The matter of website design; it all depends where you’re at. If you just started publishing short stories, a blog would be perfect for you and easy to create. Maybe you have ten best sellers out (congrats, you lucky bastard!). That means your author website must house different sales channels.
This article is only a superficial scratch on the fascinating theme of web page design, but I wrote it to guide you onto the path. Remember that you can always add features and scale your business.
Create a header that consists of a headline and a theme image. Canva is great for making graphic elements. It’s free and offers multiple styles. Choose pictures and a theme that goes with your genre.
Add your core pages. I suggest the following: front/home page, landing page (for offers), books for sale or upcoming books (presale marketing). Additional pages to your liking: short stories, author bio, guest authors (swap for publicity), blog, competitions, and whatever you like.
“Authors often make the mistake of thinking that people visit their websites just to read their bio. Are you, the author, important? Sure, but your book is more important. Let people know they’re on an author’s website by making your product the star of the show.”
Tell the potential customers who you are as an author, and advertise your book. Always add a functioning link to Amazon or some other bookstore. Remember that each extra action causes your customers to fall out of the sales funnel. Make buying as easy as possible.
Establishing a PayPal account and using the PayPal button has become rather easy nowadays. Remember to count printing, sending the book, and all other expenses so that you break at least even. If e-commerce becomes too complicated, just use the Amazon/Nook/Kobo/Play Books, etc. links with a buy now- button.
Remember to test. Everything on your page must work before you publish it!
An extra puzzle: what would make people come back to your site?
A plugin is a mini-application that you can incorporate into your site. Most website builders offer a range of free plugins, but extra features demand a small monthly/yearly fee.
Newsletter subscription and a customer database (MailChimp for instance)
Test your site speed with several different browsers and operating systems. Ask friends and family to experiment. Post a poll on social media and allow fans to voice their opinion.
Scalability means that your website theme and the mechanics behind the visual facade adapt to different viewer devices and screen sizes. Open that mobile phone of yours and check your visuals. Ask friends to look at pages and click on the links. Request an honest opinion and have them answer a few questions. The process is similar to the beta reading of your book.
Remember that having no author site is the worst option. Having a 90s feel with everything blinking 100 mph is almost as bad as having no page. Boasting a smooth functioning website is your calling card as a professional writer.
Branding means that you use consistent features throughout your virtual existence. Having the same account name everywhere and using a logo helps people recognize you wherever they stumble upon your content.
A film-noir color scheme on your website? Great! (if you’re a mystery writer). Use the same header on your social media. After you get the hang of branding, a consistent effort soon becomes second nature.
But, a brand is much more than colors and visuals. You know what a writer’s voice is, don’t you? The brand is your voice when it comes to the web: instantly recognizable and consists of a thousand little things.
“Brand is everything people perceive you as. It’s your personality, every word you write, the fonts and colors you use, the way you make people feel when they read your books or visit your website. Many people wrongly equate brand to a logo or website colors and although these are brand elements, a brand is much more than just these graphic aspects.”
Start simple and add complicated elements after you master the basics. Create a landing page if you don’t know what else to do. Many website builders and emailing software offer articles and advice on how to create a simple landing page.
A landing page should:
House your writer bio (short)
Show off your products = books
Engage the customer and keep the conversation going
Offer promo codes and discounts (IMPORTANT!)
Advertise an incentive to a selected group of customers (give them a VIP-feeling)
Most books evoke a feeling the instant you look at them. In the perfect scenario, the title whips up the intrigue, and the cover has gorgeous artwork. As you read the blurb and author bio, you become convinced that you must buy this book.
The surefire elements to use in a book cover are the Main Character and the setting of your story. Most authors choose this scenario. Some book cover artists have a special gift of creating motion, but a static capture of your hero/heroine in his/her natural habitat works. The aim is to inform the customer about the following facts (within a few second’s decision time):
Look at other author’s choices. If you find a cover that matches all your hopes, find out who the artist is, and hire him/her. Collecting a set of all-time favorites helps you decide on the critical elements. If you hire a professional graphic designer, he will ask what kind of covers you like.
What you need to decide
It doesn’t matter at this point who will do the cover. Before any of the graphical work starts, you must make up your mind on several matters.
Do you want to feature your main character or characters on the cover? If the answer is yes, you must know what the hero wears and how the heroine loves to braid her hair. What is the Main Character’s weapon of choice? Remember that nobody knows your sassy protagonist like you do.
