5 Author Website-Related New Year’s Resolutions

new-years-eve2016 is rapidly approaching, and with a new year comes new goals, new technologies and new promises. With that in mind, here are five things that authors might consider making their new year’s resolution.

1. I will blog/update my site regularly. There’s a reason this is the first potential resolution on the list. This is where I see the most authors getting lax, or letting things slide. I regularly see blogs that haven’t been updated in months, or “upcoming events” listed that have dates long in the past. Look, it’s hard to stay on top of these types of things. After all, authors have a lot of other things to do. But consider this: if you visited a website and saw that it hadn’t been updated in a while, what would your reaction be? Probably something like, “If he/she isn’t paying attention to it, why should I?” That in and of itself is enough reason for you to make sure your website is always current, and looks like it’s tended to.

2. I will make sure my site is mobile-friendly. Mobile is taking over the world. Seriously. The number of mobile users has grown tremendously in the past few years, and it’s only continuing to get larger. Whether it’s phones or tablets, a large percentage of web users nowadays are not using a desktop computer with a large screen. So when is the last time you looked at your site on a mobile device? How about multiple mobile devices (say, an iPhone and a tablet)? If your site doesn’t offer the optimal user experience on those devices, then you should make your goal for 2015 to make sure that every mobile user has as good an experience on your site as a desktop user.

3. I will begin adding video to my website. I recently posted another entry on video. And, if you haven’t gotten into video yet, the numbers are pretty scary. In short, video is the future of the web. As much as you and I may be “authors” (i.e. people of the written word), we will fall behind the times unless we start thinking about ways to incorporate video into our author websites.  Whether they’re vlogs, book trailers or curated YouTube videos, don’t let video pass you by this upcoming year.

4. I will take an objective look at my site. When you look at your author website on a regular basis, it’s hard to know what it looks like to new users. It’s kind of like your spouse: he or she may look beautiful to you every day, because you don’t notice that receding hairline or those few extra pounds. But to someone new, those things might be evident. In other words, take a step back and look at your website like you’re seeing it for the first time. Does the design look current? Is it clear at first glance what kind of writer you are? Does the tagline you put under your name still apply? Is there anything on the site that looks out of place? Sometimes, it helps to step away for a little bit before you come back with fresh eyes. You may be surprised at what you see.

5. I will think about new ways to make my site interesting. This is where I stop giving you specific ideas and toss the ball into your court. The best author websites are the ones in which the authors have started their own trends. Maybe they are asking readers to vote on a title for their next book. Maybe they’re running a writing contest for aspiring writers in their genre. Maybe they’re doing live video chats with users, answering questions. The ideas are endless, and it’s up to you to come up with them. So make a resolution to think outside the box this upcoming year and make your site one that others will want to emulate.

Happy New Year, everyone!

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.

November Round-Up: 5 Must Reads for Authors

thanksgivingCan you believe we’re into the month of December already? In case you missed it, here are five must reads for authors that came out while we were all gobble gobble-ing.

1. The Savvy Self-Publisher’s Guide to NetGalley
NetGalley — which enables authors and publishers to upload books and reviewers to request copies — can be pricey and competitive, so indie …
Publishers Weekly
November 2, 2015

2. Author Email List Lessons
A writer I know recently sent a message to his author email list using the subject line, “I’m cleaning up my list.” It caught my attention because I …
Build Book Buzz
November 11, 2015

3. Great Author Website Ideas, Poor Website Designs
These sites have some brilliant author website ideas … and a serious problem in presentation of execution.
Smart Author Sites
November 12, 2015

4. Want to Succeed in Self-Publishing? You’re Not Alone: Tips from an Indie Author
Beth Revis, author of the bestselling Across the Universe trilogy, urgesindie authors to become part of the self-publishing community and follow …
Publishers Weekly
November 16, 2015

5. 4 Ideas for Kick-Ass Author Website Content
The best way to drive new traffic (i.e. potential readers) to your site is to create some kick-ass author website content – content that gets socially …
Smart Author Sites
November 19, 2015

Keep on reading and writing!

