The title of this blog is a little misleading. In fact, this article will target a slightly different demographic. The focus of this blog is on the Contracted-and-soon-to-be-published-for-the-first-time Author. (Way too long to fit in the subject line…)
So here’s the first bit of news, which might be startling wake up call to those of you who fit into either of the above categories. If you are newly published, which means your book is already on a shelf somewhere (virtual or real), and you don’t have a website? You’re behind the curve. In fact, you might be approaching D status on the Marketing Report Card. A new author’s website provides a multitude of functions – ones that include helping you to gain readers, reviews, attract attention and more. As an Author (with a capital A, cue the drum roll), your audience is wider, more varied and has different needs. Therefore, your website now has a checklist of elements it should provide.
If you don’t have a website and you have a book out, then print this article out, find a website designer you love, and get ready for the sprint of your life. You need to catch up. If you are an author with the contract under your belt and a “release date” looming in your future, you are right on track.
Do You Need A Website?
It may seem blunt and unnecessarily scare tactic-y, but the truth is that for an author in today’s world, a website is your best marketing line of defense. It is an absolute necessity.
And for an author with a release date on the horizon, the website isn’t going to be the only marketing consideration you have, but in all likelihood, it will be the one that everything feeds. Think of ads you see in magazines, on book review websites, bookmarks, business cards – everything lists a website address. A website is the place where most everyone will come to find you when they want more information.
You need to provide that information in a timely, professional manner. According to Kristin Nelson, of Nelson Literary Agency, “that website should be up and running when the catalog copy is being done for your book. Why? Because your publisher is going to be sending out ARCs to reviewers and to other terrific people who have the power to give you a plug, and it’s at that moment in time when they might want to find information about you and the book quickly and easily.”
Which leads to one other point of distinction: Easily. At this point, you need to have a domain name secured with your author name. JaneAuthor.com if it’s available or if not, some of the variations I’ve seen are: janeauthorbooks.com or authorjanesmith.com. A domain name is a small yearly expense and it’s very simple to set your domain name to forward to any other location. There is no good reason not to have one of your own.
Mostly, an author at this stage needs to create a professional appearance, top to bottom. Think of how much attention you have paid to your appearance on a first date. That first impression is important and you need just the right “outfit” to achieve just the right look. If you present yourself as professional, then people will think of you as such. If you present something half-hearted, people may assume you feel the same about your career.
Who Is Your Target Audience?
Before looking at what to put on your website, we need to focus on who will be viewing it and what their specific needs are. In our previous post, we discussed how an unpublished writer’s audience is more inclined toward attracting an agent/editor and building a network of connections with other writers. A new author has a bigger audience to provide for. Not only are you trying to attract readers, but you’re trying to establish yourself as a professional in the marketplace among other professionals who have the power to help propel your career.
Your website might be visited by book reviewers, librarians, book buyers, and big name authors as well as readers. In all cases, two things are true. These visitors want to delve deeper into the book and they want to know more about you.
Your readers are going to want to feel connected to you and your work. Whether they’ve read the book already or they are considering buying it, your website can give a nudge into buying this book or remembering you when the next one comes out. It’s possible that they’ve seen mention of the book somewhere else – an ad, a book review, a comment on a website or social network, or a recommendation. They are now coming to you to convince them the book is worth their time and money. Ultimately, they are looking for someone they can trust.
How do you build someone’s trust through a website? Present the authentic you, keep any promises you make and respect the relationship. Remember that your website, for a reader, is about building upon the relationship you’ve started with your book. Your work is your shining glory – everything stems from it. But a relationship is often nurtured by the little things, the small details. And especially when there might be months to wait in between your first and your second book, your website can maintain that bridge.
Industry professionals are going to want to trust in you, as well. They want to know that they are putting their name to someone who is professional, serious about their career and knows what it takes to stay in the business. Every review a book reviewer puts their name on builds upon their reputation. Same goes for other authors. When someone is giving their name to further your career, the way you show respect and consideration for that is to present yourself in a way that enhances their trust.
What to Put On Your Website?
So with the audience firmly in mind, what should your website look like at this stage? We break that down into Design and Focus/Content.