Setting/ the background. Do you have an essential place in your book which could work as the backdrop of the cover? Decide on weather, time of day, geography…and so on.
Do you have a color scheme or other preferences? Which matches your idea of a cover style: magical, sparkly, dark, futuristic, dystopian? Bright light or a sharp contrast?
What are the themes of your book? Which genre? Do you want a traditional cover or something which will stand out among your numerous competitors?
Do you have symbols that could make a different cover?
What fonts do you like? What is your subtitle?
Author bio: you need an introduction to the back cover. Why would people read a book by you? Who are you as a writer?
Blurb!! This is important. Why would the readers love your book? Write the blurb for the ideal reader.
Provide the artist a defining moment from your book. Do you want this moment portrayed on the cover?
If you adore some book cover, define what is so great about it? Fonts, image, design, style?
Sometimes, you need to stand out among competitors, and that means choosing a different approach.
A modern dystopian example of symbol usage is The Hunger Games trilogy. George Orwell’s 1984, a classic, has worn several famous book cover designs since the first edition in 1949. This evergreen dystopian has spawned famous words like “Orwellian.” The ever-watchful eye featured in many a cover of 1984 has become the icon of Big Brother.
Another dystopian example is Margaret Atwood‘s The handmaid’s Tale. We all know what the red hood means. The books mentioned above (and their movie/tv-series adaptations) have become so famous that their imagery is part of our subconsciousness. If your story has a central theme or a potent symbol, why not use it.
Doing It By Yourself
An e-book cover for Amazon is the easy part. But if you plan on publishing a paperback and a hardcover, not to mention an audiobook, you must know the exact dimensions! Printing a book with an error in the trim size becomes expensive. If your book comes out in several formats, I suggest you hire a professional designer.
Trim size: the most common trim size for paperbacks in the US is 6″ x 9″ (15.24 x 22.86 cm), but you have several trim size options. If you’re unsure which size to pick, find books with content similar to yours to get an idea of what readers expect.
Page count which affects the trim size
Remember to leave room for the barcode on the back
Choose a Cover Image
The easiest way to start is to choose a photo from an image bank, download it to Canva or some other graphic editor and start experimenting. If you’ve got excellent image manipulation skills up your sleeve, combine two or more images.
Each image bank embellishes available photos/illustrations with keywords. You can find the spitting image of your MC by listing physical descriptions. Reserve time for the search. The cover is your book’s face and one of the critical components of buyer decision making.
“This should go without saying, but your picture should match your genre. Could you imagine if Stephen King’s It had a cute puppy on the cover? The reader would surely be in for a surprise. Now, that example may seem a bit extreme. But there are too many authors out there who don’t get specific enough with their picture. And remember, your photo shouldn’t just fit your genre. It should also support your specific book.”
The services mentioned below rank their stock in different categories. You should always check the license of a particular image before you use it on a print product. Each company offers various pricing and payment methods. You can buy a single image or several each month.
“Fonts are unquestionably one of the most important things that appear on a book cover – often being the “make or break” factor. The type of font you should use will largely depend on the genre that your book is written in. A recommendation that I made in my previous blog posts is to always look at the bestselling book covers within your genre.”
Or Google for book cover designers. Ask other authors about experiences working with a particular artist.
How to Make Sure Your Readers Love The Cover?
Publish different versions of the final cover on social media and ask your followers to voice their opinion. Cover reveals work as pre-release marketing. You can even design a campaign or contest around the cover reveal.
Want to start a writer’s newsletter? I heard the BLAH. But you want people to buy your book, don’t you? Everybody screams: yes! Maybe you have an author presence on several social media platforms, and creating another content channel feels like much work and no fun.
I always say: choose your weapons. We have our preferences, and someone swims like a fish on Twitter as the next person loves Instagram (I do). When you open a new channel to reach for your readers, nothing is more direct than a newsletter. The preferred message arrives at people’s private inboxes. The list of your newsletter subscribers is a database of potential book-buying customers.
The Introvert Dilemma
Many of us are introverts and miss the golden times when authors sat typing while sipping red wine and chain-smoking. The manuscript traveled via snail mail to the publisher who took care of the rest, which became history.
Well, those days are long gone. Even if you hook the agent with a genius query letter, and consequently, Barnes & Noble is dying to publish your book, they still want you to market it! The agent takes a look at your social media presence, and so does the publisher. Do you blog? How many subscribe to your newsletter? Three? Thirty? Three thousand? The numbers don’t lie; they tell the professionals that you know how to market, and you’re a potential moneymaker.
