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…

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!

5 Things CoverCake Has Taught Me About Books and Social Media

book_tweetsFor the past few months, Publishers Weekly has been printing a monthly report from CoverCake about the most talked about books in social media. And these lists (and the corresponding analysis) have taught me a thing or two!

First, here’s how CoverCake describes itself:

At CoverCake, we are focused on helping organizations, their brands and their products engage with people. Our philosophy is based on a platform that simplifies and cuts through huge amounts of data in the social media universe to provide you with the necessary information you need to have a meaningful relationship with your customers.

And now on to what their stats about books and social media have taught me…

1. It might be nice to have your book turned into a film. This certainly is no surprise, but it is noteworthy. According to Publishers Weekly, and based on the monthly report from CoverCake, “Thanks to the warm critical reception and box-office domination of the film adaptation of Catching Fire, released November 22 and starring Jennifer Lawrence and Liam Hemsworth, the second book in Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games trilogy was the most-talked-about book on social media for the month of November.”

2. When a book catches fire on social media, it really catches fire. For the past two months, the book that’s #1 on the CoverCake list far outperforms all the others on the list. “Like Catching Fire in November, Allegiant, in October, was the subject of twice as many social media conversations than the second most-buzzed-about book that month,” Publishers Weekly reports.

3. Men and women talk about different things on social media. It’s no secret that women use social media more than men do. It’s also no secret that women read books more than men do. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that  for most of the titles on these lists, women generated more of the chatter than men. But that’s not always true. In fact, according to Publishers Weekly, “Men initiated 61% of the social media conversations about Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard’s Killing Jesus, and 62% of the commentary on Mitch Albom’s The First Phone Call From Heaven, which was released November 12.”

4. Books can hover near the top of the social media list for months on end. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins has hovered consistently in or around the top 10 books in CoverCake’s ranking for the entire year, according to Jeff Costello, v-p of CoverCake. This just goes to show you that good buzz can continue for an extended period of time.

5. A book doesn’t even have to be released yet to be a hot topic of conversation. In the CoverCake report for the month of September, two of the most talked about books hadn’t even hit the printer yet. They were House of Hades, by Rick Riordan (released in early October) at number two, and Allegiant, the final installment of Veronica Roth’s Divergent trilogy, which was released on October 22nd, at number four. The lesson to be learned here? It’s never too early to start building buzz for your book.

Want do do some analysis of your own? Here is CoverCake’s list of the 10 most buzzed about books on social networking sites in the month of November. Enjoy!

New Author Marketing Tools from Amazon!

amazonLook out! Amazon continues to innovate …. and (hopefully) authors can benefit from these latest new offerings.

Case #1: Kindle Countdown Deals

Here’s how Amazon describes it:

Kindle Countdown Deals is a new KDP Select benefit that allows authors to run limited-time discount promotions on their books, which can help earn more royalties and reach more readers. Customers can see the regular price and the promotional price on the book’s detail page, as well as a countdown clock telling them how much time is left at the promotional price. You’ll also continue to earn your selected royalty rate on each sale during the promotion.

Here are some of the benefits of Kindle Countdown Deals:

1) They’re time-based: Not only does this give you more control to decide how long the book is discounted, but the time remaining for the promotion is visible to customers to increase excitement for the price discount.
2) Customers see the regular price: It’s easy for customers to see the great deal they’re getting, as the regular price is included on the book’s detail page, right beside the promotional price.
3) Royalty rate is retained at lower prices: You will earn royalties based on your regular royalty rate and the promotional price. As a result, if you are using the 70% royalty option, you’ll earn 70% even if the price is below $2.99.
4) There’s a dedicated website: Customers can easily browse active; Kindle Countdown Deals at www.amazon.com/kindlecountdowndeals, providing yet another way for books to be discovered.
5) You can monitor performance in real-time: A new KDP report displays sales and royalties at each price discount side-by-side with pre-promotion performance, so it’s easy to compare.

