Hey listeners! It’s been a mad mad mad week here (all of you in the future, check the date), and I bet there too. Result: there are no shownotes for this episode. We’re talking about
revamping my website to get it in gear for my forthcoming second book. Here’s the image we mention—the before—and for the after (which is still in progress), head over to my site and see what you think. Any questions, shoot me an email (email@example.com or reply to this.
Transcript (We use an AI service for transcription, and while we do clean it up a bit, some errors are the price of admission here. We hope it’s still helpful.)
Hey #AmWriting listeners, this is KJ and this is my seventh time attempting to record this pre-episode discussion of something really cool that's being authored by Author Accelerator, our sponsor. I think you all know that I loved working with Jennie Nash on revising my manuscript for The Chicken Sisters. Well, if you'd be interested in working in a small group with Jennie, she is offering a Rock Your Revision small intensive workshop for fiction writers ready to revise manuscripts this summer, July 16th - 19th of 2020 in Santa Barbara, California. If that interests you, if it sounds like something you'll be ready for, if it sounds like something that having it scheduled might make you get ready for (and I think that will work) head on over to author accelerator.com click on the retreats and summits link, and then scroll on down to Rock Your Revision to learn more. Is it recording now?
Now it's recording.
This is the part where I stare blankly at the microphone like I don't remember what I'm supposed to be doing.
Alright, let's start over.
Awkward pause. I'm going to rustle some papers. Okay. Now one, two, three. Hi, I'm KJ Dell'Antonia and this is #Am writing the podcast about writing all the things and getting them out into the world. And that's all I'm going to say about that this week.
Really? Well, I'm Sarina Bowen and I write long things, primarily genre fiction and I've written 30-odd romances and my newest one is called Sure Shot. If I ever finish it.
I can't wait for it. Okay. I am KJ Dell'Antonia, the dithering other voice on the other end of the microphone. I am the author of the novel, The Chicken Sisters coming out this summer and the book How To Be a Happier Parent as well as the former editor of the New York Times' Motherlode blog. And those are the things that I do and it's just me and Sarina today.
It is. We're here to work on KJ's launch sequence.
Yes. And if we sound a little odd, we are (as we often are) working in our local libraries. So, yes. Sarina, as we all know, has many, many, many past identities and for all I know is also cat woman when we're not together. But one of those past identities is helping people, specifically authors, with their websites. So that's our plan today. We're going to go over my website and talk about how I can shift it from being a website, primarily designed for a parenting author to a website designed for an author in general. And the way we're going to do this (if you want to take a look) by the time you hear this, I will have changed it. So we're going to take a lot of screenshots. So if you'd like to see what we're talking about and we will describe it cause you're probably in your car. But if you do want to just head over to the show notes at amwritingpodcast.com and there will be pictures, screenshots of this website as it is today before the dramatic changes that I'm going to make to it. I mean, it's a good website somebody made it for me and I can change it and you know, there's nothing wrong with it other than that there is absolutely no mention of my nove,l at all whatsoever.
Because that's the first thing that's wrong with it. Check.
So I usually get involved with an author's website at about this same point. Sometimes I'll get calls earlier before people have cover art for their book and those people have been told that they must have an author website and start building their platform and blah, blah blah, but they don't have a book cover. And that is fine. Like, it's great to be invested in handling your book launch, but if you really do your website before you have cover art, you're wasting your money because it, you know, it would be disappointing to do a website all in purple and to find that your book cover is bright yellow. So, you know, I gently dissuade people from spending their hard earned cash early on, but you're ready to go because you have your cover art.
And I have to say that I have seen some smashingly beautiful author websites over time, just so original and stunning that angels weep.
That's not really what I'm going for.
Well, that's not really what I go for either. I mean, I think that the most important, pretty much the only important thing is that your website do two things. One is that it helps readers bond with your book before they're ready to click that one-click button. So that means that they're familiar with the cover art. So when your page loads at kjdellantonia.com we should see the new cover art immediately. That's pretty much step one. And the second thing is that most readers, I mean they can learn about us anywhere, right? Like social media, Amazon, Barnesandnoble.com, there's so many places. But if they actually take the trouble to find their way all the way to your website, it's probably because they have a question. So we're going to anticipate that question and try to answer it within one to two clicks, two being the absolute maximum. So if you can do those two things, you're doing so, so well.
