Outbox Takeout: A Web Design Blog

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5 Easy & Fast Ways to Improve Your Website Instantly

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As a website designer, I know that sometimes when your website is really out-of-date (content & technology-wise), the best thing to do is to start over with a new strategy & platform that works best for where you are now. But sometimes you don’t have the time or budget for that. Or, maybe your website is mostly working for you, but it isn’t perfect and you can’t put your finger on why…

…well, this blog post is for you. I’ll outline 5 quick & easy things you can do that will improve your website! Click here to read more »

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Self Published Book Website Resource Guide: Outbox Online Included

Self Publishing Resources

I’m honored that Outbox Online is included in The Self-Publisher’s Ultimate Resource Guide: Every Indie Author’s Essential Directory-To Help You Prepare, Publish, and Promote Professional Looking Books

The Self-Publisher's Ultimate Resource Guide

The Self-Publisher’s Ultimate Resource Guide is the first and largest collection of curated and verified resources for independent authors who plan to publish their own books. Produced by a team with long experience in both traditional and independent publishing, the over 850 resources are listed in an easy-to-use format that includes live links, phone numbers, email addresses and brief descriptive copy. The Guide makes vendors and other resources easy to find by separating them into 33 distinct categories within the 3 main tasks the self-publisher must deal with. How to Prepare, Publish, and Promote their books.

The book was written by Joel Friedlander, who is a self-published author, an award-winning book designer, and an accomplished blogger. And Betty Kelly Sargent, the founder of BookWorks.com, The Self-Publisher’s Association.

“Independent authors need a team to help create a fantastic finished product, and finding the right people can be a challenge when you first start out. This book will help authors to locate professionals to edit, publish and market their work — helping them to stand out in the crowded marketplace.”
—Joanna Penn, The Creative Penn

I’ve worked with many authors on their self published book websites, and I love being part of the team that brings people’s dreams of being an author to life. It’s wonderful to be recognized in this way as a resource for self-published authors when it comes to creating their websites!

Featured Image Photo Background by Magic Madzik on Flickr

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How to Choose Your Author Domain Name

What's in a name? by Jack Dorsey on Flickr

Photo by Jack Dorsey on Flickr

One of the questions I’m frequently asked by my author clients is what domain name they should use for their new website: the book title or the author’s name.

Like so many of my answers, the answer is that it depends.

Here are some things to consider when choosing your author domain name:

  • Ideally, you planned ahead & your domain name was one of the considerations when choosing the title of your book, especially if it’s nonfiction.  If you choose a nonfiction title with a particularly tricky word to spell, it’s going to be difficult not only for people to type out your domain name in all the places it’s going to be used, but to search for it too, so you might get lots of errors.  So keep things simple, and descriptive, especially as your domain name is one of the biggest things taken into account in search results.
  • Check your competition.  If there’s a very popular website out there with a similar domain name to what you have in mind, you’re going to have a hard time.  Not just because of their website, but because of their social media profile links and all other places they’ll pop up in search results.  Don’t create an insurmountable search obstacle before you even get started — come up with something more unique to set yourself apart and give you a chance to shine on the first page of search results.
  • Consider that you don’t need to own just one domain name, but should likely own multiple.  Domains are cheap these days.  So purchase all the ones that are (or might be) relevant for you.  Get both your name and the book title, get the book title with the word “book” at the end, etc…  That way don’t have to worry about someone else creating a website you might not like using a domain name associated with your book, and you’ll also have options when it comes to choosing which domain name will be your default.  Ideally you purchased your domain names early enough in the process of thinking about a web presence that they’re all ready-to-go when it comes time to build your site. Then, once your site is in place, your domain administrator can add a “permanent forward” on all the other domain names to the one used for the website so that they all take people to the website.
  • If you’re a new author I suggest thinking about how you plan to market your book. If it’s fiction, and you’ll be marketing the title/concept and not yourself as an expert or a speaker whose primary resource is a book, I would choose the book title as the domain name. If you wrote a non-fiction book and you’ll be marketing yourself as much, if not more than the book as a speaker & authority (so that people will be looking for you by name) I would do it the other way around and make your main domain name your full name.
  • If you’re writing a series, or multiple books on a particular topic, then consider a domain name that describes your focus or the series — for example, if you write books on small business law, your primary domain name might be “Small BusinessLawBooks.com” or if your series features a PI protagonist named Bug Looksie it might be “BugLooksieSeries.com”.  You should also purchase the domain names for your book titles in this case, but it’s a good idea to plan for the future when you’re getting started.

