If you’re a querying writer looking for representation, knowing how other writers fared in the process is sometimes really valuable.
This was brought to home when I saw a thread on Facebook writer’s group I belong to that discussed how many queries it took to get that writer the agent. I was surprised at most of the answers, which were in the 50-100 range.
I decided to ask Book Twitter. Earlier this week, I conducted an unscientific Twitter poll in the writing community asking “How many queries did it take you before you landed your agent?”
Agented writers only please. How many queries did it take you before you landed your agent?
There are certain conclusions to be drawn that so many writers took under 50 to get to yes. It was likely that the writer had:
A well written and eye catching query
A solid and saleable manuscript
A professional feel
In other words, the writer was ready.
Do not slit your wrists if you are 150+
I think the hazard of this poll is to assume that if you’re in the 100-150 or 150 range, that you have no hope.
That’s a dangerous assumption because it clearly does take that many for some people. The caveat is, as Mike says, that there’s a difference between casting a wide net and simply not having good enough work. It’s hard to objectively assess that with your own work. But if you have a high request rate and you’re just sending out queries while you wait, the numbers could pile up. That’s different from 100 queries and no requests.
Some of the respondents to the poll had some huge successes.
Gina Denny told me, “This was my third MS. The first was a niche market, queried at only a handful of niche-market small presses. The second was queried too soon – 70ish queries, with only 10 requests, including multiple R&Rs that asked for wildly different things. This MS was my third. It got me into PitchWars in 2014, and then racked up only 27 queries and had ten requests on those 27 queries.”
Today we welcome the amazing editor Alison Weiss, who is hilarious and wonderful! She shares her thoughts on when and what author websites should exist and have, from the unique perspective of an acquiring editor. (If you didn’t catch the first in this series, check this interview with agent Jennifer Johnson-Blalock!)
Q: When do editors view an author’s website? Upon receiving an agent submission, requesting material, or at the offer stage?
AW: I will freely admit that I am a bit of a stealthy spy when it comes to author websites. And I look at them at different points in the submission process for different reasons. If an agent sends me a pitch that sounds deliciously intriguing or I’ve heard the author’s name, but I can’t recall why or they’ve published books and I want to know more about them, I may go and nose around their sites. If I’m halfway through a manuscript, and I’m getting excited, I may go snooping at that point. I need to know if I’m getting excited over someone who is crazy or just a genuinely nice person. (It’s almost always the latter.) If I know I love a book and I want to take it to acquisitions, but I need to build my case about why not only is it a stunning prospect for the list, but the author has the greatest platform and interesting background, which make this acquisition a slam dunk, I’m definitely looking at your website.
In short, I will be looking, so make it a good one.
Q: Many writers — agented and unagented — are very active on Twitter. What information are you hoping to get from an author website, and how is that different from a social media presence?
AW: On Twitter or Facebook or, really, any social media, I get a sense of how many followers someone has, how often he or she engages in the community and, perhaps, a sense of his or her level of comfort using social media. On a website, I want to get a sense of the writer. What’s your story? How did you come to writing? Who is the audience you’re hoping to reach? Do you have a family? Do you have a job that takes you away for long stretches at a time? (a.k.a. I spend 4 months at a stretch every year in the Amazonian rainforest and am absolutely unavailable). Obviously, you have a life and you need to, well, live it! But as an editor, I like to start to get a sense of how accessible you’re going to be to work with me on your book and your availability to promote once the book hits the market. (Again, at a pre-acquisition stage, this is hardly a make-or-break but I need to know for those pesky editorial letters.) I expect a level of basic professional information: any books you’ve had published, by whom, buy buttons; if you have an agent, contact information; links to social media. You should have a little about your book or if you don’t have anything published or soon-to-be published, some insight into what you write. This is your chance to define you on your own terms. I use that information when I’m pitching you and your book.
Q: How much does branding, design, and presentation help when you are considering a client?
