Over the last couple of years my mission has been to improve the quality standard for self-published book covers, and after helping thousands of indie authors, I know I’m making a dent.
But authors still face two huge challenges: author marketing, and having a decent author website.
Although I talk a lot about book marketing, I’ve said before that I refuse to take people’s money unless I can guarantee results (good enough results to justify the expense). And I’m actually at that point already; very soon I’ll announce a new partnership I’ve been invited into, to offer a book promotion package with guaranteed results. I’m refining a process and training a team so that we can help with your book launch and guarantee bestseller status.
So that’s pretty exciting.
Here’s what’s not exciting – our book marketing and promotion efforts will be wasted if an author has an ugly cover or website, which means we won’t be able to serve everybody or work with all authors.
Sure we could skip your website and send people straight to Amazon, but that’s short term growth, and as long as we’re getting you the visibility, we’d like you to be growing your email list and fanbase so that you don’t have to works so hard at marketing the next time around.
We’re going to have to screen authors to make sure they have the basics in play, so that our marketing will be effective.
But indie authors have really tragic websites
I know, because I’ve seen hundreds – in my books I offer free website reviews and feedback, so people email me almost everyday to take a look at their website.
The biggest problems are these:
1. They’re ugly
2. They’re non-intuitive
3. They aren’t personal/friendly enough
4. There’s no high-quality, engaging information
5. They aren’t updated frequently
6. There is no reason to sign up or follow
7. There’s no clear call to action
Even the sites that are well designed and look professional, still aren’t doing anything to sell the author’s books.
They don’t have a sales funnel or process for turning accidental visitors into loyal fans.
They don’t generate traffic on their own (which means, nobody is seeing your site unless you are driving them to it manually, by advertising or handing out business cards).
Maybe you think your website is just a place where people can find more info about you or your books – you’re wrong (they could do that even better on Amazon). So what’s your website for?
Attracting the right type of reader, building a relationship with them, and getting them to click “Buy Now.”
Consider Facebook vs Myspace.
Myspace was fun because you got to totally customize it, and add backgrounds and colors and fonts and flashing diamond sparkly crap. You could make your own online universe that you loved – but everybody else hated.
Facebook was successful because it got rid of all that decorative nonsense and focused on making it simple and easy to share content.
Your author website isn’t a blank canvas to show off your creative skills: it’s a SHOP where you are subtly and expertly persuading readers to buy.
If your author website isn’t selling your books, why do you have one at all?
In my books and on this blog, I talk about how to use your author website as the center of your author platform; the hub of your book marketing efforts. But that won’t work if your website sucks – in fact it will kill sales. It’s better not to have a website at all than to have a crappy one.
The Self-publishing Author Website Solution?
I tentatively do web design for some of my clients, if they really need it, but I resist because I’ve had bad experiences with authors taking over the process and making bad choices.
I plan to blog a lot more about setting up author websites in WordPress over the next few months.
But I’ve also been playing with some ideas to streamline an author website service.
The funny thing is, WordPress is a free platform and you can get a great theme for under $50. And I don’t think the learning curve is that steep compared to a lot of other website design options. But a lot of authors are paying several thousand dollars for author websites – and often get unimpressive results (even if they look good, they are usually not built by a book marketer, nor designed to sell books).
So I’m considering doubling down on authors websites, but would love to get your feedback on my offers and pricing.
What I have in mind…
I’d like to offer author websites for $999 – which is not cheap, but cheaper than many other options. However, we’d really shine by differentiating our benefits:
1. You wouldn’t get a ton of flexibility or personalization (you don’t need it – and it often hurts sales!). Instead we’ll make you a very clean, intuitive, functional site, using finely optimized layouts proven by continuous testing to be highly effective for gaining traction, keeping readers engaged, and convincing them to take action. We’ll add just enough professionally designed, custom graphics to nail your personal brand (logo, header, 3D book images, etc).
2. We’ll get you listed in all major search engines, employ a backlink strategy, help you rank for specific keywords, and give you a year-long blogging schedule to follow of SEO optimized article titles hand-picked to attract your target demographic. Just write and post 1 a week.
3. You’ll get all the standard stuff everyone else promises – social media profiles, buy buttons for your book… but we’ll include headers for Facebook and Twitter to make sure you have a matching branded author platform.
4. We’ll work with you to integrate your email list and craft your perfect offer and call to action, to make sure your website is actually doing it’s job (growing your author platform, and selling more books).
