J.K. Rowling Sets and Example on Bonus Material for Author Websites

pottermoreThere are lots of things that are givens on author websites, like details on the book or books, an author bio, a contact form, etc…

But what makes author websites truly different and appealing is something that goes above and beyond. That’s why I always recommend that authors include bonus material on their site.

Why bonus material?
Bonus material serves a duel purpose: it makes the book extra appealing to those who haven’t read it yet (hopefully increasing book sales as a result), and offers some interesting and satisfying information for people who have read it.

In short, it makes readers feel like they’ve gotten an “inside” story that just the book itself doesn’t offer.

What’s an example of bonus material?
Just what makes up bonus material depends on the subject matter of the book. For fiction titles, that bonus material could include “book secrets” (i.e. hidden meanings in the book), how characters got their names, where the author may have hit writers block, etc…

For nonfiction books, that bonus material may be a discussion guide, a “behind the book” story (i.e. what prompted him/her to write it), segments of the book that were cut out, etc…

Can I see bonus material on someone else’s site?
Check out nearly any author website in our portfolio and you will see some form of bonus material. Feel free to grab ideas from there.

But today, we’re going to focus on one very high-profile example of bonus material: that being used by the infamous J.K. Rowling.

Just this week, Rowling launched her latest author website, Pottermore.com. In it, Rowling celebrates the 18th birthday of one of her most beloved characters from the Harry Potter series, Celestina. As part of this celebration:

  • Visitors get their first chance to actually listen to a song sung by Celestina and the Banshees (who, by the way, perform live everyday in the fantasy world of “Harry Potter.”) The song is titled “You Stole My Cauldron But You Can’t Have My Heart.”
  • Rowling shares some background information on the character and the source of her inspiration for it. That, apparently, starts with Shirley Bassey, the singer known for singing in the James Bond movie “Goldfinger” in 1964.

If you’re a fan of the Harry Potter series, this type of information can satisfy an appetite that you never even knew you had. Talk about bonus material! Authors, take note…


The 5 Most Common Author Blogging Mistakes

frustrated-author-bloggingBlogging can be a boon for authors. A good blog can build an audience, create life-long fans, and increase book sales.

But too many authors aren’t aware of what they need to do in order to create and maintain a good, successful blog.

With that in mind, here are the five most common blogging mistakes I’ve seen authors make…

1. Blogging to the wrong audience. Who is your readership? Are you writing books for teenage girls? Middle-agers interested in world travel? That’s who you need to be blogging to. Too many authors blog about being an author. That may be great for attracting other authors, but that won’t do much as far as building the audience that will actually read your book. Figure out who your books are targeted to, and blog for the same people.

2. Not having a clear blogging plan. Quick: Tell me in one sentence exactly what the theme of your blog is. Can’t do it? Don’t worry; neither can a lot of people. In order for a blog to be successful, it needs to have a distinct voice and message. For example, you should be able to say, “My blog is the go-to place for the latest news and commentary on social justice issues,” or “It’s a one-stop source for job hunting tips.” Have this clear idea in place before you build the blog, and make sure it’s at the top of your mind every time you post.

3. Not optimizing the blog. Did you do any keyword research before building your blog and your website? If not, well … it’s never too late. Have five to 10 keywords at the top of your mind, and make sure each and every blog entry is optimized for those keywords. If, for example, your target keyword is “mid-life crisis,” then every blog post needs to have that word worked in to the post. This can help tremendously in driving organic (aka free) traffic to your blog entries.

4. Not making the blog sharable. One of the best ways to drive massive amounts of traffic to your blog is to get your blog post “shared” via social media. Of course, it needs to be good in order for people to do that. But it also helps if you include a plug-in on your blog that allows readers to share your individual posts via Facebook, Twitter, etc… in just one click. A few good shares and your traffic can skyrocket.

