author apps icon

The Latest Trend: Author Apps?

author apps iconYou know you need an author website. That’s what just about every successful author has nowadays. But what about an author app? Do you need one, and what should it do?

It’s a little early to answer the question about whether or not authors are benefiting from their author apps, but what we can do is take a look at author apps that have been created to date and what purpose each one serves. If you feel like one of these ideas is worth investigating for you or your books, consider consulting with an app development firm to figure out if this makes sense for you.

Here are examples of some custom author apps I’ve found so far. Each of these are uniquely built to meet the needs of an individual author and his or her readers.

  • As author of a fan fiction series, Anna Todd, has teamed up with a California-based app development firm to create an app for her After series. As it is described on HollywoodReporter.com, “The app will give fans of the After novel franchise an opportunity to collaborate with Todd on ideas for her upcoming books, including new characters and cover art. They will also be able to participate in creative contests and receive exclusive advice from Todd about how to self-publish their own work.”
  • Author Peter May created an app to support his Lewis Trilogy crime series. According to his website, the app contains, “interactive map of the islands and locations featured in the books, with photographs; audio guide to pronunciation of Gaelic words; excerpts from the 3 books in The Lewis Trilogy: The Blackhouse, The Lewis Man, The Chessmen; the background to the books; and author Peter May’s own research video of the islands.”
  • Bestselling cooking author, Mark Bittman, has created various apps that include his recipes, cooking tips and more.
  • The famous James Patterson has his own series of apps now, too. My favorite is simply known as the James Patterson app and includes, “Everything from the world’s #1 bestselling author—now in an app!”
  • Stephan Pastis, author of a syndicated comic strip, Pearls Before Swine, released an app that includes, “250 of the best Pearls Before Swine strips in full color, handpicked by Stephan; 125 integrated audio commentaries; 22 integrated videos; 12 animated strips; a window into Stephan’s creative process, inspiration for the characters and strips, and life; an interactive tour of Stephan’s studio and writing room; functionality to tag favorites and share through social media; search and bookmarking tools.” He even created a video to promote the app!

There are also companies (I have no affiliation with or knowledge of them) that help authors create templated apps — much like other web development firms help authors create websites off templates. These are obviously much less expensive than custom apps, but have limitations. Examples include:

Have you seen any author apps that you love? Have you built your own author app? Share your thoughts on this below!

5 Things Authors Can Learn From the 2015 Smashwords Survey

smashwordslogoSmashwords recently released the results of its annual survey. And the results are … well … interesting.

If you want to read the full report, you can check it out on the Smashwords blog. But here’s a summary of what you, as an author, can take from the 2015 Smashwords survey.

1. Offering things for free makes a difference. It’s kind of a no-brainer. If a store that sells accessories is offering a free handbag, you’re more likely to go to the store to take advantage of the free handbag… and then purchase a few other things you like there. The same is true with books. For the first time this year, Smashwords analyzed the difference in sales between series with free series starters and series without free series starters.  The results were clear: the free series starter group earned 66% more.  In addition, free books (not surprisingly) got 41 times more downloads than priced books. For many authors, that’s a good first step to building loyal readers. As they describe on Smashwords, “A free book allows a reader to try you risk free, and if you’re offering them a great full length book, that’s a lot of hours the reader has spent with your words in which you’re earning and deserving their continued readership. Free works!”

2. There’s a value to preordering. For the first time, Smashwords compared the percentage of books available for preorder with those simply uploaded the day of release, as well as the sales of each one. Interestingly, less than 10 percent of the books available through Smashwords were available for preorder … and yet, two thirds of their top 200 bestselling titles were able to be preordered.  That’s right: that small 10% of books made up 66% of the top sellers. Think about that for a minute. Then use that as motivation to allow people to preorder your book.

3. People still want traditional book-length books. There’s not a lot of detail in the report, but the stat is clear: longer books do better than some of today’s shorter e-books. Whether or not that trend will change as the industry changes is still to be determined.

