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!

Creating a Social Media Hashtag Campaign to Promote Your Book

hashtag_campaignHere’s an interesting idea for promotion of your book … tie a social media hashtag campaign to it.

How would you do that? Well, start by following the idea currently being executed by Random House Children’s Books in conjunction with the ASPCA as an offshoot of the new, bestselling Dr. Seuss book.

Here’s a summary of the campaign they’re running, courtesy of Publishers Weekly:

RHCB announced that it would be teaming with Dr. Seuss Enterprises on a social media campaign that will support the work of the ASPCA to help animals in need across the country. The campaign celebrates the author’s “love for animals,” the publisher wrote in a statement, and calls for all pet owners nationwide to share a photo of their pets, tagging it with the #whatpet campaign hashtag. For every photo shared on Twitter or Instagram with #whatpet, RHCB and Dr. Seuss Enterprises will donate one dollar to the ASPCA, up to the first 15,000 photos.

So what would it take to run your own social media hashtag campaign like this? Assuming you already have your own social media accounts on Facebook/Twitter (if not, consider that step 1), here are the simple steps to take.

  • Step 1: Decide on a theme. Think about what types of images/stories are a natural fit with your book. For example, let’s say your book is about reinventing your career; a good idea for a hashtag campaign around it might be asking that people share inspiring photos and/or short stories about their first day at their new job.
  • Step 2: Create a hashtag. Continuing on this example, you might decide on a hashtag like #NewCareer. Before running with it, make sure it isn’t being used on any other large campaigns.
  • Step 3: Set a timetable. Social campaigns like this can’t go on forever. So pick a start and end date for it. It could be tied to holidays, seasons, school years, or just the number of people involved (i.e. the first 15,000, as in the Dr. Seuss campaign).
  • Step 4: Come up with a hook. What would be someone’s motivation for participating in this campaign? Is it a donation (like the Dr. Seuss example)? Is it to enter a raffle? Is it for possible inclusion of their story in your next book? Will there be a winner for best photo/story? Make sure you offer some kind of benefit for someone taking the time to send their story or photo.
  • Step 4: Make sure your book gets the proper promotion through the campaign. How is someone who buys into the campaign (be it by uploading a photo/story or viewing other people’s photos/stories) going to learn about your book? Without a connection to the book, all this is for naught. So make sure that your book and/or your website gets fair promotion within the campaign through links, ads, etc…
  • Step 5: Launch the campaign. Now it’s time to spread the word! Share a brief, well-written, engaging blurb about the campaign via social media (and your website, too). Ask your friends and family to share as well. The more eyes it gets in front of, the more participants there will be.

Voila! Your social media hashtag campaign is underway! And if all goes smoothly, you’ll not only have a new set of followers and increased book sales as a result, you’ll also have some meaty material to include in your future writings. It’s a win-win.

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!

Author Wisdom: What I Wished I’d Known Sooner

author-tic-tac-toeI stumbled across this really interesting converstaion on LinkedIn. The question was posed to authors: “What’s the one biggest surprise or thing you wish someone would have told you about the authoring or publishing process?”

Here are highlights from some of the responses:

—–

You’re not just an author, you’re a marketing expert and a full-time promoter of your work. Writing the book is the easy part; selling it is a full time job and that job is now yours. If you know that going into it, and you educate yourself well, it’s great fun. If you don’t realize it ahead of time you’re in for a shock.
Susan Veness

This is such a great question and my mind is reeling with things I’d like to share, having been a professional cover designer for over 25 years ….new authors don’t realize that spine width drives that attention-grabbing factor, and that they can manipulate the book’s interior to arrive at a page count that increases perceived value. The ideal page count for a healthy minimal spine width of about a half-inch is 200+.
Kathi Dunn

If you’re going to be commission the photographer or illustrator yourself, make sure you have a robust, clear agreement ideally assigning copyright, or at the very least an exclusive right to publish in all formats without a time limit. You also need clear written (non-exclusive) permission to use any pre-existing material, text or illustrations, that falls outside fair usage allowances, again in all formats and without time limits. Permissions aren’t sexy but if you don’t get them right they can really bite you in the backside. Good luck with it all, look forward to seeing the result!
Alison Jones

That publishing one or two books is quite an accomplishment and you should be proud, but don’t quit your day job: there usually isn’t much money in books anymore.
Shawn Tassone, MD, PhD(c)

That 99% of the work would be the marketing of the book…. i thought it was all about writers block and empty screens.
Jeff Smith

As someone who helps authors build online presences for themselves, I find that the thing that surprises authors the most is the fact that they really need to build a brand — whether that brand is their name, their book title, their series, or their business name (of which their book is one piece). That brand has to be able to be summed up in one sentence and have a logo/color scheme. It’s difficult to take something as complicated as a writer or book and make it easily digestible, but that’s exactly what authors need to keep in mind all along the way.
— Me

———–

What surprised you? What do you wish you’d known sooner? Share your own author wisdom below!

5 Author Must Reads From May

mayApologize for posting this a little late this month. But with May quickly behind us (this time of year goes so fast!), here’s a summary of the the author must reads from the month.

1. Develop Your Author Platform to Position Yourself as a Leader
Eunice Nisbett/LinkedIn
May 1, 2015

2. Kick Ass Book Launch Tips (from Two Authors Who Really Know)
Publication Life
May 13, 2015

3. Another Reason to Perfect the Mobile Version of Your Author Website
Smart Author Sites
May 14, 2015

4. Author Blog Tips
Build Book Buzz
May 19, 2015

5. 5 Free (or Almost-Free) Ways to Market Your Book
Smart Author Sites
May 28, 2015

Happy June, everyone!

