I’ve written before about author websites but now that I’ve started making videos I can offer a more ‘hands-on’ approach. I volunteered to fix Randall Wood’s website, which was an eyesore: his books are already doing well but I knew he could be selling twice as much if he fixed up his website and his marketing funnel a little.
As I was rebuilding the site, I removed or hid a lot of unnecessary stuff and focused on streamlining the user process. This helped me clarify what I believe is the ideal funnel for fiction writers to use.
So listen up, because I’m going to reveal all my secrets.
If you want to know everything that was wrong with the original website, and hear me comment on it and what I changed, you can watch this YouTube video.
The main problems with his author website, like most others I’ve seen, were these:
#1. Bad design. Design matters. A lot. Fixing the design will get people to take you seriously and stay on your page long enough to actually read something.
#2. Too much shit. Imagine walking into a store and having 15 salespeople grab your arm yelling “Look over here! On Sale! Cool stuff! LOL!” You’d leave pretty quickly. Even if you wanted to buy something. Take away or hide anything that isn’t directly selling your books.
#3. Not enough content. It’s obvious Randall didn’t have a blogging schedule, he posts once or twice a month, about whatever catches his fancy. You need to bring readers to your blog with carefully selected blog posts that appeal to your target readers. You can also post some personal stuff but make sure it’s about your writing process, your books, publishing, etc. Talk a lot about other books and authors in your genre, especially bestselling ones. Numbered lists also work great (Top 10 amazing new (this genre) new books I can’t wait to read!).
Focus on the KEYWORDS that people may use to find you (for more on this, you need to read my post on relevance vs. reputation). Use those keywords in titles. Not all the time, but use them. Otherwise you’re invisible.
#4. Purchase buttons. There were some, but they were hidden… and then they were for ALL the books, and for ALL ebook stores. This is a bad idea on multiple counts, I’ll explain why below.
#5. Email list optin form (and popup). Randall had an optin form but a weak offer… he was also using a popup, which CAN work if you have something valuable readers are going to want, but otherwise not so much. I don’t think you need to use a popup if your site is built well and doing everything right to engage readers.
What to do instead
You have to think who is coming to your site and what they want. If you don’t know who is coming to your site, that’s a big problem – it’s because you aren’t controlling the content and putting it in front of target readers.
Consider this: if somebody is searching for you or the name of your books, they already know about you. You don’t have to sell them. They probably just want to get in touch or something. But don’t worry about them, I assure you, they’re in the minority. Or they’re your mom/neighbor/facebook friends who are just being nice but don’t really want to read your books anyway.
Your website isn’t for them: it’s for the ideal reader who loves your kind of books but doesn’t know who you are. It’s to attract them, demonstrate that your books are awesome and make it easy for them to start reading.
You need to be writing content and sharing it on Facebook/Twitter so that people can like and share it, and then go check out your blog. Do that A LOT and keep writing the kinds of content those readers like. Google will start rewarding you for good content by sending you some natural search traffic. So now you’re getting some strangers on your site who may be interested in your books, but they don’t know who you are.
So first, you need a picture and a one sentence bio to introduce yourself.
Then – immediately next – you need to tell them what you want them to do.
It’s not, “Buy all my books!!” – because they aren’t going to do that if they’ve never heard of you.
But they might download one for free if you can prove it’s good.
Randall was already using a permafree strategy with his first book, but not promoting it from his website. So the first thing I added was, “Read the first book for free right now – it has over 500 reviews!”
It’s important to either add some good reviews or some social proof, “over 500 reviews” is a big deal – that means a lot of people are reading and liking Randall’s work enough to leave reviews. That’s important information.
I could have offered a free book in exchange for an optin, but remember these are probably people who haven’t read any of your books yet. Why would they want a free one? Especially in exchange for their email? Sending them to Amazon is easier, less resistance, plus it will keep your free book #1 in your category so even more people can read it.
That first book is important, and in the back should be a direct link to buy Book Two, as well as an optin offer to sign up for more free books or other cool stuff.
Nothing works better for book marketing than a free book.
If you only have one book, cut the first 15,000 words and give it away for free and put up the rest of it at $3.99. I promise you’ll do better and sell more books than just having the one book, even if you price it at 99cents.
But ideally you want several. (If you only have one, give it away for free and say “read the sequel” and get people to sign up to your list. In a year or two, after you’ve finished the next one, you’ll have a big email list and it will be easy to make it a bestseller).
