Thursday, March 26, 2015

Why entrepreneurs and creatives need a great website

Now that I've released a few books, I've decided to revamp my author site. If you’re any sort of entrepreneur or creative (e/c) such as an author, photographer or actor, I believe you need a website, too. And not just any website, one that’s competitive with your competitors while reflecting your branding and work.  

Especially in this era of fragmentation, it’s important to have one place where your readers/customers/clients (r/c/c) can learn about all things you. Sending a prospective r/c/c to Instagram, Pinterest or even a Facebook business page or YouTube channel is a fragmented approach, without additional content to tie all of your social media together. Having all of your links and information in one place makes it easier for people to find you, learn about you, and share your information. 

For example, e/cs need some sort of media kit, including at minimum a downloadable photo and resume, and preferably assorted other documents such as a press release and links to or the actual articles you’ve written or that have been written about you. You should have samples of your work, such as book blurbs and covers for an author. One take on what goes in a media kit is here.

Even if you’re just starting out, you need to show the world you’re ready to do the job. It's not just about what you think, it's whether prospective clients will like it and want to explore. A basic site may suffice, but most won’t convey the impression that you’re a pro. If you don’t believe me, search sites for your field. Find your top 5 favorites. How does yours compare?

Though there are many templates out there and free website builders such as weebly and wix, I chose to hire a designer. While I have a good sense of what I want, I don’t have the graphic arts skills or, say, high-level Photoshop skills, to execute my vision. I found my designer back in 2006 by looking at dozens of author sites. If I found one I liked, I looked at that designer's portfolio (there's usually a link at the bottom of the home page). I stayed with her for my redesign because I like the way her designs have evolved over the years.

Be aware that the process can take longer than you think. Your designer may be too busy to start on yours right away. So the sooner you start the process, the sooner you'll be good to go.  

And even if you hire a designer, you'll still have a lot of work to do. Some decisions you'll need to make include: 
--What colors do you like or represent your brand? 
--What images do you want on the home page? 
--How many pages do you want?
--What content will go on each page? You'll need to write it.
--What should be on the menu bar?
--Do you want animation? 

Some tips for freelancers' sites are here.

Looking forward to revealing my new site very soon. Hope readers like it as much as I do.


Thursday, March 19, 2015

Historical Accuracy: How far should the author go?

I take research for my novels very seriously.

I own more than two hundred books on late medieval England. I've spent time in the Newberry Library, where you submit requests for up to three books at a time instead of browsing through the stacks. I've waited for interlibrary loan for that hard-to-find tome. Once I even got permission to go to the Art Institute's library to use a book on stained glass I couldn't find anywhere else. And, of course, the Internet is at my fingertips. While much of that information is too general, some is helpful, such as virtual tours of sites and cities.

The theory I've heard in writing workshops and subscribe to is that even if something isn't common during your time period, if you can find it in more than one source it's fine to use. Sometimes books disagree on how or exactly when something happened, and sometimes they'll say, "No one knows" this or that. In those instances, I'm happy to fill in the blanks to suit my story.

So it can be frustrating if readers or contest judges question information I carefully vetted and use that question or disbelief to score down my entry or say my book is historically inaccurate.

For example, Richard, Duke of York, is a secondary character in more than one of my books set before 1465. A judge once wrote, "Richard was the Duke of Gloucester." There was of course a Richard, Duke of Gloucester, but since he was born in 1452, he wasn't the powerful commander in my novel, and in any case that didn't mean there wasn't also a Richard, Duke of York.

Another secondary character has a carpet on her manor house floor. A judge wrote something to the effect that carpets didn't exist at that time. It's true they weren't common and certainly peasants didn't have them, but this woman was shown as wealthy and I described it as "new."

The challenge sometimes comes in choosing how much detail and/or explanation to use about a historical event or item. If I'm describing a gown, for example, how much is just right vs. slowing the pace? Most readers probably don't want to know that this style of gown was first popular in Burgundy and came to England in X year. Others may have an image of "medieval" clothing from movies/TV shows, etc., and not know how much fashion changed over the centuries or how some movies/TV shows may be more generic rather than specific in their costumes. Or I might mention an object some readers assume wasn't invented yet, but I chose not to use precious page time convincing them.

Finally, word choice is a huge concern. Readers may say a word pulls them out of the story because it sounds too contemporary. I often refer to a great book, English Through the Ages, and online word origin sites. Even if a phrase or word exactly conveys what I'm going after, I won't use it if it's first known use wasn't in my time period. Since no one wants to read a medieval using the exact words and spelling in documents of the time in what is known as Middle English, to my knowledge it's become an accepted convention, for example, to use contractions.