And what to do if your perfect domain name isn’t available?

  • Get creative.  I don’t suggest adding a dash (“-“) to words as it’s frequently forgotten, but you can add the word “book” or “books” or “author” to the end of a domain name and that frequently opens up new options AND benefits your searchability since you’ll be competing against someone with a similar domain name, but not about a book.
  • Try to purchase it from the owner.  Domain registrars often having a domain purchase negotiation service that allows you to set a price you’re willing to pay for a domain name, and they will approach the owner to negotiate a sale.  It can be anywhere from a few hundred to thousands of dollars, and they’ll estimate the cost of a domain for you ahead of time.  If it’s not too much money, and having the perfect domain name is critical to your online success, it’s likely worth it.

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Solopreneur Websites: What to Include

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I work with lots of solopreneurs. If you’ve never heard that word, no worries … here’s the featured definition in Urban Dictionary:

An entrepreneur who works alone, “solo,” running their business single-handedly. They might have contractors for hire, yet have full responsibility for the running of their business.

It’s similar to being a freelancer in some ways, but rather than working under the umbrella of someone else’s company, you’re working under your own.

I, myself, am a solopreneur. And I love it. My solopreneur clients include (but aren’t limited to) artists, illustrators, consultants, lawyers, musicians, and most often, authors.

I find that authors don’t often think of themselves as solopreneurs, but they very much are, and that’s how I think about author solopreneur websites. What do they want to get out of having a website? … Book sales? Speaking engagements? A wider audience? Other things…? Being an author is their business, and we want that business to be successful.

Whether or not you’re an author, there are some common elements that should be included on all solopreneur (and freelancer) websites, and here are my recommendations:

  • What you do. You would think this one would go without saying, but I can’t tell you how often I visit someone’s website and it’s not clear to me what they do/offer. And that’s a BIG PROBLEM. So make sure you clearly state what you do, and for whom. Site visitors want to know they’re in the right place and that they have a reason to stay to investigate further, so if you tell them what you do and that you can help them, you’ve got your foot in the door. And don’t assume everyone knows your speciality lingo, so make it clear to those in the know, and those who aren’t. You should list out your services / offerings completely on a page of your website, but you should also be able to quickly encapsulate what you do in a few words right up front.
  • What your site visitors should do. Think of it this way, if someone came to your house for the first time, and you just opened the door and said “hi!” and then disappeared, you’d have some confused visitors. You might have a great website home page — it might be really clear about what you do, and designed in a welcoming way — but if you don’t tell your site visitors what you want them to do next, you’re not being a very good host and they might be quick to leave. If you want people to learn more about what you do, guide them to do that. If you want people to contact you, or sign up for your mailing list, or read your blog… guide them to it. It’s not enough to just put it all out there and hope for the best. These are your critical calls-to-action to move people forward into doing business with you.
  • Contact information. No matter the level of contact information you want to make available on your site (phone number, email, address, social media profiles, etc..) you want it to be easy for people to get in touch with you. As a solopreneur, your business is likely driven forward by new client contact — don’t make people hunt for this information. Make it easy, and make it available everywhere.
  • Examples of your successful projects. This might be books, or art, or music, or words from satisfied clients, or all of the above. It’s basically your portfolio. You want to cherry pick the best-of-the-best for the home page, but also make sure to include multiple examples and testimonials from your satisfied clients on a page of your website.
  • About you. People want to know who you are if they’re going to work with you. What makes you an expert in your field? Why are you passionate about it? And bring your own voice to it — it’ll help bring you to life on the page. If you’re going to be working with someone 1:1, it’ll help if they have some idea of what they’re getting into.
  • If you just had these 5 elements on your solopreneur website, you’d be in pretty good shape. But you should add elements that work best for your business. If you like blogging and are committed to it, add a blog. If you sell items directly, add a shop. If you’re a Twitter superstar, add your feed. If you do events, list those. You get the idea.

    If you need help creating your solopreneur website, contact me to learn more about my services. I love helping people get their dreams off the ground and onto the web!

