Back in 2013, Simon blogged for The Writing Platform about ten author websites he really liked. Since then, web design conventions and web technology have moved on and we thought it was time to come back for another round, so Simon has written a new article with a further selection of websites that have things to tell us about good content, design and functionality for author websites.
Last week at London Book Fair Simon took part in a seminar at Author HQ, alongside Will Rycroft, Community Manager for Vintage, part of the Penguin Random House empire, on the topic of successful media strategies for authors. Here are some of the highlights of Simon’s part of the talk.
It’s important for authors to play the long game when establishing an author’s digital footprint – have a strategy and give it time to work, rather than chopping and changing social media platforms or content marketing approaches before they can be.
A website that an author has full control over is a key part of that strategy – it’s base camp, their home on the web, their digital hub. While social media platforms can change without warning (or indeed, could start to charge without warning), disappear or merge, with a website there’s no question over who owns and controls the content. A website provides analytics data, and crucially, the opportunity to build a mailing list of contacts, which can be fully owned and controlled by the author (with MailChimp free for a list of up to 2,000 subscribers, there’s no need to worry about cost until the list hits a meaningful size). Websites can evolve over time, as an author’s writing career will.
The crucial thing to think hard about for an author website is content – it’s difficult to understate how important this is. While Bookswarm would never downplay the importance of good design, having a good-looking website without good content is a significant missed opportunity, because users will not want to come back to it and search engines will not engage with it properly.
Website content for authors has two critical dimensions:
In our experience, the biggest missed opportunity for authors on their website is failing to provide any information about their books that is exclusive, and can’t be obtained from retailer websites or their publisher’s site. This could be:
- Research notes or images
- Character sketches or biographies
- Early drafts or deleted scenes or passages
but the author can give full rein to their imagination when thinking about this, and even set out to create this content during the process of writing the book.
News and blogging
If an author is intending to blog, they should choose a tone and frequency that fits with their writing style and social media plans. It’s not necessary to reveal personal information – the focus can be on the books.
Ideas for blogging approaches:
- Thematic blogs around subject matter related to the book(s)
- Blogging in character
- Blogging about influences and inspirations
- Teaming up with other authors
The key thing is to try and live up to whatever promises the blog makes, about style, subject and frequency of updates – it’s better to under-promise and over-deliver than the opposite.
Here are some good examples from Bookswarm clients:
Since launching her website in November 2013, Shannon has blogged once a week about a wide range of Napoleonic topics, based on her reading and research – and she has e-mailed her growing e-mail list every Friday. Here’s a guest post Shannon wrote for us with 10 tips for authors and here’s her website.
Katy’s blogging approach encompasses a mixture of author updates, video blogging and writing blog posts in character – creating additional content that’s perfect for her pre-teen and teenaged audience. See Katy’s website
Marcus asked us to include fun science facts in his website, supported by strong imagery which reinforces and supports his approach to explaining his subject. For example, did you know there are about 15 galaxies for every man, woman and child on earth (but Marcus has called dibs on this one)? See Marcus’s website
Simon and Will were asked to give five tips each at the end of the seminar. Simon’s were:
- Use your website to give visitors inside information
- Prioritise content over design
- Focus on a clear, long-term content strategy that’s right for you
- Build your own e-mail list
- Be authentic
We hope that both the audience and you found this useful – drop us a line if you have any questions about our work with authors.
Thanks to Will for the panoramic image at the top of this post!
We asked Bookswarm’s WordPress-Wrangler-in-Chief Alex Watson to tell us about her recent experiences as a volunteer at WordCamp London 2016. Clearly she had far too much fun…
WordCamp London 2016 was my second WordCamp and the first time I offered to volunteer. I did this because I wanted to be more involved and give something back to the WordPress community. WordCamps are conferences for people who use WordPress – from developers and designers to bloggers and plugin authors. Since 2006 there have been 536 WordCamps worldwide! The entire event is run by volunteers – and does not make a profit. Attendee tickets are a bargain at £30 and it covers all food and some drinks too.