Writing is easy; selling the book is the hard part. Not selling has created more disgruntled ex-writers than booze and the Second World War combined.
I asked the members which issue I should blog about next, and the answer is (ta-da): Author Newsletter.
This is because writers think the newsletter is the hardest channel to create because of technical difficulties with WordPress plugins and what-not IT- problems. But there’s another obstacle which is more difficult to overcome: fear of marketing your brainchild.
Making a Connection
There’s no going around this evil duty: you must establish a newsletter. And newsletter marketing is so much more than blasting: “Buy my book!” on days without end.
“If you’re an author, this means identifying the target market for your books and understanding how they spend their time online. If you’re writing for a young adult audience, spend some time immersing yourself in the densely populated online world of YA readers and writers. What do they like to see from YA authors online? How do they discover new books and new authors?”
Think about your Social Media posts. You’ve established a set of content types and subjects which your followers enjoy. Use that knowledge when you create newsletters. Programs like MailChimp (which I use) have excellent tutorials that guide you toward better marketing. The web overfills with marketing courses for writers. Ask your author friends who sell impressive figures, on Amazon or elsewhere, how they studied marketing.
Embed a subscription form on your website. Sometimes you need to copy-paste a string or HTML- code from the newsletter software to WordPress or whoever hosts your site. Allow subscribers to sign up via a form in the sidebar or footer on every page of your website.
Decide how often you send. Once a month is enough if you ask me. This frequency also allows you time to design awesome content.
Gather subscribersbefore sending out anything. Offer a freebie in return for giving their email address.
Compose your newsletter. Promote the newsletter across Social Media and build your subscriber base.
Don’t add anyone into your subscribers unless you have their permission! Also, learn about spam legislation in your country.
The answer to this question depends on who you ask. Googling the search term: “What to put in your author newsletter” produces some great articles. Think of your products and who you are as a writer. Draw lines around what you feel comfortable sharing.
A list of possible subjects:
Share customer reviews
cover reveal, or a sneak peek
giveaways: a signed copy of your book or a chance to ask you questions about your characters
Share your blog
Exclusive articles that you don’t share elsewhere. Give your subscribers the feeling they are VIP, part of a selected few.
who you are as an author and a person
awards from writing competitions and honorable mentions
Remember that new skills take time to master. You spent several years learning writing and developed through trials and tribulations into the author you are today. Study how each post does. MailChimp and others offer excellent spreadsheets for statistics. Take heed of the percentages: how many opened your email? Did the opening produce link clicks? Don’t replay errors and use the themes & content which people love to open and follow.
Each link click loses a percentage of your customers. Design your newsletters in a way that offers direct, clear statements and endorses a call to action. Allow subscribers to comment and respond. Pick a theme for each newsletter. If you lead your subscribers into a maze of confusing directions, they won’t end up buying the product.
Seeing that only 1,3% of receivers ended up clicking the Shop Now-link of your recent newsletter might depress you, but the funnel explains what happened. It’s normal; most customers don’t come out as frequent buyers at the bottom.
“A marketing funnel is a collection of stages that prospective customers move through with the first stage being the awareness stage. Marketing funnels were designed to push these potential customers through the buyer’s journey to ultimately purchase a brand’s products or services.”
Source and more information on funneling:
Study funnels and everything else. And stay patient because an expert industry attempts to unravel the secrets of buyer decision making and the psychology of the hunter-gatherer. As an author, you are a start-up business, but leave time for child-like unchained creation. Do something small every day to add subscribers to your list. Post daily on social media and learn to publish content which has a demand. Before you know it, you have cracked the killer combination.
Even if you end up with the email addresses of sixty people, that’s sixty more than the guy or gal next to you.
Do you struggle with creating characters that feel like real people? You’re not alone. The job becomes harder when you have multiple books up your sleeve. Variation is tough work, and as humans, we are tempted to repeat models which worked in the past. Beware of the cookie-cutter character!
Character or Plot-driven?
If your writing style is plot-driven, you develop the three acts and the key scenes first, and characters develop after that. Maybe the first thing you envision is the historical era or the fantasy setting with intricate maps and systems of magic?
If you’re character-driven like me, you see the characters in your dreams. You hear them talk and envision them in different scenarios. I speak the dialogue out loud and practice the expressions of my heroine in front of a mirror. I form the MC and the villain first. The conflict brewing between them becomes my main idea, and their backstories take form later on. But a character with little to do is… yawn. Many writers elevate the characterization over the plot, but if you don’t get on with the story… wham! That’s the sound your book makes when the reader tosses it to the corner and shall never pick it up.
