The thing I help my clients with the most, beyond actually designing & building their websites, is in helping them articulate why they want to have an author website in the first place. Many people know they need to have a website for their business, and many have a general idea that they want it to attract more customers, but they don’t always know how to translate their brand into a website. And beyond that, they don’t know how to determine what shape it should take to achieve more sales — otherwise known as their author website priorities.
The process of establishing and translating your goals into a website is a mixture of the following:
- Identifying & understanding your target audience.
- Knowing what you bring to the table for that audience and what makes your solution unique/desirable.
- Figuring out the best way to help those people become your customers.
- Knowing what not to include / keeping the message focused.
The problem is that as you start to think about this, you often come up with lots of ideas and lots of solutions — and if you implement all of them you’ll end up with a jumbled mess. So how do you narrow things down so that you have a strategic plan for your site?
Let’s take the above points one at a time:
1. Identifying & understanding your target audience.
I often work with authors who tell me their audience is, “everyone who reads.” While I admire their desire appeal to anyone who might pick up a book, it’s never actually true. It’s too broad an audience, and therefore not valuable. Audiences for fiction and non-fiction alike break out by gender, age, education, region, income, and other more specific guidelines like interests and communities. And the more you dig in to understand who buys the kinds of books that you write, and most importantly, WHY they buy the books that you write, the better job you’re going to do appealing to those people.
The driving force behind their book buying might be entertainment, or education, or price, or some combination of all of those. A fiction reader with an interest in military history is likely looking for something different than a fiction reader looking for a light romp for their summer vacation. Sure, they both enjoy fiction, but it’s what else you know about them that will allow you to make decisions about how to design and create your website. Put yourself in their shoes for a moment and really analyze what’s important to them.
If you need a starting point, look at authors who write comparable books — read their reviews on Amazon, look at their cover designs, analyze their marketing copy, look at their websites — take notes about what strikes you about how they communicate with their readership, and how those people communicate back to them. Keep in mind, however, that while it’s valuable to know what similar authors are doing, you can’t measure your own success against someone else’s yardstick. You want to gather information about them to help you form your own strategy, not adopt someone else’s strategy in total. If you don’t understand what you’re trying to do for yourself, it’s a sure way to waste time and money.
“Sometimes questions are more important than answers.”
― Nancy Willard
2. What makes your solution unique/desirable, or what will you do for them?
At some point I’m sure you’ve been shopping for something you’ve purchased before — maybe a new spatula. You go to the spatula section of your local big box store and are overwhelmed with the choices. Who knew there were so many spatulas?! You take in how they look, maybe you read the labels explaining things about how they won’t scratch your pan or help you flip eggs or whatever else is important for spatulas to do, you look at the price & the brands you like — and then you make a decision and walk away with a spatula. If you went shopping online, you probably also read reviews of other people’s experience with the spatula.
Maybe you took a chance on a brand you haven’t used before, maybe the lowest price won, or maybe you picked the one that you liked the look of best — regardless, you quickly took in a bunch of information and made a decision. The same is true for your readers. If you write cozy mysteries, you know there are lots of choices out there for readers to choose from — going back decades — so what makes your stories unique? Do they take place in an unusual location? Do you offer historical context, or romance, or time travel in the mix? Figuring out this special selling point is critical to your success. Not only does it give you something to focus on in your branding, but it allows you to better communicate with interested parties about what they’ll get out of choosing your book over someone else’s. And that right there is your special sauce. A hamburger was a hamburger until special sauce came along.
“Pretend that every single person you meet has a sign around his or her neck that says, ‘Make me feel important.’ Not only will you succeed in sales, you will succeed in life.”