4 Ideas for Kick-Ass Author Website Content

infographicWhat kind of content do you have on your author website? Sure, you have a bio page, a book description, and a few killer book reviews. But is that what’s really going to woo readers?

The best way to drive new traffic (i.e. potential readers) to your site is to create some kick-ass author website content – content that gets socially shared, viewed on YouTube, and piques the interest of people who like your writing and your subject matter. And in today’s world, simple articles or blog entries just won’t do it any more. People want content that is more dynamic, interactive, and visually stimulating.

So what kinds of content might do that? Here are four ideas.

1. Videos, videos, videos. I have written blog posts before about how video has become the most popular form of content on the internet. As depressing as this may be for writers, there are plenty of people out there who would prefer to watch a video than read written words. In fact, videos are shared more than articles, and the second most popular search engine on the web today (after Google, of course) is YouTube. So consider turning your blog into a vlog, and creating short video snippets (2-3 minutes is ideal). You can upload your videos directly to Facebook as well, meaning you no longer have to write a blurb for Facebook than then links to your blog. Whether your videos are humorous, inspirational, suspenseful (or whatever your writing style is) you can reach a whole new audience by delving into this content type.

2. Infographics. People just love infographics. They’re easy to scan, fun to read, and highly sharable. They go bananas on Pinterest. According to Business.com, a recent Google Trends chart (below) shows just how much people are searching for infographics now, as opposed to five years ago. If you have good information to share, you’re more likely to get people interested in it if you present it as an infographic instead of straight text.

googletrendschart.742by393

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For example, let’s say you write a book about divorce. Consider creating an infographic that breaks down divorce rates by decade, by age, by ethnicity, etc… People just love to absorb information in a visual way, and an infographic like this will get your message out to a much wider audience. Hopefully, many of them will then want to learn more and visit your website, or buy your book.

3. Slideshows/photography. You’ve heard the expression, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” In today’s world of social media, pictures just do better than words. Hands down. So consider getting your message across in photos instead of words. For example, let’s say you wrote a book about World War II. If you have any great photos to share from that era, create a slideshow of them on your site, and share them one-by-one on social. If, say, you wrote a book about pets, have people share their favorite pet pictures and create a slideshow of those online. Think outside the box, and ponder ways that you can use photography to tell your story.

4. White papers. You have information. Your readers want it. So how do you get it to them? Well, the book is one way, of course. But some people want something more immediate (and free). So consider creating downloadable white papers that your readers can use. Think about some of the overarching messages people get out of your book and create a brief, easy-to-absorb white paper that helps convey those messages from a high level. Include case studies/testimonials from other people who have learned/grown after reading your book. If you owned a pastry shop, this would be the free sample you’d give patrons to let them know just how good your pastries are. Do it right and you will have a long-term customer.

Obviously, all of these ideas are easier for nonfiction writers than fiction writers. But even novelists can think outside the box and come up with ways to create videos, graphics, photos, illustrations and more than really attract new readers.

And if there are other content types that you’ve integrated into your site that have taken off like gangbusters, please share your ideas with other authors below!

Great Author Website Ideas, Poor Website Designs

disappointed-manEvery month or so, I like to scour the web and see what other authors are doing with their online marketing efforts. After all, what better way to find great ideas than from others doing similar work.

But what struck me today as I was reviewing a few sites was the brilliance of these author website ideas … and the serious lack of professionalism in presentation of execution.

Here are two examples. Apologies in advance to the authors in question. I hope they can view this as constructive critisism.

Case Study #1: PixyMusic.com

What it’s doing right: Well, this trilogy got some prominent coverage in the local paper. That’s something most authors would kill for. And what caught my attention the most was the blurb at the bottom of the article, which explained that while the first book isn’t going to be released for another month, you could actually receive a signed copy before the official launch date. That’s a brilliant way to get people to the site and give them something special for coming.

