Selling with WordPress – Bookswarm’s guide to e-commerce

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Bookswarm has built its business around WordPress, the Open Source Content Management System (CMS) that began life as a simple blogging platform. One of the things we’re increasingly being asked by clients to work on is e-commerce, and with the range of options widening we thought we’d provide a quick tour of some of the solutions out there.

Quick and cheap

If your requirement is simply for ad-hoc selling, maybe of a limited edition product or event tickets, this can be achieved without any fuss using GravityForms and its PayPal add-in. GravityForms is a brilliant form-building plugin for WordPress, and once you have a PayPal Payments Standard or Pro account, you can make any form an order form.

PayPal handles the money and GravityForms can generate the order acknowledgment to the customer and the e-mail to your team with details of the new order. Great if you need e-commerce in a hurry, but still perfectly professional.

We have set up these kind of forms to sell event passes and short-run publications, but with the power of GravityForms you could sell almost anything, including providing product customisation options.

WooCommerce for the win

woocommerceWooCommerce is the daddy of WordPress ecommerce plugins – and since its acquisition by Automattic, the owners of, it’s now more than ever the leading choice.

The first thing to know about WooCommerce is that the core software is free. Out of the box it provides a full, searchable catalogue, basket, checkout, customer account, stock control, support for virtual and downloadable products, a range of approaches to shipping costs and many more features besides. And if you only want to use PayPal to process payments, that’s built-in too.

Some extensions do cost: a wide range of payment processors are supported – for example SagePay, WorldPay, Stripe – but typically an extension costing around $79 is required to use them. A vast array of premium extensions is available, both from Woo themselves and from third parties. Want to offer ‘buy two, get one free’? There’s an extension for that. Want to sell memberships which offer discounts on products? There’s an extension for that too. Almost any kind of promotional pricing scenario you can think of has been catered for already. You can even sell DRM-protected eBooks directly from within WooCommerce using EditionGuard (and yes, the dreaded MOSS regime is covered too).

And because WooCommerce is grown-up software with its own Application Programming Interface (API), it can be integrated with all kinds of external systems. Bookswarm has built plugins to import product data from retail system Merlio and from bibliographic data providers BooksoniX and Biblio, and to send details of completed orders to Combined Book Services and Gardners; integrations with Macmillan Distribution and other UK book distributors are currently underway.

Bookswarm has built WooCommerce-based shops for Grub Street, Robert Hale, and retailer Belgravia Books, and we currently have three more in the pipeline. If you’re looking to sell a meaningful inventory of products, and especially if you need to make your shop talk to other parts of your supply chain, WooCommerce may well be an option worth exploring.

Snip, snip – shortcode-based solutions

logo-snipcartWe have been very interested to see the emergence of a new type of e-commerce solution in the last year or so. These ‘shortcode’ based solutions are designed to be easily and quickly integrated in to existing websites, and would work extremely well with WordPress, especially if integrated in to an existing product catalogue.

What is a shortcode?
A shortcode is a WordPress-specific code that lets you do nifty things with very little effort. Shortcodes can embed files or create objects that would normally require lots of complicated, ugly code in just one line. Shortcode = shortcut.

In essence they rely on the insertion of a couple of lines of code in to an existing site: one snippet (in every page) adds support for a basket and checkout to the whole site; the second (one shortcode per product) handles the creation of the ‘Buy’ buttons.

One such provider is Shoprocket and another is Snipcart. While Shoprocket requires you to add details of each of your products to its system, Snipcart doesn’t need that extra step – so a website built on a database of products already (title, ISBN and price) could be up and running as a shop in very little time indeed. For publishers wanting to dip a toe in to the waters of e-commerce, such solutions could be an excellent, and speedy way to find out what the appetite for direct sales is from their audience.

We’ve even heard tell of a startup who are creating a shortcode-based retail solution especially geared towards publishers – so we look forward to being able to say more about that in the future.