Excellent. And one of the reasons I'm leaping on this is that I searched another author somebody that I know because I knew that they had a new book coming out, and I couldn't remember the name, and I needed to know for various reasons. And I went to their website and it wasn't there. And that's exactly what someone could do for me. Although let me just say that author's book is coming out before me. Okay. So that person had better just get on it.
And this is sometimes difficult, like not everybody likes noodling with websites. Like I love it, honestly.
I'm happy to crawl around in there, too. I just want to have a mission.
Right. And for some people this is like the hardest part
And if it is the hardest part, hire someone. You don't have to do this yourself.
It doesn't have to be fancy.
It doesn't. Or you like Squarespace, right?
I love Squarespace. But there are even easier things to do. Like did you know that if you join the Author's Guild for approximately $200 a year, you get a free website from them and they will help you set it up?
I did not.
Yeah. And you won't have as much control over it as I like to have over mine. But if you just hate websites, that is not a bad option.
You know, we don't need blogs anymore. You know, your website is probably (correct me if I'm wrong) a largely static entity.
Well, mine is not actually.
No, I know yours isn't. Because you are a person who puts out many, many books a year. So if you're that, then you're working with a website with probably shopping, and possibly merch, and some other things. I, on the other hand, am a one book every couple of years author at the moment, although I'd like to speed that up. And so I am not really needing to use my website to inform you of immediate developments.
Right. So I would like to add a third thing to our little to do list, though. Because I don't want to burden everyone and say that you have to do a million things on your author website. But honestly, this third thing could save your career, which is that you must have a way for people to sign up for your newsletter that is both easy without being irritating.
That's a challenge.
Yeah. Well, I mean, we're all quite used to popups now. There are obnoxious ones and less obnoxious ones. And anyway, I'll leave that to our readers to decide.
I turned my pop-up off because it was outdated and I could not figure it out. So normally I have a pop-up.
I turned my off as well because I didn't like the conversion rate of it. Like I thought, wow, I'm irritating 97 people for every three that type their email address in. But, instead I have many other very useful solicitations for email addresses.
If you want to sign up for my email, you can go to followkj.com and there you will find my website sign up.
I think so, I'm pretty pleased with it. Wait, you'll laugh, I have to show it to Sarina. Because I changed it very on the fly recently I had to come up with an image very quickly and...
Oh, you know, that is funny. And I saw this the other day. I don't remember why, but I looked at it.
It's a Playmobile character barfing into a tiny little Playmobile toliet.
Yes, we're going to have to work on this, KJ.
I know, but I figured it would get attention.
It does, but your book cover needs to be right there.
Let's start with the website and then we'll do the signup in a minute.
So right now, KJ's website has a bunch of wonderful parenting pictures on it, which suited her last book perfectly.
And they're all in a sort of a red - pink theme.
Yes. I would quibble with the way that your cover art is not above the fold here. I will just tell you a couple of things about this challenge. So, websites as we design them on a screen are usually horizontal. Books are vertical. This is the main challenge of my life, aside from plotting novels. So KJ also just opened the website on her phone because this is something that I beg people to do and they don't usually listen. But more than half of your website visitors will be on their phones. And that is really hard for authors to figure out when they're struggling to get their hands around their website in the first place, that the phone part is almost more important. You know, people will come and say, 'Could you move my name a half an inch to the right?' And I usually let fly that line from The Matrix. Because most modern web building tools, i(ncluding Squarespace and the better templates at WordPress) now build a website on the fly for every single visitor based on the dimensions of their screen. So there is no one website, you can't design it like a movie poster anymore, you have to make something responsive. And that's why I use Squarespace because they're very good at that. And obviously lots of WordPress themes are too, I just am not as familiar.
Mine is a WordPress theme, so we're not going to mess with the backend. I'm going to go and do that on my own. We're just going to talk about what it looks like and what it ought to look like. So step one...