4. $3.99 is the pricing sweet spot for e-books. Some interesting stats in here about the prices that help sell the most books. For the third year in a row, according to Smashwords, authors sold more units and earned more overall income with books priced at $3.99.  As they explain, “This is significant because it counters the concern of some authors that the glut of high-quality will lead to ever lower prices.  For great authors, readers are still willing to pay.” And the worst price point? That would be $1.99. “If you write full length fiction and you have books priced at $1.99, trying increasing the price to $2.99 or $3.99, and if your book performs as the aggregate does, you’ll probably sell more units.  Or if it’s short and $2.99+ is too high, try 99 cents instead because the data suggests you’ll earn more and reach about 65% more readers,” Smashwords recommends.

5. Successful authors have a blog and social media presence. Much like people wanting stuff that’s free, this is another no brainer. According to the latest Smashwords research, bestselling authors are more likely to have a presence on Facebook and Twitter, as well as more likely to have a blog. If you’re interested in building an author website, blog or social media presence, we can certainly help you with that.

Keep in mind that all of this data is specific to Smashwords, which only publishes e-books, so do with it as you wish. But personally, I think there’s some really interesting stuff here about the current and future world of publishing.

Should I Self Publish? The Answer Seems to Be …

should i self publishBy pure coincidence, I came across three articles today that all, in different ways, conveyed the same message. Self-publishing is the way to go.

Why? Well, let’s go over what we can learn from each of these pieces…

1. In this infographic, we learn that self-published authors are now selling more books than the big five publishers, at least in the e-book universe. This is quite a change from even a few years ago.

2. Here’s a whole article explaining why traditional publishing will fail (and is, in fact, failing). Here’s my favorite segment from the piece.

A lot of traditional publishing companies are stuck in some pre-internet era purgatory. They spend an enormous amount of resources sifting through the sludge pile and investing all their time and money in a couple authors they hope will sell big. And sometimes they choose wrong.

The internet has changed things. Crowdsourcing quality work and letting audiences decide who succeeds is where publishing is headed.

And as the article points out, self-publishing companies have the opportunity to make 30% of a book’s profits, with little-to-no upfront cost in publishing the book. Why wouldn’t more entrepreneurs be jumping on that bandwagon?

3. Last by not least is this piece on book marketing. One of the takeaways? Being published doesn’t necessarily help an author.

In the article, the author, of book marketing firm Publishing Push, tells the story of meeting an author who went through a traditional publishing house … and ended up having to do all his own marketing after the fact. He compares that story to one of self-published authors he’s worked with who have had highly successful marketing efforts right off the bat.

In the latter cases, the self-published author got to choose his own marketing firm (and choose well), and the results were apparent. Less so when trusting the marketing department of a publishing house.

So for you self published authors … congratulations. Recent data is showing that you made a good choice. And if you are wondering, “Should I self publish?” The answer certainly seems to be “YES!”

3 Ways E-Book Readers Are Changing How They Read (and Writers Write)

reading-on-the-beachI just read a fascinating article about how more people are becoming e-book readers on their phones (not even tablets or Kindles anymore!), and how that’s changing the whats and hows of their reading.

And, of course, when their reading habits change, then … well … an author’s writing needs to change as well. After all, it’s the law of supply and demand.

Here’s a summary of three types of changes in how people read, with quotes from the article on exactly how and why, along with a summary of how this will ultimately impact writers.

Reading change #1: People are skim reading more. 

We read webpages in an ‘F’ pattern: the top line, scroll down a bit, have another read, scroll down. Academics have reacted to the increased volume of digitally published papers by skim-reading them. As for books, both anecdotal and survey evidence suggests that English literature students are skim-reading set works by default.

Reading change #2: People have shorter attention spans and are often multitasking while reading.

