spring_flowers

Ask Us Anything About Author Websites!

spring_flowersSpring has spring, and that puts us in a pretty good mood.

With that in mind, we are launching this “Ask us anything!” blog post.

The team here at Smart Author Sites has over three decades of experience working on the web — most of those years specifically building and maintaining author websites. We are strategists, editors, designers, developers, producers, and social media gurus.

If you want to build your own author website, or have one and aren’t sure what to do with it, post your question here and one of our team members will respond. Examples of the types of questions you might want to ask us include:

  • Should I build an author site or a book site?
  • Where should I host my site?
  • How do I buy a domain name?
  • Should I get involved in Facebook, Twitter or both?
  • What do you think of my current site?

Ask your question in the comments box below and we will be happy to provide answers and guidance (assuming it’s within reason).

Fire away!

author-website-decisions

New or Improved? Mapping Your Author Website Relaunch

author-website-decisionsI’ve worked with many authors who have had websites or blogs in the past, and want to start over again. Maybe they have a new book coming out and want to re-focus their author website or blog. Or they know that their previous efforts weren’t as professional as they’d like, and they want to do it right this time. In some cases, they haven’t touched the old website or blog for years and want to start fresh.

In many of those instances, I get asked the question: “Should I start a brand new website or blog? Or should I simply resurrect and improve the one I had before?”

While “starting fresh” always feels and sounds nice, there are a variety of reasons why I recommend that you lean towards working with the site domain or blog you already have and simply planning an author website relaunch.

1. You get to keep whatever SEO value you’ve already built up. Do you know which sites Google (unfairly) punishes? Brand new ones. And do you know what makes your site climb in ranking (without you having to do a thing?) Time. In other words, the longer a website is around –whether or not it’s being touched — the higher it will climb on Google’s search rankings. So by shutting down an old site and starting fresh with a new one, you will lose any SEO value that you’ve already built up.

2. There’s no need to direct old followers to a new domain. You probably built a list (even a small one) of followers on your old site or blog. There’s nothing they’d like better than to have your site be new and improved. Why would you want to redirect them so that they have to visit a new site in order to continue to follow you? Just give them more of what they already like.

3. You already have a mailing list/followers on the old site. Again, you’ve probably collected some email addresses on your old site or blog. Maybe you have a few subscribers who receive email updates whenever you post a new blog entry. You have a legal right to continue emailing them through your old site. You do NOT have a legal right to continue emailing them from a new domain. This is yet another thing you’d be forfeiting by starting anew.

So how can you make this old site new again? Here are some steps to take (without changing the URL, of course)

Step 1: Redesign. Make sure that the new design is also mobile-friendly, as more and more users are using mobile nowadays.

Step 2: Integrate your new site with social media. Make sure there are links to Twitter/Facebook/Pinterest on the new site, and announce your website “relaunch” through those social media channels.

Step 3: Write a first post on your new site/blog explaining the relaunch. Talk about why you were away, what has changed, and what you hope visitors will get from the new site.

Voila! You have a new and refreshed site, without losing all the benefits you gained from having your first site or blog. It’s a win-win.

elizabeth_gilbert_screenshot

6 Things Elizabeth Gilbert Does Right on Her Author Website (and You Can, Too)

elizabeth_gilbert_screenshotBestselling author Elizabeth Gilbert (known best for Eat, Pray, Love) has an amazing author website. And no, we didn’t build it.

But when I stumbled upon it today, I was immediately impressed by it. Why? Here are six reasons…

1. The font and logos at the top give it some personality. From the moment you arrive, you notice her name at the top and those cute little icons next to each tab in the navigation. Without having to use words to explain who Elizabeth is, the site gives you a sense of the books’ genre and Elizabeth’s writing style just from these simple images.

2. The slider on the homepage lets you see all her books immediately. Sliders are all the rage in today’s world of web design. Sometimes they’re overused, but this is definitely not one of those cases. When you land on the site’s homepage, you get little thumbnail images of each of her book covers, and clicking on one allows you to see a larger version of it, along with a description and a “learn more” links. This is a great way to feature multiple books without taking up a lot of real estate.