As I mentioned in our last post on websites, I believe the best litmus test you can give your website design is whether or not you would print it out and hand it to someone in person as a representation of you. Would you be confident that you’ve handed them something that will steer their perception of you in a positive light?
It’s easy to be lax when it comes to what you put on the web, because you aren’t face-to-face with the person viewing it. But if you had to hand them a printed version of your site and watch and receive their response in that moment, would it change how you look at what you’ve got? Imagine the best-selling author in your genre who you’d love to get a quote from. Would you immediately start to think of excuses for why your site looks as it does? Or could you give a big smile and say, “This is the extension of me and my work that I want you to put your name on with a stamp of approval.”
That’s what your website is – an extension of you. And because authors put reviews and quotes on their marketing material, you are asking for Mr. Big Author’s stamp of approval on you, the Author, and all that encompasses you. That includes your website design. Be 100% confident that it represents your brand as a writer well. Dress your site for the job you want: Successful.
FOCUS & CONTENT
As an about-to-be/newly published author, your website audience is looking for more information to establish their opinion of you and your work. To meet the barest of basics, you should always have:
A Front Page that provides basic information about your upcoming book. People should be able to type in your domain name and get immediate facts: what you write, when your book comes out, and where to find it. They want to know what to expect and when, as quickly as possible.
Beyond the basics, there are plenty of “Added Features” you can adopt. Think of the extras sort of the way you would a DVD release of a movie. You get the movie and you get more– behind the scenes information, deleted scenes, the ‘making of’ features, and whatever else enhances the viewer’s experience. That is the goal for everything beyond the basics on your site: Enhance your website visitor’s experience.
I did some searching on author websites, looking for interesting, unique ideas, here are some websites that get an A for fresh website content.
Janet Evanovich’s site – the header contains quotes from the characters in her books. I LOVE this idea – and for a new author trying to establish a name, what better way to give glimpses of your style? Where you put this on your site depends on a number of factors – genre, style, site design – but it’s a wonderful way to intrigue a viewer into wanting more.
Every book has them and sometimes, they are scenes you loved, found interesting but ultimately cut from the book. So share them! Pick one or two, make sure they shine and add them to your website. Therese Walsh, author of The Last Will of Moira Leahy, does just this. A word of caution though: Choose carefully so your scene doesn’t provide spoilers or ruin something in the reading of the book.
Therese Walsh also provides research articles to share how she researched aspects of her books. Once readers have delved into a world of a book and loved it, they want more. Personally, I love the way she’s laid out her pages here and shares photos and words, including quotes from people she spoke to.
Research here, for me, is different than offering a “research for writers” page. Because here you are trying to instill the same sense of magic and personal voice in the aspects you included in your book. Did you learn something that fascinated you? Share the fascination as well as the fact.
You have a Coming Soon page that talks about what is ahead from you. Include a sneak peek of your work – maybe a few lines, or a character article about your favorite character.
Author Christyne Butler (http://www.christynebutler.com) has a Coming Soon section on her bookshelf that gives all the facts about her upcoming books – as well as includes a picture of the hero and heroine, in her mind’s eye, of each book. I love this – it’s a bit of whimsy and always fun to connect a book that’s not yet out with a recognizable face. When the book comes out, the images are removed and replaced with the cover. But for something that is months out, it’s a great way to instill some interest.
Brand-Specific Interactive Extras
Depending on your brand and the tone of your book, look for fun, interactive extras you can include on your website. Angie Fox (http://www.angiefox.com), author of The Accidental Demon-Slayer (and others), has a quiz on her website that asks what your ‘biker bitch name” would be. This fits perfectly with her voice and tone, and it’s fun for the reader. (Mine is Spaghetti Neck Stella Fast Pants, if you were curious…)
These are just a few of the extra ways you can enhance your visitor’s experience. And don’t forget the ones we mentioned for unpublished writers, because those will work as well:
I’d like to add one note about pulling elements from your books. Be sure it’s something this section fits YOU, the author, as well. For instance, I’m not a fan of cooking. Most anyone who has read my blog posts knows this. So if I included a Recipes section on my author website – unless they existed of “Get in Car. Drive to Chili’s.” – it would seem disingenuous.