AW: I like a clean site. One that’s easily navigable. I don’t need all the bells and whistles. This is your business card on the internet. It should reflect that you are a professional and have thought about your presentation. But it certainly isn’t make-or-break for me.
Q: Does having a blog matter or is this really just personal preference about keeping one?
AW: You should have a blog only if you are going to regularly post to your blog. If I go to your website, and see that your last post was in 2014, and the one before that was in 2012, well, that’s not very useful. I firmly believe that social media (and I count blogs in that mix) is a very important factor in building your brand, but you need to choose the social media that you enjoy and works for you because you’re going to be there a lot. If you feel great on a blog, wonderful. If you love hopping on to Twitter all the time for 140 characters or less of chatter, super! But if you’re going to post a couple things and flee, you’re not helping yourself and actually seem like you’re not investing in your brand. And that’s going to make me question if you’ll have the commitment to making your book the best it can possibly be.
Q: How does a website with poor design or questionable content reflect on an author when editors research potential clients? What should an author NOT put up on their website?
AW: As I said before, I like a clean website. I don’t need all the bells and whistles. They may be fancy and pretty, but they can also create serious loading issues.
I want to know about an author, but I don’t need to know everything about his/her life. If you’re writing about raising kids, great, but otherwise, I don’t really care if your darling is being potty trained. If you’re writing about travel, of course I want to see gorgeous shots from your journey. Do I need the family photo from vacation ordinarily? Probably not. This is a business page for your brand. It should cater to you as an author and take into account your audience–if you’re writing for kids, obviously, your site should be kid-friendly.
I will admit I have seen warning flags on websites or social media that have made me really consider if I’m interested in working with someone–questionable content, engaging in bullying behavior, a large number of typos! Don’t do these things.
Q: Is it better for writers to have a domain name (www.bigauthor.com) or a free blog (bigauthor.blogspot.com)?
AW: From my perspective working for a publisher, having a domain name is better. It isn’t that expensive to buy your domain for the most-part, and then you can control that piece of your brand. It is far more likely that someone interested in you is going to type in joeshmo.com and if it isn’t you, they may take the time to search and be properly directed, but they may not.
Q: Do you recommend setting up a website ahead of querying agents or going on submission? If not, then before announcing a pub deal?
AW: I think it’s better to start building your brand before you start querying agents and then, by extension, your agent starts querying editors on your behalf. It gives us somewhere to go learn more about you. It does not need to be your final, my-book-is-out-on-the-market site. But if there’s nothing in the ether, it makes it harder for me to gather information about you for me to sell to the decision-makers inside my publishing house.
Q: Post-sale, what should author websites have? How long in advance of the publication date should authors begin to establish their brand?
Post-sale, your website is going to be your hub for all that is you and your publishing career. And it will change over time, as there is more to share with would-be readers, or your fanbase as it grows.
I want to see the following on any site for a soon-to-be released author’s book:
Cover front and center
Links to all social media: If you’re on it and want people to find you there, you need a widget
Buy buttons: You should be covering all major channels–B&N, Amazon, Indiebound at minimum
Contact information for your agent
Contact information for your publisher
FAQs: They save you so much time
Reviews as they come in
If you have these, you have a good place to start.
Thank you, Alison!
Alison S. Weiss is an editor at Sky Pony Press, where her focus is on chapter books through YA. Recent and soon-to-be released projects include Jessica Taylor’s Wandering Wild, Kristina McBride’s A Million Times Goodnight, the Project Droid series by New York Times bestselling author Nancy Krulik, Amanda Burwasser, and illustrated by Mike Moran, dotwav by Mike A. Lancaster, Timekeeper by Tara Sim, Monsterville: A Lissa Black Production by Sarah S. Reida, Fear the Drowning Deep by Sarah Glenn Marsh, and It’s a Mystery, Pig Face! by Wendy MacLeod McKnight. She’s worked with New York Times best-selling author Jessica Verday (Of Monsters and Madness), Agatha Award winner Penny Warner (The Code Busters Club series), YALSA-Award winning Sarah Cross (Kill Me Softly and Tear You Apart), ITW Award Finalist Kristen Lippert-Martin (Tabula Rasa), Amalie Howard, and Sarah McGuire, among others. She also assisted on Christopher Myers’s H.O.R.S.E., which won a 2013 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Award and the 2014 Odyssey Award. Follow her on Twitter @alioop7.