[American linguist Naomi] Baron reports that a large percentage of young people read ebooks on their cellphones – dipping into them in the coffee queue or on public transport, but then checking their work email or their online love life, a thumbswipe away.

Reading change #3: People get less emotionally involved in the stories they’re reading.

…with the coming of ebooks, the world of the physical book, read so many times that your imagination can ‘inhabit’ individual pages, is dying. 

So how are writers and publishers reacting to these habitual changes? What does the future hold?

  • Publishers are experimenting with newer, shorter stories to cater to readers’ shorter attention spans.
  • Today’s novels have clearer plots and less twists and turns than their 20th century predecessors; this prevents readers from getting confused or lost when they check out of the book mid-chapter to browse Facebook.
  • Writers are using less complex prose and are doing less experimentation with fragmented perception. Skimming readers have more trouble absorbing sentences phrased that way.

Finally, here’s a quote from the end of the article on the general change in the role of novels in people’s lives today:

I remember reading novels because the life within them was more exciting, the characters more attractive, the freedom more exhilarating than anything in the reality around me, which seemed stultifying, parochial and enclosed.

To a kid reading Pynchon on a Galaxy 6 this summer, it has to compete with Snapchat and Tinder, plus movies, games and music.

Sad? Sort of … But in a business like writing and publishing, it’s something we’re all going to have to get used to.

Creating a Social Media Hashtag Campaign to Promote Your Book

hashtag_campaignHere’s an interesting idea for promotion of your book … tie a social media hashtag campaign to it.

How would you do that? Well, start by following the idea currently being executed by Random House Children’s Books in conjunction with the ASPCA as an offshoot of the new, bestselling Dr. Seuss book.

Here’s a summary of the campaign they’re running, courtesy of Publishers Weekly:

RHCB announced that it would be teaming with Dr. Seuss Enterprises on a social media campaign that will support the work of the ASPCA to help animals in need across the country. The campaign celebrates the author’s “love for animals,” the publisher wrote in a statement, and calls for all pet owners nationwide to share a photo of their pets, tagging it with the #whatpet campaign hashtag. For every photo shared on Twitter or Instagram with #whatpet, RHCB and Dr. Seuss Enterprises will donate one dollar to the ASPCA, up to the first 15,000 photos.

So what would it take to run your own social media hashtag campaign like this? Assuming you already have your own social media accounts on Facebook/Twitter (if not, consider that step 1), here are the simple steps to take.

  • Step 1: Decide on a theme. Think about what types of images/stories are a natural fit with your book. For example, let’s say your book is about reinventing your career; a good idea for a hashtag campaign around it might be asking that people share inspiring photos and/or short stories about their first day at their new job.
  • Step 2: Create a hashtag. Continuing on this example, you might decide on a hashtag like #NewCareer. Before running with it, make sure it isn’t being used on any other large campaigns.
  • Step 3: Set a timetable. Social campaigns like this can’t go on forever. So pick a start and end date for it. It could be tied to holidays, seasons, school years, or just the number of people involved (i.e. the first 15,000, as in the Dr. Seuss campaign).
  • Step 4: Come up with a hook. What would be someone’s motivation for participating in this campaign? Is it a donation (like the Dr. Seuss example)? Is it to enter a raffle? Is it for possible inclusion of their story in your next book? Will there be a winner for best photo/story? Make sure you offer some kind of benefit for someone taking the time to send their story or photo.
  • Step 4: Make sure your book gets the proper promotion through the campaign. How is someone who buys into the campaign (be it by uploading a photo/story or viewing other people’s photos/stories) going to learn about your book? Without a connection to the book, all this is for naught. So make sure that your book and/or your website gets fair promotion within the campaign through links, ads, etc…
  • Step 5: Launch the campaign. Now it’s time to spread the word! Share a brief, well-written, engaging blurb about the campaign via social media (and your website, too). Ask your friends and family to share as well. The more eyes it gets in front of, the more participants there will be.