You have a banner on yours with your name kind of in the middle instead of here above the main navigation. For displaying cover art I actually think that's a little trickier, but you can probably find a way around it or you can just move your name to the top. I know it's boring but it works. Okay? And then your main navigation is terrific. You have a home, you have the book which is going to have to change to books at the top and one of those books will be your new one. You have share the book, which is a great idea, you have blog, the podcast, resources, about KJ Dell'Antonia, and media, which are all great. So I actually wonder if about KJ Dell'Antonia and media couldn't become one thing if you wanted them to be. There's nothing wrong with there being two. So people get tunnel vision and let's say somebody wants to book you on The Today Show for your new book. So one of these things should say contact, because people get tunnel vision and I'm sure your contact information is here. But I've been like half asleep, needing coffee, and not spotting it on a website, and you really don't want that to happen to you. So, contact should always be one of those things. And also, if you did dispense with your pop-up and you're leaving that that way, then the thing on the far right should be subscribe. And that can hop right to that page you showed me a second ago, the follow KJ page, but it should be there. Yeah, so we're doing great. Now, if you scroll down on KJ's front page you do get her most recent book before this new one. Oh, okay, I would've put the bio links right here, but you have them fairly close. So that's all good. And then you could also have, instead of this got a book club thing (not that there's anything wrong with it) an email signup here, as well. So I would like to have one up in the main nav and then here on the scrolly scrolly front page. So the reason that websites got scrolly scrolly is because of phones.
Let's have a look at it scrolling on my phone. So on the website you see things laid out, like you see the book cover and then to the right you see the text about the book. On the mobile, you see the book cover and then you scroll down and you see the text about the book, and then you scroll down and you'll see the by the book in a vertical list.
So the buttons are horizontal on the laptop and they're vertical on the phone. And that's because you have a properly responsive website. Now, there are some authors who had their websites built more than 10 years ago, and the site still looks good when you pull it up on the computer. But if you pull it up on the phone, it's quite broken. And here's the reason that's not good. Google will punish you. They promote (in their search rankings) sites that perform on a mobile device and they sort of demote sites that don't. And you don't want to be demoted by Google. You know that old joke like, where's the best place to hide a dead body? On the seventh page of the Google search result. Okay, so don't be that dead body.
So, but it's okay to have the scrolly scrolly first page is what I'm hearing. So the fact that if you just keep scrolling, you just get stuff, after stuff, after stuff is fine. It's just that maybe the stuff is not in the right order.
Well, your stuff was in a decent order. It's like the New York Times - you know, above the fold, below the fold. So here's the thing, when I'm helping an author with a website, I send a questionnaire. And these are the questions on the questionnaire. Which author websites in your own genre do you like best? Cause that's not a bad place to get inspiration; to take a shortcut to figure out what other people are doing. Right?
That's how we made our podcast. There's a podcast, it's called Hurry Slowly. I love her and I love the design of her website. And I basically was just like, this really looks great. I'm going to make ours look pretty much just like this and it is. Thank you very much, Jocelyn Keighley.
Then the second question, the colors on your site will be chosen to compliment your cover art, but please tell me what colors do you not like and what are you hoping to see? And so with you, you have a lot of colors between your two books, but they compliment each other and that's just where you know we would go.
Yeah, we're going to lose the pink-iness of this theme and shift it.
And shift it to highlight the yellow. And then it will look right. So then, one of the hardest decisions is what do you want your visitors to see first when they arrive on your site. In other words, the most valuable real estate should be allocated to which of the following? And these four choices cover almost everybody. So choice one - your newest cover art and a blurb quote, which is never a bad choice. So maybe you have that cover because you want readers to bond with it immediately. And you have a very short blurb quote, like the best little bit of something that somebody said. And then a button that says 'Read more' so you can put that person right onto that book's page. So that's always a good decision if you have a book coming out. Then choice two - a view of all of your covers, like an art gallery. Like if you have an extensive backlist and you want readers of your most recent book. Cause what if someone arrives on your site with a question, what else did she write? So that's the one click thing. And in your case we would have it in a dropdown menu probably cause the art gallery doesn't really work for you. So choice three - your newest blog post. So this is usually not the right choice for my clients, but it could be if you are a very active blogger and your blogging was related to the book you were trying to sell. Then that might work. And the last choice I have here - is a book representing each of your various series.
And that's what yours looks like.
