Building An Author Website
Copyright 2011 by Morris Rosenthal - All Rights Reserved
Self Publishing Blog
Copyright 2011 by Morris Rosenthal
All Rights Reserved
How To Make It As Writer Through Your Website
The most aggressive salesman in the world can't sell refrigerators to Eskimos if he can't find any Eskimos. The Internet is littered with websites that are nothing more than advertisements pitching some product or service. When an author puts up a website that consists of nothing but teasers, or "long copy" as it's called in the advertising industry, it's going to fail. While the sell-through, the success rate of closing a sale to visitors, may be relatively high, the number of visitors from the search engines will be abysmally low. It doesn't matter how much you tweak your sales copy, how slick your storefront looks, whether or not you take all major and minor credit cards. You can't sell books to people if they aren't visiting your website, and nobody is going to send their friends to visit your advertisement. Most importantly of all, an advertisement is never going to serve as a platform.
So the way to publishing nirvana is through self-abnegation and charitable works online. Is that what I'm saying? Only in the same sense that being a good person and helping your neighbors can bring you respect in your community. Respect is just as important in the online world as it is on Main Street. The respect and links of your peers is critical to establish your website in a good neighborhood and to bring you search visitors, but what happens when they show up at your resource? What's in it for you? If you want to break into publishing and you don't have any friends or family who are established in the industry, an author website gives you the platform to launch your writing career.
My online work averages around 10,000 visitors a day, mainly steered my way by search engines. Given the number of subjects I've written about over the years, it's not unlike owning a small town newspaper, but one that I don't have to publish every day. With the exception of blogging, I'll go months at a time without updating a single page on my website, yet I can demonstrate the sort of traffic that brings tears to an acquisitions editor's eyes. So maybe you're thinking that I'm selling 1000 books a day and raking it in. You'd be high by two orders of magnitude. The website generates around one documented book sale per thousand visitors, and I'm proud of the fact. My website is not a giant book advertisement, in fact, I haven't published a book on anything related to most of the topics I write about. And that's why the website draws the number of visitors it does, and that's why any new subject gets off to a running start for search engine visitors.
The Internet is littered with websites that are nothing more than advertisements pitching some product or service. When an author puts up a website that consists of nothing but teasers, or "long copy" as it's called in the advertising industry, it's going to fail. While the sell-through, the success rate of closing a sale to visitors, may be relatively high, the number of visitors from the search engines will be abysmally low. It doesn't matter how much you tweak your sales copy, how slick your storefront looks, whether or not you take all major and minor credit cards. You can't sell books to people if they aren't visiting your website, and nobody is going to send their friends to visit your advertisement. Most importantly of all, an advertisement is never going to serve as a platform.
Despite the low conversion rate of visitors to book buyers, my website does sells thousands of books a year as a result of search traffic, including: mail order books, eBooks, special orders and trackable Amazon sales to customers who go directly from the website to Amazon by clicking a link. Without the walk-in traffic generated by my website, Barnes&Noble would never have stocked one of my titles in superstores for a couple years, as I never approached them to do so. Likewise, colleges and training programs using one of my titles as a course text would never have chosen it if the instructors hadn't come across my online content and requested review copies.
The balance between the free resource and commercial aspects of your website may be difficult to make, but it's not some delicate negotiation that will result in ruin and loss of all your hard work should you push a little too hard on one end of the see-saw. The philosophy that's worked best with every website launch I'm aware of, including some of the big billion dollar IPOs, is "get the traffic first, monetize second." This turns out to be a great formula for authors who don't know much about the Internet because it maintains the focus on the important part, getting the visitors. There's no penalty for not maximizing the income potential of your website, and it can actually help you win visitors if your site tends more to the hobby/enthusiast side than to the profit motive.
I've known authors who have spent thousands of dollars trying to raise the sales of published books with search advertising and have failed to sell a handful of books. Paying for people to come to your website is a completely different business model than getting them for free, and it's one you have to approach a few dollars at a time, measuring the results. Deciding that you're willing to spend $X dollars promoting a book and setting up a campaign with that budget is a guaranteed way to throw your money away. If it was that easy to sell books, everyone would be a successful author.
There's another compelling reason for authors to practically write their books online, with draft chapters or rough research notes. Like most authors working on most books, the work might stretch into years, and you may never even finish. But during that time, the website can start working for you, raising your profile and through feedback, helping you write a better book. The book you may have given up on from the fear that nobody would ever read it could turn into the first book you finish thanks to Internet fans cheering you on. And when a publisher decides they need to publish books to have a presence in a new market segment, and they don't have any authors in the stable raring to go, you better believe the Internet is one of the places a savvy editor will look to check for candidates. An unfinished book on your hard drive isn't worth the electrons that recorded it. An unfinished book on the Internet can be a vital piece of a platform, if not the whole thing.