Today we’re thrilled to welcome Jennifer Johnson-Blalock, an agent with Liza Dawson Associates, as the first in our new series on talking with publishing industry professionals about websites and marketing.
As you will see, Jennifer has some great thoughts about websites for authors, both pre-and post-publishing!
Q. When do agents view an author’s website? Upon receiving a query, requesting material, or at the offer stage?
J J-B: The timing is different depending on category for me. With nonfiction, I might look when I get a query, and I’ll definitely look when considering the material. Platform matters a great deal with nonfiction, and I want to make sure an author has an established online presence.
With fiction, I’ll Google an author before setting up a time for the offer call, but it’s really more out of curiosity than anything else. I’m not necessarily expecting to see certain things in terms of an online presence, but I do want to know what’s out there.
Q. Many writers — agented and unagented — are very active on Twitter. What information are you hoping to get from an author website, and how is that different from a social media presence?
J J-B: I think of an author website as just a very basic landing page. People need to learn a bit about you, what your books are and how to buy them, and how to get in touch with you (so for agented authors, this would include your agent’s name and a link to her site) and find you on various social media platforms. It can be pretty simple when you’re first getting started–I think my client Kristin Rockaway has a good example of a clean, informative website.
A website is somewhat permanent (you can change things, but you don’t want to do so every day), while Twitter is somewhat ephemeral (people screenshot, so don’t say terrible things, but otherwise it’s there and gone). What this means to me is that you can have a little fun with Twitter, let some more of your personality out. It’s interactive, and people want to engage with a real, multidimensional person, not a book promotion robot. My website for instance, has basic, professional information about who I am, who my clients are, how to submit projects to me, and how to contact me. On Twitter, I definitely talk about work and my clients, but I also talk about The Bachelorette and bad dates and good food and all sorts of amusing life things.
Q. How much does branding, design, and presentation help when you are considering a new client?
J J-B: It’s a bonus factor. If I fall in love with the book, I’ll represent it, regardless of whether an author has a strong brand, but it makes me more enthusiastic and confident about an author when she has a well designed site. It indicates a certain savviness and a readiness to promote your work. My client Rebecca Barrow just designed this site as she prepares for her book launch next summer. I think the design really reflects her personality, and I would have been thrilled to see it if she had it up when querying.
Q. Does having a blog matter or is this really just personal preference about keeping one?
J J-B: To a certain extent, it’s personal preference. When you’re in the pre-agent writing stage, a blog can be a great way to start to build a platform, particularly if you can provide helpful writing advice, interviews with people in the industry, etc. It does take up a lot of time, though, and I think it’s better not to have a blog rather than have one you post on a couple times a year.
Once you have a publishing deal, though, you’ll want some way to communicate with your readers, and having a blog on your site is a good way to do so. If you update it less frequently, you can call it “News,” and just use it to keep track of your book’s progress. A periodic newsletter is also a good idea once you’ve started to develop a platform. I love Emery Lord’s monthly newsletter, for instance, which she distributes with TinyLetter.
Q. How does a website with poor design or questionable content reflect on an author when agents research potential clients? What should an author NOT put up on their website?
J J-B: It’s definitely a negative factor–whether it would prevent me from signing an author depends on how bad the content is. If it’s just a matter of poor design, I might bring it up when we talked and see if they were open to hiring a web designer. If the content is offensive, that would keep me from signing the writer.