What it’s doing wrong: Have you looked at the site yet? Clearly, this author did not decide to go with a design firm. In trying to stay within a small budget, he created a site himself that looks really unprofessional. In fact, it doesn’t even look like it was created in WordPress or any of today’s free templated services. This instead looks like a dated site that was created in some kind of older web design software that then translated the design into HTML for him. If you were an agent of publisher, what would you think about signing this author to a contract? Great ideas, poor execution.

Case Study #2: ColtonsPocketDragon.com

What it’s doing right: I came across a press release today about this book series. It talks about how you can visit the author website to see short videos and inserts from each book. Again, it’s a great way to make a site really dynamic (who doesn’t love video?), and allow parents and kids to get a taste of these books, and hopefully fall in love.

What it’s doing wrong: Once again, execution is key. The site doesn’t exactly have a good UI (user interface) — with a header bar that isn’t consistent throughout the site, and a navigation that doesn’t include book titles, but instead refers to them as “Books 1, 2 and 3” (as if people remember which number book in a series they have read). In addition, the author clearly wanted a site that was moving and dynamic (note the moving words and such on the homepage), but it’s clear from the layout and fonts that it was not designed by a professional. Again, this appears to be an effort by an author to cut costs … but at what cost?

So what’s the moral of the story here? Innovative author website ideas are great. They can take a good book and make more people realize how good it is. But without a professional website design, even the best ideas can fall flat.

If your site resembles either of these, reach out to us for a free consultation on how to build a profesional-looking author website.

4 Musts for Building an Author Email List

emailI stumbled across this article on Publishers Weekly about why it’s important for authors to build email lists. In this day and age of social media, too many authors think that Facebook and Twitter followers are enough. They’re not.

To paraphrase the author of the piece, here are just a few of the reasons you shouldn’t neglect building an author email list:

  • You own your own email list and can do with it as you wish
  • You control what messages people receive, and when they receive them
  • You can track your emails in a way you can’t track social media

But here’s the challenge: How do you motivate people to sign up for your email list? After all, people are always hesitant to give out their email address. What kind of SPAM will they get? Who will their email address be sold to? Is the reward going to be worth the risk?

Here are four musts for building a proper email list.

  1. Have a good email list management system. So a user enters their email address on your site. Where does that go? Make sure that you have a system in place before you start collecting this information; a system which stores the email addresses and keeps track of sign-ups, unsubsribes, etc… These types of tools not only take some of the day-to-day management away from you, but they ensure that you’re never breaking SPAM laws. There are some plug-ins within WordPress that do this for you, or you could sign up for an account with MailChimp, which is free until you have more than 2,000 names on your list.
  2. Promise security. You’ve seen the messages. “We promise not to share your email address with anyone.” This is a crucial message to share with your visitors, because too many sites collect your email address and then share it with a third party. For example, say you write a book about pregnancy. And say you collect email addresses of people visiting your site. It’s a safe assumption that a good number of them are moms-to-be. Then, say, that you sell that list of email addresses to Pampers or Gerber. Those industries would have a real reason to want access to your email list, and would probably pay you good money to do so. But your users probably wouldn’t be thrilled to start getting emails from a company that they never agreed to receive notifications from. This is a great example of why it’s so important to promise people that you won’t sell their information.
  3. Offer a real incentive. What’s the main reason you give out your email address? It’s probably not because you’re especially interested in receiving yet another newsletter. It’s usually because there’s some sort of incentive (financial or otherwise) for doing so. Maybe you’ll get 20% off your next purchase. Maybe it will get you access to some helpful white papers. Think about what you can offer your readers (book club discussion guides, an autographed copy of the book, etc…) as a benefit for signing up and highlight that benefit in a prominent place.
  4. Make it clear what people are signing up for. This is yet another reason why people may hesitate to give out an email address. What exactly are they going to be getting? Are you going to be sending daily tips? A monthly newsletter? Your newly-posted blog entries? Random emails whenever you have news to share, like a new book being released? Spell out for your readers what they should expect to receive if they give you their email address, which should help relieve some trepidation.

