Writer’s Weekly Retreat: Too Much of a Good Thing

•February 27, 2009 • Leave a Comment

We’ve all see them. Those flickering, flashing, blinking banner ads at the top of our screen that distract us from the content on the page and make us wish the whole concept of the banner ad would fade away like leg warmers from the 80’s. So if most of us find these ads so annoying, why in the world do people keep creating these little monsters?

Believe it or not, even a bad animated banner ad draws more attention than its quite cousin the static ad. Because these ads are better at catching our attention the clickthrough rates are generally higher for animated ads thus making them more effective and more widely used than static ads.

However, because the animated banner boasts better results than the static ad many ad designers (or graphically inclined site owners) believe that bigger, brighter and louder is better. There are far more bad animated ads out there than good ones, and everyday we are bombarded with bad designs, rapid motion, flashing text and unclear messages. But as Internet users most of us know that that a poorly created animated banner ad can have the exact opposite effect as what was intended. Rather than drawing the viewer in and encouraging them to click, these ads have us scurrying for our back button or scrolling further down the page.

Before you turn your back on the banner ad all together…

Besides drawing our attention, the animated banner offers another advantage over the static (or non-animated) ad. The animated ad sports a series of images that run in a continual loop. Each image can contain a separate message and a separate image allowing you to offer more information in greater detail than the single still shot of the static ad.

Take a look at this ad developed by Novella Studios. The ad is composed of six separate still images allowing the author to promote a variety of books (which in this case all happen to be from the same series). The first still is used to draw the visitor in with eye-catching visual elements and bold text. The following four stills provide information about each book within the series. And the final still encourages the viewer to visit both the publisher and author site to learn more. Though animation we can provide the viewer with far more information.

However, if not used correctly the animated banner ad can have a very undesirable effect on your clickthrough rate. Bad designs and unclear messages can turn viewers off. Over-use of animation can make the ad too large, increasing the download time and giving viewers plenty of time to scroll down the page, missing the ad all together. So be sure that you pay attention to your file size as well as your design and message.

A well designed ad that offers stimulating visual elements, an alluring message and a bit of action can be one of the most effective forms of online advertising.

HINTS…

Get to the point. Don’t drown your audience with a bunch of flowery phrases. Just include the “meat” or the point of your message.

Provide a call to action. Amazing enough, people often to what their told and a simple “click here for more information” tag on your ad can yield amazing clickthrough results.

Writer’s Weekly Retreat: Promoting Your Book Through Banners

•February 26, 2009 • Leave a Comment

A good banner ad can go a long way towards increasing reader awareness about your book and facilitating further sales. But before you begin copying and pasting from your book to create a banner ad of your own keep these tips in mind:

Don’t try to cram your entire back cover onto a 6-inch long ad.

Too much information at once tends to overwhelm the reader. You’ve got just a few words to make your impression so be concise and use a few choice sentences that stimulate the brain or evoke some emotion.


Include more than just a review.

While noting that your book has received a four star review will no doubt impress the reader it won’t give them any idea what the book is about or inspire them to click to learn more. Combine your glowing review with a short hook from the book.


Include your URL.

If you have a web site be sure to take this opportunity to display it. Even if the reader doesn’t click on your ad they will still be exposed to your web site address and perhaps remember it next time they are surfing online.


Use animated ads when possible.

The animated ad sports a series of still images that run in a continual loop to create the illusion of movement. Each still image can contain a separate message and a separate image allowing you to offer more information than the single still shot of the static ad.


Avoid scaling down your book cover.

Most banner ads are only about an inch in height making it impossible to determine any kind of detail from a book cover sized to fit this space. Instead try using part of the image from your book cover such as a close up of character’s face. Or go for a separate image that is representational of your book such as a pretty rose for a romance novel or a smoking gun for a mystery.

The most important thing to remember about the banner ad is that its quality should be representational of you and your work. The image you portray with your banner ad is just as important as the one you portray on your author site and within the pages of your book.


Hints

Get involved in a banner ad (or link) exchange program with other authors. Not only can this increase traffic to your site, the more links you have coming into your site the higher your ranking will soar with search engines.

Steer clear of generic free-for-all banner exchange or link programs. These services do not give any thought to your target audience and your ad is more likely to show up on a site featuring dog food than a site of interest to readers.

Only considering paying for ad space on web sites that will be frequented by your target audience (your readers). Be sure to find out what the click through rate has been for ad previously posted on the site then weigh the cost versus the amount of hits that ad obtained.