5. Not looking at traffic reports. There’s no good reason why people shouldn’t be looking at their website traffic reports. These reports are free and easy to set up, and they can give you a world of information about which blog posts get the most traffic, which ones have the highest bounce rates (people leaving immediately), etc… This knowledge is so valuable: it will fill you in on which types of posts you should continue to create, and which ones are not the best use of your time.

Avoid making these five common mistakes, and you will notice an improvement in your blog traffic in no time!

Do you have other author blogging mistakes you’d like to share? Post them below!


Roundup: 4 Must-Reads on Author Websites and Author Marketing

author-website-desktopOver the last two weeks, I’ve come across four really wonderful pieces of content (on other sites) about author websites and author marketing.

Here’s a quick synopsis of each one, and links to read them in full. Authors won’t want to miss these!

1. 10 Ways Authors Can Help Each Other with Book Marketing

Here are some of the highlights of the 10 great tips listed in this piece on how authors can work together to cross-market:

  • Plan a “local authors night” at a bookstore
  • Guest blog for each other
  • Read and review each other’s books
  • Use their books as contest giveaway

2. Book Party:  Five Steps to Success

This post, written by Ellen Cassedy (who recently hosted a book party for my poet friend), includes tips for a successful book party. Examples include:

  • Choosing the right time
  • Not being afraid to take risks
  • Using social media to promote the event
  • Planning a program for the event

3. How to Create a Street Team for Your Book

Author Meagan Francis put together a full-blown “street team” to promote her book. Now, she shares her story on Build Book Buzz. Some of the questions she answers include:

  • Who should be on my launch team?
  • How should I approach potential launch team members?
  • What should I ask of my launch team members?
  • Should you do this too?

4. How to Sell Your Books With Your Own Website Quiz

This piece is somewhat mistitled. It sounds like you need to create a website quiz to sell books. But that’s not what this is. Instead, it’s a quiz that YOU can take to determine how good a job you’re doing selling your book through your author website. And I think it’s pretty good. Questions asked include:

  • Have you hired a webmaster without writing your web copy first?
  • Do you make it easy for your potential buyer to buy?
  • Do you give your visitors what they want – free content?
  • Does your website increase client base and product sales enough?

Read these four pieces and you will have a head start on marketing and selling your book. Enjoy!



A Creative Way to Get People Interacting With Your Author Website

I stumbled across this article on Publishers Weekly this morning. It talks about a major publisher — Berkley, an imprint of Penguin — testing out two book covers for the same book. The goal is to see which one gets a better response.

As part of the testing process, they are posting photos of both covers (right) on Facebook and asking people to vote on which one they like better.book_covers

According to PW, “The ‘V’ cover seemed to gain traction on Penguin’s ‘Love Always’ Facebook page, whose followers are being asked to vote on their cover preference. Among 29 comments posted as of Monday morning, 21 endorsed the red V, and 20 of those endorsements came from women. There were six votes for the image, three of them by men.”

It’s a “great way to make everyone part of the experience,” said Cindy Hwang, Virgin’s editor.

And this got me thinking … what’s to stop other authors — even those who are self-publishing — from doing the same thing?

The Benefits

Utilizing this type of polling/commenting is certainly a good way to make readers feel involved in the site (and in the production of the book).

It’s especially helpful for authors who have one book published already (and a fanbase in place) and want to build some buzz for their second book.

Best of all, website visitors are really likely to share a fun poll or conversation like this one. Which means that not only will you be strengthening your own fanbase, you’ll actually be expanding your fanbase. It’s a win-win.

How to Make It Work

So what can you do on your author website? Here are a few ideas that I’ve seen work…

  • Let readers vote on — and comment on — their favorite book cover
  • Let readers choose the name of a character in the book
  • Ask readers which two characters from your first book should become a couple in the second

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Think outside the box, and come up with your own ideas for how to make your author website a truly interactive place. Then share them with us!


Copying an Author Website Design: What’s Legal, What’s Ethical

mirror_imageWe recently received a request from a new client. He loved a previous author website design that we had built, and asked us to pretty much duplicate it exactly — just replacing the other author’s photos with his own.

