Monday, October 19, 2009

5 tips to help authors compete for shelf space on the Internet

1. Have an author site
This will provide you a platform that you can use to promote yourself and your books. Don't use the site just as a place to hard-sell your books, provide a place where your audience can get to know you. If they feel a sense of connection with you, they will be more likely to buy and recommend your books.

Ensure that the content is relevant and current. Visitors can spot stale content a mile away, and they will leave. Forever. What's relevant? That depends on what you write about. By knowing your audience (#3 below) you will be able to determine which content is most relevant to your visitors. Watching the analytics (tip #5) will also help you refine your content.

Don't use an ad-supported hosting service (a service that hosts your site for free in return for your allowing them to place ads on your site). This looks unprofessional, and will reflect poorly on you. Site hosting is incredibly cheap these days, so there's no reason to use an ad-supported hosting service. I'll have more to say about ads in a bit.

Make sure you have your own domain name. Your domain name is part of your brand, so put careful thought into choosing one that fits.

I plan to cover author website design in more detail in a future post. Stay tuned for that one.

2. A blog is essential
Be sure that your blog is linked to your author site, so that you can use each to direct traffic to the other. Have a prominent link to your blog on your author site. On your blog, have a permanent link to your author site, but also mention it from time to time in your posts. This will remind your readers about the site, will also allow search engines to create an accurate profile of your sites.

Your blog is an excellent way to form a relationship with your audience. Allow visitors to comment on posts, and engage in the conversations that ensue.

Update regularly, with interesting posts that are relevant to your target audience. Blogs and websites that are updated more often get crawled and indexed by search engines more often.

A word about advertisements. If you're just starting out, just say no to 3rd party advertisements on your author site or blog. You want your visitors to focus on you and your work, not be distracted by some 3rd party ad. In my opinion, the risk of turning off a potential reader is not worth the trickle of pennies that 3rd party ads may bring in. Once you have an established and sizable readership, you can reconsider this decision.

Associate your blog with your domain. If you've registered, then have your blog live within that domain, for example or This strengthens your brand, and is essential for good Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

3. Know your target audience
I think that this is something that you should know before you ever start writing your book, but it's certainly essential when it comes to marketing.

Once you know who your target audience is, you can figure out where they live online. What social networking or community sites do they hang out on? Are they more likely to be on MySpace or Facebook? Do they use Twitter? Are there forum sites in which they congregate? All this is critical information that once gathered will allow you to focus your marketing efforts. And focus is critical, especially if you are looking to do marketing on a shoestring budget.

Knowing your audience will also allow you to tailor your content and your blog posts to be more interesting and relevant.

4. Become intimately familiar with all the popular social networking and media sites
Well, OK. Maybe not all of them, because there are a lot of them. But become familiar with the ones most frequented by your target audience. Sign up for account on each, with a username that ties into your brand.

Don't sign up for an account and then immediately start shamelessly promoting your book. That will certainly annoy the other members, and could even get you banned on certain sites. Learn what it means to be a good member of each community. Know the proper etiquette for each site so that you can avoid a damaging faux pas. What types of self-promotion are allowed? What's allowed in your signature? Are there special areas of the site that are specifically designated for self-promotion?

Use the sites as a tool to engage your audience. Get involved in the discussions. Become known as a respectable member of the community. This will help to build your personal brand.

5. Watch the analytics
Know exactly how much traffic you are getting, and where it's coming from. Which marketing efforts are driving traffic to your site, and which go unnoticed? Which pages on your site are visitors most interested in? Having this knowledge will allow you to tweak your marketing to maximize its effect.

So how can you see your traffic? I suggest you set up two different site monitors.
Google Analytics is really good for looking at the big picture, and for enabling traffic analysis of weeks or months at a time. But statistics are only compiled once per day, so it is not good at real-time analysis. For that, you'll want something like StatCounter. StatCounter has a limited log size (although you can pay for larger logs) but will allow you to get up to the minute information about the traffic your site is getting.

With either site monitor, you'll be able to see how people are getting to your site, when and where they are, and what pages they're looking at. And better yet, setting these monitors up is free. Both also offer enhanced services for reasonable fees, but the free services should be plenty to get you started.

Bonus tip - be patient
Sometimes it takes a while for marketing to become effective. Audiences aren't formed overnight. You need a marketing plan. Instead of staging an all-out blitz, aim for a longer campaign of continuous improvement. Learn what works, what doesn't work, and adjust as needed. Don't give up if you aren't seeing instant results.

For an amusing take on all this newfangled Internet marketing stuff, check out this article from the New Yorker.


  1. #1, #2, and #4 are essential, IMHO. I can't see how an author can't market without using these incredible tools. You reach so many people potentially with minimal effort.

  2. Excellent points. Thanks for sharing.

    Sandra Beckwith

  3. This is a good article

    however, a word on monetizing your blog...Google was not picking up my new blog when I would search on unique terms that were contained in the entry titles and within the entries.

    I had felt the same as our host--that it was bad etiquette to monetize the blog.

    But I had a hunch that monetization would unleash the Google bot--and sure enough, just as soon as I added advertisements, the search engine started to pick me up.


    PS--my blog--The Careless Perfection of Nature is at: