Smart Author Sites Is Officially Published!

Okay, so I’ve worked with published authors for the last six years, helping each of them build their own, successful author website. But what I have never been until now is a published author. Now, I am … sort of.

I was recently contacted by a colleague, David Wogahn, who helps authors create e-books. I have sent many clients his way over the past few years, and vice verse. He was putting together a book about successful e-book publishing and asked me to write a chapter about developing a web presence. I was, of course, more than happy to do so.

Yesterday, I received the book in the mail. There it was, titled Successful eBook Publishing: The Complete How-to Guide for Creating and Launching. And I flipped my way to Chapter 37,  Author Websites: From the Must-Haves to the Most Common Mistakes, with my own name as the byline.

So, of course, I encourage all of you to buy a copy of this book. I will never make a penny off of it, but I’m proud nonetheless. And if the book is as good as David is at what he does, then it’s a must-read for any author who wants to successfully publish an ebook.

What Is Amazon Author Rank and How Can You Climb It?

This past week, Amazon added a new feature to the site. It’s author rank, and it basically ranks authors by books sold, much like it has always ranked reviewers for how their reviews are rated.

Amazon calls this new feature, which is still in beta, the “definitive list of best-selling authors on Amazon.com” According to Amazon, “this list makes it easy for readers to discover the best-selling authors on Amazon.com overall and within a selection of major genres.”

The information on Amazon Rank is updated hourly and is based on the sales of all of an author’s books on Amazon.com. The top 100 authors overall, and the top 100 authors in each genre, will be displayed at any given time.

Obviously, all authors are probably clamoring right now to figure out a) how they currently rank; and b) how they break the top 100 in their genre.

The first one is easy. Log in to your Amazon Central account and click on the Rank tab. The information there dates back to September 28, 2012 and you can see a cool chart demonstrating how your author ranking fluctuates from day to day.

As far as the second, there’s certainly no magic bullet that can make you J.K. Rowling by tomorrow. But here are a few ideas on how you can start climbing the Amazon Author Rank…

1. Sell your e-books at a steep discount. Obviously, reducing the price of your book will help you sell more copies, which can then increase your author rank.

2. Publish more books, short stories, etc… The Amazon Author Rank is based on the total number of sales of your books on Amazon. That means that someone who has published one book is going to have a much harder time climbing the ranks than someone who has published 20 short stories.

3. Market, market, market. Make sure that your Facebook page, your author website, your blog, and any other online publications include a picture of your book cover with an easy link to purchase the book through Amazon. It sounds simple, but you’ll be surprised how many authors make it more difficult than it should be for someone to click once and buy a copy.

Remember, the higher your rank, the more likely someone is to find your books. So it may be worth a little extra effort to get your ranking up a bit. You may never crack the top 100, but it’s worth a shot!

Bublish: A New Tool for Authors?

I came across a press release today about a new website/tool for authors, called Bublish, which claims to help connect them with new readers. If it works, it may become an essential piece of an author’s marketing campaign.

Here’s the press release. Decide for yourself if it’s worth delving into. And if you’ve signed up already, please do share your experience with us in the comments box!

——————

Bublish Your Way to More Readers!

The biggest challenge writers face today isn’t finishing a book and getting it to market, but being noticed once they get there. So at WWW we get excited when a new platform demonstrates the sort of ingenuity that can help get books noticed in an ever-growing crowded marketplace.

The social book discovery and commerce platform Bublish fits that bill.  Writers can join Bublish for free. You create a bio and upload your photo and book (Bublish requires the ePub format). You then add a book synopsis as well as links to your website and an online retailer, i.e. Amazon.

“My partner Charles Wyke-Smith and I are both writers,” says Bublish founder Kathy Meis. “We wanted to empower authors, to give them a platform to get the word out about their books. We wanted them to have tools to start conversations and draw interested readers toward their larger body of work and into conversations about their stories. As writers, we also knew that the platform also had to enable authors to create quality content fast, share that content across multiple social platforms efficiently and be simple for readers to share with others. What we came up with was the book bubble.”

Example of a “bubble.” Click to enlarge!