More than one way to sell

Of course these three approaches aren’t the only ones out there – but they represent a spectrum from ad-hoc to fully-featured that will cover the needs of a great many publishers and even authors who wish to sell directly – perhaps selling signed stock or limited editions.

Please contact us if you would like to discuss any of these options.

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Mike Shatzkin on author websites

MShatzkin-251x300We recently enjoyed several blog posts from digital publishing thought leader Mike Shatzkin about the importance of author websites.

In No author website rules of the road in publishing contracts is a big fail for the industry Mike argues that the inconsistent approach taken to the creation of digital presences for authors is unhelpful for everyone.

There should be no doubt about the critical importance of an author’s web site (and no, a page on the publisher site isn’t an adequate substitute). The author site serves three absolutely essential purposes that will not be adequately addressed without one.

Mike’s argument is that no publisher should sign an author without a clear agreement over what kind of web presence that author needs, who will pay for it, own it and manage it.

If you accept it as a fact that there should be at least a rudimentary website for just about every author, a little thought makes it clear that there is a lot a publisher and author should negotiate agreement on as part of their contractual arrangement.

1. It gives an author the capability to make it crystal clear to Google and other search engines precisely who the author is. All SEO efforts are hobbled without it. An author’s website is a central hub of data (a Pete McCarthy point: “data” isn’t always about numbers, in SEO “data” is often words) about the author, to which both fans and search engines can go for authoritative information.

2. It gives the author an extensible platform from which to engage more deeply with fans, some of whom are megaphones and media from whom the benefits of deeper engagement are substantial. An author can use it to gather email signups and really only with a site can an author reliably and systematically build and own direct relationships.

3. It gives a logical place for anybody writing about the author to link. That’s why author websites often score so high in search. (Inbound links are SEO gold.) And if an author doesn’t have a website, the next logical place to link might be the Amazon author page, or the Amazon product page (the book). The next choice would be a primary social presence, like Twitter or LinkedIn.

In a subsequent post, Starter thoughts for publishers to develop new author marketing policies, Mike lays out some suggested thoughts for publisher policies around these issues. He concludes:

These questions are complex but, while time passes, they are not getting any simpler. The value of the web and email list assets that can be optimized with cooperation is increasing, which means the cost of not doing this right is also increasing. It is simply not acceptable for every author and every publisher to avoid the discussion, leaving us with tens of thousands of entities operating in siloed vacuums. That’s the status quo. It isn’t satisfactory.

We would definitely recommend publishers check out Mike’s thoughts. It’s still surprising how many big name authors, especially at the ‘literary’ end of the market, don’t have websites – for instance, Hilary Mantel has only recently acquired one, apparently created by her US publishers, and authors as stellar as Donna Tartt, Michel Faber and David Mitchell have no web presence.

Bookswarm have designed numerous author websites and blogs, for authors both conventionally published and self-published. Some were paid for by publishers, many were paid for by the authors themselves. We would certainly agree with Mike that there would be a clear benefit to publishers, authors and agents from more consistent policies around website creation, ownership and operation, and that every author, however good their sales, needs a website – and if that helps to keeps us busy, we’re certainly not going to complain!

Meet Bookswarm at the London Book Fair

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image0011It’s not long until the London Book Fair 2015, in its new home at Olympia – and Bookswarm will be on Stand 3A40 as part of the Independent Publishing Agency Collective. The Independent Publishing Agency Collective (IPAC) is a non-profit making body, formed by a number of independent agencies and teams who all focus strongly on the world of book publishing. Alongside us on the stand will be Agile Marketing, AMS Digital Publishing, Arkesis and Bookomi.

If you’d like to arrange a meeting, please contact us.

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Hodderscape relaunch and open submissions

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Dodo-Cyberpunk-300x300-300x220Hodder & Stoughton is relaunching the website for its science fiction, fantasy and horror community Hodderscape today, and holding its first open submission period later this year.

