Different kinds of authors need different things from their home pages. Here is how to make sure you have the right kind of homepage.
- Not all authors are the same, their homepages need to do different things.
- Your homepage needs to:
- Satisfy your visitor’s desires (why are they visiting your website in the first place)
- Accomplish your goals. (what do you want them to do now that they are on your site)
James L Rubart (Jim): And in this episode, we’re going to talk about the five different kinds of homepages that authors use and figure out which one is going to work best for you. So Thomas, we’re telling people that not all homepages work for all authors. One size does not fit all. Is that what you’re saying?
Thomas Umstattd Jr.: That’s right. Different authors need different things from their home pages. And part of the reason this is the case is that your readers are different. So not all authors have the same kind of readers and not all authors are in the same place in their career. So they don’t have necessarily the same things to say. But ultimately your home page needs to satisfy your visitors’ desires. So what do they desire when they come to your website? What do they want? What are they looking for? And it needs to accomplish your goals as an author. So if you’re trying to sell your book, you’re going to have a different kind of homepage than if you’re trying to build anticipation for your first book that’s not out yet.
Jim: OK, so let’s go to the first homepage Web site. What would you call that, Thomas?
Homepage #1 Placeholder Website
- Perhaps the best kind of website for unpublished novelists.
- Goal: start building domain authority and claim your place on the web.
- Look professional enough to impress publishers, agents, potential readers
- This is your business card
- Link to your social media
- Mailchimp signup form for book updates.
- What is the action you want them to take?
Thomas: So the first kind of home page is what I’ll call a placeholder Web site. In fact, this home page isn’t just a home page. It is the entire Web site. So if you’re a novelist and you’re writing your first book, you need to have a home page.. You need to have yourname dot com or your name, your middle name, and your last name dot com–whatever it is you’re able to get reserved so you can start to build some authority, some reputation, some age on that domain. Google likes domains that have been around for a long time.
You want to start that time as soon as possible. And also you want to something you’re able to put on your business card, something to be able to give agents— or, if you’re going indie, to cover designers— just so that you exist, so you’re real. You’re not real until you’re really on Google. So you need to have that web site, but it doesn’t need to be this big complicated web site with lots of pages. A single web page is fine. So for a placeholder Web site.
Jim: Well, as you mentioned, this is your business card. This is where agents and editors and potential readers are going to go to find you. They want to see that you exist. Until you exist with a home page or just one page, people are not going to think you’re serious, so that’s why it’s critical.
Thomas: That’s right. Your goal here with this kind of web page is to start building your authority for Google and to start building your newsletter so that as people are stumbling across– you know, they hear about you, or you’re at a Christmas party and you’re like “oh yeah. And you can find me at my name dot com.” They go there, they sign up for your newsletter. You’re starting to build that newsletter.
It will be slow at first but that’s fine. Slow is better than nothing, which is what a lot of authors have while they’re working on their book. And then you want it to look professional enough to impress whoever it is that you need to impress. And the easiest way to do this is to just keep it simple. White background, big image, some big buttons, a couple of paragraphs. Don’t try to go crazy. That is actually the easiest way to look professional.
Jim: The other thing you want to do here is you want to link to your social media, where you’re active on social media. Because if somebody comes and sees, they might go “oh I wonder what their presence is like” and I’m thinking specifically of editors and agents here. They’re going to say “oh I wonder what their activity on Twitter is” or Facebook, or Instagram, Pinterest, whatever it is, you do want to have links on that page that go to your social media where you’re active.
Thomas: The next thing you want is a headshot and a bio. So just a one paragraph bio is fine and a good headshot. You probably already have one. This doesn’t have to be a back-of-the-book quality headshot. It’s just a placeholder headshot. So preferably some have good lighting, not something awful, and not something with somebody else in it, but a good headshot of yourself with some good lighting. Just again as a placeholder until you’re ready.
