What Your Website Needs to Have to Sell Books
Maybe you’re just starting to sell your fiction, and you know you need a website but you don’t know how to build one. Maybe you’ve read dozens of blogs but they just leave you more confused about where to start.
Or maybe you have an okay website, but it’s not helping you sell your books. You feel like your site is a waste of time and money, even though everyone insists you need one.
Or maybe you get good traffic, but you aren’t bringing in many novel sales and you have the sinking feeling that something’s wrong.
If that’s you, read on. This guide is for you.
I’m going to explain the three things your website needs to do to support your fiction writing career, and how to build them.
Disclaimer: I’m using my own site as an example. That’s because I find examples easier to learn from than abstract essays about concepts.
Why Do I Need a Website?
You just do. Simple.
What’s that, I have to actually explain my opinion?
Your website is your base of operations for your online book-selling campaign. When you give an interview, where’s the interviewer going to direct people to learn more about you? Your website. When you write a guest post on someone else’s blog, where is that link going to go? Your website. When you want to promote yourself on Facebook and Twitter, what are you going to post a link to? Probably not your Amazon sales page; that comes across like a hard-sell. You’ll post a link to your website.
But let’s go deeper. Your website’s purpose is to 1) sell books, 2) build a relationship with readers, and 3) collect emails…which you then use to sell your books and build a relationship with readers. Let’s take these one at a time:
1) Sell Books
Your website should be arranged in a way that makes it really easy for users to buy your books or sign up for your email list. I’m going to use my site as an example.
I recommend including an image of your book on the homepage, right under the navbar. You can see what I mean here: http://julianadorney.com/. If you do this, bam, right away the user sees you have a book, and learns about said book. If it’s not their cup of tea, cool. But if it is, you’ll make it VERY easy for them to check it out.
Under that image, you should have a little more info about your novel. You can see how I’ve done it on my site. If the reader likes it, I have a whole page about my novel The Dragon’s Curse, and they can go read the first chapter free. That’s a really easy giveaway — you’re 1) giving readers something fun to read and 2) hooking them into your book. And again, if they don’t like it — fine. But if they do, this layout make it super easy for them to keep taking little steps towards a sale: read a 1-sentence teaser, then read a blurb, then read a first chapter, then buy the book on Amazon.
2) Build a Relationship With Readers
Now, most of this relationship is built when the reader reads your book; as a writer, you’re primarily an intermediary between reader and book, and your book is most of what they’ll remember.
But how do you build a personal brand that crosses books? After all, most of us don’t think of Holly Lisle, author of Courage of Falcons. We think Holly Lisle, author we follow.
Your author name and bio are the threads tying all of your books together. That’s what helps readers make the leap from great book to author I need to follow. So, as an author you need to be memorable.
You know what your biggest asset is as a solo-preneur and self-publishing writer? You. You’re a one-person shop, a real person, an artist; not a corporation. That lets you create a human connection with your readers. Make the most of it. Don’t flaunt yourself or put yourself first (you can see that my bio’s pretty far down my homepage), but do be clear about who you are. I recommend having a short bio on your homepage, and a dedicated About page with a longer one.
The element that matters most here is voice. Just like your book is YOUR BOOK, your website is YOUR SITE. Not mine. Not your dad’s, who always wanted you to become a carpenter anyway. Not your boyfriend’s or your sister’s or Nora Roberts’. YOURS. When you’re writing text for your site, write from your heart. When you’re writing your bio, let your unique spirit shine.
Look at my bio. You can find 1,000 bios online about how Danny, “was born in Colorado, and graduated college in 2014 before moving on to a career as a house painter, where he started writing novels in his free time and —” That doesn’t help you build a connection with your reader. It doesn’t help you stand out.
In my bio, I talk about how I’m a super nerdy kid who loves gangsta rap and climbs trees and resolved to never grow up. Is it perfect, or will everyone like it? Of course not. But it’s memorable and it’s me. And the people who look at it and think, “That’s awesome”? They’ll buy my novel. And they’ll like it (okay, hopefully), because they’re my Ideal Reader.
Writing copy for your website is like writing your novel: NEVER BE BORING. Be unique. Stand out. Just like in your novels, dig deep and be YOU.
Partly because it’s fun. Who wants to spend hours writing the same thing as everyone else? But also because, from a marketing standpoint, authentic uniqueness WORKS.
That’s how you build a relationship with readers; write great books, show them those books, and make them see you as a unique individual who’s different from everyone else they see.
Now, building a relationship with readers also involves things like talking to them, emailing, etc; but that’s all stuff you do outside of your website. To start, just make sure that you have a big “Contact Me” page on your site, linked in the navigation bar, to facilitate those conversations.
3) Collect Emails (Ethically!)
