Stay Away from the Bells and Whistles!

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

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

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

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

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

Top 10 Peeves from Booksellers and Readers About Author Websites

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your Author Website … by the Chapter!

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

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

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

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

Free Ways to Use Social Media for Book Promotion

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

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

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

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

And do you know how the blogger found her?

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

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

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

The ‘Musts’ of an Author’s Website

No two author websites are the same. But there are certain things that should be on every site. Notice I say “should be” … Search the web and you’ll find some authors’ websites that are missing some crucial information! While I’m a big supporter of making every author’s website unique, here are the no-brainers for author websites:

1. A domain name that supports your book. Even if you go with your name as the domain name of your site, you should also reserve your book title (if possible) and have it redirect to your author site. You don’t want people typing the name of your book into their browser and winding up elsewhere!

2. A “Buy the book” link on every page. The goal of your website is to sell books. So you need to make it as easy as possible for someone to buy your book or books throughout the site. A potential reader may be somewhere totally unexpected (i.e. a page focused on your other writings) when they decide to take the plunge, so the link to buy it should still be right in front of them.

3. Tie-ins to your social media profiles. What good is having a profile on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn if you don’t send people there? Have small buttons on your homepage that allow site visitors to follow you elsewhere.

4. An author bio. Even if you’re a private person who doesn’t want to share your life with the world, some sort of bio page is a must. Ideally, it should contain a photo of you and a description of your living situation, your career, and why you write.

5. A newsletter sign-up box. Don’t think you will send e-newsletters? Collect this information anyway. Getting the contact information for people who have shown interest in your writing is invaluable. You may not know it now, but you sure will appreciate having that list when your next book comes out and you want to tell people about it.

6. Book excerpts. How do you expect to get people to buy your book without whetting their appetite a little? You can choose to have one long excerpt from the book, or a bunch of shorter ones that give a taste of the different chapters in the book. When you go to the movies, there’s a reason they show trailers of future movies. Think of your excerpt(s) as a trailer of your book.

7. Contact information. A website is an interactive tool. So you don’t want to use it only as a way for you to talk to your readers. You want to let your readers talk to you, too. Whether you offer an email address or a simple contact form, make sure there’s a way for people visiting your site to communicate with you.

Anything I’m missing here? What do you think needs to be on an author website? Share your thoughts!

What Should an Author’s Homepage Accomplish?

Look at a dozen author websites — and websites in general — and you’ll find vastly different types of homepages. Some are flashy and exciting … some are informational … some are promotional. So what’s the best type of homepage for you? And what should the ideal homepage accomplish? Here are some ideas:

The Flashy Homepage
Who it’s for: This type of homepage — one that’s heavy in images or Flash — can work for an author whose writing style is dramatic fiction.

Benefits and drawbacks: An author who writes dramatic books should have a website that visually conveys the same feeling as the text in the book. If done correctly, it will certainly entice visitors to delve into the site to learn more. However, these types of homepages carry several risks. One is that the lack of text can seriously hurt you in terms of search engine optimization. The other potential drawback is losing people … someone who winds up on your site through a link or search engine result may or may not be interested enough in delving further into your site to learn more about you or your book.

Examples: We haven’t built too many sites like this, but here are a few:
http://www.llanosfigueroa.com/
http://www.farrelltrading.com/

The Informational Homepage
Who it’s for:
A homepage that provides a lot of information — about the book, the author and/or the subject matter — is perfect for a nonfiction author who has an expertise in the subject or wants the site to serve as a resource for people who may have already read the book and want to learn more.

Benefits and drawbacks: An informational homepage can serve as an index of sorts, providing a taste of the various pieces of the site and what people can find if they delve deeper. It can include the beginning of an author bio, the most recent blog entry, links to resources, book excerpts, etc… Almost everyone who visits a site like this will find something on the homepage that they want to click on. And the drawbacks? Well, some authors would find homepages like these “boring.” If you’re the type of author who wants something dramatic, this type of homepage may seem a little too much like an online newspaper to you.

Examples:
http://www.watereddowntruth.com/
http://www.unbecominganurse.org/
http://www.quangxpham.com/

The Book Promotion Homepage
Who it’s for:
A homepage like this is for an author who isn’t afraid to really be a blatant marketer of their books. Everything on a promotional homepage is with the purpose of selling the book. The text and pictures are promotional and site visitors aren’t really encouraged to click around the site. Instead they’re directed to buy the book NOW!

Benefits and drawbacks: Well, the benefits are obvious. If done properly, a promotional homepage makes someone more likely to buy the book immediately, rather than delve deeper into the site. But some site visitors could be turned off by the promotional tone and decide that they’d rather visit a website that provides them more information before asking them to pay.

Examples:
http://www.financialstrategyfordivorce.com/
http://www.richardzwolinski.com
http://www.danwald.com/

The Author Promotion Homepage
Who it’s for:
This is similar to a book promotion homepage, but its goal is to “sell” the author. Whether that be to publishers, agents or readers.

Benefits and drawbacks: Much like the book promotion homepage, the benefits of this type of homepage are obvious. For authors who already are established, it can get site visitors to join the email list or pre-order a future book. For those who are looking to get published, it immediately gives publishers or agents a chance to get to know you and your writings. The drawbacks are similar as well, in that some people could be turned off by self-promotion.

Examples:
http://www.joycechapmanlebra.com/
http://www.julieschumacher.com/
http://www.authorsherryjones.com/
http://www.cherylwilsonharris.com/

So which type of homepage best suits your needs? We’ll be happy to help. Contact us today for a free consultation about building you the right website.

Special Offers on Author Websites

Like it or not, an author website really is a sales tool. And whether you’re talking about selling the book or “selling” the author, the philosophy is very much the same as any other sales tool. People like special offers.