The volunteers are headed up by 8 organisers who spend the previous 6 months planning the whole thing. Hat tip to them for doing such a lot of work, all for the love of it. Some of them run several WordCamps throughout the year across Europe.
My weekend as a volunteer started by getting the train to London on the Friday afternoon and attending the speakers and volunteers dinner. It wasn’t a boring sit down dinner, it was at Bounce in Farringdon which is a bar with ping pong tables. I spent the evening getting to know fellow volunteers and the speakers which was great as I’m usually not very good at approaching the speakers at a conference. Eating pizza and playing ping pong with them was a fantastic way to break the ice before the event itself.
The great thing about attending a WordCamp rather than a more broad web development conference is that everyone has one thing in common. Everyone can chat about how WordPress is in their lives and there are always things to be learnt. I got chatting with a community manager from Yoast and learnt things about their SEO plugin that I didn’t know. Yoast is probably the most popular SEO plugin and we use it on all our client sites, so it was good to learn a bit more about about it.
I also had a chat with OnTheGoSytems who produce the Toolset plugins we use. They were impressed with what we do with it and were pleased that we have been reporting bugs to help them be fixed quickly for the benefit of all Toolset users.
The next day was an early start with us volunteers arriving at the conference venue at 6:30am. It was held at the London Metropolitan University across 3 buildings, so we had to learn the layout of them pretty fast as we would have attendees asking us where things were for the next 2 days. Luckily we brought a lot of signage with us to help with this that we starting to put up along with helping the sponsors set up their stands.
It is now 8:00am and the doors have opened to the attendees. It was my job to direct them to the registration room before they got distracted by coffee, pain-au-chocolats and sponsor swag. It seemed to work okay and soon they were all registered and sitting upstairs in the main hall for the opening remarks.
The rest of my day was spent helping out when needed with things like folding t-shirts and ushering attendees into queues in the lunch hall. All volunteers were using the GroupMe app on their phones, so it was easy for use to all keep in touch while spread out across the campus.
I managed to squeeze in watching a few of the talks and learnt new things about responsive images and how to debug code in Chrome. The subject of the talks was pretty varied. It’s not all WordPress specific and ranged from design patterns and user experience to debugging and fixing a hacked website. One of the most interesting sessions was a Q&A with a panel of core WordPress contributors where any questions could be asked about the future of WordPress.
The saturday night was the afterparty, and a retro games evening was set up. Everyone enjoyed a beer or two while playing some old school computer games. A fun way to relax after a long day.
Sunday was very much the same – every volunteer had a specific job in a particular timeslot. Volunteer jobs range from timekeeping and mic-running during the talks to monitoring the green room and giving out swag. It was amazingly well organised and ran very smoothly!
So what next for me? I have come away inspired to improve my web development skills and get more involved in the WordPress community. This could be in the form of contributing to the codebase, reviewing themes, organising a Devon WordCamp or perhaps even speaking at a future event… watch this space!
- WordPress.tv: all talks were videoed and will appear here
- make.wordpress.org: get involved with WordPress
- central.wordcamp.org/schedule: find a WordCamp near you
Glasgow-based Saraband are a creative independent publisher striving to offer their readers something a little bit different. They work in three main areas:
- Non-fiction. Producing engaging, well-written non-fiction and attractive illustrated books. With a broad range of memoir, history, arts and environment titles, Saraband celebrate extraordinary human achievement, explore important cultural traditions and champion planet Earth and its diverse species.
- Fiction. Giving a platform to the most exciting and talented new authors, especially those from Scotland and women writers. As well as some wonderful literary and historical fiction, Saraband have now created a new imprint, Contraband, which features an eclectic range of crime, mystery and thriller writing – ranging from pacy detective stories to intriguing enigmas.
- Digital publishing. Saraband have become renowned as something of an innovator in digital publishing and have worked on a range of successful mobile phone apps, including Bookspotting, Burns Night and Pandacademy.