Writer’s Weekly Retreat: Three Simple Steps To Generating Repeat Traffic

•February 25, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Most authors believe that the best way to boost hits to their site is to draw in new traffic. While this is a very effective technique many over look the huge impact repeat traffic can have on their stats. As a site owner, one of your most important tasks is to make your site a place where people will want to visit again and again.

While there is no magic formula for generating repeat traffic there are three simple steps you can take to encourage your visitors to come back for regular visits.

Step One: Create a stunning site with valuable informative and entertaining content. If your site hosts little more than a bullet list of your titles and a brief blurb for an author bio there will be little to draw the visitor in. Engage your audience with a site design that pleases the senses and content that stimulates their brain and you’ll keep them coming back again and again.

Step Two: Update frequently. The more often you update your site the more often people will return. This means adding new content as well as updating or improving existing content when possible. Consider including a “what’s new” section so that people can quickly find out what has been added since their last visit.

Step Three: Set up a mailing list or newsletter to let interested parties know when your site has been updated. By sending out a mailing each time you update your site you’ll encourage people to stop by to see what’s new.

Creating good content, maintaining frequent updates and sending out announcements will go a long way to helping you generate repeat traffic to your site.

Hints

Make it easy for visitors to spread the word about your site. Encourage word-of-mouth marketing by including “share this site with a friend” links, web rings, banner exchanges and newsletter forwarding.

Respect your visitor’s privacy. Never share, trade or sell your visitors’ email addresses without their permission. Building trust is a wonderful way to build relationships with your site visitors.

Writer’s Weekly Retreat: Organizing Your Site

•February 24, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Organizing your site carefully from the start can save you frustration and time later on. If you begin creating documents without thinking about where in your folder hierarchy they should go, you may end up with a huge, unwieldy folder full of files and an unorganized navigation for your readers to try and sort through.

The usual way to set up a site is to create a folder on your local hard disk that contains all the files for your site (referred to as the local site), and to create and edit documents within that folder. You then copy those files to a Web server when you are ready to publish your site and allow the public to view it. This approach is better than creating and editing files on the live public Web site itself, because it allows you to test changes in the local site before making them publicly viewable. When you’re finished, you can upload the local site files and update the entire public site at once.

Break down your site into categories and put related pages in the same folder. For example, your current book, upcoming titles, and works in progress might all go in one folder called Books, but your author bio and contact information pages should go in a different folder possibly called Author. Use subfolders where necessary. This type of organization will make your site easier to maintain and navigate.

Decide where to put items such as images and cover art files. For example, it’s convenient to place all your images in one location, so that when you want to insert an image into a page, you know where to find it. Designers often create an Images folder where all their site graphics will be placed. For authors, I recommend creating a Cover Art folder within the Images folder so that when you need to access a book cover you don’t have to sort through dozens of site graphics to find them.

Use the same structure for local and remote sites. Your local site (the files on your computer) and your remote website (the files you upload to the server where your website is hosted) should have exactly the same structure.

By setting up your site files in this order, with natural categories and subcategories based on the groupings and related content you will also be creating a useable, easy to follow navigation for your readers. For example, take a look at this sample site structure below:

flowchart
You can see that the files on the author’s computer that they use to create the site, mirror the navigation links the readers will use to get around the site. By setting up your website with a functional flow from the get go, you’ll not only have a easier time finding your files to update, but you can also use it as a way to build a solid navigation structure for your readers.

So in the example above, on the actual site I would have a nice header image and below that three links or tabs that say “Author”, “Books”, and “Links”. Whenever a reader clicks one of the tabs, they are taken to a page that either offers the category information (such as the biography.html under Author) or a page for more options in that category (for example the index.html page under Books would list each book title with links to either read more about the title, read and excerpt or read the reviews).

Often times you will also be linking to and using outside services as part of your website, for example hosting a blog on WordPress or creating a mail group on Yahoo! Groups. In this case, I you would of course include navigation links at the top that would include “Blog” with a link to your WordPress blog and “Newsletter” with a link to your Yahoo! Group.

It can be a little confusing at first and if you have the means I would highly recommend hiring a web designer to at least help you create the flow of your site and build the beginning structure, or revamp the structure you already have. However in this rough economy hiring a designer may not be outside your budget, but not to worry, there are many great places online and many books that can help you in creating a functional, easy to use website. Here are just a few places to get you going:

http://www.rocketface.com/organize_website/organize_website.html

http://www.worldstart.com/tips/tips.php/1763

http://ezinearticles.com/?How-to-Organize-Your-Website&id=290959

http://personalweb.about.com/od/organizeyoursite/Organize_and_Your_Web_Pages_and_Keep_Your_Site_Tidy.htm

And some books you may find helpful:

http://www.amazon.com/Web-Sites-Do-Yourself-Dummies/dp/0470169036/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1235502947&sr=1-1

http://www.amazon.com/Really-Step-Step-Building-Website/dp/1847730736/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1235502993&sr=1-1

http://www.amazon.com/Best-Website-Simple-Successful-Websites/dp/1419690000/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1235502993&sr=1-5

Calliope’s Treasure Hunt – Final Week

•February 23, 2009 • Leave a Comment

The winner has been selected for last week’s prize. Congratulations to Carol T. who won a print copy of DIVINITY IN CHAINS and an exclusive necklace!