Should I Be Running a Paid Social Ad Campaign?

paid-ad-campaign-scaleI get this question from authors all the time. I’ve even seen recent conversations about it on LinkedIn. Here’s the primary question: “Should I be running a paid social ad campaign — like Google Adwords, Facebook ads, or Amazon ads — to increase awareness about my book?”

And the answer? Well, that’s almost always a resounding “no.”

Why Not?

Any time you invest money in something — especially advertising — what you’re looking for is a good ROI, or return on investment. In other words, you want to make sure you get more money back than you put in. That’s a pretty basic concept.

And yet, when it comes to authors investing in paid advertising campaigns, the ROI generally doesn’t add up.

Here’s why: If you sold jewelery, for example, and your margin of profit on each piece of jewelry sold was $500, you’d be more than willing to invest a fair amount in advertising in the hopes that you sold just one piece of jewelry. As long as you spent less than $500, you’d have a good ROI.

But when you sell books, the numbers are drastically different. As one LinkedIn user by tne name of Richard Milton breaks it down in regards to Amazon’s ad campaigns:

As the most efficient book retailer in the world, Amazon knows perfectly well (but don’t tell you the advertiser) that the industry standard click through rate is 0.1 per cent (one visitor in a thousand will click your ad) and the highest industry standard conversion rate (Amazon’s own) is 4%. This means that if 25,000 people see your ad, 25 of them will click on it and 1 will buy your book.

The average cost per click on Amazon currently for fiction is around $0.60 – $0.65.

Unless you are a megastar author or your book is a runaway best-seller, this means that you will spend more than receive.

I have found the same soft of logic to be true in relation to Google Ad campaigns and the like.

Let’s Do the Math

Here are the basic numbers that I saw when I was looking at these types of campaigns for authors…

Let’s say you’re spending 75 cents per click on your Google Adwords campaign, and you’ve capped your budget at $500/month. That means you get 667 clicks a month.

If you have a conversion rate of 5% — which would actually be relatively good — that means that 33 of the 667 visitors will have bought your book that month.

Now, let’s say you yourself make $3 per copy sold (and that would be a lot less for Kindle versions of your book). You would be bringing in $99 that month, significantly less than the $500 you invested.

Is It Ever Worth the Money?

I’m not one to be making grand statements that something does or doesn’t work for everyone. If you happen to write a great book about a topic that is extremely popular, it’s possible that you could make money off of these types of campaigns. After all, if your conversion rate is a lot higher than the 5% cited above (more like 25%), you would at least break even.

But based on everything I’ve seen, heard and read, I have yet to find one author for whom this is the case.

As another author in a similar LinkedIn conversation added: “Unlikely. I tried it for a while but got nowhere with it.”

So What Can I Do? 

I highly recommend authors use many of the free promotional online tools. These include:

  • Search engine optimization
  • Creating Facebook/Twitter profiles
  • Starting a blog
  • Reaching out to other sites about guest blogging

Here’s a recent post I wrote about free (or almost-free) ways to market your book. All you need to invest is time.

Happy promoting!

5 Free or Almost-Free Ways to Market Your Book

free-ways-to-market-your-bookWe build websites for authors. And no, we don’t build them for free. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t provide authors with lots of ideas about other ways they can market their books at little to no cost.

Based on what I’ve heard from authors in the decade I’ve been doing this, here are five ideas for free or almost-free ways ways to market your book.

1. Facebook and Twitter. If you haven’t done so already, create your own professional profile on Facebook. Make sure it’s completely separate from your personal Facebook profile.  Same thing with Twitter. Then use those platforms to post teasers about your book, share news about its release, and send traffic to your blog, YouTube page, etc… (more on that below).

2. A virtual book launch party. Celebrate the launch of your book by hosting a virtual book launch party. Here’s a great read on how to plan such a party, who to invite, and how to make it a can’t miss event. Again, the cost is minimal, and the potential benefit is plenty.

3. A blog. I’ve written many, many posts before about the importance of an author blog. In short, a blog is one of the best ways to attract an audience and expose potential readers to your book. Hook people with your blog, then present your book to them. And those “people” can be readers … or they can be agents or publishers. As another writer recently shared on LinkedIn: “E L James who wrote 50 shades of Grey had a blog for two years and each month had a new chapter she ended up with over 200,000 followers before the book was published.”

4. Video, video, video. Video is only becoming more and more popular. Check out this post on why video is practically becoming a must for today’s author. And while video can be very expensive (if you hire a top-notch production company), it can also be free. Equally free is the YouTube channel that you can use to share your video and get the word out about your book. Think about this: YouTube is now the second most-used search engine after Google. Without video, you are excluding yourself from the second largest search engine.

5. Guest blogging. Almost every blogger would love to have someone in their genre offer to write a guest post for them. I know I would. It’s free work that someone else is willing to do for you. Plus, a guest blogger is often willing to share that post with their audience, thus driving more traffic to your site. So consider bringing guest bloggers on to your blog. And, even more importantly, offer to guest blog for other bloggers in your genre. It can just be a short post about your subject matter, with a reference to your book. You can even offer a copy as a prize drawing. Again, it’s a great (and free) way to introduce your book to a new (and engaged) audience.

Do you have other ideas about free ways to market your book? Share them below!