And here’s an extra perk if you’re successful: authors who have a robust email list are especially appealing to publishers. So follow these leads and watch your subscriber list start to grow.

September Round-Up: 5 Must Reads for Authors

fall-photoOctober is here already, and fall is in full swing. With that in mind, here are five must reads for authors from the month of September. If you missed any of these the first time around, here’s your chance to catch up!

  1. An author reveals ten secrets to marketing your own book
    Scroll.in
    September 9, 2015
  2. 5 Things I Love About Haruki Murakami’s Author Website
    Smart Author Sites
    September 10, 2015
  3. What ‘Game of Thrones’ Author George R.R. Martin Can Teach You About Marketing
    Marketing Profs
    September 16, 2015
  4. Book Marketing 201
    Publishers Weekly
    September 25, 2015
  5. 3 Steps to More Social Media Followers
    Build Book Buzz
    September 30, 2015

Happy Fall! And happy writing!

What’s Your Author Brand?

brandingLike it or not, today’s author also has to be a marketer. And what is it that you are marketing? Well, it’s your brand.

But what exactly is your author brand? What are your options? What’s going to stick in everyone’s mind after they’ve visited your site?

Here are four directions that I’ve seen authors go in terms of their branding, and examples of each one. I hope this sparks ideas for you!

1. Yourself. This is probably the case for 75% of the authors that I work with. Their brand is … well … themselves.

This is most relevant for authors who want to become household names (hello, Stephen King!) and hope to write multiple books in a specific genre. For a nonfiction author, your self-focused brand might also include any consulting or speaking you hope to do on the same topic.

For a self-branded site, your name would be both the URL and “title” at the header of your site. Your photo would also be prominent, and the site design should clearly reflect your personality and the genre you’re writing in.

Goals of an author-branded site would be to build followers (email sign-ups, likes, people “following” you, return visitors) so that people who like your first book will then be aware of your upcoming books, and you have a way to continue communicating with them as each future book comes to fruition.

See examples of author-branded sites that we’ve built at:

2. Your book. Maybe you were inspired to write this one book. It could be a biography. It could be your story of survival through a crisis. Maybe it’s a collection of stories you put together. But if your plan is to write this one book — and only one book — then it makes sense for the book to be the brand. After all, the goal is to sell the book, right? It’s not to build a legion of fans.

In a case of a book site, the site title and URL should reflect the book title, and the book cover should be front and center in the design. In addition, the site’s look and feel should directly resemble the book cover. After all, the site is an extension of the book in these cases, so it makes all the sense in the world to carry the colors and graphics from the book cover into the book-focused website.

The goal of a book-branded site is simple: sell the book. This type of site should should have “buy the book” buttons everywhere, and primarily should serve to whet people’s appetite until they make the purchase.

See examples of book-branded sites:

3. Your series. Let’s say that you want to be the next JK Rowling. You’ve just finished your first Harry Potter-like book, and plan to write the rest of the series over the next few years.

This site, in many ways, would be a hybrid of the two above. The title/URL should be the same as the name of the book series. The design should also be very closely tied to the book covers, and contain any color schemes, images or fonts that will run through the entire series. But the goals of this site would be closer to that of an author-focused brand. After all, not only do you want people to buy the first book, but you want to make sure you retain their attention for the future books. Collecting email addresses/subscribers/followers is key, because that’s the best way to make sure that you catch their attention again when the next book of the series is out.

See examples of series-branded sites at:

4. Your cause. Maybe your brand is much bigger than yourself or your book. Maybe you are trying to start a movement or build a new product line. That movement could be spiritual in nature, it could be political, or it could be a service that you offer. Regardless, in these instances, you and the book are only pieces of the puzzle. The true goal is bigger than both of you.