3. It’s easy to buy the book … in different formats and from different vendors. See the right hand column of the homepage? It highlights her most recent book (the one people are most likely to buy) and ways to purchase it in hardcover, paperbook or e-book format, from Amazon, B&N, iTunes and a wealth of other publishing companies. It even offers a bonus: a signed copy if you buy it directly from Two Buttons.

4. The “upcoming events” section is current. Admit it. You have trouble keeping your “upcoming events” section current. If I browsed most of the author websites I built over the last few years, I would be likely to find an upcoming events section with dates that have gone by. But Elizabeth (and her team, I assume) are keeping this up to date with events that are truly upcoming. This sends the message to readers that Elizabeth is paying attention to her site … and they should, too.

5. It highlights video. I wrote a post recently about how video is the future of the web. Author websites are no exception. On Elizabeth’s site, video is featured the site’s navigation. That’s where all her videos — promo trailers, interviews, etc… — are all housed.

6. It includes unique content. Elizabeth keeps a blog, which is great. In it, she covers current events, personal stories, and just general commentary that she’d like to share with readers. She also has a page on the site that she calls “Thoughts on Writing,” in which she shares some insight into what inspired her to write, the challenges she faced along the way, and what advice she would give to up-and-coming writers. All of thise content is unique to the site, and gives people who are fans of her books reason to visit the site and come back regularly.

Now, it’s true that Elizabeth is a bestselling author and probably has more time and money to dedicate to her site than many of you. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t take a lesson or two from what she’s doing right and replicate some of the same ideas on your own site.

And finally, hats off to Dave Cahill, by the way, of Rivernet Computers, who built this site for Elizabeth. Good work!

book-landing-page

What Is a Book Landing Page and Do You Need One?

book-landing-pageYou may or may not have heard the term “landing page” in the context of an author website. But you very well may not know exactly what a landing page is. It’s time to learn!

What Is a Landing Page?
The term “landing page” refers to where someone will enter, or “land,” on your website. And despite a common misconception, that’s not the same thing as a homepage.

While a homepage is essentially a table of contents for the entire website, a landing page is a much more focused beast. In other words, it takes one section of your website and becomes the place that people land when they want to learn more about it. And you want them to do one very clear thing while they’re there. The industry term for that is a “call to action.”

The definition of a landing page on Wikipedia is as follows:

The purpose of the … landing page is to persuade a visitor to take action by completing a transaction. This is accomplished by providing a form that needs to be filled out. The visitor information is obtained in order to add the visitor’s email address to a mailing list as a future prospect. A transactional email campaign can be established in the future. The goal is to capture as much information about the visitor as possible. The ultimate goal is to convert the visitor into a customer.

We even have a landing page on our own site. Check out this page and you will see that we have one very clear call to action here: give us your contact info! Make sense?

What Is a Book Landing Page?
So how does this concept of a landing page translate to a book?

Think about it this way: On your author website, you may offer a blog, links to connect with you via social networking, an email sign-up, a link to buy the book, downloadable PDFs and more. On a landing page, you reduce the confusion for visitors and give them one very clear direction. In this instance, it would be a large “Buy the Book” button — and no other options.

Statistics show that the fewer options you offer, the greater the chances that people will follow the one option that does exist. In this case, book sales.

What Would Be on a Book Landing Page?
If the primary purpose of your book landing page is to sell copies (which we are assuming it is), then everything on the page should be with the goal of convincing someone to buy the book. Examples of what to include are:

  • A large photo of the book cover, along with the title and publishing details
  • An eye-catching list of reasons why someone would benefit from the book (i.e. Double your salary in one year after reading this book!)
  • Testimonials/review quotes about the book
  • A large “Buy the Book” link, with options to purchase through Amazon, B&N, etc…

Who Should You Send to a Book Landing Page? Who Should You Not?
Since we’re assuming that the main purpose of your landing page is to sell books, then anyone who you would like to buy a copy of the book can — and should — be sent to your landing page. So if, for example, you’re talking about your book at a book club meeting or at the public library, you can hand out business cards sending people to the landing page of your book.