Yes. And the websites that have the most content on them are the biggest challenge. Because when we have that question - what question did the person arrive with? The more books you have, the more varied that question could be. Like what's next and this or that series, which audio book did I not listen to? You know, the questions get more complicated with the more books someone has in their catalog.
Yeah. I don't think that there are that many questions you're going to come to my website looking for an answer to. I guess a peculiarity of my website is that I have these resources. And they are parenting resources. You can get holiday survival guides, you can get an ebook about homework, you can get the 10 mantras for happier parents. I mean, I have quite a few of them. Most fiction readers aren't going to be here coming after these things. But my parenting book is also coming out in paperback. So some people will be coming out for them and sometimes I will be talking about them, so it's a little more complicated.
I wonder if your website shouldn't have two book covers sort of facing each other on the front of it. With The Chicken Sisters on the left and The Happier Parent on the right. And it's basically like, people make a grand choice the minute they arrive at your website because they're probably there for what topic. And then you would sort of move the person on to the page that deals with that and your resources might be down at the scrolly scrolly bottom of the parenting book.
And right now the resources require you to add your email and they might as well continue to require you give your email. That seems like a good idea although in terms of my personal ability to adjust this website, hopefully I can pull it off. I've done them. Somebody else did this one. I don't have the money to have them go back in and fix it. I might get somebody else. But see on this page your name is at the top, not in the middle. So you just need to duplicate a page like this. You're right. So what I can do is abandon the current - just to get a little bit into the weeds, but you might be in my position too - is abandon the current. So right now, when you go to kjdellantonia.com it's actually not pointing to what's called home here. It's pointing to the book. So I can pick anywhere. So you can pick anywhere for you know, u.com to point to. I mean home is probably not a necessary piece of it. Okay. Like you said, I can do some redesigning here.
And you know, as you move through the process of pre-launch, to the book launch, to after the launch, your needs change a little bit. I am accustomed to people who come back once a year to have their website gussied up for their new book. One thing I would like to mention for any listeners who are considering paying to have a website done is please don't hire someone who wants you to pay them on a monthly basis forever. This used to be the way it was done. And there are still some people out there who are paying for a website which is static and they're just paying to have it hosted cause they're stuck. And you don't have to do that. You can pay someone to design a thing and to set up the hosting for you, but then you have to have the keys, you know?
So part of your design process, and it was part of mine, should be the person walking you through the most basic changes that you might want to make on your website. So, to change the pictures, to change the pop-up, to change where the homepage points, you should know how to do those small things. And I do, it's more that I think they used something called Bakery Builder to build this. And it's not my more familiar thing. I can do it. And I will say, you can find that, just ask around. Ask your author friends for who has designed their website but do ask around, because I also have a friend who's been working on designing her website with her web designer for let's see, since August. Yeah. The person is really slow and she called me fairly recently and was like, 'Is this normal?' And I was like, 'No, absolutely not.' Of course, this friend also draws a picture of what she wants it to look like and then sends that to the web designer. So the web designer may also be a little frustrated. There may be fault on both sides, but I don't think so. I think it just should not be taking anywhere near this long. It's crazy. Somebody should be able to get you rolling fairly quickly.
And also just to have the ability to say when it will be done.
Alright. What's next?
Well, if you really like working with your website, there are so many things you can do to help guide your author destiny using your own website. For example, you can give away a free book in exchange for an email signup. So the parts of my website that you can see when you just navigate to Sarinabowen.com is like just the tip of that iceberg because I have lots of other hidden content there that is serving special purposes for me. And the more comfortable you are touching your own website and making pages, the more fun you can have with that. So during launch week, I usually have a contest where people enter it by sharing the book. Now, not every reader of my books is interested in entering the giveaway and sharing the cover, and that's fine. But for that core of people who is really interested in helping me promote it (for whatever reason) I have a contest on a hidden page in my website where you enter the link of where you shared it, and you put in your name, and the winner gets a $25 gift card or something. So there's all kinds of things you can run off of your own website that are more controllable than social media. And if you think about Facebook, which we all basically have to use when we promote a book, it's ugly and you can't make a post do what you want. You can't make it have a button. It's just not a friendly, friendly place in the world. And when you become a little more comfortable with using your own site, you suddenly figure out how much you can do.
