Marketing a Nonfiction Book: Using Your Website to Enhance the Journey

journeyI’ve said it before and I’ll continue to say it: marketing a nonfiction book is totally different from marketing fiction. In the latter, your story takes people into a fictional world that gives them a break from their daily life. In the former, you’re most likely educating people on something that will help them enhance their daily life. That’s true no matter what type of nonfiction you write: whether your book is about a war that happened hundreds of years ago, tips on home decor, or a way for people to find meaning and purpose through spirituality.

In essence, your nonfiction book provides a lesson to you readers. By the time they’re done reading it, they’ve been through a journey that has taught them something they didn’t know before. And, hopefully, that’s a journey they’re happy they took.

With that in mind, here are some interesting ways to use your website to further enhance that journey (and hopefully, increase the number of people buying your book). Depending on the subject matter of your book, one of these ideas might work better than others.

  1. Serial blog posts. You can use the material in your book (or come up with additional material) to use blog posts to help people along the way. So, for example, if your book is about how to reinvent your career midlife, you could write one blog post each week about the specific steps you have to take to get there. For example, the first post could be a brief explanation of how to do a self assessment to determine what you’re good at. The second could be full of resume-writing tips. The third about how to build a strong LinkedIn profile, etc… And by getting interested readers to your site regularly, you’re able to promote your book wherever appropriate.
  2. Weekly emails. This is building on the serial blog post idea. In this case, let’s say you write a book about getting organized. Allow your readers to sign up for your “Organization boot camp.” Each week, you would send them a separate email (these would all be pre-written, of course) with specific tips on what they could do that week in order to meet their personal organization goals. And it goes without saying … each email would tell them that they could get more detailed information from your book, along with a link to purchase it.
  3. Chapter-by-chapter discussion guides. What better way to sweeten the pot for a potential reader than to tell them that after they have purchased the book, they can come back to your site at the end of each chapter for a downloadable discussion guide that will help them better understand what they’ve absorbed. So if your book is about, say the Great Depression, the discussion guide that you offer will allow them to go on the site after reading chapter 1, and ask/answer a few questions that will help them have an even better understanding of what caused the Great Depression before moving on to the next chapter.
  4. Podcasts/videos. To say podcasts and videos are popular today would be an understatement. They are the most popular forms of media out there. So maybe you want your weekly lesson plan to be in video or podcast format instead of a written email. Maybe you want your chapter discussion guides to be actual discussions between you and another expert, talking through the most interesting things you covered in that chapter. Maybe you’re even debating the subject. Take about a great way to reinforce a concept and make the reading experience even more satisfying!
  5. Ask the expert features. People love being able to ask a question of an expert. And if you’re a nonfiction author … well, you’re an expert. After reading your book, people might have questions that are gnawing away at them, like, “How do I know if renovating my kitchen will really be worth it?” or “What would really happen if our country really embraced libertarianism, as you recommend?” By providing them with an avenue to ask you these questions – and get responses in real time – you are offering a truly satisfying journey. That can be done via a live expert chat, or simply exchanging comments via Facebook or your blog.

Embrace the fact that people will be in a new and better place in their lives after reading your book. Then, you can start to figure out which of these ideas – or others – will truly make the journey more satisfying. And yes. Like it or not, it is a journey.

Our 5 Most-Read Blog Posts in 2015

Johan Larsson / photo on flickr

Johan Larsson / photo on flickr

A new year has begun, and with it will come a whole new batch of blog posts — chock full of advice, the latest news in the industry and more.

But first, feast on our most-read blog posts of 2015. Please note that not all of these were published in 2015 (some are older than that) … but they certainly were read! We hope these have been helpful to you, and here’s to an even better 2016.

  1. How to Write the Perfect Book Teaser
    When I’m working with an author to create an effective homepage, one of the things that I always ask a writer to do is create a book teaser … something that really whets the appetite of a visitor in the few seconds that you have their attention. Then you give them links to read more about the book, read an excerpt, or … of course … buy the book….

  2. The Importance of an Author Tagline (and How to Write One!)
    Picture this. You go to an author’s website. Or you end up on the website because … well … you’re not quite sure how. The homepage of the website includes the author’s name in huge letters, on top of a large, adorable photo of him or her. “Aw … what a nice photo,” you think…

  3. Authors: Create Your Own Wikipedia Page
    Did you know that Wikipedia is one of the most popular ways of doing research on the web? In some ways, that’s kind of crazy. After all, it’s not experts who post information on Wikipedia — covering everything from the Berlin Wall to the history of the Slinky toy. It’s your average guy who creates a Wikipedia page about something or someone and puts in what they know. Other people can then add to that information. It’s basically a wealth of knowledge from common folk (another example of Web 2.0) that stays there unless someone else finds it to be incorrect…

  4. 6 Things Elizabeth Gilbert Does Right on Her Author Website (and You Can, Too)
    Bestselling author Elizabeth Gilbert (known best for Eat, Pray, Love) has an amazing author website. And no, we didn’t build it. But when I stumbled upon it today, I was immediately impressed by it. Why? Here are six reasons…

  5. Building Your Author Media Page/Press Kit
    Do you have a media page on your author website? It’s purpose is to provide the media with the information they might need to feature you in their next piece. If you decide to have a press page on your website, here are some ideas about what it should include…

  6. Looking to Get Published? Consider Harper Collins’ Authonomy
    If you’re an author looking to get published by a major publishing house, you may want to consider posting your book on Harper Collins’ Authonomy website. Here’s the scoop….

