Barrington Stoke go nuts for new website

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It’s been several years since we stepped in to help Barrington Stoke with hosting, support and maintenance of their existing WordPress- and WooCommerce-based website – but behind the scenes we have been working with them on a major design and content update to the site, which went live last week.

Edinburgh-based Barrington Stoke publishes fiction and non-fiction adapted to different reading ages for reluctant, under-confident and dyslexic children and teens.

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We really enjoyed injecting more of Barrington Stoke’s personality and brand in to the site – as well as thinking about the needs of their different audiences, and sorting out some ‘behind the scenes’ issues, such as shipping costs and order processing. The lovely illustrations by Maisie Paradise Shearring introduce a new sense of coherence around the website content, which is lovely to see, and Barrington Stoke also worked with Laura Jones, publisher and co-founder of Scottish indie publishers 404 Ink, who focused on reorganising and updating content in time for the re-launch.

We asked Lucy Juckes, co-founder Chair of Barrington Stoke, about their experience of working with Bookswarm:

“Bookswarm have been excellent to work with on the redesign of our website. They always give careful consideration to our proposals, advising us how to achieve and improve what we have suggested. They are great to work with, going above and beyond what’s been agreed, full of initiative, reliable on deadlines, problem solvers rather than problem creators. We would not hesitate to recommend their expertise.”

So that’s nice!

View the new website in our portfolio

Bookswarm create new website for Yale Representation

Yale Representation provides a managed sales representation service in the UK for a number of prestigious publishers, including Verso, Saqi and of course Yale University Press.

Bookswarm recently created a new website for them, to replace their old Drupal-based site. The new site includes a bookshops section with dynamic map, and different ways to explore Yale Representation’s clients and their wonderful books.

During our initial discussions with the client we realised how important it would be for the site to be focused on the core content that changes regularly – in this case, client books, news and reviews. We made book uploading as streamlined as possible, and news and reviews are designed so they are always links out to content on other websites. This simplifies data entry for Yale, and reduces the need to source images for news stories. The bookshop map was easy to do and a fun way of visualising all of the shops featured on the website.

We asked Lisa Kemmer, Sales and Operations Manager for Yale Representation, about their experience of working with Bookswarm on the project:

“I’d wholeheartedly recommend Bookswarm.  Simon is efficient, patient and communicative.  He did everything he said he would and more and I’ve got nothing but good things to say about him and his colleagues.  Perhaps most importantly, I didn’t get any sense that he was bored with the project and wanting to move on once the site was delivered but there was lots of tweaking to do.  I don’t think I’ve ever experienced that sort of start to finish service with an IT-type project before – or any other sort of project, for that matter.”

Take a look at the Yale Representation site in our portfolio


Bookswarm and The Bestseller Experiment – Q&A on author websites

Simon’s made another foray in to the world of podcasting, this time joining Mark Stay over at The Bestseller Experiment.

The Bestseller Experiment is a weekly podcast presented by Mark Stay and Mark Desvaux, in which they talk with leading lights from the publishing industry, million-selling, chart-topping authors such as Michael Connelly, Joanne Harris, Bryan Cranston, Ian Rankin, John Connolly, Scott Lynch, Michelle Paver, Maria Semple, million-selling indie sensation Shannon Mayer, agents, editors, and social media experts. And Simon!

Simon’s podcast was one of the podcasts’s trademark ‘Deep Dives’, and was all about the challenges facing authors when it comes to their websites (a topic on which we do have some experience). We answered questions from Bestseller Experiment subscribers, and hopefully helped them focus on the issues that really matter.

The full podcast is available to the podcast’s Patreon supporters – however you can listen to a teaser-length version here, or below, and become a supporter of The Bestseller Experiment for only $5 per month to hear the full Q&A.

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Bookswarm advises The Literary Consultancy on website strategy

Last year we were asked by renowned UK-based editorial consultancy service The Literary Consultancy (TLC) to come and work with them to help them streamline their website offering and assist their users to navigate more easily to the services and content relevant to them.

The work consisted of:

  • Initial desk research, and planning a workshop where we could explore all of the different approaches that service providers can take to Information Architecture
  • Delivery of the workshop (armed with copious quantities of sticky notes, a whiteboard, flash-cards and LOTS of biscuits)
  • Writing up the chosen approach, including creating sample wireframes that could be used to brief TLC’s incumbent web developers

The new website is now live, incorporating a much simpler home page which signposts users to the key service areas, and the Writers’ Wizard, which helps writers work out where they are in their writing journey and how TLC can help them.

