Author Websites vs. Book Websites

Many authors who are publishing their first book are still unsure as to whether their website should focus on them or on their book. Should it be JaneDoe.com or MyBookTitle.com? Should it look like the book cover or look like the author’s style?

In 90% of the cases I come across, I recommend that we make it an author website (not a book website). This means that the domain name should be some version of the author’s name and the design should focus on the author and his or her persona, rather than mimic the book cover. The benefits of having the site focus on the author are many, including:

  • It will be easier to feature future books of yours on the same website
  • You can promote your future books to a ready-made audience of followers
  • Your author photos, bio, a personal blog, book signings, news you want to share, etc.. fit more naturally
  • You can promote other things that you do, such as editing services, speaking services, etc…

Now this doesn’t mean that you should ONLY reserve your name as the domain name for your site. In fact, my recommendation is almost always that we have the author name as the primary domain name, but that we reserve the domain names of his or her book title(s) as secondary domain names and have them redirect to the area of the site that focuses on that book. That’s a win-win.

There are rare instances in which I recommend that you go with a book website. But generally that is only if:

  • You are 100% sure you will not want to include other books in the same website
  • You have no desire to get your name out there to publishers, agents, media, etc… you JUST want to sell books
  • The subject of your book is compelling, distinctive, and engaging enough to attract visitors on its own
  • You want the website to simply be an extension of the book

A few clients that I’ve recently done this with include an author who wrote a book about a tornado in the 1960s and wants a dramatic site depicting that tornado, and another author who has an extensive background as a journalist and is publishing a book (and corresponding website) chronicling previous columns and complimentary photos on one specific topic. This author already has a public name — separate from the book — and wants to keep the journalistic identity separate from the title.

But these cases are few and far between, and I encourage all authors to think long and hard before delving into a book website. Should you start working on any other titles in the future, marketing those books will be a whole lot harder without an author website already up and running.

What Kind of Photo Should You Use on Your Author Web Site?

I get asked this question a lot … Many authors aren’t sure whether to get their photo professionally taken, whether the photo should be a close-up or not, what the background should be, etc… Hopefully I can answer some of those questions here.

First, I want to clarify that what we’re talking about here is the “primary photo” of your website — the one that will appear on your homepage and/or in the site design. There can be a slew of secondary photos that might appear on your bio page or events page, but those are a completely different beast. The primary photo is the most important (and should be most professional looking). The other photos are more casual. They’re more about letting your fans get a better sense of who you are outside of writing. So those could be pictures of you with your family, you on vacation, you at a book signing. Those can be just about anything.

But as far as the picture on your homepage, there are some definite do’s and don’ts.

If you have a picture on your book jacket, DO use the same one on your website. That may be the only way someone knows you, so it’s good to let them make that connection with you again on the website.

DON’T go for a glamour shot (unless you’re a romance novelist). It can be viewed as a little corny and over-the-top.

DO have your photo taken by someone who is good at photography. If you have a friend or family member who has an eye for taking pictures, then ask them to do it. Or, if you have any doubts, go to a professional.

DON’T go through some old photos of yourself to try and find one that will work on your website. That’s a form of recycling that just doesn’t work. Make sure the photo you take is specifically for the purpose of your website.

DO scour the websites of other writers in your genre and see what kinds of pictures they use. Are they photos of them from the neck up? Are they smiling or do they have a serious expression on their face? Is the background related to the subject matter?

We’ve worked with many different types of authors and have seen many different types of photos. You can browse them all on our clients’ author websites. Find ones you like and get your ideas from there!

Some Interesting Stats on Author Web Sites

Thanks to a study conducted by Codex Group (which describes itself as as a “pollster for publishers”), we have some really interesting numbers about author web sites, how readers use them, and how books are purchased. The gist of the article is this: You need a website to promote yourself and sell books. Their numbers back this up.

You can read the full article to get all the nitty gritty, but here are the highlights:

  • Visiting an author’s website is the leading way that book readers support and get to know their favorite authors better. While those under 35 visited websites more often than those over 35, over-35-year-olds still used author websites as their main method of learning about the author.
  • 7.5% of book shoppers had visited their favorite author’s website in the past week.
  • Book shoppers who had visited an author website in the past week bought 38% more books, from a wider range of retailers, than those who had not visited an author site.
  • Giving audiences the ability to engage with other readers is the factor that correlates most with high site engagement.
  • The main thing respondents want on fiction authors’ sites is exclusive, unpublished writing, with 43% saying they’d return for it regularly.
  • Visitors will also return to authors’ sites regularly for schedules of author tours, book signings, and area appearances (36%); lists of the author’s favorite writers and recommended books; “explainers,” or inside information about the book (36%, with men finding these especially appealing); downloadable extras like icons and sample chapters (33%); and weekly e-mail news bulletins with updates on tours, reviews, and books in progress (33%).
  • Fans under the age of 35 are especially interested in contests, puzzles, and games, with prizes like autographed copies of books.