Everything you put on your website should have a purpose. And when you’re considering what to include, ask yourself these questions:
And since I haven’t said it yet…congratulations on your new or upcoming book!
It’s impossible to get away from social media these days. Facebook, twitter, the old spice guy (yum!)? Social media is where the majority of online folk spend their time…and that means that as an author with a business to promote, you need to as well. *Pause, wait for groaning to stop.*
I know for a lot of you, the idea is daunting. You have writing to do. (And likely other jobs, a family who would like to see you once in a while, and sleep would be nice, as well.) When are you supposed to tweet? Or Facebook? Or make a video with sock puppets?
It all starts with a plan.
The way we communicate with people is changing. The world of PR and marketing is beginning to embrace this – the Old Spice Guy’s twitter/Youtube phenomenon is truly one of the most inspired uses of modern day marketing I think I’ve ever seen. But a campaign of that scale required massive planning ahead. The Old Spice marketing folks didn’t just hop on Twitter one day and say, “Hm, this could be fun.” They made a focused plan of action, with measured results to justify it.
The goal: To use social media to interact with a younger, newer audience and breathe new life into Old Spice. Venues included their twitter account and YouTube, plus gathering responses from a number of other social media connections. (And even if you don’t give a whit about Old Spice, check out the YouTube channel. See image to right for a good reason.)
The plan of action: Get people on many forms of social media to shout out to oldspice and ask questions. These questions were then responded to on the Old Spice YouTube channel with targeted, brand-focused short videos.
The response: Huge. You couldn’t log onto a social network, much less twitter, without seeing @oldspice somewhere. It was an unparalleled success. The commercial was also nominated for an Emmy.
What does this have to do with you? A plan of attack for social media doesn’t have to involve large sums of money, video responses and more. But you do have to walk into the social media circle prepared, understanding what you’re in for and what you want to achieve from it. So today, we’re going to start with Twitter. It doesn’t matter whether you are published or not, there are ways to use twitter to your advantage at every stage of your career.
First, you need to decide what you want to gain from it. Be realistic and consider where you are in your career and what your needs are and how twitter can help you meet them. Do you want to learn more about the industry? About specific agents or editors? Network more with other authors and writers? Do you want to build an audience for your books? Decide what you’d like to achieve and then build around that.
And just like you would with any business plan, there needs to be a basis of measurement in place. The above are generic goals. Learning more about agents/editors is a great goal. But what does it mean? Drill down to specific goals. Figure out why you want/need to meet that goal. Let’s say learning more about agents is one of your goals. Why? Are you looking to query soon? Getting info on who would be right to represent you? That’s a terrific goal and for those agents on twitter, you can definitely meet it
So your plan of attack needs to get specific. Choose 5 agents on twitter that you want to know more about. Perhaps that you’d even like to get to know a little, and have them see your name as well. Follow the steps below to meet your goal of getting to know these 5 agents.
Let’s say you have a new book coming out and your goal is to start building an audience. Perfect. Now who does that audience look like? Decide on a specific goal. Let’s say you write murder mysteries set in a bakery. Someone who might appreciate your books would be those who love to bake. Turn that into a goal: Connecting with twitterers who talk about baking.
The more specific you can make your goals, the more sense the Steps into Using Twitter will make sense.
Let’s say your goal is to build a network, get involved and become a more relevant player in the industry. The first step to using twitter to further this goal is to start by focusing on those in the literary world. Find literary agents, publishers, authors and other writers to “follow” (which means you’re signing up to see their tweets). Following is easy and it takes very little time. And if you’re not sure where to start, here’s a place:
Go to my twitter account at http://www.twitter.com/jeannieruesch and click on who I follow. You’ll see a variety of agents, publishers, editors, some authors and friends among the mix. Click the option to follow any who interest you. The best way to find people to follow is to see who others are following.
I also have a list I update on a regular basis of agents and editors on twitter. You can find that here: http://jeannieruesch.com/wordpress/?p=1307 .
The wonderful world of twitter has a plethora of chats on a regular basis – many of them literary based. People join a chat by including a hashtag. For example, #romuniv would be a hashtag for Romance University. Anyone could participate in a conversation about this. It’s a wonderful way to engage with new people, who you aren’t following or who aren’t following you. The chats brings like-minded people together.
