Promoting a book on the Web is simple, or so I thought. Then last month I had an opportunity to explore author websites. I'll tell you honestly, I was horrified. I discovered that many authors did not give the basic information: here's how you can buy my book. Sites that included the most beautiful cover in the world and the most perfect hand-crafted blurb still had no help for the poor reader who wants to follow through and actually buy the book.
"I'm an author, not a marketeer," is the knee-jerk response. And it's true: most of us don't want to have to worry about something so crass as selling. Perhaps if more authors thought of it as "helping," they'd be kinder to their readers. After all, it's not really a sales pitch. Readers click on an author's page because they are interested in hearing more about the author's book. So why not tell them?
But many authors don't. Here's what I found (names have been changed to protect the guilty):
Paola has a popular blog that she updates daily. She posts about her writing process and the stories that she's working on. If you scan over her posts, it's clear that she's had at least one published book, maybe more.
Problem: The "profile" page tells us that she lives in Indiana and has three children. There's no link back to her author website and no details other than what is in the blog posts. This makes it impossible to find out more about her unless you are willing to wade through hundreds of blogposts looking for the last time she linked to her author website, which turns out to be February 2008 to announce that she updated the color scheme.
Quick Fix: Paola already has an author website; she simply hasn't connected it to her blog. She could easily add a link to the profile (or better yet, on the sidebar of her blog), which would fix this instantly.
Even Better: She should summarise her bio in a single paragraph with a link to her book and to her author website.
James has a Facebook page that has attracted a few hundred fans. He's done amazingly well to get this direct connection to readers. Every update he makes appears on their Facebook feeds, so he keeps them up to date on his new projects.
Problem: He lists his publications with direct links to purchase each book ... on a small press site that has reorganised their inventory. Every link he provides goes to an error page. Website links are often only checked when they are added to a page; however, if you are relying on external sites to market your product, it is vital to check frequently to make sure the page is still there.
Quick Fix: James should check all his links when he posts them and then schedule regular maintenance checks for his page, checking all links once a month or every 90 days.
Even Better: Create a maintenance checklist of details to watch -- make sure the "about" page and author information are all up-to-date and take a look at whether followers are growing and what they are saying.
Elanah is enjoys "hanging out" on Google+ and taking part in discussions about literature and creativity. Her profile says that she's an "author of awesome paranormal dystopias" and she often talks about her characters and their motivations.
Problem: Her book has been published, but the few details she gives makes it sound like a work in progress, rather than a finished product already available in online bookstores. She's not comfortable with "the hard sell," and so she doesn't sell at all.
Quick Fix: If she understood that she was helping readers to find out more rather than promoting a product, perhaps she'd realise that this omission appears to be thoughtless and even presumptuous rather than laid-back. A static link in her profile to a page about her book would let people know the book is released without seeming pushy.
Even Better: Create an author website with her published books as well as those in progress and link to it from her Google+ account, giving context to her updates and allowing new friends to feel involved.
Rashad is on Twitter. He talks about his writing life and his horses and always keeps it interesting. Occasionally he mentions that he has a book and he would love for readers to review it. He tweets the full title but never a link. Rashad doesn't like posting specifics because he wants to support local bookstores and he worries that links to Amazon are encouraging online buying. He's hoping that his readers will remember his name and the title and head out to a bookstore to pick it up.
Problem: Book purchases are often spur-of-the-moment. It's asking a bit much for readers to remember and recognise his book the next time they are out shopping.
Quick Fix: Rashad should create a buy-my-book page with links to a broad range of options, including online AND brick and mortar options. Rashad can just link to this page, which allows his readers to choose how they would like to purchase his book.
Even Better: He could include links to reader communities like GoodReads and LibraryThing, which include more buying information. Also, find sites like IndieBound, which help readers in the US to find local independent bookstores close to them.
Alexia has a gorgeous Pinterest page with all of her book covers. She's called the collection "Books I Have Written." It looks gorgeous and enticing.
Problem: She's uploaded the images directly. This means when you click on a cover, you go to a bigger version of the same image, called bookthreecoverfullsize.jpg, and there you sit, at a dead end. No further details, no chance to find out more. At best, the reader can read the title and author name from the image and type it into Google and see what comes up. Most readers won't make the effort.
Quick Fix: Alexia should make sure that every image of her cover links to a website with more information: her author page or an online bookstore.
Even Better: She could also include the title of the book in the description and a text link, so there's no guessing needed and the page will show up on search engines.
Problem 2: Also, Alexia is missing a chance to pull in new readers. Her Pinterest page is aimed at her fans and offers nothing that would help readers accidentally stumble upon her brilliant books. It's not just a dead end, it's a dead end with no sign posts.
Quick Fix: If she broadens her sphere, more readers will come to explore. For example, she could make a board of covers in her genre and look for beautiful examples that complement hers. Now she would have a large collection of general interest that people could browse through, which might lead new readers to discover her book.
Even Better: Explore other Pinterest boards and look for niches that are not already covered. Alexia could add a range of collections that relate to the interests of her readers and tie into her books.
Neil has a Tumblr account full of information about his book, which came out last month. It includes excerpts, Flickr photographs of the landscapes around his house, playlists of the music that inspired him, even some images of some of the characters that he collected into one place.
Problem: What is missing? The name of the book. At no point does he talk about what the book is actually about; we only see the inspiration. This can be interesting if we can also see the result, but on its own, it just isn't compelling.
Quick Fix: Add a link to the navigation that leads to a static page with facts about book. This removes the mystery and gets people involved.
Even Better: Include the book title and blurb in the sidebar so new visitors to the Tumblr can immediately get a sense of what is going on.
In all the talk about self-promotion and marketing yourself and your book, it is easy to forget about the fundamentals. You can have a popular blog and a thousand followers on Twitter and interviews on literary sites all over the world, but the key, the one core piece of information that you need to remember is: make it easy for other people to find out more.
Authors should keep the following information on or accessible from all their sites, in plain text, easy to find:
In addition, it's nice to offer more information:
Marketing is a secondary author skill, comparable to the struggles of writing a query letter or a blurb. We've all see the vague blurbs that first-timers write: "Joan is perfectly happy until a dreadful occurrence forces her to look at her life and reevaluate her priorities." It's so vague our eyes skim over the words. We don't care about Joan because we don't know a thing about her nor whether the dreadful occurrence is smashing a tea-cup or her son getting murdered.
Most authors have learned, by the time the book is released, how to entice with relevant details. The meat of the story has to be there for everyone to see.
In the same way, we have to share the basics of the book -- what is it called, what genre, is it even published yet -- before we can entice readers to find out more.
And isn't connecting with readers the point?
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