Say for example your book has a list price of $4.99, and you start a promotion on Monday at 8 A.M. your time, with a starting price of $1.99. You set three price increments to run 24 hours each.

During each promotional day, your book’s detail page will display a counter announcing the promotion, the current price, the time remaining until the price changes, and the next price.

Case #2: Kindle First

As Amazon describes this new program:

Amazon Publishing editors select four new books each month.

Readers can buy one featured book for $1.99 every month.

These books are available in advance of their official release date.
Of course, this only helps you as an author if your book is selected as one of the works to be featured by Kindle First. But if it is? Boy, are you in for skyrocketing numbers in readership.
There’s no word yet on how the editors are going to choose the featured books, and whether they’re going to be titles from publishing companies or those published through Amazon’s own CreateSpace, but stay tuned ….
For more on these two new features from Amazon (and how they may impact authors like you), read the latest analysis from PC Mag, GeekWire, and Liliputing.com.
And if you’ve had any experience with either of these two new features, share your experience with us!

Breaking News: A New (and Better) E-Book Store?

LibiroI build websites for authors all the time. Most authors don’t want to sell their books themselves, so we end up setting up links to Amazon and B&N. But we all know that authors only collect a very small percentage of the profits on these books. And a small percentage of a 99 cent e-book … well, it barely buys you a tic tac.

Enter Libiro.com. There was an article published today on Forbes.com about this new e-book store.

The Good
Here are some of the quotes in the article from co-founder (and self published author) Ben Galle about the new venture:

“Libiro devotes its shelf-space entirely to self-published and small press titles. … To authors, we’re a marketplace for their books and a platform that can help them make waves. And to readers, we’re an exciting place to shop, providing the latest indie talent and exhibiting what indie authors are capable of.”

“The opinion is that these books are all of terrible quality, simply because they haven’t seen the inside of a big publishing house. I’ve always been on a mission to quash this stigma, because it simply isn’t true. Libiro, being a purely indie store, can showcase the indie market, offering readers an opportunity to see what we’re really made of!”

“At stores like Amazon, quality indie authors can often struggle to get noticed amongst the crowd, especially when they don’t have the marketing budgets of the big publishing houses. The point is that indie literature is exciting — it can be raw, it can be fresh, and it can be just as good as traditional literature. We want Libiro to be the go-to place for readers wondering what indie authors are all about. We want to create our own bestsellers.”

And that’s not all. The biggest benefit to authors, according to Galle, is the royalties. A far cry from other e-book stores, Libiro offers a whopping 80 percent royalty as standard, regardless of book length or price.

The Bad
But, of course,nothing is perfect. As a new venture, Libiro doesn’t quite have the following yet of a big e-book store. In addition, their technology is still sorely lacking. According to the Forbes article, “They don’t yet have an author dashboard, for example. Instead there is a simple book upload form on the site, and if authors want to request changes, they have to do that via email. And Galley is still figuring out how to give authors access to the website analytics and mailing list integration that comes baked in to the backend of a BigCommerce site.”

Galle claims that the site is currently working on building these services and should have them available in the next few months.

So Who’s on Libiro?
Not too many people … yet.  The site currently lists 70 books from 30 authors. But it appears that the site is continuing to grow its portfolio.

In the Forbes interview, Galley says: “The priority for us at the moment is to build up a big catalogue so the reader has more choice and access to an entire spectrum of indie books. We’re reaching readers at the grass roots level, building relationships on social media and via word-of-mouth. What’s good for our readers is that authors can sell their books in any and all formats – PDF, ePub, and Mobi – meaning we can cater for any reader and any device.”

There’s no way to predict what the future holds, but my bet is that this site will continue to grow. After all, an author being able to take hope 80% is nothing to sneeze at!

Buy the Book Links: What’s an Author to Do?

buythebookOne of the most important elements of an author website is an easy way (ideally with one click) for a site visitor to take the plunge and buy the book. But that’s easier said than done: not in a technical sense, of course (setting up a link is easy), but in terms of deciding which retailer sites to link to.