Calliope’s returns for the final week with THE GRAND PRIZE including a Sterling Silver Marcasite & Garnet Glass Heart Pendant, a wooden “Dream” keepsake box and a signed copy of DIVINITY IN CHAINS in print. Valued at $100 (pictured below) The hunt continues so check out details below!

Calliope has returned to sprinkle another trail of musing dust across Danielle Devon’s “Minding the Muse” blog. With each clue, Calliope will lead you through the pages of the blog to the treasures she has hidden within. Follow Calliope’s trail each week in February, unveil the treasure and enter your chance to win some wonderful prizes!

To Play: Simply follow Calliope’s trail each week to the treasure she has buried. Then click on the treasure box to enter. Click here for details.

You MUST be 18 years or older to enter!

The hint for this week’s clue: somewhere on the homepage of the blog is a Writer’s hint for you!

Writer’s Weekly Retreat: Welcome

•February 23, 2009 • 2 Comments

Welcome to the first Writer’s Weekly Retreat! Every day this week we will be exploring some of the finer points of websites and promotions for authors.

To be honest, with the contest, writing deadlines and real life I’ve sort of had to pull this week’s topic out at the last minute. LOL So for the first retreat, I’ve chosen to talk about something I happen to know a bit about… design and promotion. You see before I gave up the 9-5 to become a full time writer, I was a designer myself. So please join me this week as I try to pass along some hints, tips and information that will hopefully be useful to all writers on their path to success!

Feel free to share your thoughts and comments and don’t forget, every comment you post automatically enters you for a chance to win some fabulous prizes!

Writer’s Weekly Retreat: The Author Website

•February 23, 2009 • 2 Comments

With the Internet becoming increasingly faster, more affordable and more available, authors are finding it to be a versatile, dynamic marketing resource for their titles and a platform for creating long-standing relationships with readers. Let’s take a look at the top three uses of the author web site:

The Web Site As A Book Promotion Tool

Is there a more prefect place to strut your stuff than on your own web site? Your web site will provide you with a dedicated space and a very targeted audience to promote your books.

Your promotion technique may depend on the type of book you are promoting. If you are featuring a non-fiction book then you probably want to concentration more on reference material while a fiction author will want to focus on content that offers entertainment value.

A non-fiction author looking to promote a book on knitting will want to develop a site and content that focuses on the craft. The author might provide a table of contents so that readers will know what they can expect to learn about knitting from this book. She might also provide a list of knitting FAQ’s that serves to reinforce her authority on the subject.

Meanwhile, a fiction author looking to promote her newest romance will want to develop a site that not only offers information on her book but also includes entertaining content that speaks to lovers of romance. She may include excerpts of her story along with glowing reviews from well-known romance writers or avid readers.

The Web Site As An Identity Tool

Companies spend a great deal of time and money developing an identity. An eye-catching logo provides a visual representation for their company, product or service. A memorable catch phrase tells people what they are all about or what they can expect. This “branding” helps define them as company. It says, “hey pay attention to us, we’re better than the competition.” Likewise, authors can take advantage of these “branding” techniques. From the genre they pursue to the covers on their books, authors can define themselves as a master of their field.

The website is quickly becoming another weapon (and in some cases the biggest weapon) in the author’s arsenal when it comes to creating an identity and setting themselves apart from the competition. Everything on the web site from the design, to the content, to the color scheme should reinforce your identity as a writer and your commitment to quality work.

The Web Site As A Fan Club

New readers. every author wants them. Attracting new people to your web site is a key factor in turning those just dropping by into avid readers. Your web site must be a place not only for your legions of already adorning fans to hang out but also a place where those with mild curiosity can find out more. You’ll want to provide content that is current, entertaining and interesting. Content that gives them insight into you, into your work, into your world.

Endless Possibilities

These are just a few of the ways your web site can help you promote yourself and your work. There is no limit to the amount of information you can provide and the type of promotion you can accomplish through your web site. The possibilities for your web site are as endless and varied as the readers who flock to the bookstore shelves.