But there are plenty of people whom you might want to visit your website and NOT buy a copy of the book. For example, if you’re talking to an agent about the next book that you’re working on, or if you are encouraging someone who has already read your book to sign up for your email newsletter, you do not want to send them to a landing page. Instead, you want them to peruse the rest of the site and take a different action.

This is why a book landing page is simply one page of an entire website. It will be perfect for some visitors, but it’s not where you’d want to send others.

So Do You Need a Book Landing Page?
That depends. Here are some questions to ask yourself when making that decision:

  • What percentage of your audience fits into the category of people who you would want to simply purchase your book?
  • Would you rather visitors to do more than one thing when they arrive (say, buy the book AND sign up for your email newsletter)
  • What is the biggest strength of your site? Is it the book? Your blog? Would someone “miss out” if all they did was buy the book?
  • Is your main website an author website? If so — and is named after you (JaneSmith.com, for example) — then you may want to consider having a book landing page with the book title as a URL for clear differentiation.

Not every author needs a book landing page. But it’s definitely a tool that any author should have in his or her back pocket to boost book sales.

Happy Landing!

pottermore

JK Rowling and “Book Secrets”

pottermoreWhen I put together a proposal for a fiction author, I often recommend adding a feature to the site called “Behind the Book” or “Book Secrets.”

Well, it appears as if JK Rowling is taking my advice (wink, wink).

What JK Rowling Is Doing

I came across this story today about new writings she is releasing on Pottermore.com in honor of the holidays.

According to the Daily Telegraph, “One of the stories that will be published as part of the ‘festive surprise’ will contain details about what Rowling thinks about the young wizard’s enemy, Draco Malfoy.”

This follows her previous Halloween post in which she shared her “personal opinions on the character of Dolores Umbridge, a teacher at Hogwarts whom she compared to Lord Voldemort because of her ‘desire to control, to punish, and to inflict pain, all in the name of law and order.’ … Rowling also explained that Umbridge was based on two real people she had encountered during her life.”

What You Can Do Like JK Rowling

So what do I mean when I recommend posting a section called “Behind the Book” or “Book Secrets?” Well, I like to think of it as a place on the website — be it a page or a series of blog entries — where people who have read the book can get “bonus” material that they can’t find anywhere else. Think of it as a special thank you for those who read the book, and a way to keep fans of your writing engaged between book publications.

Examples of the types of things you can post in this section include:

  • tidbits on how certain characters got their names
  • which characters were based on real-life people
  • segments of the book that might have been cut during the editing phase
  • at which points you might have hit writers block
  • if there are hidden messages in the book that a reader might have missed
  • which characters are your favorites
  • which celebrities you could envision playing your characters in a movie

and the list of options is endless!

So take my advice (and JK Rowling’s, apparently). Think about a Book Secrets page on your author website.

video

5 Reasons Why (and How) to Include Video on Your Author Website

videoVideo may not be the easiest type of content to produce for an author website. After all, it’s a whole lot easier for a writer to … you know … WRITE than it is to set up a camera, try to look nice, create a video, edit a video and then upload that video.

But here are some statistics that might really surprise you about the future of video on the web.

  1. One third of all online activity now is spent watching videos.
  2. People who watch online videos are more likely to share what they’ve watched.
  3. Video will account for nearly 75 percent of all web traffic by 2017
  4. Users more likely to click on a link in Google search if it shows a video
  5. The second biggest search engine now is YouTube. It has more search than AOL, Bing & Yahoo combined.

Convinced, yet, that video is becoming a must for all websites? Author websites are certainly no exception.

