Websites and Blogs
To establish yourself in the industry, to show the world who you are, and to compete on a level playing field with other authors, you will need a website and/or blog. Your website/blog is an extension of you and what you represent—it’s your online promotional brochure—and the time to create one is before any books are published.
Setting up a website is important in that it will serve as an easy means for readers, fans, and others to learn about you and your work—a hub for all you do in your writing. Not only will a professional-looking website showcase your work, it will also establish you as a serious author and give you instant credibility. And a great added benefit is the opportunity to build a following by collecting the e-mail addresses of those who visit your site.
For those of you who have never developed a website and believe you don’t have the skills to create one, think again. It's not that hard. I have just average computer skills and started out using Yahoo Site Solution to create mine, then upgraded to Yahoo Site Builder. Then, when I wanted to add a blog to it and Site Builder could not accommodate one, I changed to using Wix (http://www.florenceosmund.com). But there are numerous other templates available. Just Google “website design” and you’ll see tons of site-design tools, most of which offer a basic template to use for free and then one or more upgraded versions that include more sophisticated features.
If you truly can’t handle designing your own website, or don’t have the time, you can always hire a web designer. Be prepared to pay a minimum of $1,000 for a decent basic site.
Before creating a website, you’ll need a domain name. Domain registration is cheap and easy. I used https://www.namecheap.com, but there are many others. Most web hosts offer domain registration as well.
Put thought into the name of your website. Choose one that identifies you and your books and that is easy to remember, spell, and type. You can find other tips for choosing a good domain name here http://www. thesitewizard.com/archive/domainname.shtml as well as on many other sites.
You will also need a web host in order to post your website on the Internet. I use Wix as a web host, but there are numerous others. My advice is to find one that offers 24/7 tech support. There is nothing more frustrating than being in the middle of developing a website page, running into a problem, and not having a resource to go to for help. I have found Wix offers good customer service (with a real person).
Things to include on your website are:
· A home page that welcomes people to your site and gives them an overview of what’s inside
· Your bio, including interesting facts about yourself and a photo or two
· Your contact information
· A synopsis and cover image of each of your published books
· Links to where to buy your books
· Reviews and/or testimonials
· Links to other sites you think may be of interest to your audience
· Some kind of freebie (a sample of your work, writing advice, etc.)
· Relevant searchable keywords in the page titles, tags, and contents of your pages
With respect to the “Buy” links, consider adding a PayPal page to your website so people can order directly from you. This means you'll have to ship your book to the purchaser yourself, but you make up for this by enjoying 100 percent of the revenue. If you open an account with http://www.usps.com, you will be able to create a First Class mailing label that includes postage, making it easy to send books without going to a post office. But if you don’t mind trips to the post office, you can send books at a very low “book rate” and save some money.
Promote your website as often as you can. Include the URL on your business cards, stationery, and social media pages. Include it in your bio and e-mail signature block. Whenever you give someone your contact information, include your website URL.
Scam alert: If you decide to hire someone to help you with your website, beware of the following: 1. Service providers who charge exorbitant fees for developing an easy website. I had my initial five-page website up and running with about twenty hours invested in it. If I had charged $50/hour for my time, that would have amounted to $1,000. I wouldn't pay more than that for a basic website.
2. Service providers who charge a fee to manage a website you can easily manage yourself.
3. High setup and monthly web-hosting fees.
Unlike a website, which contains relatively static information, a blog is a site (often a subset of a website) that is regularly updated by someone (called a blogger) who wants to share his/her passion about certain subjects and solicit conversation about the same. Anyone can start a blog, but not everyone has the time or skills to make it successful.
It’s relatively easy to create a blog—there are numerous templates from which to choose (Wix, SquareSpace, and HostGator, to name a few). Most of them require limited computer skills to use. I use Wix.
For me, there’s nothing worse than a cluttered blog that forces the visitor to sift through a lot of irrelevant stuff looking for what’s meaningful. Another pet peeve I have is typos in blogs. Blogs should be well thought out and proofread. Otherwise, the author lacks credibility.
To get and keep readers, it’s essential to create material that is of interest to those you want as followers. Sounds like a simple concept, but it really isn't. It takes a lot of thinking and experimenting to get it right. Focus on providing your readers with free, worthwhile information, even if it means commenting on other peoples’ blogs or directing them to other sites. In addition, people love tips, quizzes, checklists, top-ten lists, and “Did you know?” posts.
It’s okay to have fun. Consider relaying humorous or embarrassing stories about your life as an author. I remember one mystery writer (I can’t remember his name) who blogged that he feared being hauled off to jail one day if anyone of authority ever looked at the Internet search history on his computer, which included the keyword phrases such as “undetectable poison autopsy,” “suffocation without marks,” “death to look like a suicide,” and “best crimes against mothers-in-law.”
Conducting polls can generate great discussion on your blog. I've seen authors post things like:
· Choose which cover you like best.
· Tell us about your all-time favorite character in a book.
· What makes you keep turning the pages when you read?
· Join my e-mail subscriber list for a chance to win (fill in the blank).
It’s one thing to create and maintain a meaningful blog, but it’s quite another thing to draw people to it who then become your followers. Including the right keywords will help. Be creative. I saw on one person’s blog, “Make me smile today…leave a comment or question.”
Don’t forget to include other links on your blog. And make it easy for readers to see what else you have to offer, including the link to buy your books.
Blog sites need to be consistently updated with new material. Too few posts and you’ll appear stale. Too many may cause an overdose for your audience. Once a week to once a month appears to be an acceptable frequency range. Review your old posts and if they are out-of-date, update or archive them.
Promoting your books should be secondary on your blog. If you do a good job with the rest of it, book sales will follow.
