COMING UP WITH CONTENT
For sites to be visited frequently, you have to keep up a steady supply of new content. That's the reason most blogs fail and why most author websites get updated only once a year. Coming up with new information and entertainment regularly makes most writers dizzy.
But don't worry; you can work around this dilemma. If you look closely at successful sites, you'll see there are some secrets to providing regular new content.
AGGREGATE THE CONTENT
The web has become so overwhelmingly huge, you can't possibly look at everything you find interesting. Neither can anyone else. This is a good thing, though, because once you find something interesting, you can share it.
Providing links to interesting sites, excerpts from interesting sites or even media from interesting sites has become easier than ever. You can share things with your fans that you didn't have to create yourself, because it already exists on the net. This saves you time and can bring readers back day after day to see what you've compiled.
HELP FROM FRIENDS
No one said your site had to be a solo effort. The multiauthor blog means fewer individual posts for you but higher overall traffic because each author has her own fan base. Killer Year
Let's talk about traffic. Not rush hour bumper-to-bumper traffic but the Internet kind.
Writing is part art, part craft. But publishing is a business. That means you have to earn money to survive. If you're an author, the secret to earning money is becoming a brand name—an automatic purchase.
Use the World Wide Web to help achieve this. According to internetworldstats.com, there are more than 1 billion people online, and almost 70 percent of Americans are surfing the net.
Five years ago, only a handful of authors had websites. Two years ago, very few people knew what a blog or a podcast was. And who could've predicted the amazing success of YouTube, MySpace and Wikipedia?
No matter what type of writer you are—fiction, nonfiction, even unpublished-you must use the Internet to maximize your brand.
All authors need a homepage. Yet very few know what to include on it. Many people believe it's simply a 24-hour advertisement for your books, requiring no more than an image of your book's cover and a few jacket blurbs. Those people are wrong.
Here's the secret to a successful author website: It should be sticky. As the name implies, there should be enough content on your homepage to make people stick around for a while. Content comes in two forms: information and entertainment.
My website, JAKonrath.com, features more than 100 pages of content. Besides the standard book excerpts and reviews, I have free short stories, full e-book downloads, dozens of pages of writing tips for newbie authors, contests, a message board, a sign-up newsletter, videos and funny pictures, along with an updated appearance schedule.
Your website—and everything you do on the net—isn't about what you have to sell. It's about what you have to offer.
YOUR BOOK SITE
Taking a cue from the movie industry, authors and publishers have begun creating websites for individual book titles. David Morrell created a whole interactive web experience for his bestseller Creepers at theparagonhotel.com, which features the setting from the book. You can also visit nextgencode.com, the fiction company Michael Crichton writes about in his novel Next. And my own more modest effort can be found online at thesegunsforhire.com, to coincide with the release of an anthology I've edited.
A blog is a way to directly communicate with people several times a week. Successful blogs focus on a specific topic and become forums for like-minded individuals to comment and exchange ideas. Thriller writer Barry Eisler's blog (BarryEisler.com/blog.html) focuses on politics and language, while chick-lit (or more precisely, mommy-lit) author Melanie Lynne Hauser posts funny anecdotes about motherhood (MelanieLynneHauser.com/wordpress).
My own blog, A Newbie's Guide to Publishing (JAKonrath.blogspot.com), features more than 300 essays about writing, marketing and promoting. Often other people—even bestselling authors—disagree with my opinions. This is great. There's no such thing as bad publicity, and controversy draws in readers.
Should you be blogging? Yes. But first you need to figure out what your blog is going to be about and if you can write on that topic three times a week forever. Check out blogger.com and wordpress.com. These sites are free and can help you get started.
I've heard statistics that MySpace has four times more daily visitors than Google. It's easy to see why.
MySpace is all about you. Your favorite books, music and movies. Your pictures. Your likes and dislikes. Your friends.
If you're a published author, chances are someone has already mentioned you on their MySpace profile. When you put up a MySpace page (which is free) people will come to you, wanting to be your online MySpace Friend. Once someone is your friend, you can send them messages, post comments on their MySpace pages, or even send bulletins to all of your friends at once about your new book release, magazine sale, author signing or anything else regarding your work.
But it gets better. You can search for like-minded people, as well. I write thrillers similar to Harlan Coben, but they're funny like Christopher Moore. So you can bet I looked at Coben's and Moore's MySpace pages and invited their Friends to be my Friends.
Amazon, the world largest online bookseller, encourages authors to add content to their site in a variety of ways:
Amazon.com/connect allows published authors to set up their own bio page and blog, which is linked to every book of yours they sell. It lets you stay in touch with readers who've bought your book through Amazon and alert them when your new titles are released.