This led to quite a conundrum for us. And here’s why….

Legal Issues
I’m not a lawyer. Nor do I play one on TV. But I do have to wonder what an author actually owns the rights to in terms of their website design. The site in question (which I will not identify, for obvious reasons) was a uniquely-built website that a client paid top dollar for. We designed and coded it from scratch, and gave him a wonderful final product. It was not a template, nor was it ever intended to be a template.

That leaves me wondering … does this client own the rights to that design? How much would need to be changed for it to be a different site?

As authors, we hear about plagiarism all the time. We are careful not to plagiarize. We understand just what is okay to copy (and source) and what is not. This is far less clear when it comes to design.

Ethical Issues
Let’s just say, for the moment, that it’s perfectly legal for us to take the design that we built one client and repurpose it for another client. That still leaves another question, though … is it ethical?

In other words, if we promised one client a unique website, and collected payment for a unique website, would it be unethical for us to then, essentially, turn it into a pre-built template and re-use it for another client?

Our feeling is that this just isn’t fair. Legal or not, it’s not ethical.

Finally, I should ask the question: Why would an author want a website that’s identical to someone else’s? It’s one thing to say, “I really like this site, and I want to copy this, this and this” from it. It’s another thing to say that you want a site that matches it exactly.

There is the chance that someone — an agent or publisher, perhaps — will stumble upon both sites and wonder how they got to be exactly the same (and what that says about the authors in question). It’s also possible that the author whose site it was first would find the second one and be … well … a bit peeved that someone else copied their work. In my opinion, the drawbacks of this kind of arrangement would far outweigh the benefits for all parties involved.

So what do we do? Well, we’ve told this client that we cannot copy someone else’s website entirely. We can take bits and pieces, but we cannot replicate it to a tee.

Much like plagiarism, there’s a fine line here. But it’s a line that we had to draw. And I know I’ll sleep better because of it.


What Authors Are Saying About Book Promotion Musts

book-promotionI came across a conversation on LinkedIn this morning. One new author posed a very open-ended question, “What is a must have in your Book Promotion Plan?”

The answers, of course, varied a great deal — depending on their backgrounds, genres, etc… But here are some of the highlights.



Julia BohannaYou need to be connected everywhere: Twitter and Facebook in particular. Engage people with YOU – why you wrote the book, subjects that are close to your heart, small parts of your day. Link with many, talk to many but do not sell in bald pushy ways. It’s about being out in the world, making people engage with you but in a crafty way, you will be building up anticipation for your book.
Julia Bohanna

Raam AnandI’m not sure whether you have “webinars” in your marketing plan… but depending on your genre, I suggest doing webinars regularly, using Google+ Hangouts. I have had great success with webinars and when people are getting valuable content on the webinar, most of them usually don’t mind buying the book, right off the bat (at the end of the webinar). You can even give a bonus (chapter, video?) for buying your book right after the webinar.
Raam Anand


Karen Sanderson Creat[e] a tribe of friends and substantial, meaningful connections before you promote a book.  … Promote others you believe in — they are more likely to promote you if you have done it for them.
Karen Sanderson

Jim SnowdenThe three elements I’d throw in would be settling on measurable objectives, deciding on (and sticking to) a reasonable budget, and pooling resources with fellow authors.

A measurable objective could be something like raising page views on your blog by 5% per month, acquiring 20 Amazon reviews in the next 60 days, or arranging 5 local bookstore events. If you exceed or meet those objectives, great. If you fall short, you can reevaluate your methods.
Jim Snowden


I, of course, added another comment about the importance of an author website. If you have ideas you’d like added to this list, post them in the comments box below. Otherwise, I will continue to add to this list as interesting comments come in.


What Annoys You on Author Websites?

shoutingToday’s blog post is intended to be more of a conversation than anything else. So … here goes.

There are tons of good author websites out there, and many others that are less than desirable.