As I mentioned above, your website really just needs to have basic information–where an author might get into more trouble is with a blog. Generally speaking, I think it’s best not to alienate people with your content and to keep it high level and professional. Think of it as a website for a business; it’s not the place to share personal details. That being said, though, your website should reflect the content of your work because that’s the foundation of your brand. So if you write books on feminism, for instance, your website is likely to have content that would make some conservative people angry–that’s okay.
Q. Is it better for writers to have a domain name (www.bigauthor.com) or a free blog (bigauthor.blogspot.com)?
J J-B: I think in 2016, everyone should have their own domain name. Buy it now before someone else does. I’ve been sitting on mine for a few years now until I had something I wanted to do with it. If you can’t afford it yet (it’s about $10-20 a year), a free site is fine, but you should absolutely have a domain name once you sell a book.
Q. Do you recommend setting up a website ahead of querying agents? If not, then before announcing a pub deal?
J J-B: It’s never too early to start building your brand and finding your audience. Think of it this way: If I Google you before deciding to offer representation, your website is something out there over which you have complete control. Having a website gives you the power to create a positive impression. So I recommend creating a site as early as possible, but I don’t think it’s imperative until after you have a book deal.
Q. Post-sale, what should author websites have? How long in advance of the publication date should authors begin to establish their brand?
J J-B: About 6-8 months before publication (rough estimate–varies depending on the publisher), your website will start to play a much bigger role. That’s when you’ll have a cover to show, galleys will be going out soon, preorders will start to become available. You should keep your website updated with all of this information.
As your career grows, so will your website. Eventually you may have links to interviews and reviews, a list of tour dates, FAQs, and so on. Basically, you want to collect all the useful and positive information out there about you and your books and put it into a well designed package so that a reader can come to your site and learn everything there is to know.
Thanks so much, Jennifer!If you have questions, please feel free to leave a comment and we’ll answer it! Meanwhile, if you don’t have a website and are ready for one, take a look at our work and shoot us an email!
About Jennifer: Jennifer Johnson-Blalock joined Liza Dawson Associates as an associate agent in 2015, having previously interned at LDA in 2013 before working as an agent’s assistant at Trident Media Group. Jennifer graduated with honors from The University of Texas at Austin with a B.A. in English and earned a J.D. from Harvard Law School. Before interning at LDA, she practiced entertainment law and taught high school English and debate. Follow her on Twitter @JJohnsonBlalock, and visit her website: www.jjohnsonblalock.com.
If you’d like to hear more from us, sign up for our newsletter! We send out updates, website tips, and reading recommendations
If you subscribe to the MSWL newsletter, then you would have received the latest one this week in which we (Mike and Sierra!) answered some reader website questions.
Here are the questions and our answers. If you have more general questions about websites for authors, feel free to send us an email and we’ll answer them here on the blog!
Q: What things should a writer consider prior to having their own website?
A: A writer should consider how much work he or she plans to put into the website. Will you have a blog? Will you blog regularly? (It’s okay if you don’t, but don’t set yourself up with a blog if you don’t want one and then force yourself into it.) What do you want the website to do–and who is your audience? If your audience is readers, then the website has a very specific goal: interest that
reader enough to make a sale. You’re also selling yourself, so you need to infuse the content and design with your personality. If your audience is varied, for example readers, other writers, and librarians, you’ll want to make sure the site is set up for those audiences all at once. It can be a tricky balance, but thinking through your website structure and content ahead of time is key.
When choosing a website designer, look at their website. If the design is cumbersome or looks template-y (that is, overly slick and formulaic), then you might get the same thing. Does the designer do custom work, or do they stick you with a template? A template, especially in WordPress, can have a lot of limitations to the things you do to it or add later. Does the designer have a sense of marketing? Will they understand your audience, or will they simply throw something at you and hope it sticks? A custom design should integrate your brand elements into the overall look. This can be made up of a number things: your personal brand, design elements from your book cover, etc. However, the key thing to remember is that this website represents you, so make sure that whoever you work with understands your brand and incorporates that into a custom look. You simply won’t get that with a template. (Hint: we don’t use templates!)
