devastating results. If your site is not mobile friendly, you are likely to start appearing lower on a user’s search results. In other words, if you wrote a book on divorce, and your site had been showing up near the top for a search term related to divorce, you very well may lose that placement to sites that are more mobile-friendly.

What makes a site mobile-friendly?

There are a lot of criteria, but here’s a basic overview…

  • It avoids software like Flash
  • It features larger text
  • Most importantly, it has what’s called a responsive design that adjusts for mobile users

How can I tell if my site is mobile-friendly?
Whether or not a user would rate a site as mobile-friendly may be relative, but that’s irrelevent. Because all that matters here is whether Google finds your site mobile-friendly. So use their mobile-friendly test. You’ll get a quick and simple answer.

How can I make my site more mobile-friendly?
There’s no easy answer to that question. It depends greatly on how your site is built, when it was built, what platform it was built on, etc… It could involve a few simple and quick fixes, or you may be better off with a complete redesign.

But if you’re interested in making your site more mobile friendly, contact us at Smart Author Sites. We’ll help you make sure you stay near the top of search results.

Happy Googling.

content

The 5 Most Common Author Content Mistakes

contentI am a content person. There’s no way around it. And as much as I may write about website design or layout or usability, my real bread and butter is content.

With that in mind, here are some of the most common content mistakes I see authors making on their websites.

1. Writing for print, not the web. Writing a book is drastically different from writing for the web. Even writing for a magazine is different. People reading print — be it in the form of a book or a magazine — are more willing to sit down and actually … you know … read. People “reading” on the web are far more likely to skim. So any content written for the web needs to be broken down with subheads, bullets, bolded text, etc… In other words, in less than five seconds someone should be able to understand everything that’s on a page of your site. That is drastically different from the type of writing most authors are used to.

2. Being too sales-y. Yes, you want people to buy your book. But you probably should refrain from literally asking people to buy your book. To borrow a quote from a piece I recently read entitled The Counterintuitive Art of Promoting Books, “Really, almost no strategy that starts with trying to get people to “buy your book” works. Instead, good platform building starts years ahead of time and is not primarily focused on selling books, even if publishing and selling books is part of your larger strategy to expand your audience and influence.Those of us on social media, especially Twitter, have all seen the classic mistakes that authors make in book promotion. Their book comes out…and then they join Twitter! Their feed is all about…THEIR NEW BOOK. They use Twitter bots to get tens of thousands of followers…TO BUY THEIR BOOK.” You get the point.

3. Not writing shareable content. Take a look at what people are actually sharing on Facebook and Twitter. They are all different types of pieces — from ones that are funny to ones that are helpful — but they all have an interesting angle. Take the time to pay attention to what your friends are sharing, and then test out writing your own blog entries that are similar in nature until you find something what works. Many authors just write about whatever comes to mind, and have no idea if and when people are sharing. But social sharing is one of the best ways to drive traffic — and ultimately, new readers — to your site. So it shouldn’t be ignored.

4. Being all over the place. Quick. In five seconds, tell me what your online persona is about. If you can’t, then there’s a problem. Someone should be able to understand who you are at first glance of your site. And then everything else you publish on the site should back that up. So if, for example, you are someone who provides an inspiring message to divorcees, then every post you write, every page on your site — even your bio — should be part of that message. It all needs to fit under the brand. Even sharing the fact that you have a dog on your bio page should be tied into your message about companionship. Too many authors try to bring too many things to the table — sometimes they’re funny, sometimes they’re serious, and sometimes they write a blog post about a trip to the supermarket. Find your message and personality and use your content to back it up.

5. Too much text. Sure, you have a lot to tell your audience. But does your book description really need to be seven paragraphs? Could you say the same in two? And what about video? Could you create a book trailer in video format that might accomplish the same thing (if not more?) We are all writers at heart, and we lean towards words. But remember: the general public does not. In fact, the success of YouTube and Pinterest over the last five years are a direct result of the fact that many members of society (your readership!) would prefer to look at pictures or watch videos on the web. So think about how you can minimize the text on your site and you very well may be able to increase your appeal.

Happy writing!

SEO_search_results

FAQs About SEO for Author Websites

SEO_search_resultsI apologize in advance for the abbreviations in the title. I know that terms like SEO can be kind of confusing (and even intimidating) at times. And I often get questions about what SEO is, why it’s helpful and how to execute it properly. With that in mind, here are some of the questions I get asked most often about SEO for author websites — starting with the basics and moving on to the more advanced.

What is SEO, anyway? What does it stand for? 