The Big Two
Obviously, the first one that everyone thinks of is Amazon. It’s truly the site that dominates the market. And not just the book market, mind you, but just about every product you can buy online.

Then there’s B&N. We always recommend that authors offer links to buy the book from both sites, because we’ve heard reports that if an author decides to only provide a link to one of the two big online retailers, the other can threaten to pull that book from its site altogether. That’s something no one wants.

Borders used to be the third of this “big three,” but that’s no longer an option.

From Two to Two Thousand?
So are two links enough? What about all the other thousands of booksellers out there?

Well, they’re now speaking up. A new article in The Bookseller, titled Anger over authors’ website links to Amazon includes quotes from independent booksellers who are sick and tired of authors only linking to Amazon (or Amazon and B&N) to sell copies of their books. And who can blame them? After all, if you had a tiny little store, how would you feel if your product manufacturers kept sending potential clients to buy their stuff at WalMart?

In the article, Keith Smith from Warwick & Kenilworth bookshops says: “As someone who owns two independent bookshops I feel angry that these authors, unthinkingly or by design, have chosen to support Amazon, W H Smith or Waterstones without giving a fig for independent bookshops. Many of these are authors who, when asked, will say they couldn’t imagine life without their local bookshop. But words need to be matched by deeds if they are to make a difference.”

I totally understand his anger. But what’s an author to do? After all, it’s a lot easier to set up one Amazon link than it is to set up thousands of links to every online retailer. Or even more challenging: to list every single independent bookstore that carries the book in question.

Feedback From Authors
Here are responses from a few authors that appear later in the article:

Author Alison Weir defended herself, commenting: “Publishing, as you must know, is going through hard times and every author and publisher wants to maximise sales. When I set up my website, my webmaster told me I could link to Amazon, so I told him to go ahead. My American publishers then asked me to link to other bookstores. I’m not sure how Keith Smith envisages linking to every independent bookseller in a practical way – how many must there be? The fact remains that not one, including him, has ever asked me to do so. But if they had, I would have worked out a way to do it. If you look on my website you will see links to other websites whose owners requested a link. Linking to Amazon does not mean that I do not support independents.”

Novelist Joanne Harris said: “I am more than happy to include links to independent bookshops. I know how much I owe them and I support them fully.”

Julia Donaldson told The Bookseller changing the links on her website was something she had been planning to do “for some time”. She said: “I want to think carefully about how I do it. Independent bookshops really are something I care about very much and I have been feeling guilty about it. But when I first set up my website, this is what was suggested to me would be the easiest thing to do.”

What’s an Author to Do?
This entire issue can be summed up relatively quickly and easily. Independent booksellers are upset about Amazon and B&N being the sites that authors are sending readers to for purchasing the book. And that’s valid.

But it’s also true that the logistics of setting up thousands of links is … well … not really doable. It’s so much easier for authors to link to the big retailers, and it’s just as easy for readers to click on those links and make the purchases quickly and easily. Doing anything more complicated will not only be a challenge for the author and his or her webmaster, but it may make the experience even more complicated for the buyer.

So what’s an author to do? I don’t have the answer. If you have any great ideas, please share them with us!

Breaking News: Amazon.com to Acquire Goodreads

For those of you who think Amazon is about to take over the world, get a load of this …


SEATTLE–(BUSINESS WIRE)– Amazon.com, Inc. (AMZN) today announced that it has reached an agreement to acquire Goodreads, a leading site for readers and book recommendations that helps people find and share books they love.

“Amazon and Goodreads share a passion for reinventing reading,” said Russ Grandinetti, Amazon Vice President, Kindle Content. “Goodreads has helped change how we discover and discuss books and, with Kindle, Amazon has helped expand reading around the world. In addition, both Amazon and Goodreads have helped thousands of authors reach a wider audience and make a better living at their craft. Together we intend to build many new ways to delight readers and authors alike.”