Q: I write predominately for children and YA, should I stick to appropriate content?
Absolutely. This is part of knowing your audience. Kids visit author websites as part of school projects or because they love the books and want to know if more are coming. Some of our MG clients have tapped into this by engaging younger readers with games on their site. Others know that librarians and teachers will visit the author site for resources, like study guides. One of our author clients is a former teacher and she created a reading guide with questions relating the book to Common Core standards. Any author can do this, it just takes a but of research — and man, what a way to show you’re connected with your audience!
If you’re an author who just doesn’t see yourself going that far, don’t beat yourself up, but do keep in mind that a site filled with profanity and political messages won’t do anything to further your readership. Readers won’t come back.
What do you think? Have a question? Email us or leave it in the comments below!
Today we have a special treat: an interview with one of our earliest author website clients, Lorrie Thomson.
Lorrie contacted us a few years ago, before her first book (Equilibrium) had been published. She had an agent and a book deal, and she needed a website. She had taken a class on WordPress and, as I remember, told us that she learned enough to know she didn’t want to do her own website!
We had a few questions for her about her website and what she’s up to.
Sierra: What’s been going on since A Measure of Happiness was published?
Lorrie: To borrow the title of Dani Shapiro’s most-recent memoir, I’m still writing! I recently started working on a story I feel very strongly about. A story that may just be the most challenging writing endeavor I’ve ever embarked upon. I’m not trying to be cryptic. (Okay, maybe I am.) But it’s too new to discuss. Until further notice, I’m going to follow the wisdom of my late nana and knock on wood, spit, and throw salt over my left shoulder to ward off evil spirits. (Kenahorah.) But if you’d like to be one of the first to receive solid news, please go to my website to sign up for my occasional newsletters. Yup, Sierra made sure a sign-up form was on my site. She insisted.
Sierra: When we first began working together, your first book, Equilibrium, had not yet been published. We built your website without knowing yet how your career or needs for a website would pan out. Now your third book has been published (A Measure of Happiness). How has your website held up for your career?
Lorrie: Before Equilibriumcame out, the thought of constructing a website was daunting. you and Mike took me through the options, from splash/cover page to News/blog. We discussed, in detail, what each page entailed. And you directed me to specific author websites so I could “see” what you were talking about. You made the process fun. Yes, my website has held up well for my three novels. The hardest part was the initial setup.
When I had release dates for novels two and three, What’s Left Behind and A Measure of Happiness, I simply contacted you to request additional pages and sale buttons. We had a great foundation upon which to build. Some additions, such as creating playlists, I was able to complete myself. And I even enjoyed it! Day-to-day tasks like adding reviews and posting news are simple. FYI, I still consider myself a bit of a technophobe. But in reality I’m probably “middle of the road” in terms of technical proficiency. Either way, tasks performed repeatedly get easier. I promise.
Sierra: Was there anything that has came up in the years since we built your site that your site has not been equipped to handle? How about the ways in which it HAS handled things needed by an author–book clubs, signings, news, audience outreach, etc?
Lorrie: People have used my website to contact me directly about attending book club meetings, and to request signings via my publicist at Kensington Books. All of which I enjoy tremendously.
Sierra: We’ve worked together some over the years to update your website to add on things as your career has grown. How has WordPress been for you in terms of day-to-day handling?
Lorrie: One of the most useful features has been letting readers know about my books a few months before their release. They get to see the beautiful book covers, read synopses, and—about a month out—read an excerpt. They get excited about future releases right alongside me. And even pre-order my books. Did I mention you can purchase autographed paperbacks and eBooks? That too!
Sierra: We built your website with some very personal photos that meant a lot to you and who you are. How have those elements held up in terms of branding and marketing?