TLC Director Aki Schilz explains how the process worked for them:

“Following a strategic review of the business in 2018, we realised that whilst the design elements of our website still felt fresh, the overall site ‘journey’ didn’t quite chime with the writer journey we’d been tracking for some time. We wanted it to be upmarket, but approachable (like us!) and to genuinely help writers, pointing them to various resources, links, and a whole load of useful content which we hadn’t quite organised properly. We were also extremely excited about various new elements we were keen to introduce, but didn’t want to overload the site. Simon was absolutely fantastic. He read through our branding and marketing briefs, totally understood what we wanted, and gave brilliant, creative suggestions for a range of solutions, which either his team could implement, or we could go back to our web team with. His approach was open-hearted, and I felt he really understood what TLC is about, rather than simply rushing in with ‘design solutions’ that had little resonance with our ethos. The whole thing came together organically, but was also time-efficient, and targeted. The net result is a gorgeous website that’s zippier, and that writers can really feel supported through navigating. And, we’ve a funky little Writers’ Wizard which we’re particularly proud of, and which was Simon’s original idea. Thank you, Bookswarm!”

It really was a pleasure working with TLC. Please do contact us if we can help you with web strategy and information architecture, even if you aren’t looking to change web agencies.

Our home for the next three days

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Did we mention we’re at London Book Fair for the next three days? OK, we did, repeatedly – but we’re mentioning it again, because now we can show you what our sexy stand looks like. Isn’t it marvellous?

Do come and say hi to us and all the other IPAC companies we’re sharing with if you’re at the fair.

And if you’ve not been to LBF before – we think you’ll enjoy this!

Bookswarm client deal news: Lap of Honour

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Tim Hain’s Lap of Honour is a pictorial journey back to the golden age of motor racing, in which a 60s schoolboy photographer revisits his favourite haunts and heroes, and hitches a ride with the legendary Stirling Moss, whose foreword kickstarts the journey.

We created a website for Lap of Honour last year and we are pleased to hear that it has been picked up for publication in September 2019 by Pitch Publishing.

Congratulations to Tim! We look forward to seeing the book take shape.

The Book Fair beckons

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London Book Fair is next week! Eeek!

If you’d like to talk about how Bookswarm can help you with your website design, build or management needs, it’s not too late – just drop us a line.

We will be on stand 2C60 if you want to come and say hello, but please bear in mind we have lots of meetings booked already so may not always be available for spontaneous chat.

We’re sharing the IPAC stand with many other wonderful, beautiful and knowledgeable people who know all sorts of things about all sorts of things, so do come and say hello to them as well. They are:

  • Agile Marketing
  • Arkesis
  • Cameron Publicity & Marketing
  • Children’s Reading Company
  • Circular Software
  • Colibrio
  • Erudition Digital
  • Florence Production
  • Frequency
  • Hybert Design
  • Think Big Books
  • We Are Futureproofs

If you’re going to LBF and we don’t see you there… have a good fair!

Meet Bookswarm at London Book Fair 2019

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London Book Fair is fast approaching in its new, earlier, March time-slot, and Bookswarm will once again be in attendance.

We will be there for all three days (12th to 14th March) so if you would like to meet up and chat about how our website services can help you, just let us know! You can fill in the form below and we’ll get back to you work out the best slot.

We will be on the IPAC stand at the fair, along with a number of our fellow IPAC members – the stand number is 2C60.

Hopefully see you there!

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Simon Does A Podcast

Created by John Pettigrew, Talking Through My Hat explores bookish businesses and the fantastic people who create them, looking at why business are started, how they keep going and where we can take them in the future.

This week, the guest is Bookswarm’s very own hat-wearer-in-chief, Simon Appleby.

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You can listen here on this very website, visit the podcast’s home page or find it in your podcasting platform of choice, including iTunes and Spotify. There are loads of other intriguing guests to listen to as well, including friends of Bookswarm Emma Barnes of Bibliocloud, and Ken Jones of Circular Software.

It’s GDPR day! Revels abound…

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Yes, the day has arrived. The General Data Protection Regulation is being enforced from today, Friday 25th May.

If you have taken the first steps on your compliance journey, well done!

If you haven’t – DON’T PANIC! The Information Commissioner has been doing the media rounds this morning, saying that small businesses are not the main targets of this legislation, that they will not be actively seeking to identify non-compliance by small businesses, and that the key thing is that they can show intent and progress towards achieving compliance.

Your website is still one of the key areas where your business can easily demonstrate an effort to comply with the new laws. We’ve helped a number of our clients work on this with audits and website changes, and we’re still available to assist if needed.

Download our free white paper about GDPR, or contact us for help.

Blue lights and sirens – unhacking WordPress

We’ve helped two clients deal with hacked WordPress sites this week. We won’t say who they were, but they both had fairly nasty infections which meant that when visitors accessed their sites, new browser tabs would open with spammy content. In one instance, the content in question included an audio element and a persistent pop-up that was tricky to close without completely closing the browser. These were not sites we built or hosted, so it was interesting to see what the issues were and I thought it would be good to share.