Some literary focused hashtags include:
How do you find them? A quick way is to go to http://twitter.com/ and search for the tag above. So type in #litchat and anyone who has used this hashtag will show in the results. One of my favorites is #writegoal. It’s a terrific way to connect with others writers doing just what you’re doing.
Let’s look at building an audience for your books. If you’re writing fiction, your audience isn’t going to be those talking about writing. You’ll need to branch out into finding followers and discussions that you can engage in. Deirdre advises: “For writers of fiction, you’re doing searches on subject matters and really getting into the consumer realm. If you think your books are being read by stay at home moms, maybe you’re focusing on mom bloggers who might even be talking about the books. You’d be listening for something completely different. Focus on keywords; really observe how these folks are communicating.
Look for conversations about authors in your genre. If your genre is romantic suspense, see which competitors’ books are being talked about, where they are being talked about, and who is chatting about them. Those are topics communities are built around.”
Two aspects here: The first one is finding subject matter niches. Let’s look at the mystery books in a bakery audience. We imagine people who love to bake might like your book. So go to http://www.twitter.com/ and search on “baking cupcakes.” Is this something you know about? Is there a discussion you could participate in?
This is also a terrific way to learn about who is reading your genre. I write regency-set historical romance. One of the best-known authors in this genre is Julia Quinn. I can search for Julia Quinn on twitter to see who’s talking about her books. There, I see people discussing historical romance – that’s my audience. I can follow those people and begin to listen to discussions on books and discover how I can participate. I’m sure there are some of you saying, “This feels a little like cyber stalking.” J Most users of twitters love followers. If they don’t want them, they’ll protect their twitter account.
Social media is about connection. And what’s better than connecting with someone who loves what you do? Or reads what you read? Connecting, following, joining in discussions is part of the community. Your responsibility is to respect it. Remember that Twitter is not about selling. It’s about sharing.
If we look back at the Old Spice guy, not ONCE did they sell their product. In fact, they turned their concept into being about the community. The community asked the questions, the responses were made to them. It wasn’t about the Old Spice products. It was about the people. That makes all the difference. It’s why it worked.
Read and observe for a while and keep your fingertips at rest. Don’t engage, don’t respond, don’t jump in. Take the time to listen. A few months ago, I had the honor to interview social media/PR guru and author Deirdre Breakenridge (@deirdrebreakenridge) on this topic. She reminds us, “These are communities with a culture. You really need to observe people and their behaviors and the sociology of the group, how they interact, the information they are sharing and what makes them excited. As you watch and observe, discover where you fit in into their community and what you can contribute that would be relevant. As an author, I did a lot of listening and observing in different communities.”
Consider it sort of like moving to an entirely new country. (In some ways it is.) You wouldn’t just get in your car and drive around (possibly on the wrong side of the road), chatting everyone up without having some sort of sense of the culture, the expectations, or what you could say that might thoroughly offend someone. (If you would, well… there’s no helping you then. )
With Twitter, it’s easy to tune someone out. It’s even easier to unfollow them. So some of the biggest mistakes people make on twitter includes jumping in and immediately pursuing their own agenda, marketing themselves. No one cares. Not yet, because you haven’t given them a reason to weigh your tweets as anything other than self-interested.
Imagine being in a room with twenty people. Would you walk in and immediately start selling yourself or your books? No, because they’d quickly tune you out. Twitter is no different. Settle in, get to know the people and then you’re ready to join in.
And actually, you’ll find that doing so helps make this not so overwhelming. It can be daunting to figure out what to tweet about, and if you’re like me, half of what you think of writing seems stupid. Listening and watching how others interact within the community is a great way to learn what you want to achieve with Twitter.
Now, it’s time to engage with others. So let’s get back to the game plan. If your purpose is to network and becoming a bigger part of the writing world, you’ll need to engage in the conversations on writing.
Start with one chat group. Perhaps the #writegoal one, to connect with other writers. Share your experiences; respond to those who write theirs. Offer encouragement. Or if you’re going more toward industry professionals, look to #litchat. Read the discussions previously held, and begin to form questions, comments. That’s your opportunity to engage with others, to join the community.