Lorrie: I love my website, and it’s held up well for novels one, two, and three. But for book four, I might want to make a few updates — you and I have already discussed updating the site. I adore my splash page. My actual home is on the Home page, how cool is that? But I may want to change it up a bit, and add some photos more specific to my novels. I’m already looking forward to the challenge!
Picture this. You get an email from someone, and they have an important question. You answer the question, taking time to explain your answer, and hit send.
And then you get the dreaded “Internet Mail Delivery Failure – Delivery Notification: Delivery has failed” email. The reason? “Over quota.” Here is an actual screen shot of an email I just received:
They never get the message. And they’re probably wondering why you’re not answering.
What does Over Quota mean? Typically, it means that the web host your recipient uses sets a size limit on his or her email, and he or she might not even know it. When the inbox reaches its limit, all incoming email is rejected. In our line of business, our clients need to purchase web hosting to house their website. Typically, web space comes with email space, too– and you want to pay attention to what’s offered. I’ll explain.
Why You Care about Email Space
Good web hosting companies provide email addresses with the domain name, and lots of email space. For authors, this is key. Having and firstname.lastname@example.org email protects your personal email from being out there, plus it looks professional. If you’ve purchased your own domain name, why not have your email to go with it? You can interact with readers using this email.
But not all email offerings are the same.
When purchasing web hosting space, you need to make sure your email accounts aren’t set at a limit, because chances are, you’ll exceed it. This is a trick on their part to get you to upgrade to better, more expensive packages. Don’t fall for it. The day I learned that my email quota was capped was the day I switched web hosts for my freelance business–because I was starting to lose emails and clients couldn’t get through. Bad!
Web Hosts with Good Email Space
Let’s look at how you could figure out whether email space is capped. We’re going to look at four popular web hosts, one of which we regularly recommend to our clients. But note that in order to find out how much email space they offer, you really have to dig for it. For all these companies, you have to look for a “compare plans” or actually select the plan to see the specifications about. Do that! Make sure you understand everything you’re getting.
Mike and I love Bluehost. We recommend it to all our clients because it’s reliable. However, they recently changed their price structure, and Basic Plans now cap their email space, which is a real drag. We’re reevaluating whether to recommend them anymore based on this, although as you’ll see, it’s still going to be one of the best choices.
Here’s a screen shot of what they offer. For $3.95 a month, you get email, but they cap you at 100 mb! That is no bueno. They know this, which is why they offer unlimited space at $6.95 a month. Look at the line under Email Storage:
I used to be a loyal customer of 1and1’s but their email space cap drove me nuts. Check their prices: .99 cents a month for the first year! BUT then it’s $6.99 a month after that, and do you get unlimited email? Well– scroll down.
I had to really click around to get to the email specs, and here they are. At the .99 for the first year price, then $6.95 you get a 2 GB of email space. Not good.
3. Go Daddy
Go Daddy is cheap and popular, but we typically don’t recommend them because their servers are known hacking targets, which means your web space is regualrly affected. However, recent interactions with them have shown better customer service, and it could be that they’re strengthening their offering. Let’s look at their pricing. Well, the basic (economy) plan is $3.99 a month fir the first year, then $7.99 after that (if you renew with them–all kinds of limits here). Again, I had to really dig around to find the web space cap.
Here it is. With any of their plans, you’re getting email space caps. So you could pay for the $14.99 Ultimate Plan and STILL get email space caps!
Our final web host that we’re comparing is Hostgator. They offer the usual 3.95 basic plan, but I am sorry to say I could not find at all where email space is mentioned. Which tells me it’s capped. Bad. Worse, that Hatchling Plan is only $3.95 for the first month. Then it goes to $5.95 a month, although that isn’t clear by looking at their chart.
Here’s a summary of all four hosts and what they offer.
