Excellent author websites on The Writing Platform

Writing-PlatformBack 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.

Read the new article on The Writing Platform

Successful social media strategies for authors – Simon’s talk at AuthorHQ

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Cf6Q2RjWwAA5GJO.jpg-largeLast 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:

Book information

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
  • Maps
  • 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.

Case studies

Here are some good examples from Bookswarm clients:

Shannon SelinShannon Selin

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.

71G6GSPevgL._UX250_Katy Birchall

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

Untitled-2Marcus Chown

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

Final thoughts

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!

WordCamp 2016 – from a volunteer’s perspective

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.

The ‘cavalry’ of volunteers with the organisers thanking us at the end of the event. Taco Verdo (https://twitter.com/TacoVerdo)

The ‘cavalry’ of volunteers with the organisers thanking us at the end of the event

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.

12916910_10154253994536535_3134551820234439912_o_1024It 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!

34SP brought along their own Wapuu mascot!

34SP brought along their own Wapuu mascot!

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!

Useful links:


Bookswarm launches new website for award-winning Saraband

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SarabandBookswarm have designed and built a new web presence for award-winning independent publishers Saraband.

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:

sarah-hunt“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.”

Visit the new Saraband website

Bookswarm at the London Book Fair this week

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LBF_horizontal__strap_pink_2016Today 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!

Image credit

Branding and website design for AUC’s new imprint, Hoopoe

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downloadBookswarm 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 roll out new support plugin

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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.

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