But this isn’t a Macy’s holiday sale. How exactly can a writer’s website use special offers to its advantage? Here are a few ideas…

  1. Offer a discount. Are you selling your own book (as opposed to selling through Amazon or B&N)? If so, offer a special discount to people buying from you. You’d still make more money than if you sold it through a third party.
  2. Prompt people to order in advance. Amazon often does this. Encourage people to pre-order the book at a discount. This can not only increase sales, but give you a better idea of how your book is going to do before its released.
  3. Sell autographed copies. Now this is something that no one else can do. Encourage people to purchase autographed copies of your book. You can offer them at the same price as others, or jack up the price to make some money. But it’s certainly a special (and unique) offer. Rick Niece, one of my clients, does this. Click here to see it.
  4. Encourage newsletter sign-ups. While it may not bring in as much money as a sold copy of the book, the email address of someone interested in your writing is worth a lot. A hearty list will give you a ready-made audience to send special offers to, or promote your next book. So offer a reward for someone signing up for your e-mail newsletter, such as a free book excerpt.
  5. Have a contest. The theme of your contest can vary depending on your genre, but think along the lines of readers submitting stories, book reviews, etc… Then you can have a winner declared each month. That winner would get some kind of prize, such as an autographed copy of your book or their story featured on the website. This is a great way to make your site unique and interactive. Kimberly K. Jones is one client of mine who has done this. Click here to see a sample.

Do you have any other ideas for special offers? Share them with us!

Why Book Authors Need Their Own Websites

Still not convinced that you should have your own author website or book website?

Phyllis Zimbler Miller, marketing guru, book author, and owner of the Internet Marketing company www.MillerMosaicLLC.com, recently wrote an article called “Why Book Authors Need Their Own Websites.”

Here’s an abbreviated version of the list of reasons she gave:

  1. If you use social networking sites to promote your book, you’ll want to have a dedicated site to send your “fans” to so they can learn more about you and the book.
  2. Your publisher site is essentially a site you share with other authors. You don’t want to potentially have visitors distracted by other books and other authors being promoted on the same site.
  3. You want to collect site visitor information, so that you can have a list of contacts to use in the future to promote your current book or a future book.
  4. You can incorporate your blog, video, etc.. to your author site to enhance the interactive, multimedia experience.
  5. If you have book signings or speaking engagements, you can use your website to promote them.
  6. You can add book reviews or testimonials that help make your book look more appealing to site visitors.

All of these benefits mean that your site visitors will have a good experience on your website … and, done properly, that will lead to increased book sales. I’m sure Phyllis will agree with me when I say that an author website will ultimately pay for itself.

Ready to get started? Contact us today for a free consultation!

Do Blogs Belong on Writers’ Websites?

I recently came upon a post in The online journal of writer Jon Gibbs. He proposes that an author’s blog should be completely separate from their website. Here’s how he sums it up:

“From a strictly self-promotional point of view, there are two types of people in the world: those who’ve at least heard of you, and those who aren’t even aware you exist. … Your website is really for people who at the very least, know your name. Your blog, on the other hand, is for everyone, and that’s why it doesn’t belong on your site. It belongs out there in big wide world, where it has more opportunities to add to that list of people who know your name. It’s there to let people know you exist, that you’re an interesting person, and yes, that you happen to be a writer.”

I venture to disagree with Jon. It seems like he’s approaching this from the perspective that people who find your site or your blog do it by actually typing in your URL. So those who know you will go directly to your site. Those who don’t will go to your blog.

But what are the stats on how people really find websites? According to a consulting company called ISL, only 20% of a site’s visitors go directly to a website. The other 80% come from search engines (Google, Yahoo, etc…) or referring sites (sites that link to yours).

So what does that means for authors? Most people who visit your site (or your blog) will actually stumble upon it because they have searched for a particular keyword or visited another site that referenced yours. In my opinion, that pretty much negates the “site for people who know you” argument. They’ll wind up on your site whether they know you or not.

So the next question is this: Where do you want people to go when they stumble upon your content in a search result? Do you want them to go to a blog that’s completely separate from your website? Or do you want them to come to a blog that resides within your website? I would argue the latter. By having your blog as a piece of your site, it allows people to find your site based upon its subject matter, but also gain immediate exposure to your other work — your books, your speaking services, etc…

If that same visitor ends up on a blog that is not tied into your author website, then what do you gain from it? If you’re lucky enough for them to love your blog and want to come back regularly, then maybe, over time, they’ll become familiar with your name and dig further to find your author website. But why make it so difficult? Why not get the most out of the traffic and take advantage of each and every visitor so that they can see your book(s) and maybe even purchase it right away — just because they’re interested in the subject matter?

From a business perspective, I don’t see any reason to separate the two. What do you think?

Interesting (though outdated) News

Here are some of the relevant author news stories that we had on the SmartAuthorSites.com website before we launched this blog. Some of it is still very relevant, so you might want to check it out. We will be adding links to and commentary on  new and interesting news stories from the NY Times, Publishers Weekly, etc… going forward. Enjoy!

HarperCollins Wants to Be Your Friend
New York Observer

See the Web Site, Buy the Book
New York Times

Author Websites: Separating Fact (a.k.a. Nonfiction) from Fiction
SmartAuthorSites.com

Author…Promote Thyself
Publishers Weekly

8 Keys to a Successful Author Website
SmartAuthorSites.com

Crossover Dreams: Turning Free Web Work Into Real Book Sales
New York Times

The Author Will Take Q.’s Now
New York Times

The Greatest Mystery: Making a Best Seller
New York Times

To Meet the Author, Right Click
Times Online

Way Cool: Marketing and the Internet
Publishers Weekly

One-Fifth of Readers Visit Pub/Author Sites
Publishers Weekly