5. We’ll make sure your website is fast. Users these days won’t wait even 2 seconds for your page to load – if it’s slow, you’ve lost the sale. We’ll use plugins and services that speed up your site (which will also make it rank much higher).
The beauty of a well-built author website is that it will bring in and convert the right kind of reader automatically, driving book sales for years to come with no effort. And keep in mind, your “competitors” are probably other authors with mediocre websites. If your site is cleaner and faster, you will show up first in Google, and they’ll buy your book.
Option B – Managed Hosting
Figuring out where to host your website can be a pain. WordPress also needs to be updated regularly and can be vulnerable to attacks and malware. You can get very cheap hosting for less than $5 a month, but I’m considering offering a managed option for $25 a month. We would host your site on our servers, run regular updates and tests, make sure it’s stable and clean, and fix it if it ever has any problems.
Option C – Content Marketing
As far as I know, nobody else is offering content marketing for authors, and someone really needs to.
It would work something like this: for $99 a month, we’d write 5 articles, four on your blog and 1 on a bigger site with more traffic and more authority (Google ranks websites based on age, links and content – having links from these sites will improve your own site’s traffic).
I’ve already been building high page-rank sites for indie authors to guest post, to boost traffic and visibility.
But we’d also search out blogs or websites where a great deal of your target readers are lurking, and write great content that is interesting and shareable. We’d post it up around the web to drive traffic. 1 good article like that could get thousands of hits a month, and drive traffic back to your main site, where they’d see the other 4 we posted… after hooking their interest, your optin offer or sales copy would convince them to follow or buy the book.
This is the best form of book marketing, and I’ve been using it to produce dozens of bestsellers. You could cancel anytime, but it’s important to have a lot of good content on your blog and a lot of articles on other sites linking back to you, so we recommend doing it for at least six months to create a stable platform.
Option D – A WordPress Training Package
I’ve also been thinking of just putting together some themes, custom built WordPress templates, and instructions – probably written and also video tutorials – so that you could put your own WordPress site that sells books quickly. It would range between $99 and $299. Would you be interested in something like this? What would you like it to include?
TO RECAP… (and a free site evaluation)
I’m not offering these services yet, but I may begin to offer them from the start of 2015.
I’d love to hear your comments and feedback.
If you’re not sure if your website is good enough to sell books, post your link in the comments and I’ll check it out and provide feedback. (I’ll let you know your page rank, how many backlinks you have, and things you should fix or improve that are probably killing your sales).
I’m a philosophy dropout with a PhD in Literature. I covet a cabin full of cats, where I can write fantasy novels to pay for my cake addiction. Sometimes I live in castles.
This is a great idea! I’d be totally interested in Option D and would love to hear more about that. I’m one of the fortunate authors that has a 15 year background in web design and coding. WordPress is my jam and I love it. My site is pretty good. It sells books (I see outgoing links to Amazon that produce sales) and I get a fair number of newsletter sign-ups from it.
Anyway, if you want to look at it and give more advice, I’d love that. http://www.spajonas.com
Your site looks nice, but there’s a lot of info and small text, it’s not obvious what to do or where to go. Prioritize the actions you want them to take and make it super easy. It does load slowly… recently I hired a guy from Hungary to speed up all my WordPress sites, he’s awesome – here’s the link to his ODesk profile: https://www.odesk.com/users/Wordpress-HTML-CSS-Expert-Linux-System-Administrator_~01b582b368af3b43e6
Cool. Will do. I think I can solve all my loading issues when I redesign because the template I bought was way too kludgy. You know the phrase, “If you want something done right, do it yourself.” 🙂 I will definitely be redoing the design for bigger fonts and a better call-to-action. Thanks!
Also – you have a PR1 and 2.1K backlinks, but most of those must be from low PR sites, and you’ve only got about 50 from social media…
Do you have a link to what PR1, etc means and how I can interpret this? I know I have a lot of back links because I’ve participated in a lot of blog hops, tours, etc. I really want to utilize Pinterest more in the coming year so hoping to grow there too.
Wait! I googled 🙂 Once I get the site redesigned, I’ll look into increasing Page Rank. Thanks!
Your site is a PR2 with only about 500 backlinks, which is good – but you’ve only got 3 social media links (Twitter) so you need to work on sharing your articles.