The new website, which is designed by Bookswarm to be fully responsive, will make searching for books easier, with the ability to view titles by publication date or genre. The site has advanced features enabled for enhanced Google Analytics tracking, so that Hodderscape can learn more about what its audience wants. Each book page will contain additional content such as trailers or podcasts, as well as other recommended reads from within the Hodder & Stoughton catalogue.

In April Hodderscape will hide “Easter eggs” around the new site, inviting users to search for them by dropping hints online. All the Easter eggs, once gathered, will compose a riddle or puzzle, with users getting the chance to win prizes if they email in their guesses to the riddle or puzzle.

Hodderscape will host its first open submission period from 3rd August to 16th August this year, looking for new voices in science fiction, fantasy and horror. More details on how to submit work will be released closer to the time.

The community will also host Dodocon 2 this year, following the inaugural event in 2014 which celebrates authors, agents and fans.

The event will be hosted on the rooftop terrace of Carmelite House on Victoria Embankment, the new headquarters for Hodder & Stoughton’s parent company Hachette UK.

Hodderscape was launched in early 2012, and now features information about Hodder’s science fiction, fantasy, horror and speculative publishing, as well as television and movie reviews, original articles, competitions and behind the scenes looks into the daily life of a publishing house.

Bookswarm creates new website for the Royal Society of Literature

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Bookswarm has designed a new, responsive website for the Royal Society of Literature.

For nearly 200 years, the Royal Society of Literature has celebrated and nurtured all that is best in British literature, past and present.

Today, alongside a world-class events programme, it supports authors both established and emerging with awards and grants, runs masterclasses, and manages a Schools Outreach programme to inspire the next generation of readers and writers.

At the heart of the RSL is its Fellowship, which encompasses the most distinguished authors working in the English language. The RSL builds bridges between our Fellows and the reading public, so that their talents are shared as widely as possible.

People need to feel in their bones that the whole of English literature from Beowulf to Byron to Benjamin Zephaniah is theirs by right of inheritance. The RSL shows people what belongs to them, and welcomes them into it.’

Philip Pullman

Annette-Brook2RSL Communications Manager Annette Brook says of the experience of working with Bookswarm on the project:

Working on our new responsive site with Bookswarm has been an absolute joy. Simon and team have realised our brief perfectly, keeping the look and feel of our previous site whilst refreshing it and adding new, interesting features. They have been patient with us, as we are a small team, and understanding of our particular needs. Their support with the technical challenges of setting up new domains and integrating our site with a new database system has been enormously helpful, and their positive attitudes have made them a pleasure to work with. We have an exciting new website and would thoroughly recommend Bookswarm to peer organisations.

Visit the new website

Literary brand expert Tamsen Harward joins Bookswarm in non-exec role

Tamsen photoBookswarm is delighted to announce the appointment of our first non-executive director in a move designed to assist with strategic planning and business development.

Tamsen Harward is a brands and media consultant with twenty years’ international experience in and around publishing and IP management. Prior to managing literary brands including Agatha Christie and Raymond Chandler, she produced educational content at BBC Worldwide and was Assistant Manager for an independent bookshop in Leicestershire. When not working with clients Tamsen enjoys building bookshelves to house her collection of contemporary and classic crime fiction.

Tamsen says “I am delighted to be joining Bookswarm – the digital agency for authors and publishers. I’m really excited by Bookswarm’s plans and as a Non-Executive Director I will be using my industry experience and connections to help Simon and the team deliver even more fantastic services in the UK and beyond.”

Bookswarm’s Director Simon Appleby says “We’re delighted to have Tamsen on board, and I am looking forward to getting her perspective on many aspects of our business and how we interact with the continually-evolving UK book trade.”

Merry Christmas from Bookswarm

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May you get all the books you want from Santa. We look forward to helping more publishers, authors and allied trades in 2015!