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Author Websites: Tips for Blurbs & Reviews

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When I’m working with an author on their new website, often the author suggests a single place to put all the great blurbs and review snippets that they have and will gather for their book(s). While it’s undeniable that any author should be placing their greatest review excerpts / testimonials / blurbs on their site, I often recommend that they “sprinkle them around” on multiple pages rather than put them all on one page.

Here’s why: Often your best blurbs will focus on different things — some will be about you as an author, some will be specific to a particular book, and others will blend both. If you do any speaking, book readings or signings, you might also have blurbs about that kind of thing. Placing them strategically on your site in the locations in which they provide context gives them lots more power then just listing them all out on a single page.

Not only are your site visitors less likely to sit and read through a full page of review blurbs, but when they are looking at a page of your site that features a particular book, placing a featured review right there next to the book shot and the purchase link reinforces their decision to move forward with a purchase when they’re actually thinking about it. And the same is true if your site visitor is on your site to learn more about you — if they’re looking at your bio page and you place a blurb there that talks about you as a great writer, that can help tell your story. Or, if your site visitor is a journalist looking to write a story for which you’d be a great source, placing a blurb that talks about how you’re a dynamic speaker right where you mention that you’re available for events and for media correspondence (along with your contact info) helps make your case.

And, beyond all of that, just like images help break up the text on a page, website blurbs that have a specific pull-quote style can also help break up large blocks of text and bring focus to the content of a page. For even more bang for your buck, you can add logos or headshots to your blurb attributions which humanize them and can lend credibility and creative flare.

Finally, resist the urge to place every single positive quote you receive on your website. If you’re lucky enough to have loads of positive reviews / blurbs, be strategic about them and pick out a handful to feature. You can even change them out over time, but a few great blurbs can have lots more impact than lots and lots of pretty good ones.

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Great Author Websites: 5 Ways to Use Images Creatively

Henry David Thoreau quote - Library Way - NY City

Henry David Thoreau Quote (From Kathleen Conklin on Flickr)

Website content with images is more interesting & engaging + more likely to be shared. It’s so simple! Just put images with your content! Right?

But what if you’re an author — authors often have lots of words, but not many pictures — it’s the nature of the gig. What do you do then?

Like with everything, first think about who you’re targeting.

No matter whether you’re a historical romance novelist, a non-fiction author focused on motivation, or a science-fiction author writing dramas in outer space, there’s a great deal you can learn about your readership. Where do they hang out online? What kinds of stuff do they buy? What kind of events do they attend? If you don’t know the answers, ask around, do a little Googling, hire someone to help you figure it out — however you choose to find out, the more you know about them the more you can tailor your images (and other content) to appeal to them.

The idea here is to use images to help break up the text on your site and balance the design so that your website is presented in digestible chunks rather than a whole bunch of text all at once.

Put on your creative thinking cap, and get beyond the cover of your book. Here are 5 ways to creatively use images on your author website:

  1. On the home page: This is the easiest one because it’s where you want to feature your book cover(s). Whether you’re featuring your latest release, or have a series you want to promote, your book artwork should be the prime visual content on your Home page — let it take up a bunch of space, no need to have a dinky little cover image. And think about making it actually *look like a book* — this can be with a 3d cover shot, or shown on an iPad or Kindle, either way it lets people know immediately that your site is about a book without having to think about it. Beyond that, consider what kind of books you write — if you’re a non-fiction author who does appearances, then having a featured headshot is a great addition to the Home page (or even your site header). If you’re a romance novelist and your books are set in a particular location, a photo or artwork of that location would be great. If you’re a sci-fi author writing about outer space then photos of the solar system would be great. In all cases your Home page shouldn’t have a whole bunch of text anyway, but the rest of the pages of your site might…
  2. On your bio page: You want to use a great headshot here, but if you reference important milestones in the text, consider also including photos of those, or photos of you doing a reading or speaking engagement, or photos of your childhood (if relevant), or photos of you with fans of your work — you get the idea.
  3. In your blog: Every blog post you write should have at least one image associated with it. And which image you choose will very much depend on what you write about (see here for topic ideas for author blogs), but it can be a photo from an event, the cover of your book(s), photos of your fans dressed up as characters from your book(s), or anything relevant you might find as a purchased or public use stock image (see here and here for a great rundown on using creative commons images & other great topics for authors). But also consider using things like an author photo in the header or footer of each post, or other images (like book covers with links to purchase) in the blog sidebar.
  4. On your events/news page: Here’s your opportunity to place photos of you doing signings, readings, conferences, interviews, etc… When you do these kinds of events either bring along a way to take photos yourself, or find photos taken by others & ask permission to use them. Also consider if you link to an interview or article about your or your book(s) on another site, the logo of that site is a great image to add alongside the text and link. If you want people to book you for future events, it’s a missed opportunity to not show great photos of past events.
  5. In the site design in general: My advice to most authors, especially authors of multiple books, is to create a site design that is unique & memorable, but not something that will overpower your books or be incompatible with future projects. But the more immersive you want the site’s visual experience to be, the more images you might want to use — these can be background images, header & footer images, photos of you integrated into the design of the header, etc… Often, author photos integrated into the site design itself make the most sense when the author is either quite famous, or is selling themselves as an expert via their book, so they’ll do speaking engagements or classes. Otherwise, images that support that content of your book are the way to go — these might be location-specific (such as a skyline, or seascape), or tone-specific (such as an old-fashioned engraving, or botanical illustration), or character-specific (such as a photo of teenagers, or a police officer).

