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.

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.

Designing an Author Website Without a Book Cover

book coverIt’s one of the most important questions I ask an author when we first talk about designing their site: “Is your book cover finalized yet? If so, can I see it?”

The Relationship Between the Design and the Cover

An author’s website should — to some degree — resemble their book cover. If the site is focusing solely on the one book, it should resemble the cover a lot. If the most recent book cover is simply one of the many books, products, etc… being featured on the site, then it should only be a close resemblance. But either way, they should be related in some shape or form.

The one thing you don’t want is a site that doesn’t match a book cover. For example, imagine a site that’s purple and blue with a fancy script font. Then imagine a book cover sitting on it that’s black and green with a bold print. The cover clearly wouldn’t match the rest of the design. It would look like it was simply pasted somewhere it didn’t belong. It certainly wouldn’t help contribute to the brand that the author is trying to build.

The Conundrum

Many of today’s agents and publishers won’t even consider working with an author who doesn’t already have a following. So how does the author get that following they need to get published? That would be through their blog, their social media, and yes, their website.

And that’s the conundrum. An author needs a website to build the following that it takes to get published. But that means that he or she needs to build that site BEFORE there’s a book cover available to build it around. So what’s an author to do? What should go into designing an author website without a book cover?

Things to Keep in Mind

Here’s some advice that I give to authors who are faced with this situation:

1. Go with a flexible design. You very well may want to make some tweaks to your website design after your book cover is finalized. So make sure that you go with a template or design that can be adjusted down the line. For example a simple design with a space for a header bar would give you the flexibility to redesign the header bar down the line without having to rebuild the entire site.

2. Stay with muted colors. If you want to make sure that your ultimately-green book cover doesn’t clash with your orange design … well, don’t go with an orange design. Keep things simple in your initial design. Stick with a white, tan or gray background, and keep the accent colors relatively simple and neutral. This way, there’s no book cover that would look totally out of place.

3. Keep your design within your genre. You may not know exactly what your book cover will look like yet, but you probably have a pretty good idea of what the feel of it will be. For example, if you’re a romance writer, you probably won’t have a cover that’s brash and bold. If you write about investing in the stock market, your cover isn’t likely to be pink with a frilly font. You get the idea. Make sure that whatever site design you go with fits the feel of your book, and your cover is likely to fit in later.

Talk to your designer and make sure he or she understands the general feel of your writings. It’s so important that as soon as someone arrives on your site, they get the sense of exactly what you write about — even without a book cover in place.

Happy designing!

“Should I Sell the Book Myself?”

should-i-sell-the-book-myselfEvery author plans to have a “Buy now” button on their site, which allows visitors to purchase their book with one easy click. But the more complicated question is where that link goes. In other words, should authors simply link out to Amazon/B&N to sell their book? Or, as many authors ask me, “Should I sell the book myself?”

There are a lot of things that go into such a decision, but here’s what you need to know about the benefits and drawbacks of delving into online sales.

Benefits of Selling Yourself

  • There’s more money to be made. Obviously, when Amazon sells your book, they keep a large percentage of the profit. When you sell your book, that money all stays with you. So, for example, instead of earning $3 a book, you can make $10. That’s a significant difference.
  • You can offer bonuses, like a signed copy. When you are selling the book yourself, you can sweeten the pot for people interested in buying it. For example, you could offer to sign each copy before you send it, or throw in a fun extra, like a tote bag or bookmark to thank people for buying from you. This can help solidify your relationship with readers, and may increase the likelihood that they’d buy your next book.
  • You can collect information about who is buying your book. As C.J. Lyons, a self-published author of 27 novels who runs the NoRulesJustWrite.com, recently told Publisher’s Weekly: “The greatest success stories I’ve seen in POS have been nonfiction authors, particularly those who have other offerings and can use the ebook sale to upsell a course or webinar … The greatest value comes not from the financial gain from selling the e-book but from the lead capture.”
  • You can take it on the road. Going to an event to promote your book? Doing a book signing? This Publishers Weekly article points out that indie authors can use these accounts on point-of-sale systems at events as well. Authors can use Square, Stripe, PayAnywhere, or PayPal Here and simply swipe a book buyer’s credit card at a reading or conference on their tablet or smartphone.