$3.99 a month for basic plan
Doesn’t go up after the first year, but requires a 3-year sign up in order to secure that price (we typically recommend this)
Caps email space at 100 mb. For the $6.95 plan, you get unlimited email
Price for unlimited email space: $6.95 a month
.99 cents for the first year, $6.95 thereafter.
Email space is capped at 2 GB. For the $4.99 plan, you get unlimited email, but that goes to $9.99 after the first year
Price for unlimited email space: $9.95 a month
$3.99 a month for the first year, $7.99 after that
Email storage is never unlimited, it’s capped on all its plans
Price for unlimited email space: not offered
3.95 a month but with an asterisk that says in tiny print at the bottom that this price only reflects 20% your FIRST INVOICE – thereafter it’s $5.95 a month!
No mention of email space capping — not good
Price for unlimited email space: ????
Based on these prices, we will continue to recommend Bluehost. As well, we are Bluehost affiliates and we often get special pricing to extend to our clients (usually during a promotional period). If you want to sign up with Bluehost, here’s our link. I hate to say that the $6.95 plan is the one to go for, but there aren’t any hidden charges after a year like the other hosts have. You could always start with the $3.95 a month plan and then upgrade.
I hope this post has helped you understand the ways in which web hosts work and offer plans. If you have questions, leave them in the comments!
For many authors, the idea of the business side of publishing can be nerve-wracking — especially when they start understanding that they hold the greatest responsibility for their future. Not their publisher, not their agent, but themselves, regardless of whether they are traditionally published or self-published.
While a Big 5 author certainly has a marketing and publicity team advantage over independent/self-publishing, ultimately, the author needs to get engaged and build a grassroots following.
In business terms, this is known as branding. Or as Entrepreneur magazine puts it:
Branding is a marketing strategy that involves creating a differentiated name and image — often using a logo and/or tag line — in order to establish a presence in the consumer’s mind and attract and keep customers.
Your Brand is NOT Your Genre
How does that translate to authors? First off, your brand is NOT your genre. Your genre should certainly influence your brand as it defines the broad strokes of your target demographic, but it’s not the only element of it. For authors, it’s:
a mix of their stories (tone, subject, genre)
type of book (voice, length, etc.)
personal elements (background, notable and appropriate interests, related ventures, etc.)
any particular quirks that acts as a bridge to engaging audiences.
For many authors, their website is the foundation of their brand. Social media and other outreach elements are used to grow that brand.
Visually, a brand need to sync up with the author’s identity. For websites in particular, visitors take in an impression in less than five seconds, kind of like a billboard on a freeway, so the design must translate the brand in one glance.
Let’s take a look at a few Atmosphere author sites to see how brand influenced the overall design of their website:
Kristen Kittscher: Successful author Kristen Kittscher needed to integrate existing artwork and assets from her popular Young & Yang series. The key art provided the direction of the design, and other elements such as font, layout, and accents needed to translate the whimsy and target age of her brand.
Jennie K. Brown: With Jennie we were looking for something playful and whimsical. The inexact lines of the font cover the whimsy — just like her book cover font (which are not the same) and the color matched the feel of her book cover. The flags and the bunting around the site helped convey a sense of childlike fun, contrasting with the nice straight lines of the overall structure to let you know this site was friendly for kids, but serious.
Jennie’s tagline, “Author of books for kids” says it all and the design needed to reflect that. We have grass on the bottom– a playing field for kids– and a welcoming place on the web.
Mike Chen (hey, that’s me!): When we started discussing my author site, Sierra treated me like any other client. My genre — character-driven science fiction — dictated imagery that said sci-fi but without the serious edge that traditional artwork entails. After some searching, we found a fantastic illustration of 50s-style robots. It immediately translated a sci-fi vibe but with a lightness that indicated that my writing was far from the traditionally hard SF edge of Asimov. Note the modern font and slanted header — other elements that bring an element of personality that isn’t traditional for sci-fi.
