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!

3 Musts for Titling Your Author Blog Posts

article-blog-titleNow how’s this for playing with reality? I’m blogging about blogging.

But seriously, each week, I have to first come up with an idea for a blog post, and then come up with a good title for that post. I’ve written extensively about the former — ideas for author blog posts. What I haven’t yet talked about is the strategy for writing good titles for those blog entries.

With that in mind, here are three things to keep in mind when you are coming up with your titles…

1. Keywords, keywords, keywords. For each blog post you write, have one particular keyword or series of keywords in mind. That string MUST make it into the title. For example, this particular blog entry has the term “author blog posts” as its primary key term. That string of words is in the title and in the body of the piece. So when someone goes to Google and searches for “author blog posts,” this piece should show up on their search results. Also, each post you write  should have a different keyword term to focus on … otherwise, you’re basically competing with yourself.

2. Think about numbers. For the last decade and a half, one thing has consistently been true about story/blog titles on the web. People love numbers. Have you ever noticed that a large percentage of my own blog entries start with “5 ways to …” or “3 things not to …”? There’s a reason for that. Titles that start with numerals quickly send a message to users that this piece will be easy to read and digest. It also gives them an idea of length. In other words, they know before they even go to the piece that it’s going to be a quick and easy read, and not a lengthy NY Times magazine piece.

3. Be provacative. Here are two potential titles for a blog post. Which one would you be more enticed to click on?

  • The Struggles I Had Writing My Book
  • 5 Reasons I Felt Dirty After Writing My Book

I think, if you tested these two, the second would get far more clicks than the first. Why? Well, it’s more provocative. And, like it or not, that’s what sells. A title like that would pique people’s interest. And not only would users be more likely to click on it, but they would also be more likely to share it with their friends. In other words, don’t be afraid to be a little bit daring with your titles and push the boundaries.

Now, obviously, it’s difficult do to all three of these things in the same title. If you can, great. If you have to settle for two, that’s okay. But I highly recommend you go through this checklist each and every time you’re adding a new blog post. At the end of the day, your site traffic numbers will benefit as a result.

5 Tips on Writing a Good Author Website Bio

author-website-bioNearly every author website has an “About the Author” page. This generally contains the author’s biography so that visitors and fans can learn more about the person behind the book.

In the decade plus that I’ve been working in this field, I’ve seen tons of different types of author bio pages. Some are written in the first person, some in the third person. Some are long, and some are short. Here’s a list of five tips I’ve put together (and examples of ones done right) that every author should keep in mind as they work on their author website bio.

1. Consider an unusual format. How many bios have you read in your lifetime. 100? 1000? And you pretty much know what to expect when you land on one, right? Well, maybe it’s time to throw your readers a curve. Consider moving away from the traditional bio and setting up the page in a Q&A format, or something else that’s a little less traditional. Use your imagination!

Example: http://chrislittlebooks.com/about-the-author/

2. Stick to the basics. I’ve seen author bios that include thousands of words. They talk about their childhood, education, professional career, etc… Keep your bio short and sweet. Make it easy to read and touch on the points that are especially interesting to your readers. It should not take five minutes for a visitor to get through your bio page.

Example: http://chipwagarbooks.com/about-the-author/

3. Include cute details. What would you like to know about your favorite author? Something fun and personal, right? Like if they have a pet. What they do in their spare time. Or their favorite guilty pleasure. Think about including these types of elements in your bio. They may not be the kinds of things that you expect to find on a page like that, but I’ve found them to be especially interesting to fans.

Example: http://www.marvinamazon.com/about-the-author/

4. Tie the bio into the book. Maybe you’re a nonfiction author who writes political books because of a personal passion. Maybe you’re a novelist who has always loved mysteries and is finally following her dream. Make sure that you tie your life into your bio, and explain why you’re writing about what you’re writing about. Don’t leave someone who has read your bio still wondering about your connection to the book.

Example: http://authorbillpowers.com/about-bill/

5. Include photos! This is incredibly obvious, and yet some people tend to forget. People go to your about page because they want to understand who you are. Are you 20 years old or 80 years old? Blonde or brunette? What kind of smile do you have? Are you a sophisticated urban gal or at home with nature? Include multiple pictures of yourself on your bio page to allow people to really get a peek into your world.

Example: http://jtcopeiv.com/about-j-t/
Are there other author website bio pages you like or recommend? Want feedback on your own? Use the comments feature below!

Creating a Book Secrets Page on Your Author Website

book-secretsAlmost every author website has the basics — a book description, excerpt, blog, contact page, about the author, news, etc…

But when I’m talking to an author about what we can do with their website, I like to try and think outside the box as well. One of my common recommendations for fiction authors? A “book secrets” page.

So what exactly is a book secret? It’s something that you — the author — knows, but someone who has read the book probably doesn’t know. Examples of the types of information that would be conveyed on a book secrets page includes:

  • The inspiration for the book
  • If any of the characters in the book are based on real people
  • How your characters got their names
  • Hidden secrets/clues in the book
  • Where in the story you might have hit writer’s block
  • Places in the book where you shifted course (i.e. you were originally going to have this person commit the crime, but then changed your mind)
  • Segments of the book that might have been cut during editing

These are just a few of the ideas … you can probably come up with more on your own. And wouldn’t these be interesting things to know about your favorite novel? Your readers would feel the same way!

Just this morning, I stumbled across an article about a perfect example of a book secret (albeit, a sad one). Do you know that children’s book, “Love You Forever”? It’s the one that includes this infamous song/poem:

“I’ll love you forever,
I’ll like you for always,
as long as I’m living
my baby you’ll be.”

Just recently, the author of the book, Robert Munsch, used his website to share the story about where the idea for that song came from. Warning, it’s a tearjerker!

And while you probably don’t have nearly as emotional a story behind your book, if you think hard enough, you’ll probably find some really interesting things that you can share with your readers via a book secrets page. Consider this page some bonus material for your loyal readers.

June Round-Up: 5 Must-Reads for Authors

june-calendarI can’t believe June has come and gone already! So in case you missed it … here are the five must-reads for authors from the month of June.

1. Facebook Advertising for Authors, by Mark Dawson: Part 1
Reedsy Blog
June 4, 2015

2. How to Sell Out a Book Signing Without Being a Celebrity
Build Book Buzz
June 2, 2015

3. Author Websites: 5 Big Ways to Create Loyal Readers
Reedsy Blog
June 16, 2015

4. How to Ask for Book Endorsements
A. Piper Bergi
June 17, 2015

5. Designing an Author Website Without a Book Cover
Smart Author Sites
June 25, 2015

Enjoy your month of July everyone!