Warnings About Selling Yourself

  • You need to set up a system to collect payment. Collecting credit card information is no easy thing. To do so, you need an account with a merchant. The easiest one to work with is PayPal, but just about all of them require setting up an account, synching it with your bank account, and/or paying a monthly fee to keep it active.
  • It’s a fair amount of time/trouble to sell and distribute yourself. Yup, you very well may find yourself in a whole new business if you go down this road. You’ll be keeping track of orders, packing/shipping books, and making lots of trips down to the post office (if you’re lucky enough to sell lots of copies). Joel Friedlander, a book design and self-publishing expert who runs TheBookDesigner.com, tells Publishers Weekly that his recommendation is for authors to avoid selling books directly on their websites. “The time and energy it takes to work out these e-commerce platforms, install the necessary code, landing pages, buttons, etc. are not that productive for this group.”
  • Taxes, taxes, taxes. Are you selling a book to someone in California? Are you collecting California sales tax on that purchase? And are you keeping track of your profits/losses to pay your own income tax on what you’re selling? I highly recommend that before you commit to selling yourself, you consult with a local tax expert to make sure that you’re following all the rules.

So there you go! Now it’s up to you to decide if you’re going to sell your book yourself … or leave the work (and the profits) to the pros.

And if you’ve ever sold yourself through your site (or through an on-the-go payment collection system), please let us know what you’ve learned!

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!

Another Reason to Perfect the Mobile Version of Your Author Website

mobile-friendlyLike it or not, mobile is the wave of the future. As each year goes by, a larger and larger percentage of people surfing the web are doing it on a smartphone. This further enhances the need for every author to have a mobile-friendly design.

But, apparently, having a functional mobile version of your author website can now even impact your desktop users. How? Google.

As Google begins to acknowledge the growing impact of the mobile audience, they are changing the rules. According to a recent article on Mashable, starting this month, “when you do a Google search on mobile, search results will prioritize websites that the search engine deems “mobile-friendly.”

Here are some common questions about this change.

Who will this affect?

The truth is that this change will impact nearly everyone. Forrester Research estimates that a whopping 38% of web sites for businesses with 1,000 or more employees don’t meet Google’s criteria for being mobile-friendly. That number is expected to be much higher for small businesses — let alone individual authors.

Also, if your author website is more than a few years old, it’s likely not to be considered up to snuff.

As the Mashable article explains, “The change will impact millions of sites, more than Google’s last major search ranking algorithm update, Google Panda. Panda, which was launched in 2011 and has been updated several times since then, downranked 12% of all sites that Google rated low-quality.”

What’s the impact of the change?
The change is simple to explain, but may have devastating results. If your site is not mobile friendly, you are likely to start appearing lower on a user’s search results. In other words, if you wrote a book on divorce, and your site had been showing up near the top for a search term related to divorce, you very well may lose that placement to sites that are more mobile-friendly.

What makes a site mobile-friendly?

There are a lot of criteria, but here’s a basic overview…

  • It avoids software like Flash
  • It features larger text
  • Most importantly, it has what’s called a responsive design that adjusts for mobile users

How can I tell if my site is mobile-friendly?
Whether or not a user would rate a site as mobile-friendly may be relative, but that’s irrelevent. Because all that matters here is whether Google finds your site mobile-friendly. So use their mobile-friendly test. You’ll get a quick and simple answer.

How can I make my site more mobile-friendly?
There’s no easy answer to that question. It depends greatly on how your site is built, when it was built, what platform it was built on, etc… It could involve a few simple and quick fixes, or you may be better off with a complete redesign.

But if you’re interested in making your site more mobile friendly, contact us at Smart Author Sites. We’ll help you make sure you stay near the top of search results.

Happy Googling.

April Round Up: 6 Must-Reads for Authors

april-may-roundupHere’s what the leaders in the fields of book marketing and author websites were talking about in April. Don’t miss this list of must-read posts and articles.

1. “What should I send to my author e-mail list?”
Build Book Buzz
April 7, 2015

2. How to use e-mail to transfer a book to your Kindle
Build Book Buzz
April 14, 2015

3. FAQs About SEO for Author Websites
Smart Author Sites
April 16, 2015

4.  Amazon Pays $450,000 A Year To This Self-Published Writer
Publishing-Resources.org
April 19, 2015

5. 5 Creative Ways to Use a Book’s Call to Action Page
Smart Author Sites
April 23, 2015

6.  4 Ways to Revive a Stale Book
Build Book Buzz
April 28, 2015

Happy May, everyone! April showers bring May flowers!

Ask Us Anything About Author Websites!

spring_flowersSpring has spring, and that puts us in a pretty good mood.

With that in mind, we are launching this “Ask us anything!” blog post.

The team here at Smart Author Sites has over three decades of experience working on the web — most of those years specifically building and maintaining author websites. We are strategists, editors, designers, developers, producers, and social media gurus.