For sites like these, a uniquely-designed logo is key. That logo needs to have a catchy title — and picking a name for your brand is not something to take lightly — and should be something that will hopefully be recognizable to a wide audience in the future. Think nonprofit, like Autism Speaks, or for-profit, like, H&R Block. Sure those are big examples, but they’re good role models.

Front and center in your site design should be your mission and why people should be interested. This can be done in images, video and/or text … or all of the above. The book can be featured prominently in the design, but it should be viewed as a supporting item to boost the message, not the end all and be all.

The beauty of a cause-based site is that it can grow as much as you want it to. Plan to sell t-shirts and bracelets that advance the mission? That will fit nicely into the brand. Want to start a petition on your site, sell your services, or build an online community for people to connect on the issue? That also is an easy addition. All of it ties into the goal of your book and your website; you and the book are just part of the supporting cast, if you will.

Here are some examples of cause-based websites

See how different your website will be depending on which type of branding you decide to go with? Choose wisely … it will make a big difference in the success of your book, your website, and ultimately, your brand.

5 Things I Love About Haruki Murakami’s Author Website

harukimurakamiVery rarely do I stumble across an author website that I wish I had built myself. This was one of them.

This brilliant Japanese novelist, author of Norwegian Wood and Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, admits to being a bit of a recluse. And that’s what makes his author website so special: it is, in many ways, a peek inside his world that no one ever has gotten to see before.

Here are the five things I love most about HarukiMurakami.com.

1. It’s the perfect balance of photos and text. Many author websites are too heavy one way or the other — they are all text with just a photo or two strategically placed, or they’re all images with little to no words. This site happens to find the perfect balance, with different photos on different pages, and just the right balance of graphics and powerful words.

2. Check out the amazing interactive picture of his desk. Want to know where Haruki does his writing? Check out the photo of his desk on his author page. And oh … that’s not just a static photo. Click on the plus sign on any of the items on his desk (like the coffee mug, for example) and read his commentary on the role that particular item plays in his writing. Brilliant!

3. There’s so much information on each individual book. Visit any individual book page on the site and see the cool slider function at the top, chock full of quotes from the book itself. What a great way to actually whet people’s appetites. Below that is the cover, the description and links to reviews, excerpts, discussion guides and more. It’s almost like each individual book has its own site, and there’s no shortage of things to learn about each book.

4. It also has a wealth of information about what’s behind the books. This section of the site may be hard to find (one of my only criticisms), but it’s well worth it once you do find it. The section called conversations includes excerpts from his conversations with his publisher/cover designer, interviews with him about the books, letters from his editors and more. It’s truly a sneak peek inside (and behind) the books. Plus, visit the music pages on his website and learn about the songs and the artists that have inspired him and his writings.

5. It has an interactive community. I love, love, love the community section of the site, which allows visitors to share their favorite characters, favorite scenes, and how fans discovered Haruki’s books. Fill out the simple form to share your story, or click around to read what other readers have shared. This really makes it an interactive experience, in which readers can speak to their favorite author … and each other.

This website is truly one that I see many others — myself included — modeling future sites after. It’s the perfect blend of information and interactivity, design and functionality. Kudos to Haruki and his Philadelphia-based design agency Blue Cadet. No wonder they won a Webbie!

August Round-Up: 5 Must Reads for Authors

august-must-readsAs hard as it is to believe, it’s Labor Day weekend already. August has come and gone. With that in mind, here’s a summary of the best links we found in the month of August. These are must reads for authors who want to take book marketing to the next level.

1. Creating a Social Media Hashtag Campaign to Promote Your Book
Smart Author Sites
August 6, 2015

2. Extending Your Social Media Reach: Working the Facebook Author Tag Feature
Huffington Post
August 8, 2015

3. Stop Grading an Author’s Social Media Presence
Digital Book World
August 12, 2015

4. “Keep a Small but Dedicated Street Team” — Interviewing Eliot Peper
Reedsy
August 21, 2015

5. One Author Social Media Campaign Gets Creative
Smart Author Sites
August 27, 2015

Happy September, everyone!