So I Think I Need a Website, But What Do I Put on It?

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A few weeks back, we started our journey into the world of author branding and marketing. Our first couple of posts took a casual look at the how we have all become brands now, whether we like it or not, and we took our first steps into the world of author marketing with a post on why every author needs a website. If you haven’t read the previous two posts, please do take a moment to skim through them.

Before I continue our journey, I have to do a bit of shameless promotion for my newly released debut novel, Agency Rules – Never an Easy Day at the Office. If you enjoy spy, espionage, or political thrillers, you have to read this book. If you enjoy action, adventure and military stories, you have to read this book. If you just want to have a fast-paced, interesting read… you guessed it… you have to read this book. What’s it about? Three words – Terrorism, Taliban and Pakistan. Yes, it’s shameless, but hey, it’s the marketing part of the business, and I am shameless about promoting.

There are things that you have to remember when it comes to promoting your work to potential readers – don’t annoy them to the point where they shut off to your work. What? Remember, we are all operating in the digital world now. The bookstore signings aren’t as regular as they are for the traditional publishers, nor are the chapter readings at the libraries and bookstores. 90% of our marketing is either on websites, Facebook or twitter so we have to be extremely careful about how we promote our work. This is why that pesky author website is so important. So let’s get to that question that I asked in the beginning…

Too many authors, unaware of what to do with their online identities, end up putting up a single page website that shares the links of their Facebook author/book pages, twitter account, Pinterest and where ever else they can be found on the internet. This is a wasted opportunity that many don’t realize because they direct them to Facebook, Amazon, twitter or somewhere else. Let’s look at it this way.

Let’s say you are walking through your local shopping mall and a poster in one of the windows draws your attention. So, you stumble into the store, only to find that the shelves haven’t been put up yet, there is dust on the shelves that have been put up and there is very little else to keep your attention. You look around for a counter or signs and find nothing to direct or give you more information about that poster that brought you into the store. Finally, someone comes around the corner from the backroom, startled that someone is standing in the barren store. You make your way over to ask when the store opens, only to find it’s been open for years. You hesitantly ask about the poster and they can provide no information about it. With a shrug, you turn and mumble a few curse words for the time you wasted and walk back out to the street. This customer is gone, along with the sale, and about 1,000 (ok, more like 100. I exaggerate sometimes) other people that they will tell not to shop at that store. Your website is your storefront on the internet, so make it a place that people come, spend time getting to know you, your books and everything that you have written.

Why? So people talk about you, and more importantly, come back and shop with you.

The first thing about author website is that people have to talk about author websites. When you set it up, don’t pick hard to remember, difficult to spell, uncommon names for the website. The best way to brand is with a name that is easy to remember, because we have too many things on our minds to remember those difficult names of shops and websites. The easiest way to go is with your name or the name of the book/series. I’ll use myself as the example – when I setup the website for my book series, I used the name of the series, Agency Rules, so agencyrules.com becomes the address for my storefront. Easy to remember, quickly recalled and associated with the product that I am selling, my book series. Simple right?

The second thing that you have to keep in mind is that you have to spend some money to look professional, which brings me to my next point about author websites – make them look spectacular, inviting and friendly. In my last post, I talked about WordPress and Blogger being great choices – they still are, but you have to be willing to put time and effort into making them something special. That means that you don’t use the out-of-the-box themes that come with the platform. Both the platforms install with bunches of free themes – which are great if you are a run of the mill blogger, but if you want people to take you seriously, you need something more tailored to you that sets your storefront apart from the rest of the mish-mash on the internet. Themes can be bought from a wide variety of websites for anything from $20 to $100, which will provide you with every single tool, function and toy that you may need, now and in the future. I’ll be glad to share some websites with those who are interested. Be careful where you buy from and what you buy because it’s your image and image is everything.

Before you buy a theme, make sure to sit down and plan out what you need the site to do and what you want the site to do. These are two different things. The needs are the things crucial to selling your work, the wants are the things that you would like to do, if you have the time. I’ll give you a few of the basics for any author, you need your website to:

  • Tell people about your books
  • Tell people about you
  • Share other things you have written outside your books
  • Give them a way to contact you with questions
  • Share links to your social media platforms so they can engage with you
  • Advertise any deals or promotions that you may be running
  • Collect email addresses for mailing lists

Those are the basics that every author needs to take care of, but your list may include more than what I have listed above – and that’s ok. When it comes to wants, you are looking at things that, if you had the time, you would like to do. These are the cool video posts (vlogs), audio posts/chapter readings (podcasts) and other multimedia stuff that will help you sell more books. They are not essential, but things that would be nice. Most of these things can be handled with free plugins, but we will talk more about this later this week.

In today’s world, we love social media, but with Facebook changing the rules almost daily and twitter moving so fast, getting information in front of the right people is becoming more of a game of chance. That’s why I included the collection of email addresses. There are many ways to do this, but you need to make sure that you do it correctly otherwise, you will lose opportunities and sales.

At Agency Rules, we use Mailchimp for collecting email addresses for mailing lists. There are many other mailing list manager tools, but we like Mailchimp because it fits into our model easily. With any good email mailing list manager, you are looking for a few things:

  • Double opt-in subscriptions – that means that subscribers are asked to confirm their subscription before they ever get added to the mailing list
  • Easy template creation – rather than having to hire designers and coders, the email templates are drag and drop or copy and paste.
  • Easy subscriber management – simple addition, deletion and downloading of subscriber lists
  • email campaign management – easy reports to find out how many mails were sent, opened and links clicked so you know what works and what does not
  • Easy unsubscribe – the subscriber MUST be able to unsubscribe by clicking a link in the email. Period. End of story. This is a US law (CAN-SPAM).

I’ll be posting another marketing post later this week covering plugins and management tools for your author website. For now, if you have any questions, please post them in the comments under the post. Please make sure to tag me so that I know it’s something directed at me, not a general comment.

About the Author

Khalid Muhammad is a marketing specialist and owns the emagine group, a marketing and branding services company. Recently, he published his debut novel, Agency Rules – Never an Easy Day at the Office, on Amazon. His novel is a spy thriller based in Pakistan and deals with the scourge of terrorism and extremism. You can find his additional writings on topics related to marketing, branding, politics, and spy/espionage at agencyrules.com. He tweets from @AgencyRulesPK and is on Facebook at.

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