If you want to build your own author website, or have one and aren’t sure what to do with it, post your question here and one of our team members will respond. Examples of the types of questions you might want to ask us include:

  • Should I build an author site or a book site?
  • Where should I host my site?
  • How do I buy a domain name?
  • Should I get involved in Facebook, Twitter or both?
  • What do you think of my current site?

Ask your question in the comments box below and we will be happy to provide answers and guidance (assuming it’s within reason).

Fire away!

What Is a Book Landing Page and Do You Need One?

book-landing-pageYou 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!

What Is a Landing Page?
The term “landing page” refers to where someone will enter, or “land,” on your website. And despite a common misconception, that’s not the same thing as a homepage.

While a homepage is essentially a table of contents for the entire website, a landing page is a much more focused beast. In other words, it takes one section of your website and becomes the place that people land when they want to learn more about it. And you want them to do one very clear thing while they’re there. The industry term for that is a “call to action.”

The definition of a landing page on Wikipedia is as follows:

The purpose of the … landing page is to persuade a visitor to take action by completing a transaction. This is accomplished by providing a form that needs to be filled out. The visitor information is obtained in order to add the visitor’s email address to a mailing list as a future prospect. A transactional email campaign can be established in the future. The goal is to capture as much information about the visitor as possible. The ultimate goal is to convert the visitor into a customer.

We even have a landing page on our own site. Check out this page and you will see that we have one very clear call to action here: give us your contact info! Make sense?

What Is a Book Landing Page?
So how does this concept of a landing page translate to a book?

Think about it this way: On your author website, you may offer a blog, links to connect with you via social networking, an email sign-up, a link to buy the book, downloadable PDFs and more. On a landing page, you reduce the confusion for visitors and give them one very clear direction. In this instance, it would be a large “Buy the Book” button — and no other options.

Statistics show that the fewer options you offer, the greater the chances that people will follow the one option that does exist. In this case, book sales.

What Would Be on a Book Landing Page?
If the primary purpose of your book landing page is to sell copies (which we are assuming it is), then everything on the page should be with the goal of convincing someone to buy the book. Examples of what to include are:

  • A large photo of the book cover, along with the title and publishing details
  • An eye-catching list of reasons why someone would benefit from the book (i.e. Double your salary in one year after reading this book!)
  • Testimonials/review quotes about the book
  • A large “Buy the Book” link, with options to purchase through Amazon, B&N, etc…

Who Should You Send to a Book Landing Page? Who Should You Not?
Since we’re assuming that the main purpose of your landing page is to sell books, then anyone who you would like to buy a copy of the book can — and should — be sent to your landing page. So if, for example, you’re talking about your book at a book club meeting or at the public library, you can hand out business cards sending people to the landing page of your book.

But there are plenty of people whom you might want to visit your website and NOT buy a copy of the book. For example, if you’re talking to an agent about the next book that you’re working on, or if you are encouraging someone who has already read your book to sign up for your email newsletter, you do not want to send them to a landing page. Instead, you want them to peruse the rest of the site and take a different action.

This is why a book landing page is simply one page of an entire website. It will be perfect for some visitors, but it’s not where you’d want to send others.

So Do You Need a Book Landing Page?
That depends. Here are some questions to ask yourself when making that decision:

  • What percentage of your audience fits into the category of people who you would want to simply purchase your book?
  • Would you rather visitors to do more than one thing when they arrive (say, buy the book AND sign up for your email newsletter)
  • What is the biggest strength of your site? Is it the book? Your blog? Would someone “miss out” if all they did was buy the book?
  • Is your main website an author website? If so — and is named after you (JaneSmith.com, for example) — then you may want to consider having a book landing page with the book title as a URL for clear differentiation.

Not every author needs a book landing page. But it’s definitely a tool that any author should have in his or her back pocket to boost book sales.

Happy Landing!

December Author Round-up: Must Reads for the New Year

calendarThere have been a lot of good pieces of content published over the past month — many of which I highly recommend for authors. Here’s a quick round-up of our five favorites (in addition to our own, of course).

Amazon Offers All-You-Can-Eat Books. Authors Turn Up Noses.
New York Times, December 28

Set book marketing goals for 2015
Build Book Buzz, December 16

Publishing Service Index: December 2014
Independent Publishing Magazine, December 5

The Author Platform Effect: Techniques to Grow Your Mobile Audience
Nessgraphica, December 3

Why you shouldn’t give your book away
Build Book Buzz, December 2

Enjoy! And stay tuned for more!