“Books – and the stories and ideas captured inside them – are part of our social fabric,” said Otis Chandler, Goodreads CEO and co-founder. “People love to talk about ideas and share their passion for the stories they read. I’m incredibly excited about the opportunity to partner with Amazon and Kindle. We’re now going to be able to move faster in bringing the Goodreads experience to millions of readers around the world. We’re looking forward to inspiring greater literary discussion and helping more readers find great books, whether they read in print or digitally.”

“I just found out my two favorite people are getting married,” said Hugh Howey, best-selling author of WOOL. “The best place to discuss books is joining up with the best place to buy books – To Be Read piles everywhere must be groaning in anticipation.”

Following the acquisition, Goodreads’s headquarters will remain in San Francisco, CA. Founded in 2007, Goodreads now has more than 16 million members and there are more than 30,000 books clubs on the Goodreads site. Over just the past 90 days, Goodreads members have added more than four books per second to the “want to read” shelves on Goodreads.

Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed. Subject to various closing conditions, the acquisition is expected to close in the second quarter of 2013.

How These Authors Took the Bull By the Horns (and How You Can, Too)

Photo: Angela Mann, Kepler's

I came across an interesting read on PublishersWeekly.com this week. It’s about four YA authors who got together and organized their own book tour.

Here’s a summary of the article:

  • The touring authors – Martha Brockenbrough (Devine Intervention, Scholastic/Levine), Sean Beaudoin (The Infects, Candlewick), Kevin Emerson (The Lost Code, HarperCollins/Tegen), and Cat Patrick (Revived, Little, Brown) – are friends who met through the Seattle writing community.
  • The “You Are Next” tour, a nod to what the group calls “the next generation of books for the next generation of readers,” launched in January, with visits to schools and bookstores in Las Vegas, and San Francisco, and Portland, Ore.
  • To chart their itinerary, the authors brainstormed about West Coast cities they’d like to go to and bookstores they’d enjoyed visiting in the past. They contacted booksellers to arrange store and school visits, and circulated flyers announcing the tour.
  • The tour will next touch down in greater Los Angeles, where the quartet will make several store appearances during the week of March 25.
  • Capping off the week is a visit to Disneyland on March 30, when they will be joined by several other YA authors, plus bloggers, librarians, booksellers, and fans for a day of play.
  • At each stop on the You Are Next tour, which the authors are publicizing through its Facebook page and through their respective Twitter feeds, the authors offer a panel presentation that involves significant audience participation.
  • The authors show embarrassing photos of themselves (“including but not limited to prom photos,” she says), read from their books in voices mimicking those of celebrities, and give kids prizes if they guess correctly which “fun facts” pertain to which authors.

What a brilliant idea! These four YA authors came up with an innovative way to get their books in front of their target audience … and have fun all the while. I’m not sure who is paying for this trip — or how much the total cost will be — but this should be a model for authors everywhere.

Communicate with other authors in your genre. Think of them as idea-generators, not competitors. Together, you can think outside the box and come up with creative ideas like these four women did.

Authors: Should You Create a Website or a Mobile App?

I need to start this post with a confession. I build author websites, not apps. So I’m a bit biased in writing this post. That said, I’m going to do my best to give you an honest opinion on this issue, with quotes from others in the field who know more than I do about apps.

Okay, now that I’ve got that off my chest, let’s start by defining both websites and apps. Most of you use both of these on a regular basis, but may not be totally clear on the differences. For example, you might read news on the NY Times website or you might get highlights on the top stories from the NY Times app. In cases like this one, they’re almost one in the same.

The Differences
But when it comes to authors, there are distinct differences between the two. And it’s important that you understand these before deciding what you’re going to spend your money on.

The first — and most important — difference to understand is that websites are used for browsing, and an app is a bit more of a commitment. For example, when you’re looking for a good restaurant in the area, you may use your favorite restaurant app. You would then click on the links to some local restaurants that you’ve never tried and “browse” those restaurants’ websites. Let’s say you then pick a restaurant for the evening and absolutely love it. You may decide later on that you want to download that restaurant’s app, through which you can regularly browse the menu, order meals for pick-up, etc…

See what I mean? A website is something that you “visit.” An app is something that you use regularly.