Amazon.com/shorts allows people to download a short story of yours for 49 cents. It's great for fans who are anxiously awaiting your next book, and it's also a cheap way for a potential buyer to give your writing a try. Plus, you make money; every download earns you 20 cents—which is pretty good considering a paperback sale nets an author only roughly 55 cents.
You don't have to be a novelist to partake in this program, as long as you're published somewhere and Amazon sells that book. Humorous mystery writer Tom Schreck (TomSchreck.com) has three Shorts on Amazon, and his only prior publishing cred was a story in one of the Chicken Soup books. The success of his Amazon Shorts helped him find a publisher for his novel.
Amazon.com/listmania allows you to create a list of books that are similar to yours, which comes up as a sidebar when people do searches on those authors. Your recommendations can lead fans of other authors to your books.
YOUR AUDIO AND VIDEO
If you don't have an MP3 player yet, you're ignoring this technology at your own peril. People love to download audio content, either to their computer or to their iPods. And you have a couple of options as an author to deliver your readers content.
You can try an MP3 blog. It's an audio file posted to your homepage, blog or MySpace page, which can be listened to online or downloaded as a file and played on various equipment. You can also create a regularly updated podcast, which can be attached to an RSS feed, allowing syndication. The audio recording software is available for free (I use audacity.com). Then you can visit iTunes to make your recording into a podcast, also free.
Your audio blog or podcast can be as simple as you reading your work or doing an interview. Or you can create entire radio shows with music and commercials.
If video is your thing, then visit YouTube and upload your book trailer that you created using Flash or a video of you speaking at your last bookstore event. Once you're on YouTube, you can embed the clip in your website, blog and MySpace.
THE REAL SECRET TO INTERNET PROMOTION
The simple fact is that anyone looking for you on the net can find you. While it's good to make your current fan base happy, most writers are looking for new fans. But how are people going to find you if they don't even know you exist?
You have to lead them to you.
Every time you send an e-mail with your URL in your signature line, post on your blog, leave comments in a forum, exchange links with another author, join a Yahoo Group, m ake a MySpace friend, upload a YouTube video or add content to your website, you're building roads. These roads can last for years, and they always lead back to you. The search engines find them. Surfers find them. People looking for other things find you, instead.
Using statcounter.com, you can see where your site visitors come from, how long they stay and what search engine terms they used to find your site. I still get hits on blog entries I wrote three years ago, by people looking for "free e-books," "co-op money," "how to get published" and, of course, "Jack Daniels."
The bigger web presence you have, the more links you have coming in, the more chances people have to discover you. And they will discover you.
You can spend a fortune hunting mice—mount expeditions, buy expensive mouse-hunting equipment, tour the world and devote all of your time to tracking those little suckers down. Or you can toss some cheese in the corner and wait.
The choice is yours.
GETTING PEOPLE TO FIND YOU
I don't recommend paying to be listed on a search engine, because all of the important ones will list you for free if you have a regularly updated site with a decent amount of information. There are plenty of services who offer to list your URL on 40,000 search engines for only $9.99. That seems like a bargain, but when was the last time you used maxpromo.com or wisenut.com to look something up? Save your money.
Remember that old shampoo commercial, where the woman told two friends, and they told two friends, and so on, and so on? Links do the same thing for your website. The more people who link to you, the better off you are. The secret to attracting links is to have content that people want. Trading links also works. Just e-mail a fellow writer and ask to trade. Search engines love links, and the more you have going in and coming out, the higher your placement will be.
NEWSGROUPS, LISTSERVS, YAHOO GROUPS, MESSAGE BOARDS
Or any public forum where like-minded individuals band together and exchange ideas. The key to successfully establishing a presence on these forums is to contribute intelligent points in a polite and logical manner, rather than yelling, "Buy my book!" every time you post. Your comments should always have a signature line that leads to your blog or website, but people will click on that because they want to know more about the clever person who said those smart things, not because you beg them to.
I'm a firm believer that the more pieces of paper your name is on, the better you'll succeed in publishing. Because of this, I write a lot of short stories and articles, do a lot of mass mailings, and pass out a ridiculous number of coasters and business cards. Each of these lists my website URL. You should put your URL on everything. Mine is on the bumper of my car, on every ad and flier, and even on my checks. Every piece of mail I send out gets a JAKonrath.com rubber stamp on the back. I always mention my URL in newspaper and radio interviews, on panels, and while doing signings. Overkill? I get 1,000 unique hits a day, and I'm a midlist genre writer.
Chances are, if you Google something, Wikipedia will be one of the top responses. It's an online dictionary where the entries are written by the readers. If you're a published author, have a friend do a Wiki on you (you can't do one on yourself).