Like websites, blogs take time to catch on. Don’t get discouraged the first year.
Here are eight author blogs I follow:
http://www.thebookdesigner.com/ http://janefriedman.com/blog/ http://www.thecreativepenn.com/blog/ http://writetodone.com/ http://jodyhedlund.blogspot.com/ http://buildbookbuzz.com/blog/ http://writersinthestormblog.com/
Not everyone is a blogger. If you find it too difficult or cumbersome to maintain an interesting, current blog, don’t do it. Stick with what you do well.
Scam Alert: Blog tours—a collection of authors who are given the opportunity to showcase their books on a predetermined number of blogs in an effort to improve name/book recognition and gain exposure and reviews—have become popular. Most tours run for two weeks. Some allow you to participate in an interview, provide a guest blog post, and offer giveaways. A tour host coordinates the process. Like everywhere else, scammers exist in this arena, and you have to fully vet them before using them. Beware of blog-tour hosts who: · Charge large fees to participate in the tour · Promise that the tour will result in increased sales · Have insignificant followings · Do not have followings that are not pertinent to your book
E-mail Subscriber List
It took me a while to understand the importance of building an e-mail subscriber list, and in fact I started to build mine way too late. The time to start building one is before your first book is published.
The purpose of an e-mail subscriber list is reciprocatory—you offer people something of value in exchange for their e-mail address. The something of value can be a short story you’ve written, the first few chapters of one of your books, or an entire book. Don’t forget that authors are readers too, so consider giving away valuable tips you’ve learned along the way to those who also write. This concept works in part because people who have received something of value from you appreciate the bond they have created with you and are more likely to talk about you and buy your books.
The most significant financial benefit of having a list of e-mail addresses of dedicated followers comes with your book launch. Sending a new book announcement to this group will result in early sales that will help you gain momentum in your marketing strategy.
What works best for me in finding subscribers comes via my website. Throughout my website/blog, I include an invitation to join my e-mail subscriber list. I post this message:
When you subscribe, you will...
- Receive monthly notifications when a new post is added to my blog, - Learn of my future book releases (about one per year), and - Be added to a monthly drawing for a free copy of one of my books.
Make it easy to subscribe to your e-mail list, but more important, make it easy to unsubscribe. I use MailChimp to manage my e-mail subscriber list, and they are required by law to include an unsubscribe link. In addition, I tell subscribers they can reply to the e-mail and put UNSUBSCRIBE in the subject line.
Don’t ask for too much information for people to subscribe. Be completely transparent on what they will receive by subscribing. And avoid coming across as spammy.
When you send your subscribers an e-mail, be careful with the subject line. You want to catch their attention, but you don’t want to mislead or confuse them. Have you ever read a subject line and expected one thing, but when you opened the message got another? Very annoying. And if you’re including some type of book promotion, make it easy for them to purchase it, but don’t make it a hard sell.
When building your list, you can go for sheer numbers, but I believe a list with fewer, high-quality subscribers is more effective in the long run. It is easy to buy mailing lists, and I know authors who do it, but I personally don’t believe it’s worth the investment.
Promote the value of being one of your subscribers wherever you can. Put it at the end of the articles you write, in your e-mail signature block, on your website/blog, at the end of your book, in your bio, on your Facebook page, and wherever you promote your books.
Be patient. Building a quality list takes time.
I know what you’re thinking: Yet another thing I have to do that takes me away from my writing. Well, you’re right, and there are a ton of them. Two things to remember is that you don’t have to do all of them. You can pick and choose. And once you’ve developed a method—a template, so to speak—for some of them, it becomes an easier, less time-consuming task.
Newsletters help you connect with your readers beyond your website, blog, and social media. They arrive in your readers’ inboxes and therefore are more direct and personal. Newsletters can provide insight into who you are as an author and a person—something readers tend to appreciate and enjoy.
Consider these components when creating a newsletter for your readers.
1. General message—A brief message telling readers what to expect in this edition of your newsletter. Include something personal in this section.
2. Main story—This can be anything you deem interesting to your readers—an account of something that recently happened to you as an author, something that inspired you, an insight you had—anything related to the theme of your newsletter. Keep it short—I suggest no more than 300 words. Include photos. Open up to your readers. Be genuine. Make it fun, if you want.
3. If your target audience is other authors, consider a how-to section on some aspect of writing or publishing.
4. Many of your fans will be interested in what you’re reading, so add a section for your recent or current reads and what you think of them. This would be a good place to promote your author-friends’ works.
5. Include a section for your published books and the latest update for your current work in progress. Include a recent review or testimonial you received that was particularly complimentary or interesting for some other reason.
6. Create an events calendar—your upcoming book fairs, signings, speaking engagements, published articles. Let readers know you are 100 percent into being an author.
7. Always include a brief bio, contact information, and links to your social media, website, and blog.
8. Provide a means for readers to leave a comment or ask a question.
Always make it easy for people to subscribe and unsubscribe to your newsletter. Do not add anyone to your newsletter subscriber list unless they have signed up for it.
Keep your newsletter short—most people don’t have time to read lengthy e-mails. And don’t make it all about buying your books—you’ll lose subscribers if you do. Use the 80/20 rule—devote 80 percent to material that will help, interest, and inspire your readers and 20 percent to promoting yourself and your books.
Frequency is something you’ll have to decide for yourself depending on how much you have to say and the amount of time you are willing to devote to it. Once a month is reasonable.
Promote your newsletter everywhere—on your website/blog, in your e-mail signature block, on social media, and via word of mouth.
Several easy-to-use applications exist for formatting and distributing your newsletter—Mailchimp, Campaign Monitor, Constant Contact, and AWeber to name a few.