― Mary Kay Ash
3. Figuring out the best way to help those people become your customers.
To answer this question you need to look at three things:
- Where/how does your target audience buy and consume books? You want to be where your customers are — if you make people work too hard, they’re going to bail. Or worse still, they’re never going to find you in the first place.If your book is a series, make it easy for people to buy the next copy, like binge-watching on Netflix. What about giving an incentive like a discounted price for buying a packaged series of books? Can you partner up with other, similar authors to promote each other’s books or team up in a crossover? Is creating a holiday story a good idea for a seasonal boost? What about specially issued short stories between books released only to your mailing list or Facebook followers? Or a discount code for friends to share? These should not only be on marketed on your website, but also on social and your Amazon author page and all your other outlets.
- How easy it is to acquire your book? Wherever you talk about your book, include a link to purchase it. Eventually, everything you do online should lead back to buying your book — so don’t make that difficult for people. Make it really easy on your site, on social, in your newsletters, on your blog, etc… And if people liked reading your book and said a few nice words in a review, share that far and wide! Endorsements from peers is a huge driver of sales, and can often get people of the hurdle of, “should I really spend money on this?”If you’re investing in things like appearances and events, make sure it’s easy for people to book you for those appearances — don’t make your contact information hard to find, for example. And bring along not only books to sign, but perhaps also promotional bookmarks with a discount code on them.Also consider the best way for your audience to consume your book — perhaps you don’t need a hardback version and just an ebook will do nicely? Do you want to be both on the Kindle & Nook? If you are doing a physical book, what dimensions will work best for the lives of your target audience?
- Engage! Successful authors engage with their readership — they don’t just publish a book and hope for the best. Their marketing and messaging are targeted — they invest in discovering where their existing and potential audience spend time, and show up in those places to let people know about their book. And I don’t mean just spamming them with advertising — I mean engaging in meaningful interactions to answer questions, or providing entertainment as a guest blogger, or hosting a giveaway, or sharing information on their characters, etc..If you don’t have a marketing team behind you to guide your efforts, that’s okay — just be strategic about spending your time where you’ll get the biggest bang for your buck. Don’t try to be everywhere all the time or you’ll burn out quickly.
“Next to doing the right thing, the most important thing is to let people know you are doing the right thing.”
― John D. Rockefeller
4. Don’t muddy the message.
There can only be 1 top priority for all things. Trying to do everything at the same time isn’t a strategy, it’s a lack of strategy. Websites that try to call your attention to too many things at the same time end up calling attention to nothing in particular. Don’t worry so much about what you might miss by focusing on one thing above the others — instead think about what you’ll gain by being focused on what’s most important.
If your most important goal is to sell your book, strip away everything that gets in the way of that goal. To do that you need to know what’s working and what’s not — so mine your Facebook or Twitter data, look at Google Analytics, and discover everything you can about what’s resulting in book sales — then get rid of (or work on) what’s not working. If your newsletter converts much more than your Twitter account, then you know where to spend your time. Maybe a little more investment in something will pay off in the end, or maybe it won’t — but you won’t know unless you look at the data.
If your newsletter is your best sales tool, you can still write your author blog and spend time on social, but when you present your newsletter signup on your website it should be far more visually prominent than your Instagram profile link or your latest blog post.
Prioritizing your goals helps you have something to measure all decisions against. When you’re faced with a decision about design or copy, whatever best serves your first priority wins. Easy peasy. If you avoid prioritizing, you won’t be clear, nor will your customers.
“It is not a daily increase, but a daily decrease. Hack away at the inessentials.”
― Bruce Lee
You can read more tips about how to figure out what you don’t need on your author website here.
And overall, keep in mind that goals aren’t about style, but about substance. If you have a gorgeous website, but it doesn’t meet your goals, it doesn’t matter how beautiful it is. Think about how it’s put together not only for your customers, but also for you to be able to update it easily, and for search engines to be able to search it easily. Don’t be afraid to change — something you learn along the way might have you change course in the future, and that’s good — responding to a changing market is a large part of continued success.
So get out there and figure out who you’re selling to, how you’ll appeal to them, and stay focused on what’s working! You can read more about figuring out your author platform here, and what pages you might include in your author website here.