Whether you already have a site, or are just thinking about one, keep these things in mind. They may make the difference between a successful author website and … well, you know. Contact us today for a free consultation.

When Should You Launch Your Author Website?

I get asked this question a lot, so it only makes sense to use this blog post to answer it … even for those people that haven’t asked!

Basically, there’s no bad time to launch an author website. The goal of the website will be different depending on what the status of the book is, but there’s always a benefit.

For instance…

When you’re just finishing your manuscript/looking for a publisher, having a website can give you a huge advantage over other people who are looking for a publisher. It tells the publishing company that you understand that you need to do your own marketing and that you’ve already begun the process. And an attractive site tells them that you can do it well. Publishers do less and less marketing of books nowadays (unless it’s one of the very few books that they predict to be a big seller), so the ball is in your court. They know it. You should know it. And a website lets them know that you do.

The obvious time to launch your website is just before your book is released. This is certainly when your site can carry the most punch in terms of building buzz for it, getting people to pre-order copies, and ultimately (hopefully!) selling lots and lots of copies of your book when it’s released.

What’s less obvious is the benefit of launching an author website six months or so after your book has come out. But I have a lot of authors who contact me at that point, because they’re frustrated with how their book has sold and the publicity that their publisher has (or hasn’t) done for them. Is there much that a website can do for you at this point? Yes and no. The truth is that it probably can’t turn your first book into the bestseller you wanted it to be. Can it promote that book and sell more copies than you were? Absolutely. But it can do more than that…

At this point, you’ve realized that you need to do your own marketing (albeit, a bit late), so just jump in and get started. If nothing else, getting a site up and running now will give you the online presence that will give your next book a leg up. Consider this a lesson learned.

Ready to build your author website? Contact us today for a free consultation.

5 Ways to Use Your Author Blog

I’ve posted many times before about why an author needs a blog and how it can really help in terms of site traffic, book sales, etc…

But many authors aren’t sure what to do with a blog. “What should the theme of my blog be?” …  “How do I get people to comment?” … “How would I continue to come up with ideas on what to blog about?”

There’s an article I came across about different ways that someone running a small business can use a blog. I’ve decided to take some of those ideas and translate them into how they can benefit authors.

1. Tell Engaging Stories
In the article, Carma Spence-Pothitt says: “Blogs are most effective when they attract a loyal readership. And the best way to do this is to entertain, inform and engage your audience. Write about things that are worth their time to read … be it on an emotional level or a professional level. Depending on your personality and your business goals, you might consider including events from your life and then move on to your marketing message.” Carma is right. This is true for authors, business owners, just about anyone!

2. Write ‘Product’ Reviews
Okay, here’s where we go off on a tangent from Carma’s ideas. An author can use their blog to review/recommend books in a similar genre to theirs. For instance, if you’ve written a book about being environmentally aware, you can use your blog to highlight other books on going green as they’re each released and offer your opinion on what they offer, if the books are worth reading, as well as your thoughts on the green products the book might recommend. People who loved your book and see you as an expert on the subject will want to hear what you have to say.

3. Hold Contests
I frequently recommend this for authors. If you’re a literary writer, the contest could involve people sending in their own short stories and you rewarding the one that you think is the most compelling. If your book is about, say, war veterans, allowing people to submit their own personal stories about their wartime experiences. Or just asking readers to submit their own testimonials about your book and rewarding the one that you think is most moving. The “prize” could be anything (I often recommend an autographed copy of the book), but it’s a great way to make your blog a two-way tool.

4. Gather Valuable Feedback
This is another one that’s pretty much the same for authors and small business owners. Carma says: “Post surveys and polls on your blog. Encourage readers to post feedback in the comment box. The blogging platform truly gives you the power to gather instant and valuable feedback from your audience, and respond in a fairly quick manner.”

5. Provide Excellent ‘Customer Service
Okay, so “customer service” is not a term that’s often used by authors. But we can translate that into something that’s more appropriate in this situation — I’ll call it “genuine interaction.” After all, nothing is as exciting to a reader as being able to really communicate with their favorite author. And as Carma says, “One of the unique properties of blogs is the ability to have comment boxes on posts and pages. This is where readers can leave their feedback regarding your posts. You can use this feature to gather questions, complaints or suggestions from your readership. Even better, you can post your answers as part of the comment thread!”

See? Blogging doesn’t have to be as difficult as it may seem. Post questions and let readers respond … have the readers provide ideas to you on what they would like you to write about … hold contests, polls, surveys, etc… All these ideas simultaneously give you blogging ideas AND make your blog as interactive as possible. It’s a win-win.