With that in mind, here are a few different ways that we’ve seen authors successfully use video on their websites:

  • Book trailers (examples: http://chipwagarbooks.com and http://newtonfrohlich.com)
    A book trailer, much like a movie trailer, is like a video promo for a book. And book trailers can take many forms — from actual actors telling the story of the book to a compilation of words and photos from the book with a musical background. Figure out how to tell your book’s story in two minutes or less and consider having a book trailer produced to spread the word.
  • Book readings
    Do you ever do readings of the book for bookstores, book clubs, etc..? Why not have those recorded and shared on your website? After all, it shouldn’t only be people in your local area who have the benefit of watching you read an excerpt from your book.
  • Author interviews (examples: http://laurenmbloom.com and http://themanopauseman.com)
    Were you interviewed on local TV? Make sure to get a link that allows you to embed the video on your website. And if you haven’t been interviewed, don’t fret. You can create your own interview! Write out some questions that you envision your readers would be interested in having answered, and have a trusted friend “interview” you and ask you those questions.
  • Live video chats
    Consider having a one-time, live video event during which you invite readers to join you online and ask questions, provide feedback on your book, etc… This can be done via YouStream or a similar service. Then make sure the entire session is recorded — it can then continue to live on your site in the form of a playable video for future visitors.
  • Vlogs (example: http://the3minutementor.com)
    Short for “video logs,” vlogs are basically blogs conveyed in the form of video. And much like blogs, these vlogs are relatively simple to produce and don’t require a whole lot of professional preparation. Just like you would be inspired to write a blog entry, you would be inspired to do a quick vlog. Just turn on your webcam, share your tidbit and post it. Voila!

Do you have other video ideas that you’ve used on your author website? Share them with us now!

 

writing-query-letter

7 Tips for Authors on Writing a Successful Query Letter

writing-query-letter
Query letters are a lot like resumes: People are always wanting to know how to write one that stands out from the pack. And most people don’t have a clue…

Based on everything that I’ve read and heard from other authors, here’s what I’ve learned about how to write a great query letter….

1. Start with the essentials. Don’t forget to include the most important information early on in the letter! That includes the tentative book title, word count, genre and target audience. An agent wants to know that these things are a good fit before he or she reads any further. Then…

2. Grab an agent’s attention. Forget the bland, “I am contacting you today seeking representation….” That’s boring, and it’s true of everyone. So, early on in your letter, include an outstanding quote from the book, a tantalizing question that the book raises, or an endorsement. Make sure the agent gest an immediate feel for your characters, your voice, and your story.

3. Show your professionalism. Make it clear in your letter that you’re not just a wanna-be writer. You’re a professional writer. Explain what you’ve already published, the writer’s conferences you’ve attended, and whatever other work makes it clear that you’re not just some Joe Schmoe who wrote a book.

4. Compare your book to others in your genre. This is yet another area in which you can really show how savvy you are. Explain which other books in your genre are similar to yours, and how and why yours is different. If there’s a way to also work in an explanation about why your book would be especially popular in the upcoming years (i.e. the Presidential election), make sure to do so.

5. Keep it brief. Like anyone else scouring through hundreds of letters, an agent is probably not going to read every word in your query letter. So limit the length to one page at most, and make sure the strongest elements stand out.

6. Tailor it to each individual agent. Again, think of it like a resume. Each job is different. So is each agent. Research what other authors he or she has represented before, discuss how you found him or her, and why you think you’d be a good fit for one another. If the agent has a blog, make sure to read it before drafting the letter, and reference it in the query.

7. Show off your marketing talents. In today’s world of book publishing, marketing a book is the responsibility of the author … until you’re a best-seller of course. With that in mind, you’ll get a huge leg up on the competition if you explicitly state in the query letter what you’ve already done — and what you plan to do — to market the book. That means including a link to your author website, mentioning the number of followers you’ve already built on Twitter, highlighting your blog and/or Facebook presence, etc….

Follow these seven guidelines and you’ll greatly increase your chances of getting a call from an agent. After all, writing a great book isn’t necessarily what makes an author a bestseller. Getting that book picked up by the right people is just as important.

ecommerce

5 Ways to Sell Books From Your Author Website

ecommerceI often have authors ask me this question: “Can I sell books through my author website?” The answer is a resounding yes.

In fact, there are a multitude of ways to do it. Here are your options.