Get them to read that first book so they can like the story, and then funnel them to your email list in exchange for the 2nd book or free content… and THEN you can start selling them on the other books in the series. Always add a few reviews, great sales copy, and a link to buy the next book at the end of the last one.
Pricing won’t matter so much for these later books, because if somebody knows about and wants to read your books, an extra dollar or two is no big deal. It’s only for those first readers who don’t know you at all, that pricing considerations matter.
The other important change was to make the excerpts easy to find, and add “Buy Now to continue reading” links at the bottom of each excerpt. For these I kept the links to multiple ebook stores, but personally I wouldn’t. I drive all sales to Amazon to keep my sales rank high.
50 sales a day spread out between 10 platforms won’t push you up to that #1 spot you covet, but focus them on one platform and they might. Selling a few thousand copies a month is cool, but if you can do that, you should be able to sell 100,000 copies with better marketing.
But that’s especially when you’re starting out, and Randall’s books are actually doing great, so it’s probably the right move to put them on all platforms.
Luckily, Randall has some great links coming from Hugh Howey’s blog and the Passive Voice, because he’s active in the community. Those will help a lot in ranking his articles, once he starts using keywords and writing longer titles that will actually show up. If you need some backlinks, check out all the sites I made you can use for guest posts.
Taking it to the next level
After this makeover, Randall has a very clean, functional author website that builds his list and sells more books … and he’s lucky that most authors don’t, because most authors have really crappy, disorganized, weak websites that are a waste of space. He’s ahead of the game and his site will really stand out. But that’s only because the bar is so low.
Now he’s got a good website. He should have had one from the beginning. As should you. It’s never too late, but it always should have been much sooner.
A good, strong, well-designed author website is the very basis of what you need to start building a powerful author platform, but it’s just the beginning. Mostly, he need lots of great content, at least 5 or 10 articles/blog posts a month, shared to Twitter and Facebook. He needs to add better images with his articles to keep the site looking awesome (and, use the ‘alt’ tag on every image to add even more keywords!)
He needs to be using categories, keywords and featured images – all those fields on the right panel of WordPress that he’s been ignoring. And again, that’s just the basic stuff.
Let’s say he wants to get 10x the traffic, grow his email list by 1000 people a month, and triple his book sales.
Partnerships and collaborations
Nothing works better. Reach out and find 25 other authors whose books are similar to yours. They should probably be self-published but traditionally published authors want to sell more books as well. Look at your category on Amazon and check out your competition, the 10 books above and below you. Find out who they are, check out their website. Then organize a group blog, or Facebook page, or event, or suggest you do a freemium book that collects the first 5,000 words of each of their novels, with links to read more.
Everybody wants to sell more books. Get something organized. Give 25 authors something to participate in and you’ll have boosted your platform by 2500% (I think that’s right, I suck at math).
Better optin offers
Reward your readers! Maybe one book isn’t good enough. Maybe you need to give away the whole series. Or give away one and ask them to write a review in exchange for the second for free. Or review all the books and I’ll send you a signed box set. You need to work for reader’s loyalty. Soon I’ll be starting a 21-day author platform building series, each day will have its own ebook, and if you buy them all you’ll get access to a $300 video course. Leverage what you can, what you have, and always make it look like readers are receiving much more from you than you are demanding from them.
Publicity stunts and fun events
I’m launching a mermaid romance soon (maybe, if I have time to finish it). I’m going to hire a model who does mermaid events. Even if it’s expensive, because
A) she has a big platform of her own that she can tell about my book,
B) publishing a mermaid book is not news. An author hiring a mermaid to promote said book certainly is.
Think bigger. Be creative. Do things nobody else is doing. Take risks. But have a beautiful website. If you don’t, you’ll just look like an amateur or a loon.
PS) You can check out Randall’s Website here. Go leave him a comment and let him know you like his new site.
PPS) I’m going to remake 10 author websites this month and am still looking for a couple sites that need love. If you have an older site – several years old – that needs work, link to it on this page so I can check it out.
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.
Thanks for sharing, Derek.
One thing I would stress is the need for our sites to be mobile friendly.
Randall’s site is barely usable on my phone. Plus, the pop-up sign up form blocks the whole screen and can’t be closed.
Thanks – you’re right, but the new phone is responsive and seem to work well on my iphone. We may get rid of the popup though, thanks for the feedback.