Author Websites: Five Questions to Get You Started

On January 20, 2014, in Blog, by Laura

A blog post about author websites has been on the cards for absolute ages. It seems only obvious. WriteHit’s roots lie in web design, so why not help people out by sharing some wisdom.

Truth be told, what has been holding me back on writing about it is that it’s such a huge topic. How much detail should one go into to make it an effective introduction? How to create a good author website isn’t really a good topic for a blog post, it’s something that books should be (are?) written about it and perhaps that’s an approach we’ll look at in future. When brainstorming things to cover, I thought of: what features are needed on an author website? How should it link up with other marketing efforts? How to build the bloody thing (something best left to the wealth of web creation tutorials already out there online).

Well long story short, after thinking about this for a while, someone else did a way better job at explaining how to create an author website than I ever could. Check out this free online course created by Simon from the Rocking Self Publishing Podcast. I’m serious, you absolutely must if you are an enterprising author wanting to take a about 2 hours to learn how to create your own WordPress based author website. And while you’re at it, you should listen to the podcast as well!

Anyway, what I will do on this post is outline some basic questions (and answers) to keep in mind when you’re planning your website.

1. What purpose does your site serve?

As an author, your main goal is to sell books. You want to connect with readers, give them a way to get in touch, but the end game is definitely that you want them to buy your work.

2. Who will visit your site: a complete stranger or someone familiar with your work?

In an ideal world, someone will type your genre into Google and end up at your site. In reality, this is unlikely to happen at least for a while, or ever. It is more likely that someone who has already bought one of your books looks you up online to find out more about you. Make sure that those visitors are well served by your website. (Of course don’t forget the basics and fail to offer some short introduction on who you are and what you’re about for the occasional “stranger” who does come by.)

3. What are people looking for?

What would you be looking for seeking out the website of an author whose work you enjoy? Would you appreciate a clear and easy to find listing of all their books so you can easily pick out the ones you haven’t read yet? Would you like links to all the places you can purchase their books? Would you appreciate a blog where the author gives you an insight into their life and world views? Chances are you would like to see all or at least some of these. If it seems overwhelming, focus on listing your books (and yes, links to buy them at all major retailers you distribute to, not just Amazon!) and a page with a short bio perhaps.

4. Who are you? / What are you like?

Branding is another one of those huge topics that creeps into almost every part of the (self) publishing process. Make sure your site fits your style and personality as a writer. The most obvious example would be: if you write children’s books, don’t blog about inappropriate topics. Making your site look fitting is covered in the video course I’ve already linked to as well. You can use your book covers as design elements for the website. Try to use similar fonts etc. so you don’t end up with a confusing hotchpotch of styles. When in doubt, keep things simple. The key to a professional looking website is not to have all the bells and whistles you can find, just because you can. You don’t need dozens of widgets and plug ins. You need to focus on the basic purpose of your site and whether it’s easy to understand and use.

5. Your site is your home on the web.

Not technically a question but important enough to mention anyway. You may have a Facebook page, a Twitter handle and a Pinterest board.  All these may serve you pretty well and allow lots of readers to get in touch and interact with you. But: you need to tie all these together somewhere and create a back up in case those other services become outdated. If Facebook decides from now on you will need to pay for every post you make, you will need a new way of communicating with readers. You cannot build a business (and writing for profit, long term is most definitely a business!) on someone else’s property because they may swoop in and take it from you at any moment. Your most vocal fans need a place to sign up for blog updates or a mailing list which isn’t going to vanish just because another company has made an inconvenient policy change.

In short, visit the online course and follow the examples to create a site that is easy on the eyes, well organised and contains at least the following: a list of all your books, a bio page, a contact page, ideally a mailing list sign up and links to all your social media profiles. If you don’t plan on blogging properly, you might want to have a blog just for announcing new releases or showing off book covers anyway.

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Finally, a retailer breakdown

On September 16, 2013, in Blog, by Laura

Thanks to Hedonist Six for allowing me to refer to her blog post today, showing off some stats she has uncovered after compiling her sales data for the past year.

See the original blog post here; Exclusivity or not; are other retailers worth it?


(The figures quoted represent royalty income, not number of books sold.)

For her particular work, in her genre – erotica – the breakdown is as follows:

68% Amazon

14% Smashwords (almost exclusively Barnes & Noble since Apple has not yet added her work to its catalogue)

10 % Google Play

6% All Romance Ebooks

2%  Kobo

While these results may not be indicative of how these retailers may perform for you, it’s still pretty interesting. Especially when you bear in mind that beyond linking to book listings on her website, she hasn’t done any advertisements of anything other than Amazon listings. The only significant marketing activity so far has been to just make part one of her serial novel free on all platforms, and wait for readers to find it themselves.


All Things Come to an End – Kobo & Goodreads

On September 11, 2013, in Blog, by Laura

OK, you may have already noticed this and I may just be hopelessly behind, but I just realised Kobo no longer shows reviews from Goodreads. Earlier when you went to Kobo and looked at a book which people have reviewed on Goodreads, if all things were set up properly and the ISBN for the Kobo version was added to Goodreads, you’d see Goodreads content right there on the product listing.

For people who have extensively pushed their books on Goodreads to try and get more (good) reviews, this used to be a good thing. For others who found Goodreads to be a cesspool full of snarky reviewers leaving 1 star ratings without explanation, I suppose maybe it wasn’t. This has now changed though.