Saraband’s new website organises their publishing in to three key areas – Nature, Culture and Fiction – and crime imprint Contraband has its own special home page too.
Saraband publisher Sara Hunt says:
“When we decided to give our website a makeover, we were very keen to work with someone who truly understood the needs of a publisher, and Bookswarm have been second-to-none in that regard. From the off they ‘got it’ – both in terms of how our new website needed to be intuitive to use for us as publishers, and in terms of how it performed for readers and the wider books industry.
Simon and his team have been superb to work with and we’re delighted with the final website – it really does look better than we could have hoped for.”
Today sees the start of the London Book Fair at London Olympia. If you haven’t arranged to see Bookswarm yet, we still have some meeting slots available on Tuesday 12th and Thursday 14th. Come to the IPAC stand, 3A40 – if we’re not available, please leave a card and we will contact you.
On Wednesday morning our MD, Simon Appleby, will be appearing on a London Book Fair panel to talk about Successful Social Media Strategies, taking place at Author HQ on 13th Apr 2016, from 09:45 to 10:30.
We hope to see you at the Fair!
Bookswarm has developed the brand identity and website for Hoopoe, a new imprint for engaged, open-minded readers hungry for outstanding fiction that challenges headlines, re-imagines histories, and celebrates original storytelling.
Hoopoe has been launched by AUC Press, for over half a century the leading publisher of Arabic literature in English translation and wide-ranging books about the Middle East, based above the renowned AUC Bookstore, overlooking Cairo’s Tahrir Square.
Hoopoe authors are world-renowned and include Naguib Mahfouz, the only Arab writer to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Mahfouz was followed to the Press by uniquely talented writers who received wide critical acclaim in English translation, including Ibrahim al-Koni, Sahar Khalifeh, Alaa Al Aswany, Gamal al-Ghitani, Miral-al Tahawy, and Yusuf Idris.
What is a hoopoe?
A hoopoe is a beautiful bird found across the Midle East, known for its distinctive crown of black and chestnut feathers. Like the cuckoo, its name is derived from its unique call.
In his famous epic The Conference of the Birds, Sufi poet Farid ud-Din Attar casts the hoopoe as the leader of all birds and the storyteller on the flock’s quest for enlightenment.
In the Qur’an the hoopoe is depicted as a trusted messenger, carrying messages between Solomon and the Queen of Sheba; while in ancient Egypt the hoopoe was sacred and was a symbol of the heir apparent to the throne.
Bookswarm have recently implemented a new support mechanism which will allow clients to report bugs and ask questions from directly within their Bookswarm-developed websites.
The new Bookswarm Support WordPress plugin is implemented using the Doorbell.io service. Logged-in users will see a ‘Bookswarm support’ tab at the bottom of every page, and submitting a ticket automatically gathers information to send to Bookswarm , including:
- The URL that the user was on
- The browser, operating system and screen resolution of their system
- On supported browsers, the option to automatically add a screenshot
Users can also attach files, so they can send their own screenshots or supply new assets that might be needed to make a change or fix a bug.
Bookswarm MD Simon Appleby has been blogging for BookMachine about the key considerations for publishers when they commission a new website.
Simon will be appearing on a London Book Fair panel to talk about Successful Social Media Strategies, taking place at Author HQ on 13th Apr 2016, from 09:45 to 10:30.
Social media gives authors the power and ability to connect directly with their readers in a way that is fundamentally changing the way they buy books. But how can authors make the best of the opportunity? This session will cover the do’s and don’ts for authors looking to build a platform for themselves and their books on social media, as well as provide an overview of how publishers are working with their authors as well as engaging with consumers. It will also provide top tips on how authors can maximise their own social media presence. It will also cover what makes a good author website, the importance of website design and branding, and practical advice such as what platforms to use, keeping to budget – and what to do once your website is up and running.