Stay Away from the Bells and Whistles!

Just a quick tip today for authors who still haven’t built their websites yet …

It may be tempting to have your author web site be flashy and dramatic with music and moving words and such. But avoid the temptation!

The problems with sites like that are many. Here are just a few of the reasons why a functional website is better for an author than a flashy website:

  1. Animated effects can be unnecessary or distracting, keeping people from doing what you want them to do on your website … learn about you and your book!
  2. The more graphics on a page, the slower the page is to load. Some people (especially younger ones) have no patience for slow-loading pages.
  3. All the bells and whistles can make it harder for people to understand what’s on your site or how to find what they’re looking for. Lisa Firke, a website designer specializing in children’s author sites, has this to say: ” Think of it this way: as a writer you work hard to make your meanings clear and valuable. Your website should reflect the same kind of care.”
  4. Some people have strong feelings about music playing  when they get to a site. For instance, I am blogging right now with a sleeping baby next to me. If I were to be surfing the net right now, and ended up on a site where music started blaring as soon as I arrived, what do you think I would do? That’s right — leave the site and not go back. Even if it’s a small percentage of people that would have such a strong reaction, do you really want to risk losing anyone?
  5. Don’t forget about Search Engine Optimization! That’s probably the way you’ll get the most visitors to your website, and yet a site that’s full of flashy images will not be ranked highly by Google, Yahoo, etc… All they can read is text, and if your site has very little text, your placement on the search engines will suffer.

Obviously, authors want their site to look fresh and interesting. But there are ways to do that while still having a functional website that doesn’t turn people away.

Top 10 Peeves from Booksellers and Readers About Author Websites

Thanks to Bookseller Jolie at DearAuthor.com, we now have the Top 10 Peeves from Booksellers and Readers About Author Websites. Here’s what they are and, of course, my two cents on each of them.

#1 – Series links are not easily identifiable.  This should be its own special link on the home page!
When readers find a book they like, they want everything they can get their hands on!!! Whether it’s more in that series or another series you may have!

Booksellers want to stock your series, have all the books on hand. 9 times out of 10 a reader will buy all the books in the series, if a bookstore has them. While booksellers are a smart bunch, we can’t know ALL the books that are interconnected! Like the reader, we’ll go to the author’s website for the information.

My take: An author should definitely have all the books in a series interconnected. If the entire website is based on the series, then it should be fairly obvious at the outset. If the website focuses on the author, the series should be linked together through the navigation. A good example of this is http://www.eliotpattison.com, where author Eliot Pattison has a tab in his navigation for each of his two series of books, with the individual books within each series being dropdowns from those tabs.
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# 2  Printable booklist – This makes it so easy for the reader to print and take to the bookstore! And makes it even easier for the bookseller!
The list should have all your books listed on one page, series in chronological order and separated, ISBNs, dates!! Prices and publishers optional but it can’t hurt to have that information too!!
I say printable because, when you print it, all the information should be there and not cut off the page. Everyone’s computer is different so making the list simple and easy is best!

My take: I can honestly say I’ve never seen this on an author website. Is it common to go to the bookstore and want to buy every book by one author at the same time? Wouldn’t you want to buy one, see if you like it, and then buy others?
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#3 A contact the author link should be visible on the home page it’s the easiest way for us to tell you how great your books are!
Romance readers love to tell you how much they liked your book! They love that connection to a book and its author as well! So do booksellers for that matter. I’m often telling authors how wonderful they are! Psst, here’s another secret–I may even tell you special tid-bits! Like how you book is doing in our stores or if we’ve got your book placed in special locations, or your book is selected for our promotions!

My take: I agree with this. Personally, I always recommend that we put the contact link in the site navigation. And I also like to tie a newsletter sign-up into the contact page. But that’s another story …
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#4 The most recent book should be featured on front page with sequel links, etc.
Again, it’s all about a reader getting the most out of your website! If we know the information is at our fingertips – that’s the first place we’ll go!

My take: The most recent book should definitely be featured most prominently on the homepage (who calls it “front page” anyway?). That doesn’t mean you can’t feature your other books below it, though.
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#5 – Everywhere there is a book mentioned, there should be a 13 digit ISBN . . .
The easiest way to locate a book online and in a bookstore is through this handy number. When used, it’s THAT specific book found very quick and easy!! Readers would rather be reading the book than spending too much time looking for it!