When a LinkedIn member recently started a conversation about whether or not authors should create apps, there were a few interesting responses. The one that I found most helpful was from Kristen McLean, Founder & CEO at Bookigee, Inc.

She said, “Apps are costly, and will generally not return their cost unless you have a good way to promote them, or you make it so awesome that it will spread virally. I have yet to see an app related to a specific book that has performed this way. So, I guess this is a long winded way of saying ‘No, I don’t think so.'”

So does this mean that an app is a bad decision for all authors? That they should all build websites instead?

I would venture to say that’s pretty much the case for 95% of all authors today. After all, what’s the purpose of your author website? Chances are, it’s to sell books. And most people who visit your site probably are first-timers. The purpose of your site should be to entice readers to stay, to read an excerpt, and to buy the book. You’re probably a long way from having a list of loyal readers who will be willing to download your app — be it free or for a minimal cost.

The Exceptions
That said, even Kristen says that there are a few exceptions to the website-not-apps rule. For example, if…

1) You’re an app developer yourself, and you can build it with very little cost

2) You’ve got a project that is inherently “transmedia” in that it would benefit from some of the things you can’t do in books but can do in apps. Examples would include adding movies, animations, or game-like interactivity that moves the story forward in unique ways. Examples Kristen gives include Inanimate Alice-http://www.inanimatealice.com and Moonbot’s http://morrislessmore.com/);

3) You are Amanda Havard. http://amandahavard.com/immersedition.Yes, if you’re already a bestselling author, you probably have a whole slew of fans ready to download your app as soon as it’s released. If you’re a self-published author just getting started … not so much.

Now, none of this means that you have to choose between an author website and an app. In an ideal world, you’d have it all: websites, apps, social networking profiles, and e-books in every possible format. But in reality, you have a limited budget and want to use it wisely. In this case, think of an app as something that might be great for you to add down the line, but not a must just yet.

5 Ways to Boost Your Email Efforts

In today’s world of social media, some people like to proclaim that “email is dead.” They’re wrong.

But all of this does mean that you might need to work a little bit harder at making your email efforts successful.

Here are five things to keep in mind, courtesy of Internet & Marketing Report, as you build an email campaign to promote your author website and your book.

1. Pay attention to your subject line. Remember: the email that you’re writing is essentially a marketing tool. So choose the wording wisely. For example, subject lines that include the word “exclusive” or touts the “top 10” of something lead to a much higher open rate.

2. Treat email as a two-way street. Send out an email to your readership asking them to review your book (with a link for them to do so). Or encourage them to respond to your email with questions, which you can then answer in future blog posts. Emails asking people to offer their own opinions on things get a 39% higher click-through rate.

3. Always send a welcome email. Go ahead. Sign up for your own email list. What do you receive? How quickly do you receive it? By going through this process yourself, you will get a chance to see exactly what happens to your fans when they enter their email address. If you don’t have an automated email that goes out within a reasonable amount of time after sign-up, you’re likely to lose that person. “Sometimes they forget they signed up or flat out ignore companies’ email by the time the first one hits their inbox,” according to the report.

4. Clearly spell out what users should expect. First, you have to get someone to give you their email address. To do so, you must clearly explain what it is that they will be getting by doing so. For example, will they be receiving daily emails? Weekly emails? Or only emails when you have big news to share? Make this information very clear in the sign-up area, and then re-state the information, either in the “welcome” email or in a follow-up email.

5.  Avoid clutter and long emails. Some people like to use their emails to readers as places to share their latest and greatest stories. But be forewarned: people probably aren’t going to read it. According to Internet & Marketing Report, here are some questions to ask yourself to find out if your email is too cluttered:

  • Does it take more than 30 seconds to read?
  • Does it look and feel like a full page on a website? Or worse … like a magazine?
  • Does it have multiple calls to action?

If you answer “yes” to any of these questions, then it may be time to pare down your email efforts.