7 Tips for Authors on Writing a Successful 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.

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.

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!

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.


5 Things You Can Learn in the First 30 Days After Your Author Website Launches

analyticsThere are a lot of things in life that take a pretty long time. Like building a strong relationship. Or making a baby. Or writing a book.

Thankfully, there are other things that you can accomplish in a very short period of time. Learning about your author website and how it’s doing is one of them, thanks to our good friends at Google analytics.

Here are five things that you should be able to know within 30 days of your launch (if you study your reports correctly).

1. Which sections of the site are most popular. Ah …. Google analytics. It is the greatest thing for website owners since sliced bread. It allows you to see a wealth of information — one of the most important being which pages on your site are being viewed most (and least). You should pretty quickly be able to determine the sections of your site that are doing well — as well as the things that people are not looking at. This will help you figure out where to focus your attention going forward. For example, if your blog is doing well, it serves as encouragement to keep blogging. If people love your “book secrets’ page, think of other ways you can offer bonus material to readers.

2. The search terms you should be optimizing for. Google will also be able to tell you the specific keyword that people are searching for when they wind up on your site. This should be a good starting point for you to put together a full search engine optimization (SEO) strategy. For example, I have discovered that the term “author websites” drives a wealth of traffic my way. As such, I make sure that I always blog about author websites, and optimize each post for the term. And no, I’m not using the term here just for that reason. I’m citing an example. So if you find that people are coming to your site through the keyword, let’s just say … “midlife crisis,” then that’s what you should be blogging about, and that’s the term that you should use in all of your page and post titles.

3. How people are finding your site. Where is most of your traffic coming from? Is it people literally typing in the name of your site in their browser? Are they searching for your name on Google? Are they coming in through social sharing, links from other sites, etc…? Your analytics report should be able to tell you where your traffic is coming from. You can then figure out what you should be doing more or less of as a result, and ramp up your marketing efforts accordingly.

4. Which social networks are working for you. Your analytics report will be able to tell you how much traffic you’re getting from Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc… Similarly, you can see for yourself just how many followers you’ve built on each of these networks. Within 30 days, you should be able to determine which one — or ones — to continue focusing your attention on in the long-term, and which may not be the best use of your time.

5. What’s NOT working on your author website. Your analytics report not only tells you what you’re doing right. It can also tell you what you’re doing wrong. Study which blog posts are getting little to no traffic. Figure out which pages on your site have the highest bounce rate (i.e. the percentage of people leaving without visiting any other pages) and play detective to try and figure out why these aren’t working. Is the page taking a long time to load? Is the blog post too long? Try and find a pattern in your analytics, take your best guess as to why things aren’t working, and then change them.

Thirty days may not be a very long time. But it’s long enough for you to take these learnings and make your author website even better than it was before.

10 Free Things You Get With Our Author Websites

free-stuffThere’s not much in the world that’s free. But in the case of the author websites we build, there are actually a bunch of exceptions to that rule — in addition to actually building and launching the website, of course. Here are 10 of them.

1. Submission to the major search engines. When we launch your site, we optimize it for your name and your book title(s). We then submit it to all the major search engines. Within a week or two, your site will be showing up on Google, Yahoo, Bing, etc…

2. Set-up of an email address associated with your domain. If your site is hosted on our server, we can easily set up an author email address for you. So if your URL is JaneDoeBooks.com, we can give you the email address Jane@JaneDoeBooks.com at no additional charge.

3. Integrating Google Analytics into your account. Want to know how many people are visiting your website? Interested in seeing which pages or blog posts they’re looking at? Set up a free Google Analytics account, and we will integrate it into your site for free. You can then log in to your Google account at any time to see the latest numbers.

4. The ability to make basic website updates yourself. We build all of our author websites in WordPress. This means that you can log in at any time and easily add/change text, photos, etc… The site is yours to play with … even if you have a moment of inspiration at 2 am! Speaking of which…

5. Training on how to use WordPress. As part of your package with us, we will give you a one-on-one training session on how to make those kinds of updates. So by the time your site is launched, you’ll already know how to add a photo, change text on your bio page, post a new blog entry, etc…

6. Email collection and list management. One of the handy dandy plugins we like to use allows you to collect email addresses in a simple (and legal) way. This means that you can encourage people to enter their email address if they’re interested in updates (or if they want whatever you’re offering as a give-away), and that list is then stored in your system for you to use as you please for marketing purposes. Best of all, it automatically sends out a confirmation email — a legal requirement — giving you double-validation that the person is agreeing to be on your mailing list.

7. Facebook/YouTube widgets. Do you use Facebook and Twitter on a regular basis? Then we can, at no cost, add widgets for each of those accounts on your website. This means that every new post/tweet you add will also show up on your Website.

8. Your site, on mobile. Yup. It’s 2014. A lot of people are on mobile. And at no additional cost, we ensure that your website is attractive and usable on mobile devices.

9. Links to buy your book(s) through Amazon/B&N. What’s one of the main purposes of an author website? To sell books, of course. With that in mind, we include links to buy each and every book on each and every author website. Want to sell through Amazon, B&N, Powell’s and/or your own publisher? No problem. We will include an unlimited number of links. With one click, any visitor will be able to buy your book from their site of choice.

10. Ongoing support. Every author will have questions after the site is launched. Those can include anything from, “How do I add a new page?” to “Can I change my tagline?” We are here to offer that support for our clients. We are always happy to answer questions, offer guidance and more. All for free!

Are you interested in inquiring about having us build you an author website? Contact us today for a free consultation!

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!