See how the different elements of a brand (genre, personality, target audience, etc.) combine into the visual design? Once you’ve established this, the next step is to maintain absolute consistency in all aspects of your reader engagement: social media headers, business cards, newsletters, etc.
Branding isn’t just visual. It also includes the message that you put forward about yourself.
For many authors, the About page on their website will be the first step to crafting this message. Not sure what to put on that page? Sign up for our mailing list (we send out cool tips and downloads about once a month and never spam you) and get our free About Page Worksheet to get a head start on building your brand.
This is a question we get asked a lot, and we thought it needed a post! After we finish an author client website, it’s good to go. We generally don’t install website traffic stat tools unless specifically asked, because the stat tools people use vary widely.
We recommend StatCounter, which is free and fantastic. If you want a more comprehensive look and expect a lot of web traffic, then we recommend using StatCounter in conjunction with Google Analytics.
How to Install StatCounter
StatCounter is ridiculously great. Mike was using it for a long time before he told me about it and it’s so good that I was like, “Mike! You’ve been holding out on me!” To use it:
You’ll be asked to fill in the URL. At this screen, choose “Invisible Tracking.” You don’t need everyone seeing your traffic stats.
Click “Add Project.” Keep this window open. You’ll be coming back to it in a moment.
Go to your WordPress dashboard. Click Plugins.
Click Add New. Type in “StatCounter” in the Search Plugins box. Choose the one called “StatCounter – Free Real Time Visitor Stats.” Install that.
Now, hop back to your StatCounter. It should be on a page called “Choose an Installation Guide for your Website” with a long list of website types. Scroll down and choose WordPress.
Click the second box on the next page, “WordPress.org.”
Capture the project id number, in bold, and security code. Go to your WordPress dashboard and under Settings, click StatCounter. On that page, you’ll enter the project ID and security code. I recommend just keeping both windows open and copy and pasting.
In WordPress, hit “Update Options” and you should be good to go!
Now, to see what your traffic looks like in StatCounter, you can go through your WordPress dashboard or you can go to Statcounter.com. Either way, click on the “Recent Visitor Activity” link on the left hand side. This one is my favorite. You’ll get a list of the town, Internet provider, and IP address of people who visited — and what page they were looking at. There’s loads of other things you can see too, like download activity and visitor paths (which other pages they looked at).
Another interesting stat to see through this? What devices people are using to visit your site. For my site, sierragodfrey.com, for example, 51% of my visitors are using a desktop screen to visit me. Only 12% are using mobile devices. For our Atmosphere site here, we know that most people access the site on Apple devices. It’s fascinating stuff.
How to Install Google Analytics
The standard version of Google Analytics is free for any Google Account. You’ll receive a code with a UA number (looks like UA-123456-22); you can either copy the provided code and put it in your site’s header or you can input that UA number into any number of plugins that help activate it for WordPress sites.
StatCounter is a very effective tool for low-traffic (sub-100 visits per week) as it lets you break down individual users with detailed information. Google Analytics works better at analyzing trends across larger sample sizes. It comes with a much larger selection of reports and filters to help you drill down specifics such as:
Desktop vs. tablet vs. mobile percentages
Behavior flow from page to page
Real-time views of what people are looking at
History of internal search terms (again, only useful for much larger or heavy traffic sites)
In general, the most important data you’ll glean from Google Analytics are general audience behavior — your bounce rate (the percentage of users that leave, AKA bounce, after one page view), the length of sessions, whether your site attracts returning viewers or new viewers, and the most popular pages/actions, along with how they get there and where they went to. You can also set up custom experiments to track specific actions.
Hopefully, you’re a massive author getting a ton of traffic, and in that case, Google Analytics provides plenty of insight in the facets of your site that are the most engaging. Forward-thinking authors can use this info to devise strategies for launching contests, ebook giveaways, and other promotions.
Do you use a website statistics tool? What do you like to see when you look at stats?