A year from now or five years from now when your book comes out, you can update this. Remember this is a temporary website. You’re not committed to this home page for the rest of your life.
Jim: The other thing you want to do is you want to have a Mailchimp sign up form, or, put more simply, you want to have a place where people can sign up for your newsletter so they can get updates on what’s going on with you. Make that very simple. But there are people that are going to come and go “oh! Well, I’d be interested when Thomas comes out with that novel. I’m going to sign up so that he can notify me.”
Thomas: And the reason why we’re recommending MailChimp—again, you’re not necessarily committed to MailChimp moving forward— but MailChimp is free up to 2000 subscribers, so you can start to build your list without spending any money.
Another great tool for your one page placeholder website is MyBookProgress. So MyBookProgress will allow you to show the progress you’re making on your book, but also the active updating— it keeps you scored to see if you’re going to hit your goal or not. So it’s doing the math.
If you miss 500 words yesterday but you did an extra 250 words the week before… you know, it adds up all of that, you put in your goal, and it tells you what you need to be writing to hit your goals. Very helpful, very motivational, and it integrates with MailChimp so you can very easily build your newsletter while you’re staying on your deadline.
Jim: I want to give a shout out to my friend David Rawlings. I’ve been doing some consulting with David and we worked on taking his website and making it into really a dynamic website. David actually does have multiple pages on it but he’s very active blogging. It makes sense for him. And one of the things I suggested to David— because he looks great on camera, he comes across really well and he’s from Australia so he’s got this cool Australian accent–I said “David, you should put some videos on your site.”
Well, he came up with the idea of designing a video specifically for editors and agents, so you can go to his site and you can click on that video and it’s just a very compelling video on why agents and editors should work with him. And I guess the fun part of the story is since he did that, he did end up picking up an agent that he’s working with now. So there are some creative things. If you’re somebody that says “oh I want to do a little bit more” there are some things you can do. And David probably wouldn’t mind if you stole that idea that you can do to make yourself stand out on that page.
Thomas: That’s right. Play to your strengths and if you can easily put together a video—and this is one of those things I’ve noticed is a real generational thing. Younger people often have no problems putting together a video very quickly. They know how to edit videos and for them that’s very fun. An older person, they get terrified. They don’t know how to turn on the webcam on their computer and record and edit and upload the file. All of that seems like this huge project. And if that is intimidating for you, you don’t need to have a video in order to be successful.
Website #2 Blog Focus Homepage
- If you blog regularly, you may want to make your homepage your blog.
- This is what Thomas does with his site.
- This kind of homepage tends to bring in the most traffic because it promises to be new every time you post to your blog
- What is the action you want them to take?
Thomas: Alright so the second Web site that we would like to talk about, the second kind of home page, is the blog focused home page. And this is the most common with nonfiction authors. This is what I have. So if you go to thomasumstattd.com you’re going to see that my homepage right now is just a block, because that’s all it is.
Thomas: I have a sidebar that talks about my book and I mention my book in other places, but the home page is just blog posts. And if you blog regularly, if that’s the main appeal of your website, this may be the right approach for you. This is the kind of home page that tends to bring in the most traffic. If you’re able to deliver the kind of content that people want to see and come and visit, and if you look at the highest trafficked author websites, very often they are blog focused. But, again, they’re delivering well on the blog.
We talked about in the last episode with Joanna Penn about some things that you can blog about. Not every book lends itself to a blog and not every author’s blogging frequently enough where the entire home page is just a recent blog post so this may not be for you.
Thomas: But if it is, this is the one with the highest potential.
Jim: One of the things we want to ask you guys is for each of these, whichever one you fall into, is what is the action you want the person coming to the website to take? So in your case, Thomas, your personal website is more of a blog. What’s the action you want them to take? Do you Want them to sign up for your blog post? You want them to sign up for your newsletter? What action do you want them to take?