You also need to set your expectations for how you want to use twitter versus what others are using it for. Quoting Literary Agent Janet Reid from her blog: “One of the great ways to make twitter a total waste of time is to follow someone who isn’t using twitter for what YOU are using it for.”
Not everyone responds to replies. Not everyone does searches by hashtags. Some people use it as an extended version of IM to chat with friends, coworkers and others and pay no attention to anything else. Others use it extensively to converse on topics, offer advice, and such. Check out their pages, see what they tweet about most and adjust your expectations from this accordingly. Remember the golden rule of tweeting: Observe. Listen. Then engage.
If we take the mystery-book-in-a-bakery author looking to build an audience, the one thing you do not want to do is find that audience of bakers and immediately start talking about your book. The idea is to listen to their discussions about their specific niche: baking. I did a search on twitter on “baking cupcakes.” There are a ton of comments about it. See what’s being said. Discover what you can add to that discussion, how you can support someone with a common interest.
This is the one area I think people misinterpret using social media. If you join a conversation with a “let me tell you all about me” mentality, you’ll be ignored before you write your next tweet. But if you join in and share good info that people can use on that topic, they will see you as a resource. They might eventually follow your twitter account. There, they will begin to learn more about you, then about your book and you’ve expanded your audience a little bit at a time. Not based on the book, not based on being an author, but based on you. The person.
Twitter can be a great tool– as long as you use it in a way that makes sense for you. And as long as you realize that it takes time to build results in a community like this. Unless you have a huge marketing team and dollars behind you to build a plan like the Old Spice folks did, you’ll need to be patient. Build your audience the same way you make friendships: one person at a time.
And that often means finding time where there is none. It can also be a tremendous time suck if you let it.
It’s important to focus on your plan of attack, your goals. Consider your time spent on social media as another part of your business plan. And just like you would with any other aspect of a job, set a time frame around it, a measure of success. Can you devote to 15 minutes a day spent on twitter? Responding, reading, searching out new discussions? 5 minutes? Or maybe every other day. Whatever makes sense to your schedule, add the time into your daily routine.
At reasonable intervals, you need to go back to your plan of attack and remind yourself of the goals. Did you want to gain information? Network more? Make inroads with an audience niche? Gain more followers?
Keep track of your gains. If you want to gain more followers, note the number you started with. Then six months later, see if you’ve gotten closer to your goal. If your goal was to learn more about agents, look at the list you made of agents to know more about. How have you done? If you wanted to network more with people in the writing industry, again, look at the number of followers you started with. After six months, has it grown? Have you participated in conversations?
Part of a marketing plan is the measure of success. For the amount of time you spend on twitter (or any marketing focus), you need to know it’s worth it. You also need to give it time to work. If after six months, you aren’t seeing the gains you hope for, then you need to evaluate your plan of attack. Maybe change things a bit. But measure your results, from beginning to end.
If we look at the OldSpice guy, the twitter account has over 100,000 followers. I don’t know what they started with, but I imagine that’s one measure of success. Another measure of success is the views of the short videos in their YouTube channel. Some are over 3 million. That’s a definite measure of success.
And for all the tricks and tools and lists to follow on Twitter, check out my other post: Twitter For Writers
You wrote a book, or you’re in the midst of one…or hey, maybe you’re just thinking of one. And that’s all you need to be an author, right? A book? Not so. In today’s highly connected world, you need to be connected to the places your readers will be. You can write the best book in the world, but it doesn’t do you any good if no one knows it’s out there
That’s where your marketing and promotion efforts come in. And hopefully, this section will make those choices easier for you. The two basics that I believe every author should have are one, a website and two, a bookmark or business card. The website represents you online, and the business card/bookmark represents you in person.
A website is 100% necessary in today’s world. It’s the first place people will go to learn more about you, to find out more about your books. Believe it or not, a website does speak to the perception of your professionalism as an author.
Every website should include:
It doesn’t have to be fancy or big or splashy. It just has to be you.