In March this year, Amazon bought Goodreads. There has been a lot of discussion online about whether or not that’s a good thing, but as far as I can tell, it really doesn’t matter so much. Amazon has claimed they won’t mess with Goodreads or try to ruin it, similar to how they neglect run Shelfari. One thing that has changed now is that obviously Goodreads isn’t looking so great anymore as a source for unbiased reviews for other retailers (Kobo).

While comments from Goodreads suggest that they haven’t actually switched off the API that pushes reviews to other sites, there is only one other plausible explanation: Kobo has taken this feature away themselves. An internal business decision on their part to try and sever ties with what is now part of their biggest competitor. I can’t say I blame them. The one thing I hope they do rectify is, now there are NO reviews on Kobo AT ALL. I can’t even figure out how to write one myself independent of Goodreads. This is in my opinion a problem. If there is no way to gauge the quality of the content on Kobo, readers will look elsewhere. Let’s hope they’re working on a solution to add reviews back again, but in the meantime, Kobo book listings look pretty naked and star-less.


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Kobo WritingLife upload problems

On March 6, 2013, in Blog, by Laura

If you’re selling on Kobo (or trying to), perhaps you have come across the very vague problem of not being able to upload your books when you try to add them via WritingLife. Everything might seem fine, the book looks good on your pc, you’re able to read it without any issues on Calibre. You may have even uploaded it to Amazon and it’s gone through just fine.

And then on Step 2 of the book creation process on Kobo, it falls flat and tells you “Sorry, we could not upload your file” or something similar. There is no explanation, no specific error code, just this vague and frustrating message. All this makes it hard to figure out if Kobo are experiencing technical issues or if it is indeed your ebook file that is at fault.

Here are some pointers and common causes for this issue:

  • Your file contains references to other ebook retailers. For example, somewhere you’ve got a link to an Amazon listing of your book, or perhaps your Amazon Author central profile. Take it out and link to your own website or blog instead!
  • Your file has some sort of error in it. For example if you’re uploading an Epub file, check that it is fully valid and does not fail EpubCheck! If this doesn’t work, try uploading a different format.

If you are sure the file is perfect, and does not have links to Amazon or other retailers in it. And you have even tried converting it to another format (from Epub into Mobi using Calibre for example) and it still doesn’t work, you might want to get in touch with Kobo support. We’ve found them to be quite helpful with most issues and have received responses on average within 24 hours or less.


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Google Books and the mystery of the missing summary

On February 15, 2013, in Blog, by Laura



Anyone who has ever tried to get their books loaded onto Google Play via the Google Books Partner Program will have found the system a little cumbersome to use. It’s slow and not very intuitive, and more annoyingly, many self-publishers end up with nearly blank book listings; the book summary / description is missing and they don’t make it easy for you to add one.

There’s a reason for this – Google Books gathers book data automatically and their help pages are a little bit sketchy with regards to how to make descriptions show up properly. There is no feature to input it yourself within the Google Books Partner Program interface, though Google Books staff are able to update the records manually if asked via a special form. (If you’re going to use the form, ONLY put the description in there. Mostly they don’t read what’s in there and so if you ask a question with the provided description – simply because you were desperate and didn’t know how else to contact the support team – chances are the whole thing including your commentary will go onto your book listing.)

We at WriteHit found this a bit annoying and tried to figure out if there is an easier way. The answer is: the Bowker books database.

Response from books-support(at)google.com when asked how to make descriptions show up automatically:

” There currently isn’t any way for publishers or authors to update their metadata descriptions within their account. We pull metadata and book descriptions from a variety of third-party systems, including Bowker. These systems provide us with information related to the ISBN for each book. If you need to update your metadata in the future, you can either do it through your ISBN provider, or you can contact us and we’ll be happy to change it for you.”

So, if you buy ISBN’s for your books you may not have had that problem, or perhaps you could ask your ISBN provider to complete the listing of your book for you.

If you get your ISBN for free from Smashwords, their information states that a free record of your book will be created on Bowker, but so far I have not seen this actually happening. Not even for books where the ISBN’s were assigned 6 months ago! I have asked about the reason and will update this post as soon as I hear back from Smashwords support.

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Google Books Payment Settings Changes

On September 7, 2012, in Blog, by Laura

Those (self) publishers out there who are signed up as a Google Books partner and trying to sell their books on the Google Play store will have received an email from Google yesterday announcing changes to the payment settings for those who wish to sell on the US Google Play market.

Now most people in this business will already know about the challenges of selling on US Markets when based abroad – the US Tax laws require the likes of Amazon, Smashwords and now Google to withhold some Income Tax for every royalty you earn. But there is a way to avoid or reduce this tax deduction, depending on any double taxation agreements your country of residence has made with the US Government.  Upon successful completion of some paperwork formalities, publishers in the UK or Ireland can get full exemption from these deductions, whereas Indian publishers will halve their deducted tax; from 30% to 15%.

You basically have to register yourself as a foreign entity or foreign person with the US Tax authorities (IRS) and they will give you an identification number of some kind. We at WriteHit did this before even listing any books for sale because it just doesn’t make business sense to forgo 30% of your hard earned money due to taxes which should not be applicable to you.

For more information on the process, this blog post has been invaluable to us: http://catherineryanhoward.com/2012/02/24/non-us-self-publisher-tax-issues-dont-need-to-be-taxing/

So in short: This is nothing new at all. Most people will have done this (or plan to do this) for the likes of Amazon already and now they just need to fill out another form with the tax identifier that the IRS has provided them.

Google’s email states that publishers will be paid as normal until 31 December 2012 so you do have quite a bit of time to comply before you’re directly affected by these changes.

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