1. Sell the book yourself through an online shopping cart. An online shopping cart allows you to sell your book (and possibly other products) right there on your own website. You collect payment, process the order and basically handle everything yourself. The biggest benefit of such a system is the fact that you get to control the price — and profit. It’s also a good experience for visitors, since they never have to leave your site to complete their purchase. But there is a downside: setting up a system like this takes a fair amount of time and effort. There’s also a cost involved — both a set-up cost and a monthly cost — so there’s always the potential of such a venture not being profitable.

2. Sell the book yourself via PayPal. If you’re not ready to go all-in and set up an integrated shopping cart, a PayPal cart is the next best thing. For no set-up cost, you can create a PayPal account, sync it up with your bank account, and create a product page for your book. You can set the price, a tax percentage and shipping costs. PayPal will then give you a simple widget of embed code. Simply paste it on your site and when someone clicks that “buy” link, they will get taken to your product page on PayPal. In addition, PayPal only collects a small amount of the total. So what’s the drawback? Well, this option takes people off your site to make a payment, which can be jarring for a visitor. In addition, this option only works if you’re prepared to do the processing and shipping of books yourself.

3. Link to Amazon and/or B&N. This is the most common method that most of our author clients use to sell books. It’s pretty darn simple: create a “Buy the Book” area and include links to both Amazon and B&N. Unless you self-published with CreateSpace — a division of Amazon — I highly recommend including links to both (or else you risk being blackballed by one or the other). It’s easy peasy.

4. Link to your publisher site (if you have a publisher). If you were published through any of the major publishing houses, your book is likely for sale through their website. It’s quite easy to add a “Buy the Book” link on your site and simply link there for people to make the purchase in one click. Much like linking to Amazon or B&N, there’s little to no work involved in the process.

5. Let your publisher sell through your website. If you’re lucky enough to be published through Harper Collins, you’ll want to know that they recently made the selling process even easier, offering a new e-commerce platform that allows authors to easily integrate the HarperCollins shopping cart directly into their website. In other words, they’ll do all the work, and you can collect a 35% net royalty on e-books sold through the HarperCollins platform on your site. Now that’s a good deal.

See what I mean? Allowing people to buy the book through your website is easy. The hard part is figuring out which of the options above works best for you.

wordpress-logo

10 WordPress Terms All Authors Should Know

wordpress-logoWordPress has become the content management system of choice for a large majority of author websites. But WordPress also comes with a language all its own. If you’re just getting started on this journey, here are 10 terms you may hear or see in regards to your site – in alphabetical order — and what each one means.

1. Dashboard
Your dashboard is the first page that you see when you log into WordPress. It’s kind of like your own homepage. It generally includes essential information about your work on your site (number of posts, etc…), recent comments and activity, as well as general WordPress news.

2. Media
Ah, the media library. This is where all of your photos, videos, illustrations or downloadable PDFs would be housed. So, for example, if you want to add a downloadable PDF (a press kit, for example) to a page on your site, you would upload it to the media section and then set up a link to that form of media from the appropriate page. You would also go to media to find any previous photos that you may have uploaded.

3. Pages
These are pretty much what they sound like. WordPress “Pages” refers to the actual pages on your site –your home page, your about page, your book page, etc… Simply go into the pages section to make changes to any page on your site. What’s important to note, though is that pages are different from posts (below).

4. Plug-ins

WordPress is, in many ways, a compilation of plug-ins. Each plug-in is a feature that does something to the site. Do you have a contact form? That’s a plug-in. How about a photo gallery, a calendar, an email sign-up box, or something that is supposed to help with SEO? Those are all plug-ins. In other words, any features on your site beyond simple design and text is the result of a plug-in, and there are thousands and thousands of them available in WordPress. They can do practically anything you need.

5. Posts
This is a source of confusion. People often don’t know the difference between pages and posts. And that’s understandable. So, to clarify, a post is a specific blog entry. Almost everything else on your site is a page. So your “pages” might be Home, About, Contact and Blog. That blog page would be a compilation of your blog posts. So you’d go to pages to update, say, your About page; you’d go to posts to add or update individual blog posts. Make sense?

6. Settings
The bread and butter of your author website sits in “settings.” This is where your site title lives, the URL is set, and the primary email address associated with your account resides. If you ever want to make administrative changes to your site, this is where you do it. But be forewarned: a simple change – like a one character adjustment to the URL in settings – could completely break your site. So use settings wisely.