Meis explains that there are a number of things that make the book bubble a unique piece of highly effective social content. “Bublish allows authors to chop their digital book into hundreds of small excerpts,” notes Meis. “Authors begin creating a bubble by highlighting the passage from their uploaded ebook that they wish to share. Next, they add their Author Insight. At Bublish, we call this the story behind the story. Think of it as a director’s cut for books. It’s a type of bonus content, and it’s a very powerful way to engage readers.”

“Finally,” says Meis, “the author shares the bubble on Facebook, Twitter or via email and at the same time the bubble becomes part of the Bubble Stream on Bublish.com. Three steps. That’s it.”

Of course writers can then also link their latest “bubble” to their other social media outlets, too — giving all their potential buyers an opportunity to read a passage and gain an insight.

For readers, book bubbles recreate online that quiet, enjoyable bookstore browsing experience that is becoming more difficult to find amid widespread bookstore closures. “No one sells you a book in a bookstore,” says Meis. “With Bublish, there’s no need for writers to say, ‘buy my book’ or ‘download your free sample.’ Instead, they can simply say, ‘enjoy this book bubble.’ If a reader encounters a bubble on Twitter or Facebook and wants to buy a book right from the bubble, they can. If they’re not inclined to impulse buy, they can explore the author’s website and learn more. The book bubble gives readers a lot to explore at their own pace.”

We especially like the author insights that let authors say a little about their book or the particular passage, a bit of “insider info” that lets readers get inside the head of the author.

“There is incredible downward pressure on the price of books,” says Meis. “Authors are going to have to sell more books over a longer period of time to make up for lower prices. This means relationship building will be key. Bublish aims to provide writers with innovative tools to engage with readers in meaningful but sustainable ways throughout their career. It’s a win/win situation for readers and writers.”

What does the future hold for Bublish? “We’ve only just begun,” says Meis. “We’re still in live beta, having just launched this past summer. As we build out our backend mapping tools, we’ll be able to see how readers are interacting with different book bubbles. Our aim is to be able to create a ‘contextual serendipity’ for book discovery.

“In other words, readers on Bublish will be introduced to new writers in the context of the genres and topics that interest them as well as through a social graph interested in those same genres and topics. It’s time to shake up book discovery, and we’re out to revolutionize how writers share their stories and readers find books they’ll love!”

4 Ways to Create Compelling Content

I came across an article in my trusted Internet and Marketing Report magazine. In it, the manager of Brand Marketing for Gap clothing, Samantha Willems, was asked how to create good Facebook content and boost engagement.

Her answers were good, but what struck me was that they’re relevant to far more than Facebook. Follow these guidelines for just about everything you create content for — your blog, your tweets, etc…

Here’s an overview of her recommendations (in my own words, of course), customized a bit for authors…

1. Create a schedule … and then be flexible. Plan your posts in advance by creating the equivalent of an editorial calendar, but be ready to act if something newsworthy happens related to the subject matter of your content. Then post on that stuff ASAP.

2. Use multimedia. Text isn’t enough any more. Try to make your contributions a blend of audio, video, questions, and straight text.

3. Interact. I tell this to clients all the time. Your blog (or Facebook or Twitter) is not like an editorial column in a newspaper. It’s a conversation, and you’re making a mistake if you don’t treat it as such. Respond to comments and questions. Engage with your readers. If you don’t make them feel involved, then they’re not likely to come back regularly.

4. Treat readers as friends. Don’t make your content too marketing-centric. Nobody likes that … on any platform. Instead, remember that the web is one huge world of friends communicating with one another. Their voices are just as important as your voice. So treat your readers with the same respect that you would want to be treated.

See what I mean? Samantha is right about this being the best way to create compelling Facebook content. But what she didn’t mention is that these golden rules should be followed on every platform.

How Reviews + Book Clubs = Author Success

Today’s authors spend a lot of time blogging, tweeting, Pinning, etc… It’s practically become a requirement in today’s world of writing. But is it possible that the key to an author’s success lies in something much more basic and timeless: word of mouth? Possibly…

It’s important to remember that each genre of book is different. How a biography becomes successful (hot subject matter) is completely different from how a cookbook becomes successful (great recipes at the right time). And a novel? That’s a completely different beast entirely.