A new website for Robert Hale – and 20% off all books for Bookswarm visitors

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3-hale_logo_-rgb-jpegFounded in 1936, and working from their building in the heart of London’s historic Clerkenwell, Robert Hale is a thriving independent publisher, publishing under four imprints:

  • Robert Hale, catering for a truly wide range of interests both in fiction and non-fiction with particular strengths in general hardback fiction, MBS, biography and practical reference
  • J.A. Allen, recognised internationally as the leading publisher of equestrian books
  • NAG Press, the leading publisher for the most extensive range of books on horology, gemmology, jewellery and precious metals in the British market
  • Recently-launched imprint Buried River Press, which draws on the best of over seventy-five years’ independent publishing experience to select and produce paperbacks to entice, intrigue and delight those readers with an appetite for superb stories

Continue Reading

Bookswarm creates new website for Jennifer Gray

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chicken-homeBookswarm has designed a new website for Jennifer Gray, creator of four funny animal series for children: Atticus Claw and Chicken Mission (Faber); and Guinea Pigs Online and Puppies Online (Quercus).

To accommodate the different series, we set up the site so that each series has its own ‘micro-site’ within the main site, with its own look and feel and its own menu. All of the design features of the microsites – colours, graphics and buttons – are customisable using WordPress, meaning future series can be created as simply as possible. Jennifer also has a news section, and her cat Henry will be blogging!

Of her experience working with Bookswarm, Jennifer says:

Bookswarm made everything straightforward. My author site is great to look at, well-designed and easy to find your way around.  Excellent WordPress training and support guaranteed to give even the most reluctant operator like me the confidence to add content and manage the site by themselves. Thank you, Simon!

The Publishers of Tomorrow Are Not Afraid

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mzm.wsivekjv.175x175-75Bookswarm’s Simon Appleby was at the University of Stirling recently as a guest speaker, addressing students on the MLitt in Publishing Studies course on the many ways publishers can make effective use of digital media for promoting their books, including thoughts on effective author and publisher websites and the potential of HTML5. He also shared a brief summary of his rather unconventional route in to working in the book publishing world.

The Stirling Centre for International Publishing and Communication was established in 1982, and has since developed a global reputation for its postgraduate degrees in publishing, its research activities, and its industry links.

Focusing on book, magazine, journal and digital publishing, the Centre trains the publishers of the future, provides opportunities for those currently working in the industry to reflect on their professional practice, and through its research, critically analyses the past, present and future of the publishing.

The whole session was live-tweeted, with the Tweets below giving just a small flavour of the afternoon!

The Space has launched its second Open Call


The Space is a website for artists and audiences to create and explore exciting new digital art. They commission projects from ambitious artists working across a range of art forms and creative and digital industries, technology and coding, art and culture.

The Space are looking for original, groundbreaking ideas to commission for audiences to experience on mobiles and tablets. Anyone over 18 anywhere in the world can apply.

Bookswarm Director Simon Appleby is one of the Associate Producers working with The Space to assess applications, part of a team of experts from a range of cultural sectors.

Deadline for applications: 5pm GMT, Friday 14th November 2014.

How to apply

  1. Have a good idea for a digital art project
  2. Fill in a short application form
  3. Press submit

Apply now

Bursaries to bring writers and technologists together

Writing-PlatformAuthor support site The Writing Platform is encouraging writers and technologists to work together, with bursaries to fund new collaborative projects.

Two bursaries of £4,000 each will be awarded to teams made up of one writer and one technologist, to fund a three month project. Teams can submit as a pair, or enter individually and be paired by the selection panel.

Bursary winners will be chosen by Tom Uglow, director of Google Creative Labs, Naomi Alderman, writer and professor of creative writing at Bath Spa University, and Joanna Ellis, a a partner at The Literary Platform and co-founder of The Writing Platform, a website and live events programme. The bursary programme is delivered in association with creative writing at Bath Spa.

Bookswarm have worked with The Literary Platform to create the application process online, using Gravity Forms to build the forms and the Zapier service to save each application as a text file on Dropbox, making it as easy as possible for the judges to review and assess the applications.

The deadline for applications is 5pm (GMT) on Thursday 4th December 2014.