So today, let’s focus on those that aren’t our favorites. Use the comments box below to share with us the pet peeves that you have about author websites. I’m going to start by sharing five of my “favorites.”

1. Music playing as soon as you arrive (there might be people around me!)

2. Too much design and not enough information (pretty only goes so far…)

3. A navigation with too many links (sites should be easy to browse)

4. Navigation that changes from page to page (this is how we know where we are, people!)

5. A Flash intro (need I say more?)


Okay, now it’s your turn. Share with us what really bugs you about author websites. Then make sure not to make these mistakes on your own site!


5 Commonly Misused Phrases Related to Author Websites

surprised-faceMost people, in general, like to think (or act) like they know a lot more than they actually do. Writers creating their own author websites is no exception.

With that in mind, here are five phrases that I’ve heard from clients more than once in relation to author websites. Everyone will start sounding a whole lot more tech-savvy when they stop using phrases like these…

  1. I want a web page.
    Yes, there is such thing as a “web page.” It refers to one page of a website. When a client tells me she wants to build herself an author webpage, it’s like nails on a chalkboard. If you want more than one page, it’s an author website you’re asking about.
  2. I want to download a video to my site.
    People commonly confuse “upload” and “download.” You download a file FROM a site. You upload a file TO a site. Uploading is sharing, and downloading is taking.
  3. What should the buttons on my website be?
    Those of us in the industry do not call them buttons. Nor do we call them title bars. They are the elements of your website navigation.
  4. What happens when people press on that link?
    Users don’t “press” on links. They click on links.
  5. Is my site search-engine friendly?
    Nearly every site out there today is search-engine friendly. Unless you specifically block the site from being indexed by the search engines (tech jargon, I know), it’s “friendly.” What you really want to ask is if the site is optimized for the search engines. Just because it’s friendly (i.e. It can be read by Google, Yahoo, Bing, etc…) doesn’t mean that you’ve taken the necessary steps to optimize it for your name, your book title and select keywords.

Designers/developers/web editors out there … are there other terms like these that you repeatedly hear people using mistakenly? If so, please share them with us in the comments box!


5 Summertime Goals for Your Author Website

beachMemorial Day has come and gone, and we know what that means … the unofficial start of summer. But while everyone else is thinking about sunscreen, beach towels and barbecues, I’m encouraging you to take this opportunity to set some summer goals for your author website.

Here are five ideas….

1. Set traffic goals. I’m starting with the hardest goal of all. That’s because website traffic notoriously goes down in the summertime. (People have better things to do in beautiful weather than sit in front of a computer all day). But what’s better than a challenge? So if you don’t have one already, set up a Google Analytics account (it’s free) and integrate it into your website. Then you can check your website traffic reports as often as you’d like to find out how many people have visited the site, which pages/posts they visit the most, how long they stayed, etc… Analyze those numbers and make changes to your site accordingly. Then set a traffic goal for yourself. If, for example, you got 100 site visitors in the month of April, aim for 150 per month this summer. It’s a high goal — especially during the summer — but set it, aim for it, and do what you can to get it. After all, more traffic = more book sales!

2. Blog more often. Yup. It’s true. The more you blog, the more traffic you’ll get to your site — not only now, but for months and months to come. That’s because more blog posts will improve your site’s search engine optimization placement and encourage more people to sign up for your RSS feed or email newsletter. Make a promise to yourself that you will blog more this summer — say twice a week instead of once — and then see how your numbers may have improved by the time the summer winds down.

3. Get creative. It’s very easy to fall into a pattern with your website. Maybe you log in once or twice a week to blog. Maybe you post news or links every once in a while. Consider this your opportunity to think outside the box a bit more and add some new life to your author website. For example, think about adding a weekly poll to the site. Or hosting a live chat. Or having a free book giveaway contest. It’s summer, so it’s time to shake things up a bit.