You see, when it comes to nonfiction books, it’s easy to get the word about your book out there to your target audience. They already are interested in the subject matter and looking for information on it, so all you have to do is get your book in front of them.

Fiction books are a completely different beast. No one goes on Google and searches for “the best novel.” Instead, fiction books generally become popular because people hear about those books from friends. When everyone else is reading it and/or raving about it, you want to, too!

Want proof that book reviews and/or book clubs are the secret to a fiction author’s success? Just read this Wall Street Journal article.

It talks about Kathleen Grissom’s debut novel, “The Kitchen House,” which came out in February 2010 and is now a huge hit. What took two years and how did it become so popular?

Here’s a paragraph from the article:

In an era when digital buzz is considered crucial to launching books overnight, it was old-fashioned book-club word-of-mouth that prevailed. The book is in its 21st printing, with 254,000 copies in print and 152,000 e-books sold, the publisher says. It has hit some best seller lists, and in July, giant retailers like Target and Costco began selling it; sales jumped 25%. An Alice Walker blurb now adorns a new front cover. Grissom’s $35,000 advance has been followed by “a couple of checks” for $100,000 each with more to come, she says.

How did she do it? Hint: It wasn’t her publisher. As a first-time author, her publisher wasn’t about to invest a lot of time and money into marketing her book. Just like most authors today, Kathleen had to do the work herself:

She sent advance copies to influential book bloggers, asking for a review. If she didn’t hear back, she’d bug them again. Eventually, bloggers began to read it and review it—positively. Book clubs, which pay attention to such sites, started contacting Ms. Grissom via her website. She often offered to speak to the club personally, sometimes driving there on her own dime, or to call in to talk to the groups. She estimates that she has spoken to as many as 50 book clubs over two years. She would also arrange for the nearby bookstore to have enough copies to accommodate the members. Word of mouth spread.

Today, Kathleen’s book is in most airports, on summer reading tables at Barnes & Noble, and will be prominently displayed in its stores throughout the end of the year, said Michael Selleck, executive vice president of sales with Simon & Schuster.

You see? Sometimes a little old fashioned hard work pays off. If you’re the author of a fiction book, build yourself an author website and then focus your time and energy on getting that book reviewed in as many places as possible, and encouraging book clubs to add your book to the reading list. Here’s to hoping you’ll be the next Kathleen Grissom…

It’s a Book … It’s an E-Book … It’s an App?

When is a book not just a book? Well, today.

You see, a book used to be nothing but print on paper. But then e-books started taking off, and the traditional book became an electronic version of the same. Today, with all of the downloads and apps out there — which have numerous bells and whistles — the book industry is just starting to figure out that it needs to catch up.

According to a recent article on Wired, book publishers are trying to figure out how to make their titles more immersive in this digital world. In other words, they need to take what was once a reading experience and add audio, video and interactive components for their built-for-tablet books.

According to the Wired article, here are some examples of the initial authors and publishers venturing into this realm. Check these out … hopefully they can spark some ideas.

  • Chronicle (a small publishing company) recently released an iPad app for artist Stephan Pastis’ comics series Pearls Before Swine.
  • A few years ago, author Amanda Havard wasn’t able to find a publisher that could bring her book The Survivors to electronic life the way she wanted. So she and her father, L.C. Havard, a former executive for a company that developed technologies for the health insurance industry, formed a company called Chafie Press to publish her books and create digital offerings. The app version of The Survivors, the first in a series of five books, integrates audio files of the music her characters are listening to (some of it produced by Chafie), pictures of the designer clothes they’re wearing, links to the characters’ Twitter accounts (Havard mostly runs them herself) and Google Maps of the places they visit
  • HarperCollins released an app for The Art of the Adventures of Tintin last year; Penguin Books also launched a much-lauded app of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road.
  • An immersive retelling of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is also being released as an iPad and iPhone app on April 26.