My take: I agree with the concept here, but do they really mean “everywhere” the book is mentioned? That’s a little much, don’t you think? If you look at any of the author websites I’ve worked on, you’ll see just how many times a book is mentioned on an author’s website. You couldn’t possibly list the ISBN everywhere. But I do recommend that you include the ISBN and pub details on the “The Book” page of the site. That’s where it’s appropriate. And another note on this … if you have proper “Buy the Book” links on your website, people won’t need an ISBN, because you’ll be linking directly to the book’s page on Amazon, B&N, etc… For people who plan to go to the bookstore and buy the book, the ISBN is helpful. But I’m not sure it should be as prominent as they recommend here.
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#6 – Coming soon should be on the first page as well. And update it often . . . it’s what keeps us coming back!!!
We’ve just finished your latest book and already we’re looking for more! And we want to go directly to the source – YOU! So what’s next???

My take: I’ll ignore the “first page” reference again here. Other than that, I totally agree. Keeping your site new and fresh and highlighting upcoming books is a great way to keep people coming back and giving them the information they want as soon as they arrive.
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#7 – Don’t make us work to buy/sell your books! Keep things simple . . .
The easier it is, the quicker it is, the more time we have to read and sell more!! Make the links easy, don’t hyphenate ISBNs, etc.

My take: I referenced this above. You should definitely have a “Buy the Book” link on every page of the site. If you want to include an ISBN with it, fine. But it should be one click to the page where you can actually purchase the book.
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#8 – Who would you compare your stories to?
Ex: If you like sexy historicals by Sabrina Jeffries, you’ll love my new book. . .
Or compare it to another medium, if you like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, you’ll love my new paranormal series. . . We may not always agree, but in the end, it gives us a direction and a place of reference to start.

My take: Interesting… I often recommend that an author have a “welcome” box on their homepage where they briefly discuss who would benefit from/enjoy their books and their website. It’s sort of the same idea. But I’ve never thought of comparing yourself to similar authors. Good idea!
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#9 – Let me know future books in a series . . . dates if you have them or general concepts and plans are great too!
Again, when we readers and booksellers find something we love – we want more!!! And if we have to wait for another book, that’s okay, but give us the lowdown about who, what, when, where – please any information!!!

My take: This was sort of covered before, as well. Even before all the books in a series are published, they should at least be touted. Here’s an example of one of the author sites I built where we do just that:
http://www.thelossofcertainty.com
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#10 – Toot your horn — let us know of all the awards you’ve won, etc.
I know there was recent debate on this site about this, but what it comes down to is – you’ve been chosen, over others. Readers and booksellers are interested, especially when we’re looking for a new author, new book. And let’s face it, we ALWAYS are!!

This is more importantly the case when sending out promos to booksellers, if we haven’t had the chance to read your book – at least we know SOMEONE did – and LIKED it enough to give it an award!!!

My take: I couldn’t agree more. If you have won awards and the like, don’t be afraid to promote it on your homepage. After all, your website is a marketing tool, so don’t be afraid to market yourself!
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Interested in speaking with us about building you the perfect author website? Contact us today!

Your Author Website … by the Chapter!

I came across an author website that organizes its content in a really interesting way! Sarah Susanka, author of “The Not So Big Life” has a secondary navigation on her website which runs down the right hand side. It breaks down her book by chapter.

For each individual chapter, she has an audio bit, in which she discusses the chapter, a group discussion forum about the chapter, and an exercise or worksheet having to do with that chapter. What an interesting idea!

I wonder, though, if that’s giving out too much information to people who haven’t read the book. After all, it’s a fine line between offering enough information about a book to whet people’s appetite and giving away the farm. Not to mention a third goal which many authors have — to provide additional information for people who have already read the book.

So what do you think about the chapter-by-chapter breakdown? Let me know what you think.

Free Ways to Use Social Media for Book Promotion

Thanks to a blog entry from a graduate assistant at the Masters in Fine Arts – Literary Fiction & Nonfiction program at Southern New Hampshire University (Writing in the SNHU-MFA), I came across the website of an author who really is using social networking to her advantage … even before her book is published!

Maria Finn is a dancer and her upcoming book is a memoir of her life experiences. The book title is Hold Me Tight and Tango Me Home and her website is at http://tangomehome.com/.

Here are just a few of the things she’s doing with her website (at little to no cost) to really get the buzz out there prior to her pub date.

  • She’s got a  YouTube video that sends people to her website
  • She’s running a Heartbreak Competition (she was drawn to dance after her own heartbreak)
  • She has a Facebook Fan Page and she links to it from her author website

And do you know how the blogger found her?

“I bumped into her on Facebook when a tango dancer I know posted the YouTube video in her status. That’s how this stuff works — viral marketing.”

That’s viral marketing indeed! Someone who is interested in tango dancing came across her YouTube video thanks to a link from a friend. That video sent them to her website, where they could learn about her book, her upcoming events, her contest, etc…

And now all of us know about her and her book as well. Now that’s good work!