How to build a website with Bookswarm

Kjell Eldor reflects on the anatomy of a successful project.

We recently worked with the editorial team at Walker Books to create a micro-site for their new publication Get Coding! In this case study I’ll share with you how we bring website projects to life at Bookswarm.

The product

The fully-illustrated book teaches cget codinghildren aged 7+ how to code and build their own website, app and game using HTML, CSS and JavaScript. The book consists of 6 fun missions, which take the reader through the basic concepts of coding whilst ‘gamifying’ the process.

The book was produced in collaboration with Young Rewired State, who run “a global community of digital makers aged 18 and under”.

The brief

The brief was to create a micro-site which added value to the book by helping readers with the missions within. We worked with Walker Books to create a site architecture that allows users to easily find the section of the book they’re in, and drill down to specific code snippets they need.

After our initial project kick-off meeting we wrote up a Creative Brief, which defined every aspect of the project from audiences and objectives; to tone and visual design.

We then worked together to create a set of wireframes (or line drawings) to define the most logical and user-friendly site structure, using an online tool called UXPin:


Once Walker Books were happy with our vision, we used the wireframes and Creative Brief to create a set of visual designs:

Get Coding home 01

The visual design incorporated illustrations from within the book and the book’s branding to deliver a clear and coherent look and feel.

Creative lead Hazel Miles said:

It was nice to work with such colourful and fun illustrations, it gave me plenty of eye catching elements to use in the design. The book had a clearly defined style that needed to be applied to the website which was fun and engaging – both for me when designing it and for the end user.

After a short process of tweaking and refining these we had a set of designs which we could use to build the fully functional website.

We use WordPress for all our websites, meaning the client can independently content manage their site once the development process is complete.

The result

One of the key features of the end product was to be able to share HTML code with users which they could copy, edit and work with. Our technical lead Alex Watson found a neat solution for this:

I suggested CodePen as a tool for displaying the code snippets as it makes it easy for visitors to see how the code works right there on the website.

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Code Pen is a third party site which allows users to save code and display it on a website. This not only means we can display the code, but it means that users can click through, create a Code Pen account and save their work as they work through the missions within the book.

This a lovely touch to the website, that added real value to the book too.

Walker Books had their content organised and saved in Word documents, ready to upload to the site. They did this whilst we completed Desktop and Mobile testing to make sure the site was perfect across multiple devices.

My job, as Bookswarm’s project lead, was to make sure I supported the client throughout the whole process; right from our initial requirements gathering meeting to the final handover training session.

Walker Books Editor, and project lead Daisy Jellicoe said:

I really enjoyed working with Bookswarm. Kjell was great at explaining how the website would be designed and built, and was very helpful throughout the entire process. We’re really pleased with the end result. Thanks, Bookswarm!

Lead Developer Alex Watson reflected on the project:

I really loved developing this website as it reminded me how much I enjoyed learning to code when I did it myself many years ago.

The website launched on the publication day of the book and has already been enjoyed by many of the books’ readers.

As with all of our websites Walker Books have access to Bookswarms’ bespoke support feature, meaning their site is supported by us into the future.

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Bookswarm Director Simon Appleby concluded:

We’ve built many micro-sites for the publishing trade, and each one represents a new and fresh challenge. We were very pleased to work with Walker Books on this latest project. And who knows, maybe later on in our careers members of our team will work with young coders who were inspired to code by this very book!

Visit the finished Get Coding website


Five ways to excel on Amazon

0c5aacf3f358a056c5901b14dce9c8a9f9e45841It’s time for the second in our series of guest posts. Leila Dewji co-founded I_AM Self-Publishing to help self-publishing authors get to market in the most professional way possible. Here she shares some of the tips that her authors use to get one step ahead of the competition on Amazon.

Let’s face – it Amazon sells more books and eBooks than anyone else. Whether you are a self-published or traditionally published author, getting your book’s presence right on Amazon is crucial. Although the mysterious machinations of Amazon’s algorithm are yet to be totally cracked, there are several simple things you can do to give your book the best shot of being discovered on Amazon that don’t require any super-geeky knowledge.

Before we start, one thing for all authors and publishers to remember is that Amazon is a search engine (like Google, but all the searches are carried out by customers ready to buy). Think about how powerful that is.