This doesn't mean I or any author will never have an error that slips by us, beta readers/and or editors. Many authors, including me, include an Author's Note saying any errors are their own or that they tried to be as accurate as possible.

May I encourage you, gentle reader, to give the author the benefit of the doubt...and consider looking up any information that strikes you as nonperiod.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Successful book releases: what works?

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Follow Your Heart by Ruth  Kaufman

  Follow Your Heart

  by Ruth Kaufman

  Giveaway ends April 12, 2015.

  See the giveaway details
  at Goodreads.

Enter to win

Thanks to the Internet and social media, an author's options for preparing for a book release are overwhelming. Giveaways on Goodreads and other sites, reviews, blog posts on your own site and guesting on others, newsletters, posts on Facebook and Twitter and other sites like Instagram and Pinterest, which I haven't used (yet?). What could you do with a press release? Not to mention online ads on reader sites, Facebook, etc.

There's no magic formula for how much time and money spent promoting a release leads to more sales. Should you hire a PR/social media person? Figure it out yourself? What's the value of preorders?

I keep hearing that good books sell more books, so the best way to market your current release is your next. And that readers love "free," such as a free chapter. I still believe getting your name and cover(s) out there, and as often as you can without being annoying, is also essential.

This probably stems from my days in media research when I gave reach and frequency presentations to advertising professionals. How many people, preferably in your target audience, are aware of your product, and how many times do they need to hear about it in order to buy? Back in the day, I recall that optimal frequency was 7. But there are so many more media/device options now, and so many more ads we're bombarded with on any given day. What works for you as a reader may not work for your readers.

My experience so far shows the importance of:
a) having a great, memorable cover. Recently a fellow chorister saw half of my bookmark sticking out of another chorister's pocket and remembered reading an article about it in The Chicago Daily Law Bulletin over two weeks earlier...that she didn't realize was also about me.
b) getting your cover and information out there as often as you can, even in publications that may not seem like your target market
c) making positive connections in person and online with as many people as you can.
d) top notch writing and story
e) personal recommendations, thanks to a) - d).

What works for you as an author, or prompts you to buy a book as a reader?

Thursday, March 05, 2015

What sells books: social media, ads, blogs, reviews?

I've done quite a bit of reading about what helps to sells books beyond writing great books.Unfortunately, there's no one size fits all. No panacea. What works for you as an author, or what inspires you to buy a book as a reader?

For me, so far:
Fortunately, both versions of AT HIS COMMAND have received great 5 star reviews. "If a book lingers in my mind for more than 2 weeks, I say it's a keeper!" for the Historical Romance Version, and "All the good stuff with none of the bedroom stuff," for the Inspirational Version. I have a great review opportunity lined up for my April 14 release, FOLLOW YOUR HEART (currently on preorder for only $1.99, if you're so inclined). Fingers crossed it and the AHC review I'm awaiting from Publishers Weekly will be good!

Goodreads giveaways have been great. They seem to take on a life of their own as more people enter to win and add my book(s) to their shelves. I hope some convert to sales. My current giveaway is below, and is garnering more interest than the first one I did for ACH. More interesting blurb? Cover? Same readers who entered for AHC?

I tried a few Facebook author page post boosts, which according to FB reached thousands of people (though not always as many as they said before I clicked the buy link). I didn't get as many new likes to my page as one boost estimated. I did get some clicks/interactions with another, but I can't tell if those converted to sales. I'm grateful to every friend who has shared my covers and helped get the word out. I still feel a bit lost in the Twittersphere, though I tweet once a day or so and am increasing my number of followers.
Goodreads Book Giveaway

Follow Your Heart by Ruth  Kaufman

Giveaway ends April 12, 2015. See the giveaway  details at Goodreads. 

I'm also guest posting on blogs. Other things I'm doing:
This ad on page 4 of the March/April issue of BTS Book Reviews magazine:

And, I'm participating in The Romance Reviews' Anniversary Party with FYH. I'll reserve judgment until the party is over, but there are so many ads I wonder how many visitors will notice mine or answer the question for my giveaway.
It'd be great if each ad I ran or post I wrote resulted in a big sales boost. So far, I haven't seen that. But it takes time to build readership. The concepts of reach and frequency from my media research days still apply for building awareness and interest.