As an author today, you have to do more than just put words on paper. When you start working on your next book, think about it as a three-dimensional experience. Think audio, video, graphics. Consider how readers can interact with the story. If you don’t keep these types of things in mind, you’ll probably fall behind the times.

Happy reading!

A New Option for Author Website Shopping Carts

I’ve written posts before about the options for building online shopping carts for authors. But there’s some news this week that gives authors yet another way to sell their books online.

Lulu.com, one of the industry leaders in the self-publishing and selling of e-books, launched a new e-commerce platform this week. Their site underwent many upgrades that reportedly can improve the self-publishing experience.

But there’s one little tidbit that was part of this announcement which intrigued me the most:

The new platform creates an entirely new infrastructure for Lulu.com to build upon, which greatly increases the speed at which the company can release new features and updates in the future to better equip customers with the tools they need, when they need them.  One example being Lulu.com’s soon to be available ecommerce APIs (Application Programmer Interfaces), which enable businesses and publishers to build Lulu.com and Elastic Path’s ecommerce tools into their own branded websites – absolutely free.

If I am understanding this correctly, this means that authors will now be able to embed the Lulu shopping cart into their own website at no cost. They can sell one or more of their books through their site, allow people to purchase multiple copies of each one … and these readers would never leave the author’s site.

For authors who publish through Lulu and only sell e-books, this is a huge boon. I know I’ll be recommending it to authors who fit the bill.

Unfortunately, that’s only a small percentage of authors … at least as of today. Remember: this shopping cart will only allow you to sell the e-book through Lulu. You can’t sell hard-copies, and you can’t let people purchase it through Amazon, B&N, etc…

That said, this may be one of those defining moments that causes even more authors to publish through Lulu. After all, self publishing and e-books are the wave of the future. This news can just help speed that process along.

Warning! PayPal May Be Censoring Your Book

Just last week, I posted a blog entry about the various options you have for selling your book online. One of those options was PayPal.

Well, sure enough, news broke late last week that may change things a bit … at least if your book is a little bit racy.

According to msnbc.com’s Technolog, “In recent weeks, the company has been letting e-book publishers know that PayPal will no longer handle transactions for e-books its considers to be obscene.”

Smashwords founder Mark Coker reports that on Feb. 18, PayPal’s enforcement division “contacted Smashwords with an ultimatum. As with the other e-book retailers affected by this enforcement, PayPal gave us only a few days to achieve compliance otherwise they threatened to deactivate our PayPal services. I’ve had multiple conversations with PayPal over the last several days to better understand their requirements.”

As a result, Smashwords sent out an email to all their authors, and posted the letter on their website. You can read it here.

According to reports, PayPal’s hot-button issues (i.e. the things that they consider too obscene to be in the books they sell) are bestiality, rape-for-titillation, incest and underage erotica.

True, the large majority of authors don’t write books that cover these subjects. So you probably don’t need to worry … yet.

But just the fact that PayPal is getting into the business of censoring books means that by selling your books through them, you’re essentially letting them dictate what can and can’t be in your writing. What’s to say that they won’t expand their restrictions to include violence, graphic sex, or anti-American sentiment?

At this point in time, there’s really no harm in selling your book through PayPal. But keep this news in the back of your mind … because I wouldn’t be surprised if the battle between “the artist” and “the censor” rears its ugly head again in the future.

New Tool Tracks Social Media Book Data

Everyone wants their book mentioned all over the world of social media. After all, the more you’re talked about through blogging, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc… the more exposure you and your book will get. That can only be a good thing.

But how do you keep track of how the word about your book is spreading across all the social media channels? That’s where this new tool comes in…

According to Publishers Weekly, Books-A-Million is teaming up with CoverCake, a a Silicon Valley based technology startup focused on book publishing, to create “a technology platform that can track overall and specific responses to titles and publishers made on multiple social media platforms, including Twitter, Facebook, Amazon, Goodreads and YouTube.”