Simon will be offering thoughts on the importance of author websites as a base for social media marketing, and giving some insights into successful content marketing strategies used by some of Bookswarm’s clients. Simon is the founder and Managing Director of Bookswarm, the only digital agency in the UK dedicated to delivering projects for publishers, authors and others in the world of books. We have extensive experience in website design and development and have delivered author websites for a wide range of writers including Stephen King, Patrick Ness, Penny Vincenzi, Simon Scarrow, Marcel Theroux, Clare Furniss, Hanif Kureishi, Katy Birchall and Marcus Chown.
Appearing with Simon will be Will Rycroft, Community Manager for Vintage, part of the Penguin Random House empire. Will worked as an actor for 20 years before following his passion for literature. After seven years writing about books online he became the Community Manager at Vintage where he creates and commissions web and social media content. He is constantly looking for new and exciting ways to engage readers, wherever they are, and likes nothing more than pressing the right books into the right reader’s hands.
Bookswarm is today publishing the first of a new series of white papers designed to help publishing clients to get as much value as possible from their use of WordPress, which is emerging as the Content Management System of choice for a wide range of publishers, large and small.
Our Spring White Paper is entitled Commissioning Author Websites with WordPress: Ten Things We Learned (So You Don’t Have To). It’s designed to share some our hard-won knowledge and experience, based on the the numerous author websites we’ve developed. We’ve created projects for everyone from self-published authors to bona fide household names, and worked with writers across a wide range of genres. We’ve distilled many of the things we learnt in to the white paper, including:
- Ideas for author content
- Best practice for integrating social media with an author website
- How to handle bibliographic data
- Easy SEO
- Performance, security and management
We hope you find it useful!
Simon Appleby, Managing Director
It’s not long until the London Book Fair 2016, its second year in its new home at Olympia.
Once again Bookswarm will be on Stand 3A40 as part of the Independent Publishing Agency Collective. If you’d like to arrange a meeting, please contact us.
Bookswarm MD Simon Appleby will also be taking part in a panel discussion on Wednesday morning at 9:45 on ‘Successful social media strategies’ in Author HQ. Further details will be announced here soon.
Alongside us on the IPAC stand will be:
- Agile Marketing
- AMS Digital Publishing
- Hybert Design
- The Literary Platform Collective
- Think Big Books
We hope to see you at the Fair!
Libreria, a new book shop, printing press, and interdisciplinary community space, will open at 65 Hanbury Street, London, today (Thursday 25 February, 2016), merging state of the art design and technology with a fresh enthusiasm for physical bookselling. From Rohan Silva and Sam Aldenton, the founders of Second Home, the iconic East London space for entrepreneurs and creative businesses, Libreria blends the best of the digital and analogue worlds. The space will operate a no-phone policy, designed to create a sanctuary away from the bombardment of modern life, while at the same time using custom-made software to manage the store itself, developed in collaboration with Bookswarm.
Rohan Silva, co-founder of Second Home, said: “Libreria has been years in the making – we believe in the value of books and literature and have wanted to do this for a long time. Across industries we are seeing a return to physical, material things and a fresh appreciation of craftsmanship. These things are not being killed by the digital; they are being given new life. We believe there’s space in London and beyond for a reimagining of the bookshop, and it’s the perfect time in Second Home’s journey for us to augment who we are and what we do.”
“One of the joys of physical book buying is having an experience unimpaired by algorithmic recommendation – encountering works you might never otherwise see. When curated well, book shops are the best place to encounter new ideas and a lot of thought has gone into this.”
Designed by the award-winning Spanish architectural practice Selgas Cano, the space draws inspiration from Jorge Borges’ short story The Library of Babel, with a thoughtful aesthetic and carefully curated shelves. The name “Libreria”, which means “book shop” in Spanish and Italian, is a nod to its cosmopolitan outlook.
Bookswarm have been working with Libreria to create a bespoke Point-of-Sale and stock management system – Libreria Bookscanner – powered using WordPress and its popular WooCommerce plugin. Stock is added using a barcode scanner, with book details and covers downloaded in real time from Nielsen’s BookData web services.