Book Authors:
You Need Your Own Website

by Lee Leffler

“What's your website?” asks a potential purchaser of your book. If you do not have one, you are missing an essential piece in the book-marketing puzzle.

Whether you have a contract with a publisher or you are self-publishing, many of your book sales will depend on you: interviews, networking, connections, visibility, book signings, Internet presence, and more. Authors have a limited marketing budget, and the Internet is less expensive than paper-based marketing campaigns.

You do not have to be a computer guru. A smart marketing plan, a good website and a little computer time each day can make a big difference.

Step 1: Develop an Appropriate Marketing Plan

Follow your publisher's guidelines for marketing your book, and use several credible sources on book marketing such as 1001 Ways to Market Your Books by John Kremer. Build into your budget the cost of a website and some Internet advertising.

Step 2: Make a Good Website

The Internet is organic. Like a gardener, you must plant a lot of seeds to make your book sales grow. Your publisher will post your book on their website — that is one seed. Your own website will be another seed — an important one that readers have come to expect. And you have control over the content and the image it presents.

Chellie Campbell created a fully featured website to promote her financial workshops and two nonfiction books. “Your own website adds to your credibility,” she said. Chellie's site includes professional images, a pleasing color scheme, good layout, information about her books, links to buy her books, a pressroom, and an event calendar. Her site has a prominent sign-up form for her free electronic newsletter, which helps her build relationships over time.

Since the website represents you and your books 24/7/365 in every way, put in some effort up-front. An effective website is oriented toward the user's experience. It should be clear, consistent, easy to navigate, aesthetically pleasing, and useful. The pages should not take too long to download. The site should be optimized for the search engines. There are thousands of details. Most authors do not have all these technical and design skills.

Here are your choices: cobble together a cheap website yourself that may not reflect the greatness of your books; spend time and money learning website design and programming skills, then make your own site; or hire a credible website development company.

If you choose to make your website yourself, be careful. A poorly made website reflects poorly on you. Visitors can tell which sites have a professional look and feel. Website templates make the job easier. However, these websites often have a sameness that does not reflect the unique character of each book and each author. The search engines penalize your site if you are lax about customizing or do not maintain your site. And you will have to do your own search engine optimization.

Should you choose to hire a website development team, select one that has experience making websites for authors. Look at the sites they have made, and talk to some of their clients. Write down your website goals and the features you want, and then get a few quotes. Select the website development team and package that feel right for you.

If your name's domain name is still available (such as www.CormacMcCarthy.com), buy it. If not, perhaps you can buy it from the owner or use some variation on your name. Or maybe you can find an available domain name that resonates with you.

The search engines love it when you add content on a regular basis. Post samples of your writing, tips, articles, images, links, lists and announcements. Add at least two new pages a month. Update your home page frequently. Read articles about how to write for the web. The more content your site has, the more likely that people will find your site in a search.

Sell your books through your site. Your publisher may have guidelines for linking to their website. Many authors link to their book on Amazon using a free affiliate account, and they make a commission whenever someone clicks their link to buy a book (http://associates.amazon.com). You can sell them directly, if your publisher agreement allows this, using a basic shopping cart and Paypal. You can also consider selling electronic books.

Offer a free electronic newsletter. Make a signup form on your website and use an ethical e-newsletter marketing service to send the emails. This will help prevent your email from ending up in spam folders, and you can track who opened it. You can find more information about newsletter services at http://www.newslettergal.com.

Electronic newsletters are far cheaper than printed mailings, and better for the environment, too. “I send out emails to announce a new book, and to let people know when I'm doing workshops and book signings. I email writing samples and tips,” said Chellie Campbell. “I have thousands of people on my list, so I wouldn't be able to send paper mail as often,” due to the expense of printing and postage. Chellie's email blasts cost a few hundred dollars, and include graphics, formatting, and great content.

Step 3: Tend to Your Internet Garden Every Day

Think of yourself as a gardener. Your books have little sprouts all over the Internet — places that sell, review, mention or list your books. Type your book title in double-quotes into a search engine to find them, and scour the Internet for new opportunities. Some of these places could link to your website, so make sure they know about it. Tend to your garden and make sure your book listings are accurate and complete.

In the same way that all roads lead to Rome, all roads should lead to your website. Link to it any time you publish anything. Put a link in your email signature. Exchange links with other websites, or ask them to link to you. This helps your search engine rankings and your book sales.

You will draw traffic by using your website domain name everywhere: on your business card and stationery, in articles you write for magazines and newspapers, and any time you get publicity. And of course, print your website address in your books.

Your website provides a home base for your Internet-based book marketing activities. Make sensible decisions and build your readership base over time.

Lee Leffler, M.A. operates Leffler Professional Writing Services. She offers more information on ethical e-newsletter services at her website, http://www.newslettergal.com.


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