For the site, the header could be nicer, but mostly it’s just too busy. There’s too many choices; think of it like herding cattle. Don’t let them go wherever they want. Make a couple choices big and obvious. If they need more info they’ll find it. On the sidebar, instead of lots of little text links, make your covers big and eyecatching. The biggest call to action right now is the ‘contact’ button on the top right… do you really want people to contact you? Articles are what attract, the call to actions on the sidebar is what get them to discover the books, if the sales copy is good enough they’ll click over to Amazon.
Thanks Derek – I was hoping to revamp later this month – I’ll bear your comments in mind
Great site! I like that the homepage is just a big call to action with reasons to buy, and you have a good optin offer. Altogether well done. It’s kind of strange when they click “blog” they have to click another link to actually get there, can’t you just change the menu link to the other address?
You have PR2, over 100 backlinks and some social – but only on Google Plus.
Thanks, Derek! Always great to have constructive feedback. You’re awesome. : )
Great post. Option C looks interesting. I am planning a major revamp of my site next year. And I need tog et far more traffic to it. And I need to build my subscriber list. My last email newsletter had a 71% open rate. Any comments and carry on the interesting blog. http://www.stephenpuleston.co.uk
That’s really nicely done! I love the custom social media icons on the sidebar, and the big Amazon books – what are you using to display those books/ratings like that?
The only things I noticed were:
1. the subscribe button looks out of place, and probably isn’t needed. You could add a little rss feed somewhere less obvious.
2. The 3D books look like binders rather than paperbacks, I’d get those redone. Love the cover for the new book.
Last thing – no obvious call to action, but you don’t really need one because you show the books instead and most people will click on those, which is probably what you want. But you could be building a list too. In this case an optin might distract, so get them to go buy the books, and in the back of the books send them to an optin offer page (doesn’t have to be the homepage or in the sidebar). It can be a special offer or “next book free” or something.
Derek – I looked at the code on the widget Eldritch is using: it looks like AMC Book Widget. Gorgeous, isn’t it! I assume it is part of their premium membership
Thank you so much for those kind comments and excellent feedback.
I’ll find out how to remove the subscribe button as I agree it does look ‘off’.
As Tony mentions – the book widget on the sidebar is from being a member of Author Marketing Club.
Thanks for the feedback on the 3D books, again now you mention it I see exactly what you’re saying. They do look like binders. I’ll work on that.
Sadly there’s no opt-in by design. Because I write for a middle grade and up audience I can’t have an opt-in (even if I state its for adults only), without potentially getting into hot water with COPPA. I’m not sure if you’re aware of COPPA, in essence it’s not a terrible thing as it protects children online from marketers etc. But it makes it very hard for anyone writing for that age group to collect email addresses and stay compliant.
Hence why I don’t bother with it. If I start writing for adults, I’ll see if I can figure a way out so I can collect emails. Because I know from reading your books how important they are.
In that case, you should use “Social Locker” – it’s a plugin where they have to share your site to access content (a free short story for example). You could write the first 3000 words or so of a story and then say, “Want to read more? Share with your friends to unlock the rest of the story.” http://sociallocker.org/
Thanks once again Derek. Right now my short stories are on KDP Select, but once I remove them I’ll have a lot more options and Social Locker is of definite interest. You share the best things 🙂
I use a free template on blogger, but i focus my readers to g+, really hate blogging.
Is it just me, or your blog is browsing really slow – I got to wait a few minutes to upload.
Very good post (especially the first part ) as I have now to make my website more a writer’s website. For now it’s only a yoga/self-help site but as soon as my debut novel is out there I’ll have posts about books, reviews, side links to my books… I am planning to have a homepage with a YouTube video, a bit like Joanna Penn.I think her website, thecreativepenn is a very good site.
My conviction is that any platform one chooses should be theme-oriented, not goal or scheme-oriented.
I think the covers are good – strong enough you don’t need to worry about them. The site looks nice too – it’s a a landing page, which means you’ll have to advertise, guest post or bring in your own traffic. (Well, it has a blog and other pages too… the lack of sidebar and simplicity almost makes it seem more complicated, but the material is there and it’s clean.) I would add an author photo and some more personal stuff – you have to get people to like and trust you, and to interest them (if I land there, I’m not interested in the books yet, because you aren’t giving enough information/free content.) But you do have excerpts… altogether, it’s pretty good – I think you’re in good shape. I’d publish and get some reviews and see how things go.
Great to know. Thank you. Will work on those aspects. (Relieved about the covers. I picked up tips from your blog and tried to apply them.) Really appreciate what you’re doing, Derek, and just picked up Book Marketing is Dead and will post a review when I’ve read it. Thanks again.