SEO stands for search engine optimization. The most popular search engines are Google, Yahoo, and Bing. Search engine optimization refers to making tweaks to your site so that it shows up at the top of search results on these search engines. In other words, if someone searches for “self-help book” on Google, your site may show up near the top of their results with proper SEO.

How would SEO help me?

By showing up at or near the top of search results for particular terms, you’re going to increase traffic to your site, thus increasing your number of copies sold, fans of your book, etc…

How do you choose the right keywords?

We offer something called an advanced SEO package. This means that not only do we optimize your site for various keywords, but we actually help you choose those keywords. To do that right, we use the Google keyword tool that allows you to enter various search terms and learn how many people are searching for each type of keyword, which variations of each one are most popular, and what the level of competition for each keyword is. By weighing each of those three results, you can select the specific keywords that will offer you the best bang for your buck.

Is SEO based on single words or would a book title or person’s name be counted as one keyword? What about versions of the same word? (nurse / nursing, for example)

The industry term might be “keyword,” but it definitely does not refer to one word. So a keyword could be “self-help books” or “resume building.” And yes, versions of the same word are important. So if your book is about becoming a nurse, you would want to make sure to work in both “nurse” and “nursing” as part of your keywords.

In choosing keywords, is it better to be more general or more specific?

The more specific the better. So, for example, rather than “nurse,” you’ll be much better off selecting a keyword like, “how to become a nurse.” This may seem counterintuitive — since it would reduce the number of people searching for your keywords — but there are two big benefits that come with the specificity: 1) you have far less competition, thus making you more likely to show up at the top of results; 2) you are reaching an audience that you know is looking for books specifically on your subject matter.

Does any keyword optimization come automatically with a web site, such as my name or book titles?

This type of basic SEO should come automatically with any website build. This is just a piece of the advanced package I described above. As long as your site is readable by the search engines (which someone would have to go out of their way not to be), your site should start showing up relatively quickly for your name or your book title. After all, unless your name is Jane Doe, it’s not like you’ll have a huge amount of competition for those keywords.

How long does it take to see results from SEO?

For a brand new site, it can take weeks to months for the site to start showing up on the search engines. And even then, it won’t immediately start off at the top. The search engines value time, and the longer a site has been around, the higher it will appear on search results. So expect your site to take a good few months before you actually hit your final placement. If your site has already been around for a while, however, and you are simply making changes to improve its SEO, expect those results to start paying off in about two to four weeks.

Are there any WordPress plugins to help with SEO?

Yes, there are many WordPress plug-ins that can help with SEO. Two that we recommend include “All in One SEO Plug-in” and “WordPress SEO for Yoast.” These types of plug-ins allow you to select keywords for both the site and for individual pages. In addition, the Yoast plug-in babysits your blog posts to make sure you do everything possible to optimize each post for the selected keywords. Best of all, these plug-ins are totally free.

Will redesigning my site impact my search engine rankings?

Generally, redesigning a site does impact SEO. At first, a site can take a brief hit from a redesign, and fall slightly on search result pages. However, almost always, the change ends up improving a site’s rankings (assuming it’s redesigned properly) and it should start showing up with better placement on search results within a month or two.

Is SEO work mostly on the front end (what users can see) or the back end (what users can’t see)?

The answer is really a little bit of both. There is a lot of work that can be done on the back end to improve your site’s search engine rankings — including alt tags for images and links, metadata, and more. However, there are a fair number of things that can be done on the front end as well, including ensuring that one or more specific keywords appear as a header or in the first paragraph of a particular page. So, in essence, proper SEO is done by both you (in terms of making sure you use the right terms in the right places) and your developer (to make sure that everything on the back end is optimized as well).

Have more questions about SEO? Post them in the comments box below and I will be happy to respond!

seo

Special Deal for SAS Clients: 50% off Advanced SEO

seoThe first quarter of 2015 is coming to an end, and Q2 is just beginning. With that in mind, it’s time to announce our special deal for current clients in the second quarter.

From April 1 to June 30th, any current Smart Author Sites client can take advantage of our advanced SEO (or search engine optimization) service at half the cost!

This $500 value, available now for only $250, gets you the following:

  • Google keyword research to determine the 10-15 top keywords your site should be optimized for
  • Optimization of the site’s homepage for the 3-5 top keywords
  • Optimization of the remainder of the site pages for the remaining 10 keywords
  • Guidance on how to use your blog, YouTube, etc… to further optimize for the appropriate terms
  • Re-submission of your site to the major search engines

You should start to see a difference in your placement for those keywords within weeks of implementing these changes. Reach out through our ticketing system if you’re interested in taking advantage of this special offer.

Thanks as always for your business!