Most people aren’t going to read your name in an online interview, get all fired up, go to your Amazon book page, buy your book, and just remember you for the rest of your life, diligently checking Amazon every 3 months to see if you have a new book out. I’m sorry. I wish it worked like that.
What they’ll do instead is forget about you.
That’s why you need to collect emails.
Most people who visit your site won’t buy your novels…even if they think they would love them. This is 2017 and we’re all ADD. Your ideal reader hops onto your site, reads a chapter, hits the Amazon buy page….and then the tea pot starts whistling. Or her friend calls to chat. Or her boss says lunch is over. And she leaves.
If you don’t have some way to contact her and remind her about your book, then she’s gone forever.
That’s where email comes in.
If she’s on your site and she requests your FREE short story ebook, and you email it to her….she gave you her email. You can then send her a soft-sell email mentioning your novel/series/etc. When your new book comes out, you can email her about that one too. Don’t be spammy, but just think to yourself: if you know she’s looking for the kind of tale you write (which she is, because she already downloaded your free short story), then you have a duty to mention your novel to her. You don’t have to shove it down her throat. Just mention it. Give her the option to read a great book.
So how do you collect emails?
If you go to my homepage, you’ll notice a section about Parius. This is where I collect emails. You see the text and the image, and if you like it, you click the button. That takes you to http://julianadorney.com/parius/, where you get more information about the story and an invitation to get it for free…just enter your email so I know where to send it.
That’s the ethical part of collecting emails. You’re not lying, cheating, or spamming your readers. You’re offering them something short and free that you think they’ll like. And if they do like it, odds are that they’ll like your paid material as well.
Traps to Avoid
The rest of this article focuses on what not to do. This is actually great news, because most of the things you shouldn’t be doing are time-intensive. By not wasting time on these elements that actually hurt you, you can spend more time writing.
What Not to Do #1: Don’t Overwhelm Your Reader
My site just has a few pages, and that’s on purpose. Your website exists to sell your books. Create pages for your books, pages for your free short stories, a page for your bio and contact page…and then stop.
You don’t need five pages about you and your hobbies and that time you played rugby (unless you’re promoting your novel about professional sports), or pages with inspiring author quotes and a picture of your cat.
If you’re a fiction writer, and you’re not trying to also sell courses to other writers, then your main focus should be on your books. The more pages you add, the more your reader can get overwhelmed and fall into the paradox of choice.
In the same vein, I would opt for a clean and simple layout. I see some sites that have 30 things going on at once: this free offer, and this call to action, and that cool writer quote, and this flashy widget that moves, and this blog and this other section of the blog, and…
Don’t overwhelm your reader. Keep it simple.
If you’re wondering if you have too many elements on your site, a good rule of thumb is to look at your site on mobile. That’s where most users are. Each web page should be clean, simple, and easy to scroll through on an iPhone. It should look great on a small resolution, because it’s such a clean layout. I worked really hard to make my site like this.
If it’s simple and easy to navigate on mobile, then odds are pretty good that it will also look great on desktop.
What Not to Do #2: Don’t Talk About Yourself Too Much
Says the guy writing a blog about his own website….
You need to talk about yourself, but never make your author presence so big that it gets in the way of your stories. You don’t need to put your bio at the top of your homepage, or quote yourself, or write 5 different pages about your passions and goals and history.
As an author, you’re the intermediary between reader and book. Introduce yourself with an About page and a little bit of homepage text. And then get out of the way. Because the reader’s here for a good book, not to hear about your life goals; make it easy for them to get what they came for, and they’ll like you more.
Holly, by the way, is a great example of this. She has a really distinct brand, and we all know her. But we know her by her work (her courses) and her fiction, not because she slapped a full-page bio on her homepage.
What Not to Do #3: Don’t Hide Your Books
This goes in line with 1) and 2), but there’s more to it.
Every story you write should have a page on your site, and the page should be linked in the navigation bar. You should also feature a couple of your stories on your homepage.
Even if all you have is a work in progress, have a page about it! List out your Sentence once it’s nailed down (so, probably during How to Revise Your Novel if you’re taking it) and a description of the book. Tease readers and offer them the promise of a good story. And then use a form on the page to collect emails from interested readers, and send out an email once you publish your story.
Your audience is here for your stories. And this is 2017 so they’re impatient. Make it easy for them to find what they’re looking for.
So that’s the point of a website.
A base of operations where interested users can find you and what you offer.
A place to sell your book.
A way to brand yourself as an author.
A way to collect email addresses from readers who want to hear from you.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. Now that you know what you need, how do you actually build it?
Actually, I have no idea if you’re thinking that or not. You just read 2,000 words and it’s possible that all you’re thinking about is the bathroom. But if you are curious about building a site (or rebuilding one), then I’ll be writing a detailed next installment focusing on EXACTLY how to build your website, and make it look great (even when you’re on a budget).