I think a lot of people who have a website don't realize that you can have pages on your website that aren't immediately visible to every visitor to your website. And it's not that they're hidden. It's not that someone who typed you know, KJDellantonia.com/potatocakes wouldn't get to the potato cakes page, but who's gonna do that? And it's not in your menu. So you can have, you can have a hundred potato cake pages or whatever. And I think even I forget that sometimes.
So if you're doing an event in Chicago, you could have kjdellantonia.com/chicago if there was something, a resource there that you wanted those people to have.
And if you want to, you can buy you can buy a special URL. Like you can create a page within your own website. So it's kjdellantonia.com/potato cakes. But instead you buy the website you know, potato lovers.com and then you just point it, you don't create a website for potatocakelovers.com. You just point it to that page on your website. So there's all kinds of playful things. So for example, this follow KJ link, I just own that and I just point it to different things. Right now it's actually pointed to the Flodesk, which is the email software that I used to create my emails. But it used to be pointed to a page within my website. And before that it was pointed to a Mailchimp page. I can point that wherever I want to.
Right. And you actually bring up a really good point, which is it's usually better to point your signup at your own website. Like you have this capacity to point at different places which protects you. But I have a friend who can never leave MailChimp because she has the MailChimp signup link in the back of a 40 book backlist. So she's stuck there at their new higher prices because she can't go and change. She literally can't, because the people that bought that book before now and they read it and click on that link are going to her old spot.
Yeah, no she's stuck. I remember you telling me about that cause I had kind of fallen into that cause I pointed something that I couldn't unpoint because I forgot things.
So I use a service called Genius Links and it's a page short linker, but you can change the destination link of absolutely anything.
That is very nice because you can't do that with tinyurl.com.
Right. So Genius Links is great. There are probably others. I believe smartURL allows you to change the ultimate destination. But the other thing that Genius does (it does several things well, actually) it also points people to the Amazon store of their geographical location. So I can make one Amazon link, but it's a Genius link and if that person is in France, it will take them to Amazon.Fr. And the other thing it does (it pays for itself) is that if you have affiliate accounts at Amazon, Apple, Google, Kobo, (those are the ones that come to mind) you put that information into Genius and it just adds it to every single link. And that is very helpful to me as well. Yeah, not Kobo actually. But anyway, there's lots of ways. So, I just got a check from Apple Affiliates for 500 bucks, which I'm sure paid for my entire year's worth of Genius linking. So it's not just this added expense, but it can actually put money in your pocket.
So, what's next? Should we look at anything else on my thing specifically?
I think your work is cut out for you in a way that is quite doable. You're gonna change some colors around.
I'm going to just have fewer things up here at the top, I think. There's already some chickens so I'm partly set.
You're going to get both of those books on the front page and probably lose some more personal pictures because they won't make as much sense to your novel.
So I'm just going to abandon some of these pages. I'm just going to make a new page - a new landing page.
Just like if you were going to redo chapter four of your work in progress, you wouldn't delete chapter four, you copy it, and tinker until we're satisfied. So this will be the same.
Yup. That's my plan. Any other thoughts for people as they embark on either changing or creating their own websites?
I would look into the Authors Guild if you're really hesitant to play with websites. I would look into Squarespace if you're slightly more adventurous. I dislike WordPress with the fire of a thousand suns, so I can't in good conscience recommend it. Although lots of people like it, I'm not a fan of Wix. Usually the platforms that have a free option look kind of...I don't know, but I don't like them. But one free option that is, you know at least more user friendly is Blogger. Like you can still make a website at Google and it is what it is, but if you need a landing spot and you have no funds to devote to that at this point then there are ways to make happen.
I'm trying to think if there's anything else we should say about websites before we move on. You should have one.
You should have one. It won't sell your book, though. It's great to be find-able and to help you answer questions.
I wanted to talk about the whole, should I have a blog page? Not me personally, but as a general rule. If a blog feels like a like a mandatory additional task to you, then my thought for you is no, you don't really need to. Cause there's nothing worse than clicking on someone's blog page and seeing three entries from 2016.
Right. Well the other thing is you can call it news. And you can just put something there three times a year when you have news. Like, here's my new cover. And the nice thing about having that there is that it's also then you can put the link to that news on Facebook instead of typing the news into Facebook.