Thomas: So each blog post itself has a different action. So one of the ways in a blog-centric site, you have to think of each blog post in a sense is its own home page because people typically aren’t going to visit your actual home page. They’re going to go straight in from Google to an internal page. And this allows you to have different pages that call people to different actions. So one may call somebody to buy your book. One may call somebody to sign up for your newsletter.
Jim: One may say, “call and take a survey“– like, for instance, we want you to take our survey at novelmarketing.com. Please let us know what you think of the show. If we are doing too many episodes on Web sites and you want to talk about something else, let us know! Or if you want us to talk about websites more, let us know! Please go to novel marketing.com. We’ll put that little plugin right here.
Thomas: So blog focus can be useful but it may not be for you.
Website #3 Bookstore Focus Website
- If you have a lot of books, consider going with a more Amazon style homepage.
- Grid of book covers.
- MyBookTable makes this easy.
- Remember to set up an affiliate account
- What is the action you want them to take?
Thomas: The third kind of website home page is the bookstore-focused website or bookstore-focused home page. And this is ideal for somebody with a large backlist. If you have 10, 20, 30 books that you’ve written, that can be overwhelming for new readers, especially if you only have a few slots on your sidebar for your most recent books. If I’ve read your most recent books and I wanted to kind of explore what else you have, a bookstore-focused home page could be quite useful. So you have your latest book there at the top and then maybe you have your different series down below that, and it’s lots and lots of book covers.
MyBookTable, which is another plugin that we’ve developed, makes this really easy. It’s got this really cool grid view in MyBookTable Pro, where it has this beautiful grid of book covers very similar to Amazon but it’s all controlled by you, and it’s you. It’s all focused on you. And again, if you have lots of books on your website you want to make sure you have Amazon Affiliate setup and we’ve done episodes on this in the past about how to make money twice from Amazon. Amazon will sell you an affiliate commission in addition to your royalty, if you have your home page configured correctly.
Jim: And again what is the action you want them to take? Well in this case, we would probably assume you want them to buy your books. If that is the case then make it very clear on on on that page. BUY NOW. BUY NOW. BUY here now. So that, again, going back to the marketing principle that if I shout it, the person listening hears a whisper. That It is not a bad thing to continually give them a very simple call to action: “Click this button, buy now.”
Website #4 Multimedia Focus Website
- Youtube Focus
- Podcast Focus
- This is the kind of website NovelMarketing.com has
- What is the action you want them to take?
Thomas: That’s right. The fourth kind of web site is the multimedia-focused web site. This is ideal for somebody who’s building their platform on YouTube.
Thomas: So maybe it’s a YouTube focus, where you have your most recent YouTube video at the top or a podcast focused website so maybe Novel Marketing—this is what we have. You can go to novelmarketing.com and see what it looks like, and maybe while you’re there you can take our handy little survey.
Jim: We have a survey, Thomas?
Thomas: Yeah we have a survey here. We want to hear from y’all, please. Let us know, hat did you think of the show? Very easy. All on one page, and you’re done.
Thomas: So the goal here is you want them to encounter and interact with your multimedia. So you want them to watch your video. You want them to listen to your podcast. So whatever that multimedia experience, a multimedia-focused home page will feature that very prominently.
Website #5 Brochure Homepage
- This is the kind of web page that most small businesses have.
- Typically a big header image follow by three columns that list the most common services
- Not great for novelists typically but can be good for authors whose business is supported by their book.
- Speaking, consulting, teaching, other services
- Author Media Has This
- What is the action you want them to take?
Jim: OK. The fifth home page for authors is the kind of web page that most small businesses have. By this we mean it’s typically a big header with a striking image, a clear description of what they do, and then it’s followed by usually three, maybe four columns underneath that, that list the most common services that that business would provide.
Now, this isn’t necessarily great for novelists typically, but it can be good for authors whose business is supported by their book or authors that are very much in the speaking realm or potentially there. They offer other services along with being an offer that naturally tie into each other.