Which type of writer are you? Examine your preferences.
“It doesn’t matter how “interesting” the character is if you cannot create an antagonistic environment that chisels and defines that character. Even an awesome plot that takes the reader on the most mind-bending twists and turns will fall flat when depending on the strength of one-dimensional character. No matter how you approach storytelling, remember this: your story needs both character and plot.”
Let us return to the process which actors and actresses go through as they layer their next Oscar- nominating role. Yes, they have their work cut out for them, like the screenwriters who wrote the part which snatches the attention of Anthony Hopkinsor Angelina Jolie.
Method acting means a technique in which an actor aspires to complete emotional identification with a role. Method acting was developed by Elia Kazan and Lee Strasberg in particular and is associated with star actors such as Marlon Brando and Dustin Hoffman.
“Method actors have this amazing ability to not only get into character but live through the character and bring an unsurpassable depth. What I love about Method Actors is that they don’t appear to be acting, they appear to be living; they know how to get into character so well that you believe they ARE the character. Lots of method actors are very humble about their work, but when you see them on stage or screen, it is electrifying, to say the least.”
As a practice, compile a Pinterestmoodboard of your favorite movie actors in their most bedazzling roles and compare them to their photos taken on the red carpet. The difference between the person and the character is striking! Great actors and actresses take their roles seriously. Whatever they do, whether on stage or screen, will be forever etched either onto film or in the minds of their audience. They move hearts and will live on in the souls of their fans. The mechanism of transferring emotional identification is your aim as a writer.
Watch a clip of Meryl Streep On Accessing The Characters Within:
If you write from personal experience, you have an array of intimate emotions at your disposal, but you might struggle with transferring that emotion to the inexperienced reader. The actress uses her director as a mirror. Who do you use? Duh! Beta readers, of course. Remember to ask if they felt the emotional fireworks. This is important because the book lives or dies viaShowing, Not Telling. The audience experiences what your Point-of-View character senses with his eyes, nose, ears, skin, and so forth.
Remember that the reader must also understand the villain on some human level, and you are responsible for making that happen. A character actor villain has what’s called a presence. When he steps on the stage, he rules the scene. How does that happen? You’ll feel the tingling on your skin and the chills down your spine.
Ruining Your Favorite Movie
Warning: using my method might ruin watching movies for you. Like when you started learning the craft of authorship, which spoiled the enjoyment of a great book. That’s because you know how the chassis works and cannot see the beauty of the Ferrari sportscar anymore.
Watch clips of great method actors in their star roles. Choose characters that resemble your own. The clips help you construct body-language and subtle expressions because method actors are rarely flamboyant—unless the role demands precisely that. Think of Joker in Batman: he’s a showman, which means he knows how to get the audience’s attention big time. Admire how Heath Ledgerbreathes life into the iconic villain.
The age of the internet has made extensive research more accessible than ever before. You have libraries of movie clips to watch. See how Anthony Hopkins or J. T. Walshanimates a bad guy. Who is your favorite hero? How has he aged and changed? Remember that the nature of characters is perpetual motion. Does blind idealism fill your favorite heroine, or does she come from between the-rock-and-a-hard place?
However, this method doesn’t allow copycatting. You shouldn’t copy a movie on paper; its a copyright infringement and punishable by law. Watching great actors at work can be compared to moodboarding: seeking material for inspiration.
Two Sides of The Same Coin
“The best and worst specimens of humanity are two sides of the same coin. Heroes and villains are not categories that are divided by the expansive sea of morality never to have their shores meet. On the contrary, both the most exalted heroism and diabolical villainy are manifestations of a human spirit that has become capable of great things. And great things need not be good things.”
What differentiates good from evil? Point-of-view. Yes, sin is relative, and you can use this in your writing because humans are a social species. Skillful actors mud their characters layer by layer, and they mirror themselves on other people. One of the best tricks you can throw at your readers is to let someone else reflect the bad guy. Describe how the military villain’s subordinates act when he enters the room. Show a conversation between the hero and his sidekick about the dark one.
If you want to dig deeper into the depths which a character actor would use, show the villain’s first crime: when he wasn’t yet a developed killer.
The sides of the coin are the reason why the same brilliant actor portrays heroes and villains with incredible authenticity.