10 Blog Writing Tips for Authors

In the first of a new series of guest posts, Bookswarm client and author Shannon Selin shares her tips for how authors can make the most of blogging.

Shannon_Selin_image1_lowresThanks to Bookswarm, you’ve got a blog integrated into your beautifully designed website. You are now ready to use the best author marketing tool within your control. Here’s how to make the most of it.

  1. Write posts that are relevant to your books.

Blogging is a form of old-fashioned content marketing. The purpose of your blog is to attract the attention of people who might want to read your books, and to retain the attention of your current readers. Write posts that will interest your target audience. If you haven’t defined that audience, do so before you start to blog. If you have more than one target audience, write a rotating mix of posts, aimed at each audience in turn.

  1. Take the time to write high-quality, original posts.

To stand out in the crowded field of author-bloggers, you have to create valuable content. This means not repeating what is already easily available online. If you think it has all been said before, find a new angle, or a new way of presenting the information. I often blog about Napoleon Bonaparte, about whom more has been written than just about anyone else who ever lived. I have still found lots to say about him, including what would seem to be the unnecessary subject of what Napoleon looked like.

  1. Plan your keywords.

If you’re having trouble deciding what to write about, use Google’s keyword planner for suggestions. My most visited post is “10 Interesting Facts about Napoleon Bonaparte,” which I wrote because “Napoleon facts” is one of the most searched-for terms about Napoleon.

  1. Don’t be afraid to deviate from standard blogging practice, if it’s appropriate for your target audience.

My posts are longer than the typical blog, and I include footnotes, which is not common. My readers, who tend to be history buffs, say they like this.

  1. Post consistently, to a schedule.

This will make it easier for you to write your posts, as writing them will become part of your routine. It will also help your readers know when to expect new posts.

  1. Where possible, tie your posts to recurring events in the calendar.

This could be seasonal, or specific dates. For example, when blogging about historical figures, I include each character’s birth and death dates. This makes it easy for me to revive each post on social media every time one of those anniversaries rolls around. (You must, of course, promote your posts on social media.)

  1. Include a link to your book in the content of each post.

I initially thought that having a link to my novel, Napoleon in America, appear in the sidebar of my blog would be sufficient. But busy eyes can tune that out and, on mobile devices, the sidebar doesn’t show up until the bottom of the page. When I started deliberately including a reference to the book in each post, visits to the book page increased.

  1. Also include links to your other relevant blog posts.

The longer people remain on your website, the more likely they are to be drawn into your writing, to want to know more about you, and to want to read your books. Build a sticky website by including links to relevant previous posts in each new post. For some audiences, it may be sufficient to include hyperlinks within the post text. I find I get more visits to other posts if I also add links explicitly at the end of each post, in a “you might also enjoy” section.

  1. Screen your comments.

Edit or delete any that might be considered inflammatory. Keep your blog a polite space where all readers will feel comfortable commenting. You will learn things from your readers – corrections of fact, suggestions for new posts, and ideas that can be applied to your next book.

  1. Hang in there.

Be patient and don’t give up. It takes time to build an audience. Quality and consistency are the key. A post that might initially seem a sleeper can turn into a big one. One that I wrote about a minor character jumped in traffic over a year after the fact when it was quoted in a Washington Post article. In the meantime, as your blog grows, you will receive encouragement from your regular readers and other author-bloggers.

Historical fiction writer Shannon Selin is the author of Napoleon in America, which imagines what might have happened if Napoleon Bonaparte had escaped from exile on St. Helena and wound up in the United States in 1821. Shannon blogs about Napoleonic and 19th century history at shannonselin.com. She lives in Vancouver, Canada, where she is working on the next novel in her Napoleon series.

Bookswarm support Andy McNab’s #ReadingJourney

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Andy McNab is trekking to the South Pole in support of Bookswarm’s longstanding client The Reading Agency.

Imagine not going to the supermarket or filling in a form because you’re unable to read very well. Andy McNab was a teenager who couldn’t read well and he’s now a bestselling author.

Andy’s Reading Journey started when he joined the army and now takes him to the South Pole, in the 100 year-old footsteps of Ernest Shackleton and his Endurance crew, to raise money to help The Reading Agency help other people like him. Their work already reaches 1.5 million people every year – but there’s so much more to do.

The_Reading_Agency_CMYK_320_174Did you know that:

  • 1 in 5 UK children can’t read well at age 11, rising to 1 in 3 from disadvantaged backgrounds
  • 16.4% of UK adults score the lowest level of proficiency in literacy
  • 33% of adults don’t read for pleasure. Yet this is a more powerful factor in life achievement than socio-economic background

Bookswarm is proud of our work with the Reading Agency and we have sponsored Andy in this great reading journey – please donate if you can.

New website for The William Morris Society

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the-william-morris-society-logoBookswarm has designed and built a new website for The William Morris Society, which was founded in 1953 to make the life, work and ideas of William Morris (1834-96) better known. The Society’s aim is to take its world-wide membership to new places, shares discoveries and deepen people’s understanding of a most remarkable man, his artistic and political networks, and his vision of ‘How We Might Live’.

William Morris was a revolutionary force in Victorian Britain: his work as an artist, designer, craftsman, writer and socialist dramatically changed the fashions and ideologies of the era.

Working with a new brand identity developed for the Society by Pentagram, Bookswarm delivered the project in just six weeks from beginning to end, with the site going live on Saturday 12th September as the new branding was launched at a 60th birthday event for the Society.

See the new website in our portfolio and find out more about William Morris.

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 WordPress.com, 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!