  7. What Is a Book Landing Page and Do You Need One?
    You may or may not have heard the term “landing page” in the context of an author website. But you very well may not know exactly what a landing page is. It’s time to learn!

  8. 6 Tips for Pre-Selling Your Book
    If you’re a smart author — and all our Smart Author Sites clients are 🙂 — you’ll have your website up-and-running well before your book is published. In fact, your website may have even helped to get your book published. But exactly what should an author be doing with the website for the months leading up to the book’s release date? How do you promote a book that’s not on the shelves yet? Here’s what you can do to get a head start selling copies of your book…

  9. Author Newsletters: Tips, Misconceptions, and More!
    Several of my clients have asked me to send out newsletters to their mailing lists recently. But none of them seemed to understand exactly what a newsletter can do (or the information you can cull out of sending a newsletter). With that in mind, I thought it might be helpful to outline exactly what an author newsletter can do, when it should be used, and what kind of information you can cull from it…

  10. A New Way for Authors to Get ‘Discovered’
    I came across this article today on MediaBistro. Just thought I’d share it with my author friends. Apparently, Penguin has created a new website called Book Country — a place where authors can connect with reviewers, publishing professionals, and readers…

Have an idea for a future blog entry you’d like to see? Make your recommendation in the comments section below.

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.

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!

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!

Should I Self Publish? The Answer Seems to Be …

should i self publishBy pure coincidence, I came across three articles today that all, in different ways, conveyed the same message. Self-publishing is the way to go.

Why? Well, let’s go over what we can learn from each of these pieces…

1. In this infographic, we learn that self-published authors are now selling more books than the big five publishers, at least in the e-book universe. This is quite a change from even a few years ago.

2. Here’s a whole article explaining why traditional publishing will fail (and is, in fact, failing). Here’s my favorite segment from the piece.

A lot of traditional publishing companies are stuck in some pre-internet era purgatory. They spend an enormous amount of resources sifting through the sludge pile and investing all their time and money in a couple authors they hope will sell big. And sometimes they choose wrong.

The internet has changed things. Crowdsourcing quality work and letting audiences decide who succeeds is where publishing is headed.

And as the article points out, self-publishing companies have the opportunity to make 30% of a book’s profits, with little-to-no upfront cost in publishing the book. Why wouldn’t more entrepreneurs be jumping on that bandwagon?

3. Last by not least is this piece on book marketing. One of the takeaways? Being published doesn’t necessarily help an author.

In the article, the author, of book marketing firm Publishing Push, tells the story of meeting an author who went through a traditional publishing house … and ended up having to do all his own marketing after the fact. He compares that story to one of self-published authors he’s worked with who have had highly successful marketing efforts right off the bat.

In the latter cases, the self-published author got to choose his own marketing firm (and choose well), and the results were apparent. Less so when trusting the marketing department of a publishing house.

So for you self published authors … congratulations. Recent data is showing that you made a good choice. And if you are wondering, “Should I self publish?” The answer certainly seems to be “YES!”

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.

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!

One Author Social Media Campaign Gets Creative

legacy-of-kings-twitter-campaignSocial media is an important key to an author’s success. That’s especially true for fiction authors, since most readers don’t find their next read by searching on Google; they find it after they’re exposed to it through their social circles. Hence, the need for an author social media campaign.

But one of the challenges many authors have is figuring out how to tie the theme of their book in to Facebook or Twitter. For example, what should the writer of a mystery/romance book tweet about to gain traction?

Well, here’s a creative idea, just launched by Harlequin Teen. It’s a Twitter campaign for Legacy of Kings, the first book in Eleanor Herman’s new YA series.

Here’s a blurb from Publishers Weekly about it.

Bryn Collier, digital marketing manager at the publisher, said she created the technology with a freelance developer over the course of a few weeks. The “bot,” as Collier referred to the oracle, will respond to the hashtag #asklegacyofkings with one of 100 statements. The idea, she said, is that readers can tweet a question to @HarlequinTeen with the hashtag—sent examples include “Will I achieve my goal of going to college abroad?” and “Will the guy I love ever love me back?”—to receive a “prediction” written by Herman.

The promotion, which launched on Monday, ties into the theme of the historical fantasy series, called Blood of Gods and Royals. One of the main characters in the books, Kat, is on a mission to kill the queen in order to avenge her mother, who was an oracle.

Herman, an adult author who is breaking into the YA space with the series, is also a historian. Collier said that the author relied on her knowledge of Greek history to create a digital oracle that “channels the [Greek] gods and goddesses” as well as “other prolific thinkers.” The responses therefore include tidbits like this one, credited to Athena: ‘It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.’ There is also this nugget, from Poseiden: ‘Journeys that start out rough often end in smooth sailing.’

In other words, this YA novel ties into Greek history. The twitter campaign takes advantage of a readers’ interest in sci-fi, Greek history, gods and goddesses, etc… to let them have their questions answered with wise words of wisdom. Brilliant!

So how can you do something similar? While you may not have the budget of a publisher to build a database like this, you can use this type of idea as a jumping off point. For example, if you’re a fiction writer, maybe the main character of your book series can answer questions about her life on twitter via a hashtag. Or if you’re a nonfiction writer, maybe you, the author, can respond to reader questions that tap into your expertise through a twitter chat?

This type of example is one all authors can follow — both those who are self-publishing and otherwise — to figure out what resonates with their readership and build a successful social networking campaign around it.

Happy Tweeting!