In all cases you want to make sure you have permission to use the images on your website — either by purchasing a license, taking/creating them yourself, asking permission, or using something freely available. With that said, using images on your site will help make it more enjoyable to read, use & share, and is one of the easier ways to add value to your author website. And those advantages will undoubtably help you with your overall goal of your author blog: to grow & maintain an audience for your projects.

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Your Author Blog: What to Write About?

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Many authors have heard or read that having a blog can be a great addition to their website. That’s because it allows you to build an audience of folks who will visit your website again and again so that you can keep them informed about your new projects, promotions & events. It also allows you to build a searchable repository of content over time that means you have more opportunities for people to find you when searching the web.

But what to blog about? You want to make sure you’re adding value for your audience with your writing, otherwise what’s the point? When I’m working on a website project with an author, and they’re not sure what they could write about that would be of value, here’s my advice:

Consider your target audience,
then give them something interesting in your own voice.

Think about the writers who you admire. Perhaps they write nonfiction, perhaps they lived hundreds of years ago, perhaps they’re hilarious — in all cases at some point you might have sought out more information about them & their work. You maybe wanted to learn a little bit more about what led them to write what they do, or about their process, or the interesting folks they’ve met along the way.

They likely didn’t disclose lots of personal details, but just like you might be interested in the blooper reel or “behind the scenes” of the movies you watch, your target audience will be interested in you beyond what you put into your books.

On with some examples!…

  • You’re a nonfiction author: Are there interviews you can do with your sources or peers? Is there interesting new research or news about your field that you’re excited about? Is there a recent controversy that you want to weigh in on? What kinds of things do you like to read & recommend?
  • You’re a romance novelist: How do you come up with your characters? Are there people in history who influence your stories and/or characters? Why do you choose the settings that you do? Can you share information about the places you write about?
  • You’re a YA author: What kinds of information could you offer to parents and/or educators? Is there any kind of sharable content you can provide such as graphics and videos? How did your young adult life influence your characters? Can you do an “interview” with the characters in your books?

Blogging can connect your to your readership, establish you as an expert, lead to speaking engagements or even future projects. You don’t need to spend great amounts of time on it for it to be successful, but you do need to be authentic. If you’re a naturally funny person, share that in your blog posts. If you’re really into research and geek out about the details, then share that. If it’s something you’re interested in, that’ll come through in your writing.

Bonus tip: Blog posts with images do better than those without. So drop in some photos, graphics, etc.. to keep things interesting. You can utilize the Creative Commons image search if you need something but don’t already have it.

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Web Designer Kate McMillanKate McMillan creates websites for authors, small businesses & nonprofit organizations that are clean, easy-to-use, and goal-oriented so that her clients have a successful platform to support what they love to do.

With more than a decade of experience, Kate not only creates beautiful, easy-to-use, fresh designs, but also helps you make strategic decisions about your whole web presence, soup to nuts.

If you're interested in talking with Kate about your project, get in touch with her to schedule a chat.

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