The sites had some risk factors in common:

  • The use of off-the-shelf WordPress themes which had not been updated
  • Out-of-date plugins
  • Weak admin passwords
  • No firewall installed
  • No additional ‘hardening’ measures in place

WordPress is great, and now generates strong passwords by default (it didn’t used to); but failing to keep things updated (especially the WordPress core and themes) is asking for trouble – and the longer updates are left, the greater the risk. That’s why we harden every WordPress website we build, and handle maintenance for most of our clients, to keep things up-to-date and minimise risk.

In the case of these two hacked sites we managed to get them both repaired and hardened in less than an hour each, so if you know what to look for, a hacked WordPress site doesn’t have to be a big deal.

This repair service is available to everyone via our dedicated WordPress rescue service WPRescue.

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What makes a good literary agency website?

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We’ve recently completed several projects for literary agencies and we thought it would be a good opportunity to reflect on the anatomy of an effective agency website.

From experience, we think that most agents’ sites will need the following core elements:

  1. An introduction to the agency and its specialisms
  2. Information about the agents themselves, along with their supporting team
  3. A list of their clients, with a certain amount of information about their work (from book covers through to more detailed publication information)
  4. Clear and detailed information about how to submit, perhaps with a form to facilitate the process

Let’s look at those four things in a bit more detail.

1. Introducing the agency

The key thing here is to convey the personality and values of the agency, including its specialisms and passions, as well as its track record and key successes. It’s important for the team to think about what makes the agency special and really try and get that across with good, punchy copy. We will then work with the client to reflect the brand values and character of the agency through the site’s design.

2. Information about the agents

In a multi-agent setup, different agents are often focusing on building their own lists and representing different types of clients. So it’s important that each agent has their own profile, which clearly signals the kind of submissions they are looking for.

We built the MBA site so that each agent could quickly update their ‘Currently focused on’ information; this will probably change more often than their main profile. For example, Sophie Gorrell Barnes is currently focused on “Middle Grade Humour and Authentic Characters”.

Having a professionally shot set of headshots will be an excellent investment for this section. Agenting is a ‘people’ business and it will help people to know what you look like (on a practical level it may be very useful if contact through the site leads to a face-to-face meeting later). Felicity Bryan had a new set of photos taken as part of the redesign we undertook for them, and they really look smart. Of course, when the team changes it will be important to ensure that the same style is followed for new team members.

Both MBA and Felicity Bryan like to list each agents’ clients on that agents’ own page. We built these sites so that when a client is added, there is a field allowing their agent to be selected. This streamlines data entry and means that the agent pages update automatically to reflect the client database.

3. Client listings

For established agencies it’s the client list which represents the agency’s focus and work, so we think this should be as engaging and visual as possible. Although the use of client photos does make work for the agency, as clients will often need to be contacted to obtain up-to-date images, it’s far more impactful and engaging than a simple list of names.

Most sites choose to organise clients alphabetically, which is no surprise, but it’s also possible to filter them in other ways – for example, MBA allows the filtering of clients to show only Authors, Scriptwriters or Playwrights.

How much detail each agency wants to include about their clients can vary. For example, adding website and social media links takes effort to collate and maintain, but it’s very helpful for site users (and it’s great to have lots of outgoing links from a search engine perspective as well).

We tend to build sites so that books (or other works) are added independently and then associated with clients. This makes it possible to associate a book with multiple authors, and to do other clever things – for example, on the Susanna Lea Associates site, a different cover can be uploaded depending on whether the book is shown on the Paris, London or New York office page. This means that the Paris page shows the French edition, the New York page shows the US edition, and so on.

4. Submissions

There are essentially two approaches here:

  • Form-based submissions have a number of advantages. The minimum information that is associated with a submission can be defined (by making some fields compulsory). This reduces the risk of incomplete or inappropriate submissions. In addition, the submission can be sent from the site via e-mail, while the information is also stored on the website as a backup, reducing the risk of losing e-mailed submissions. The other advantage is that the site can automatically generate a confirmation that the submission has been sent, and explain to the potential client what happens next. Felicity Bryan Associates use form-based submission.
  • On the other hand, free-form submissions may feel less daunting to some potential clients; if this route is adopted, the website is the place to spell out, in detail, the agency’s submission criteria for either electronic or physical submissions. Susanna Lea Associates use the free-form submissions approach.

In addition to these four core elements, the site needs the flexibility to accommodate the other content needs of agencies, which could include:

  • Rights lists
  • News (from the agency or its clients)
  • A blog
  • Social media feeds
  • Contact details
  • Recruitment

Bookswarm use the WordPress Content Management System (CMS) to develop website, and this makes it easy to manage this content, and to allow the site to evolve as the agency’s business develops.

Take a look at our work for literary agencies using the gallery below, and if you think we can help you apply these lessons to your own website, please get in touch.

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