And the other nice thing is that typically if you use the blog software of whatever you are creating, that is designed to be easily updatable. So if you use that for your news, it's designed so that you could just pop in and be like, 'I'll be in Chicago.' And that's it. You don't have to sort of change something that feels more set on your page. So there's reasons to use that software, but maybe not to call it blog.
Yeah. It used to be, like 15 years ago. Every agent would say you have to blog. But that's just not true anymore. People consume their news differently.
The first decision is going to be to go in here, put the two book covers up and close off everything else while I revise it. Basically I'm going to just do that. So if anyone comes in the meantime, there are two book covers, there are links to the books and I'm playing around in the background.
Right. And when you link your book, you should do a few vendors. Cause nobody wants to live in a world where Amazon is the only store. No. And we do have that new one.
What's it called again? I can't remember.
Is it BookShop?
We're going to find this and put it in the show notes.
Yeah, because it's important. Yeah, we've been linking to Indiebound, but it's changing. The booksellers association is creating a new way for authors to link to an Indie supporting platform, which can help you sell books. Cause I will say Indiebound affiliate linking is agonizingly painful (as the person who does it). And also, you listeners typically don't end up buying the book that way. And I get it. But I could see why you're not buying it on Indiebound, but we don't want to link to Amazon because while we're all buying stuff from Amazon, we don't want them to rule the world.
So bookshop.org is the new storefront and it's new, new, new, like it just launched within the last four weeks. And they're going to take some of the friction of buying from Indiebound away. So give bookshop.org a look and they also have an affiliate program, but every book that is purchased on here kicks profit into a fund, which is divided among the member bookstores, which is most independent bookstores.
And the cool thing that they're doing is helping those independent bookstores set up their own websites. So this doesn't really apply to us, but it's kind of neat. I'm pleased, I'm delighted that it's out there.
After I read about it, I thought, Oh my goodness, this should not have taken so long.
Now we got to figure out what we've been reading.
Oh, I know. I'm ready. Well, yesterday I opened an envelope and discovered a copy of Chasing Cassandra by Lisa Kleypas inside, which means that at some point I pre-ordered it and I never preorder anything, but I love this author so much and she has a new novel about once a year, which is just about right because if she had more of them, I would never get anything done because she is my queen. She is a romance author, her series is set in the Victorian era, actually in England. But she's so skillful with characters and just so amazing with dialogue that I have to take a few deep breaths after I finish her book and go look at my poor excuse for a book afterwards.
I think everybody has somebody that is like that. So I have just finished Minor Dramas and Other Catastrophes by Kathleen West. I don't think I've mentioned it on the podcast yet, but I loved it. If you liked The Gifted School, if you have liked books by Tom Perrotta, basically if books set in hothouse schools (public, not boarding schools, that's a different genre) but books set in a hothouse schools full of crazy parents are something that you enjoy (and I do) then this is one for you. It's a really fun story of a dedicated teacher who's a little bit too too intense about teaching her students about the social evils of the world and how the parents around her react to that. It just fun, it's a weekend read, it's entertaining, it's smart, the characters are great. I think you'll enjoy it. So that's Minor Dramas and Other Catastrophes from Kathleen West. Alright, that is our podcast, but before we shut down, let me please remind you to head out to Facebook if you can stand it and join our Facebook group where we don't talk about any of the things that you avoid Facebook for. Instead, we talk about all things writing related, and writerly questions, and just about anything you can get it answered. If you want to find the show notes and the screenshots from the website that we're talking about that's amwritingpodcast.com, which is also where you can find links to support the podcast if you'd like to with a small donation and supporters of the podcast get (pretty much weekly) top fives and small mini podcasts, five minute long shorts, little bits of advice from one of us to all of you that drop right into your podcast player once you get it set up, you don't have to go somewhere special to listen. I think that's cool. That's it. Now you can take us out.
Until next week, keep your butt in the chair and your head in the game. This episode of #AmWriting with Jess and KJ was produced by Andrew Parilla. Our music, aptly titled unemployed Monday was written and performed by Max Cohen. Andrew and Max were paid for their services because everyone, even creatives should be paid.