One of the questions authors-to-be often ask is how should they set up their website before the book launch, to maximise sales? Having a good author website is integral to selling more books, because we do live in the age of the internet, after all. Someone can go from knowing nothing about you to opting into your email list in a matter of minutes, if you set things up right.
Something I found fascinating when I was doing my MBA in online business* is that most people will either buy a product or service from you within days of finding you or never at all. That’s how quickly we make decisions. A good author website can make or break your book’s sales and your author brand.
*OK not an MBA, but I did pay a lot of money to do a 12 month mastermind with one of the top internet marketing gurus during Melbourne’s loooooooooooong lockdown of 2020
When you’re getting ready to launch your non-fiction book into the world, the most important thing you can focus on is ensuring your website is primed for launch. You need a good author website, and if you don’t have a website that shows people who you are and what you do and most importantly how it is relevant to them it will impact sales of your upcoming book.
It helps to give you an example so let me tell you about my two websites and my two books. A good author website is SO important to building your author brand and your pre-sales and marketing strategy before book launch day.
A tale of two websites
In 2010, when I launched my first book, Love & Other U-Turns, I had a simple website I’d paid to get designed 3 years earlier. I must admit I was pretty proud of it! I’d even received compliments – websites have evolved a lot since 2007 but back then, I thought I had a pretty good author website. Oh dear.
The home page of my website in 2007 had a picture of me, links to my published work, a contact email, and a short bio. No blog, no opt-in, nothing complicated, but it showed the world who i was and what I did. I didn’t even update it in 2009 when I got my first book deal.
I didn’t want to boast and I thought it was enough.
For what I’d been doing up until that point in my publishing career, my website served its purpose and did the job. I even had compliments on that website! You see, when I’d been pitching articles as a freelance journalist, it was the quickest way to let editors know my experience, they could click on the tabs up the top and open up any of my feature articles, columns or interviews. It showed I was experienced and it showed the style of my writing and work. It was a good website for a freelance journalist but not a good website for a soon-to-be-author. I had no idea what a leap I would need to make, not just in my mindset and identity, to launch a bestseller, but what a leap I would need to make in my digital strategy and how I presented myself to the world.
But launching a book is very different to presenting yourself as a freelance writer available for commissions from editors.
If you have a book coming out, you will miss out on sales, marketing and other opportunities in pre-launch, launch and post-launch if you don’t have a good author website
All I did wrong with my website before my first book came out:
- I didn’t make any changes to my website when I signed the book deal with Allen & Unwin (so, aside from close family and friends, nobody actually knew I had a book coming out?!)
- I did NOT have an ‘opt-in’ (didn’t even know what that was)
- I did NOT have any kind of email list or free offer for curious googlers
- I had nothing of interest to anyone who was not an editor to whom I had expressly pitched a freelance article. Readers of my upcoming book would get no value from visiting my website – there was nothing about the book or who it was for or why they should be interested or buy it. I think I managed to get my book cover and a link to buy it added a few months post-launch, but that was it…
Now, in terms of the Didier Sornette’s Bestselling Author Code , I did get some really good media for my book when it came out, but only within Australia. I did one big radio interview (Life Matters on ABC radio) and a number of smaller radio interviews and podcasts. I was reviewed well in all of the major Australian print publications, Bookseller & Publisher and even nominated for Cosmopolitan’s Fun, Fearless Female award in the author category. Getting a big review or key piece of media is one huge piece of the code to making a bestseller. And Love & Other U-Turns sold ‘OK’ – a little above average for a first-time author, but it wasn’t a bestseller past the first month or so, and, like the majority of authors, I didn’t go into royalties as I didn’t earn out the advance. Ugh!
I truly do think this is because I didn’t have a good author website. Since that book release, I’ve worked as a digital strategist for huge multi-million-dollar organisations in user experience, content, SEO and as a consultant and truly, your website is the MOST profitable asset you can invest in for any business or product launch. And it must have a few basic things if you want it to help you reach your goals: build your customer base, sell more products, build your brand, etc etc.
Why you must prime your website before your first book launch:
What was most disappointing to me with my first book launch is also what made me so determined to succeed with my second. Everyone is different in their goals for what the first book will mean, and how you want it to go – I had believed that first book would be the start of a whole new phase in my career. I had thought editors and Publishers would be knocking down MY door now that I had a book out – since the book was proof that I could sustain larger projects, could write more, could get a book published (and nominated for awards, and selling pretty well in those first few months).
But less than three months after its release I found myself in the exact same situation I’d been a year (and years) earlier: pitching freelance articles, having to prove myself from scratch with every pitch, sometimes writing ‘on spec’ again and i’d not harnessed the assets of the digital world to create a new beginning – because I didn’t know how!
A good author website (finally!)
With my second book, I knew better, so I did better. I’d spent a year working in media and marketing for a top University and been paid a hefty sum to build their digital platforms, so I knew this was a huge priority if i wanted my new book to be the beginning of a new career path for me.
I worked with a creative business coach from October 2017 until April 2018 (A Letter From Paris was out in September 2018) and we built out my website as I was getting clear on my author brand and my business goals, and this meant that by the time we launched the new website in April, I’d also been building my email list.
Things I did right, finally
- I had professional, aspirational and relevant images on my new website
- I had a clear opt-in and call to action on the home page
- It was clear what I did and why readers should care (the home page was dedicated to the upcoming book’s release in 2018, I didn’t ‘confuse’ the user with too many offers and options)
- There was a page dedicated to my upcoming book
- I wrote regular emails and blog posts for SEO
So when A Letter From Paris was released, what was the most exciting thing to me was that all the publicity and media and sales of that book fed into my wider digital strategy. I sold thousands of dollars of digital products (connected to the book) in the months post-launch, because I’d also been working on a journaling program for memoirists (my creative coach had helped me figure out this was an aligned offer, for me. Yours might be face-to-face craft workshops. Everyone is different!) And both fed into the success of the other. A huge part of this pre-launch strategy involved mindset and belief shifts for me, because like most writers, I had a lot of hangups about ‘blowing my own trumpet’ insert every other imposter syndrome-type hangup you can think of. But having a good author website (which yes, means you need some photos of yourself!) is not just necessary to sell your books, it’s necessary to step into the person you want to become to live the life you’ve dreamed of. You MUST own what you desire for the book (and your business) or you simply won’t get it!
Your MUST ensure your author website ticks the boxes and is primed for your book launch and not the same setup that you had/have as a freelance writer.