Register information with Nielsen ASAP

Even if you don’t have all the final title information, send whatever you have to Nielsen as soon as possible. It doesn’t matter if you need to make changes to it later on – Nielsen can normally push these through the system in a few days. It’s great to upload the cover as soon as you have it, but don’t wait on that to register the ISBN. This isn’t just my advice, at Nielsen’s conference for independent publishers last year, this is exactly what they said. About a week after you have registered title information with Nielsen, Amazon will ingest the data and you will have the skeleton of a product page.

Claim and Jazz Up Your Amazon Author Page

As soon as there is a product page for your book on Amazon you can join Amazon’s Author Central program. Your Amazon author page is your base on the retailer’s site and it allows you to give readers some additional information about yourself, such as a short biography, pictures, videos, upcoming events and live feeds for your social media networks. Most authors do not make the most of their author page, but it is really worth spending some time on it. Check out Patricia Cornwell’s page, for a good example.

Research Your Niche/Sub-Chart

1One huge advantage of Amazon over your lovely local independent bookshop is its vast range. There are so many titles that in order to marshal them into a semblance of order, they have created a very detailed classification system. For example, giving a title a YA BIC or BISAC code and hoping it will feature in a YA chart will no longer work; you need to know which sub-chart within YA you want to feature in. Within the Teen and Young Adult section on the Kindle store, there are 18 subcategories. You can easily get a sense of which of these are the most competitive. The screenshot here shows that the competition in these sub charts ranges from a few hundred to tens of thousands (you are looking for a chart with the least competition).

Drill down and repeat this exercise e.g. If I choose ‘mysteries and thrillers’ then ‘romantic’ I find that the competition is now only 700, whereas the competition for ‘romance’ is 15,000. It’s a numbers game – you are looking for a chart small enough for you to stand a good change of hitting the top 10. Use this sub-chart name in your Kindle metadata, along with your other keywords. There may be several good small sub-charts that you want to feature in, put all those tags in your metadata.

SEO Your Product Page

On-page key word density counts and your product page there will be a lot of text that you can control:

  • Title
  • Subtitle
  • Series Name
  • Blurb/product description
  • The first few lines of your Author Central biog.

You need to get your keywords in these as much as possible (whilst still making sense). For example, If you want your book to rank for something like ‘historical fiction’ then make sure you use that keyword in your blurb and in the first couple of lines of your author biography on your Amazon Author page e.g. ‘I have always read historical fiction, and been a great fan of authors such as Hilary Mantel…’ might be a good way to start. In simple terms this means that you are really hammering home to Amazon that ‘historical fiction’ is what your product page is all about.

Use The Same Link

Once your book or eBook is live on Amazon you will want to share the link. However, there are lots of different URLs that will link to the same page – if someone has searched by author name they will get one URL, if they have searched by title they will get another, if they have searched by topic they will get another. You want to try and standardise things and have the same URL feature across the Internet in as many places as possible. The more links on the Internet to a particular Amazon URL, the more important Amazon will think it is, which will help with rankings.

If you just type your product name into Amazon you will get a really long URL. For example, if you search for the Booker winner A Brief History of Seven Killings by typing this into Amazon’s main search box, you will get a list of results with the book you want at the top. If you click on that, you will go through to a product page with a very messy URL:



If Marlon James started sharing this URL, he wouldn’t be doing himself any favours. What authors need to do is delete everything after the 10 digit ISBN or ASIN and share this link e.g.

This will send people to the same place.

Bonus Tip: Get as many reviews as you can. Encourage everyone who reads the book to leave an honest review on Amazon. You might want to add a page at the back of your book specifically asking readers for this feedback.

I hope that’s given you some good ideas. If you have any other tips or questions about any of these please tweet me at @iamselfpub.

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 (

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!

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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 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.

Commissioning an effective publisher website

BookMachine_logoBookswarm MD Simon Appleby has been blogging for BookMachine about the key considerations for publishers when they commission a new website.

Read the article on BookMachine

See Bookswarm’s Simon Appleby at London Book Fair’s Author HQ

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.

12507302_10153940169021742_5040132430012215599_nSimon 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.

16e1a16Appearing 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 release new white paper on commissioning author websites

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12507302_10153940169021742_5040132430012215599_nBookswarm 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

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