Voila! Your social media hashtag campaign is underway! And if all goes smoothly, you’ll not only have a new set of followers and increased book sales as a result, you’ll also have some meaty material to include in your future writings. It’s a win-win.

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.

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!

5 Ways to Go From an Author to an Authorpreneur

authorpreneurHave you heard the term authorpreneur? If not, it’s time that you did. Because in today’s world of publishing, just being an author isn’t enough.

In the old days, writers were just that: writers. They would write their books, and publishers would pay them a hefty advance. Then the publishers would be the businesspeople — printing the book, marketing the book, and selling the book — and the authors could work on their next manuscripts.

That is no longer the case. Today’s world of publishing is a lot fuzzier. Whether you are self-publishing or going through a publishing house, the only person running your business is you. So you’re no longer just a writer. You’re a writer and a business owner. Hence the term authorpreneur.

Here’s the official definition of the term “authorpreneur” from Urban Dictionary:

An author who creates a written product, participates in creating their own brand, and actively promotes that brand through a variety of outlets.

Here are seven steps you can take to turn yourself from a writer into a successful author in today’s complicated world of publishing. And unfortunately, yes: this does mean that you will need to invest a few of your own dollars.

1. Get an accountant. Remember: this is a business. You need to treat it as such. A professional accountant will help you determine which expenses are deductable (before you start spending the money), as well as how to keep all of your receipts and records in order. Many accounting firms offer a free consultation, so start with that. Feel free to also ask friends and relatives if there’s someone they recommend.

2.  Hire an editor, cover designer, printing company and/or distribution company. This is especially important if you are self-publishing. Here are some questions to ask yourself?

  • Who is going to edit your book? How about copyediting?
  • Do you have a cover designer in place?
  • How many books are you going to print? If someone buys 1000 copies, will those be pre-printed? Will it be print on demand? Who will ship them?
  • What about turning your book into an ebook? Do you have a plan in place for that?

Make sure you have all of these things lined up before your book is officially released. And don’t think that you can do all these things yourself. A writer is generally not an editor or a designer. These are very specific skills, and not areas you should skimp on. Hire the right people to make sure this process goes smoothly.

3. Create your online presence. An online presence is practically a requirement for today’s authors. Here are the steps required to get this done right.

  • Start with your author website. Make sure it looks clean, professional, and suits your brand. Also make sure that it has a clear goal — be it selling books, getting people to sign up for your mailing list, or increasing your exposure.
  • Create social networking presences on some combination of the following: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, GoodReads and Amazon. Make sure that all of them are kept up to date and include links to/promotions of your book and your website.
  • Enter the world of video! Create at least one unique video and upload it to YouTube. Read this previous post about why video is so important in today’s world.
  • Build an email list. Make sure you collect the email addresses of people visiting your site. This will come in handy down the line when you have new books or events to promote.

4. Print marketing materials. So you plan to do a lot of talking about your book. That’s great. But what are you going to give out to the people you’re talking to? It’s extremely important that you have printed materials on hand at all times so that you can physically hand people something they can take with them. Examples of good printed marketing materials for authors include:

  • Business cards (this is a must)
  • Bookmarks
  • Flyers
  • A discount promo code for purchasing online materials

5. Attend events and conferences. As much as today’s world of publishing is digital — and a large percentage of it is — nothing will ever replace the value of face time. Start in your local area, and drop by libraries, bookstores, schools, etc… Talk with them about arranging for book readings, signings or seminars. Then look on a national level, and find conferences for authors/publishers/agents in your genre. If you’re a nonfiction writer, you can also look to attend conferences on your specific subject matter. For example, if you’ve written a parenting book, you would do well to attend one of the many mom blogger conferences that take place nationwide. Just showing up, introducing yourself and handing out business cards can go a long way.

Being a small business owner isn’t easy. But start with these five steps and you’ll be on your way to authorpreneurship.

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.

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!