As an author, you need something to hand out to people you meet. You can make the choice, but choose bookmarks or business cards. People will expect them when they meet you, and they will be far less likely to take the next step if you don’t give them something tangible to hold on to after you aren’t in front of them anymore. So how do you choose? Consider these points:
Having a website gives you a professional online presence, having a business card or bookmark gives you a professional personal one. Your marketing plan should definitely include more than the above, however you can tailor that based on your needs and abilities.
Did you know that including an author photo on your website and promotion materials makes the visitor connect on a more personal level? It’s a long time trick of marketing design to include a smiling, friendly face in the advertising.
HINT: Include your author photo, even if you don’t like it. People like to see a smiling face.
You have a new WordPress website, which immediately means you need to worry about spam in your comments. The easiest and fasted way is to activate the Akismet plugin that is included with every WordPress installation. There are just a few steps to getting Akismet to work, so here you go:
Note: The filter isn’t perfect. You will see some comments make it through that resemble normal text. Always check the email address before approving one of these comments. If it’s something that doesn’t look personal, it’s likely spam and you should delete it.
If you’ve ever tried to find an easy solution to bring your own fonts into your WordPress blog, you know it hasn’t existed… until now. Recently, I found a premium plugin called Font Uploader, available through the Code Canyon website. This plugin has already proven leaps and bounds easier than any others I’ve tried. Rather than edit your php files, this allows you to set your fonts based on basic WordPress elements, such as Headers, Lists, Main Body. But it goes beyond that — you have the ability to set your own fonts for specific CSS styles.
If you’re looking to add your own fonts to your site, this is the plugin for you.
If you have problems or questions, refer to the plugin creator at Code Canyon — he’s incredibly helpful and timely in response.
I’m thrilled to announce that client, critique partner and friend Maggie Van Well has sold her first book to The Wild Rose Press. More details soon! Congrats, Maggie!
I’m thrilled to announce our newest website launch for author Barbara Wallace.
Barbara’s debut novella, Magic Under the Mistletoe, comes out in a December 2010 Mills and Boon anthology called Mistletoe Kisses and Christmas Wishes with Susan Meier, Donna Alward and Patricia Thayer. Be sure to visit her at www.barbarawallace.com.
To add a Facebook badge to your WordPress-powered site, you’ll need to make a badge on Facebook itself.
Go To Your Site:
There is a world of options when it comes to relevant content to put on your website. Remember the audience and their goals: form an impression and connect with you.
About You – Your site should include a few paragraphs about you, how you started writing, and what you write. If you include a photo on this page, it should be a professional, nice one. Again, professional doesn’t imply you paid to have it taken. It means you look professional in it.
Work/Books/WIPs –Your website should give a snapshot of what you’re working on. Include working titles, genre, word count. Whether or not you include blurbs and summaries of your WIPs is up to your comfort zone (and for a look at both sides of this, see this post (http://jeannieruesch.com/wordpress/?p=2940). List content finals or wins. List any articles you’ve published or other related work.
Contact Information – Be sure that there is an easy way to contact you on your site. Include an email address or a contact form. And if you’re active on social networks, include links to those as well – and include them prominently. These are actionable links by your visitors and ways you can connect more personally with them. Make it easy for someone to find you.
With a focus on your writing, you could embellish your sites with facts, tidbits or interesting stories.
And before you say, “I don’t know what would be interesting enough…”—think again. Yes, you do. Do you write sassy, strong heroines? Make a section of your site about strong women you admire. Do you write alpha males? Focus a section of your site on alpha males in the world – perhaps with a focus on the careers of your characters. Dig into your stories and find what makes them unique, find what inspires you within them and build that into your website. It offers even more compelling ways to connect with you as a writer.
And don’t underestimate connecting as a person. Even two people who have nothing in common can talk for hours about a favorite TV show or movie. Put some personal touches on the site:
Ultimately, think outside of the box. Kathleen Bittner Roth did that by adding an “Unbook trailer” to her site (http://kathleenbittnerroth.com/). Without a book or need for a book trailer, she found a unique and entertaining way to add content to her site.
To summarize, for the unpublished author, your website is a place to build a bridge between you and your target audience. For agents and editors, it means presenting yourself professionally. For other writers and connections within the publishing world, it means offering a common ground. If you keep that in mind, you can’t go wrong.