Best of all, the technology uses sophisticated algorithms to aggregate vast amounts of data so that it can:

  • provide a list of all relevant comments and posts
  • categorize all comments as positive, negative or neutral
  • deliver an aggregate score of total comments
  • break down the level of activities on each social media site
  • isolate the individual posters on all the social media networks who are mentioning the book

Jeff Costello, v-p sales at CoverCake, told Publishers Weekly that by using CoverCake, “publishers and marketers can track individual titles and get specific data on how many people are posting about a specific title on Twitter, say, on any other social media site. Users can track the online discussion around genres—biography, fiction, travel, romance and so on—the gender of readers for a specific title or specific publishers and authors. CoverCake scans data and provides numerical assessments as well as color-coded graphs of activity across abroad range of social media channels. Using their account dashboard to navigate the site, users can even retrieve the specific posts, comments and reviews from Amazon and other sites.”

Watch the demo below of how the tool works:

I think this is going to be a really helpful tool for my clients going forward!

How Successful Authors Are Promoting Their Books

A GREAT article was released over the weekend in the Houston Chronicle. In it, they covered a variety of authors and the creative things each of them are doing to promote their books. Here are some highlights … don’t be afraid to steal ideas!

Kayt Sukel
Author of Dirty Minds: How Our Brains Influence Love, Sex and Relationships
Release date: January 3, 2012

  • We kid you not …Kayt Sukel stimulated herself to orgasm while an fMRI scanner tracked the flow of blood to her brain. Her first-person story about this ordinarily intimate act appeared in New Scientist in May, under the headline “Sex on the Brain.” Talk about a viral book promotion!
  • Sukel tweeted questions to her followers, hoping to elicit comments that might provide fodder for the book.
  • She held contests on the book’s Facebook page, “This Is Your Brain on Love.”
  • When a similar orgasm story surfaced — this time with a video (of someone else) from the same New Jersey lab — Sukel blogged about it from a new angle.
  • On Jan. 3, when Dirty Minds was released, Sukel hosted a lively Twitter chat.
  • She is currently working on writing another piece for CNN about her research.

Rebecca Skloot
Author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Release date: February, 2010

  • Fast fact: Rebecca was actually Kayt’s inspiration!
  • Rebecca began reviewing books, using her own book’s title in the tagline of her reviews for publicity.
  • While she was working on her book, Rebecca started doing some freelance writing for O, the Oprah Magazine. As she got to know the editors, she took every opportunity to chat up her book and — not surprisingly — O agreed to excerpt the book when it was released in February 2010.
  • After the book’s release, she did more than 200 speaking events. Two years later, she’s still on tour today.

Mat Johnson
Author of Pym
Release date: 2010

  • Mat built himself quite a twitter following. As a creative writing professor, he built 40,000 followers. As a humorist, he built “a loyal, literary audience made up of magazine and newspaper writers, other fiction writers, even celebrities.” Together, he has a vast audience of fans of his writing and fans of his tweeting … that translates into book sales.
  • His humorous tweets, of course, all include some degree of self promotion. And retweeting doesn’t hurt either … many of his posts are retweeted and shared with an even larger audience

Tom Zoellner
Author of A Safeway in Arizona: What the Gabrielle Giffords Shooting Tells Us About the Grand Canyon State and Life in America.
Release date: 2011

  • Given the serious nature of the book, Tom decided against using social media to promote it.
  • Instead, the former journalist wrote opinion pieces and reported stories for a number of publications. All of them, of course, included elements from the book.
  • Several years before, he had appeared on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart to promote his 2009 title, Uranium. And there’s no denying: TV scoops up a broader range of viewers than a Twitter feed or a Facebook page.

Justin Cronin
Author of The Passage
Release date: 2010

  • With the full support of his publisher, Ballantine (which promoted The Passage at BookExpo America, by the way), Justin produced video trailers, and explored alternative advertising — including phone kiosk signs in New York and billboards in Los Angeles.
  • Cronin landed an interview on TV’s Good Morning America the day the book was released.
  • What he didn’t expect was what happened during the interview … Stephen King would call in to praise The Passage. Cronin says of the unexpected surprise: it was nice to “have the hand of the great father” on his shoulder.

We should all be so lucky. But maybe one or two of these ideas can turn you into the next bestselling author.