4. Make your book essential summer reading. People may spend less time in front of their computers over the summer, but there is one thing they do a lot more of: read! Take a look at your website right now. Is there anything you’re doing to promote your book as good summer reading material? If it’s beach reading, make sure that you sell it as a must-read for beachgoers. If it’s good school-related summer reading for parents/teachers/kids, note that as well. Figure out how you can make your book a can’t-miss this summer.

5. Promote to new faces. There are probably a lot of people you’re going to see this summer that you don’t see the rest of the year. Maybe they’re parents of other kids at your child’s summer camp. Maybe they’re friends from the beach club. This is your chance to get your book and your website in front of a fresh set of faces. So get those business cards printed. Make sure to mention your book to other parents at camp. See if you can get your book’s poster hung up in the swimming club.

If you need any help accomplishing these goals, you can always reach out to us for a free consultation. But execute these ideas, and you should notice a significant increase in your website’s traffic numbers (and sales numbers) by Labor Day. Happy Summer, everyone!


Two Way Street: How Adding Interactive Elements to Your Author Website Will Help You Gain Followers

Are you looking to really gain a following on your author website? Have you been struggling to drive traffic to your blog via social networking and post sharing alone?

You are not alone. It isn’t easy marketing your books online. The fact that there are so many means of online communication — and it is simpler than ever to make use of them — mean that standing out has become difficult, to say the least.

So how do you really capture interest? Establish a two-way street with your customers. If you can reach them and encourage discussion you will open new doors.

“But the blog section of my website already encourages comments…” you might say, “and I am not getting any/very many of those!”

The good news is that there are still many unique, interactive channels of communication that will help you stand out if you have the time to put some extra effort in. Here are a few:

1. Polls

Let’s face it — everyone loves to give their opinion. Make use of the wp-polls plugin to ask questions of your visitors and easily track their responses. Your visitors will love this.

You can even do a “poll of the week” with a new blog entry where you ask your readers what they thought of your most recent book, who their favorite fictional character in your trilogy was, or provide a multiple choice of their favorite genres.

Polls are easy to add to your WordPress website, and you can write an engaging blurb with your poll on Facebook to attract readers to your blog.

2. Quizzes

Don’t worry – you aren’t getting quizzed on this blog entry.

There is a great WordPress plugin that allows you to easily build tests and quizzes. How can you make use of this feature exactly? Here are some possibilities:

  • If you are a children’s author you can put together a fun quiz for kids about your books.
  • Psychologists can write up their own personality tests (we put one of these together for one of our authors). And here’s the catch: visitors need to buy the book to take the quiz!
  • Other authors can put together tests to see how well readers understand themes in the novels.

You might think that these tests are a pretty silly addition to an author website and will not help you gain readers. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Tests and quizzes are HUGE in the online world. At the very least, putting one together and sharing it on your favorite social networking outlet should get you a few clicks right off the bat.

3. Contests

One of the best tricks you can use in conjunction with a new release is to have a “free book giveaway.” You could put together a contest where the winner receives a free, signed copy of your new book, or other prize that you would like to use as a giveaway.

The earlier you announce the contest and the more you cross-post the details to social networking outlets and your blog, the more entrants you will receive.

And let’s face it — when it comes to the online world, the only thing people like more than personality quizzes is free stuff. This is a great trick you can use to build a fanbase right off the bat. Even those who don’t win the contest will feel more connected to your work.

4. Forums

This one is a bit tricker as I don’t recommend adding a forum to your site unless you already have a decent traffic base. If you are getting fewer than about 100-150 regular returning visitors to your author blog per month, it might be too soon to consider a forum. In fact, it might be a liability having a bunch of zeros in the “new posts” section — people will think that you aren’t popular. You wouldn’t want that, would you?

Still, if you already have a decent following, this will encourage readers to return to your site with some regularity and engage in discussion with other forum members. This is great for creating large increases in traffic and returning visitors.

It also will help you build up excitement for your current and future releases as you get to watch your fans discuss your books!


Are there other interactive elements you’ve found to be successful on your author website? Share them in our comments section below.