7. Themes
WordPress designs are based on themes. Each of those themes includes a basic structure and color scheme. You can then adjust those themes to incorporate your own images, adjust the colors, create a menu, and (of course) enter your own content. There are hundreds of WordPress themes currently available, and your design will probably be based on one of them.

8. Updates
Ah, updates. If you’ve had a WordPress site before, you’ve probably gotten notifications on your dashboard that there are updates that need to be run. This happens frequently in WordPress. Ultimately, these updates need to be run to keep your site current and to keep it protected. However, we’ve had instances in which updates can cause problems on a site. So make sure to have a tech person on call whenever you run them.

9. Users
Did you know that you can set up multiple users on your WordPress site? Yup, that’s what the “users” tab in WordPress is for. So if, for example, you want to have guest bloggers posting on your site, you can set them up as additional users with blogging rights. They would then have their own login into WordPress and would be allowed to do as much or as little as you give them the rights to do. If you have a technical person who you turn to for WordPress help, they should be a user on your site with administrative rights.

10. Widgets
Have you ever noticed that in the right hand column of your site, or across the footer, there are various boxes? Those boxes might include blog feeds, a newsletter sign-up area, or a picture of your book cover and a “buy” link. Those are all considered “widgets,” short for “widgetized areas.” In other words, those are like “plug and play” boxes that offer special features in their own segments of the page.

There you go! Enjoy the new and exciting world of WordPress!

gavel

Warning! 5 Actions on Your Author Website That Could Get You Sued

gavelLet me start this post with a disclaimer. I have never — and I repeat, never — heard of a client getting sued for something that’s on their author website.

That said, it doesn’t mean that you couldn’t get sued for something posted on your author website. With that in mind, and in the interest of helping all authors play things safe, here are five things you should watch out for on your site if you want to ensure that you’ll never be the victim of a lawsuit.

1. Copyright infringement. Have you ever thought about posting someone else’s material on your site? Maybe copying someone else’s blog entry and calling it a guest post? Or cutting and pasting an entire review of your book on your site? All of these are examples of copyright infringement, and they could get you served papers. As a writer, you should be especially aware of these types of issues.

2. Privacy violations. Let’s say you collect information from visitors to your site. Maybe you get their names, addresses, etc… If you then use that information in ways that the users didn’t agree to, you’re in violation of their privacy. Examples could include spamming users with emails they didn’t agree to, or selling their information to a third party.

3. Libel/Product disparagement. Do you regularly write reviews of products or other books? There’s nothing wrong with saying you didn’t like them. But there IS something wrong if you say anything incorrect about those books or products. In other words, it’s okay to say that the book was boring and overpriced. It’s NOT okay to exaggerate the cost, number of pages, etc… in an effort to make a point or be funny.

4.  Using images illegally. This is one of the most common violations on the web. People often believe that if they find an image on Pinterest, or a celebrity photo on a news site, that they can reuse that photo in their own blog post on the subject. Wrong! Remember, there’s a photographer who took that picture and is pretty proud of his or her work. And the Associated Press or Reuters, for example, collect a lot of money from sites which want the rights to use their photos online. When you use those pictures without paying for those rights, you are hitting these companies where it hurts. And they don’t take that lightly. No matter how “small time” you may feel your site is, using photos without the proper rights is a bit no-no.

5. All of these things … through comments. Do you think that if you follow all the rules you can’t get sued? Think again. If you have any commenting functions or message boards on your site, then you are responsible for what any visitors post there. It’s important that you keep a close eye on each and every comment, photo, etc… that a user posts. Any illegal use of photos, copying and pasting of other materials, or incorrect information that defames a person or business can get you into the same trouble as doing these things yourself. At the end of the day, you the site owner can be the one sued for anything that’s posted.

All of this isn’t with the purpose of scaring you. Instead, it’s intended to educate you on the most common activities on the web that many site owners generally think of as harmless …. but that can get them into a lot of trouble if they’re not careful.