Thomas: That’s right. Now brochure homepages are what most authors end up getting because this is what most of the templates are focused around. Because the money is not in making author websites. The money isn’t in making business websites, so your typical template is going to have a big hero image and the three columns.
There are ways of making brochure websites work. In fact, a lot of authors will do a hybrid between the brochure home page and the bookstore homepage, where instead of having the three sections talking about the three services you offer, you could have them be your three series. So here’s my sword and sorcery series, here is my romance series, and here’s my “how to write books series” or whatever if you’re writing in multiple genres.
Thomas: You can use a brochure homepage to communicate that. The challenge with brochure websites, in general, is they tend to be, at least for businesses, a reflection of the politics of the company more than having a clear answer to the question Jim keeps asking, which is the “what action do you want them to take?”. So a brochure home page is often a symptom of a website that’s not very clear in its goal. That said, authormedia.com, which is one of my websites, has a brochure style home page.
Now, to be fair, at the very top we have MyBookTable. The whole top of the website’s dedicated to MyBookTable. But as you scroll down it starts to introduce you to the rest of what we offer. So a brochure Web site can work and it may be your very next step after you get a placeholder Web site. But ultimately, even if you have just one book and no blog, you can still use that placeholder Web site. Placeholder is fine. Grow that home page.
You don’t need lots of pages to have a successful Web site. One home page and then one page specifically for your book can potentially be all you need.
Jim: One thing I don’t see as much as I did, Thomas, and I’d love you to comment on this as well but I’ll mention it anyway, and that is, used to see a lot of author websites where they’d have 4 writers and they’d have all this information for writing on the craft and this kind of thing. They weren’t necessarily teaching it. They didn’t have classes, it was a section for writers and that was kind of a trend for a while.
Honestly, there is a very very small percentage of your readers who are going to be writers and you’re dividing the message. If you say “hey this is for writing and oh by the way I’m an author,” it just confuses people. So if you have that on your site,I would suggest removing that, or if you really want to get into teaching you’re probably going to do it somewhere else.
Thomas: As a general rule of thumb don’t add a “for writers” section until your readers are asking you for it. If your readers are starting to be like “please teach me about your writing,” then add it. Don’t add it until you’ve actually been asked by an actual reader. There’s good money in teaching writing, but it’s not going to help you sell books. And so if the goal of your website is to increase book sales, teaching writing doesn’t help.
There’s this belief in America that those who can’t do, teach. So the fact that you teach something actually can undermine your credibility. It’s like “oh this person must not be a very good novelist because you have to teach writing instead of actually making money from writing the books themselves.” This kind of belief that people have… not necessarily everyone has that belief and it’s not necessarily true, but it’s not going to help you sell books like you might think.
Thomas: So the ideal Web site, a kind of generic author website, would be a combination of the brochure and the blog, or the bookstore and the blog, where you have your most recent book on its own row. Kind of just talking about your book and then perhaps your blog posts down below that. But again, the right website for you and the right home page for you specifically depends on who you are. How often are you blogging? What are people looking for? If they’re just looking to buy your book, just sell your book. You don’t have to have all those bells and whistles. Be easy to find on Google and just keep it simple, and you can focus your energies someplace else.
Jim: The sponsor of this episode of Novel marketing is MyBookTable. Now Thomas, If people want to go crazy and buy the professional version, is there any discount for our listeners?
Thomas: That’s right. We’re offering a 10% off discount with a coupon code, novelmarketing. Grab this now, we’re actually going to be discontinuing this particular coupon code soon. We’ll have an exciting announcement related to that coming up. But right now, if you want to without paying any other additional money still get 10 percent off MyBookTable, use the coupon code novelmarketing, all one word.
MyBookTable is specifically crafted to help you make your Web site as effective and profitable for you as possible. And again please go to novelmarketing.com and let us know in our listener survey what you think of the show. This is our last time to ask for it so please fill out the survey. We really want to hear from you.