How Your Online Platform Can Take You From Self-Published to Securing a Major Publishing Deal

2BE7EDDB00000578-3219546-image-m-9_1441198840264You may remember a month or so ago, a children’s book made headlines, claiming to guarantee sending your children to sleep at bedtime, and today, it has made headlines again, after it was announced that Penguin Random House have snapped it up, and is due for release in October.

Author, Carl-Johan Forssen’s story, The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep, started its journey as a self-published book, which was translated into English last year, using Amazon’s self-publishing system, Createspace. After reaching No.10 on the Amazon book chart, it began at times outselling high-profile titles such as Go Set a Watchman and Grey.

Many writers now start out as indie authors, either consciously or not, hoping a major publishing house may pick up their work after the success of ‘going it alone’. Whether you admit it or not, it’s every writers dream to have their work read by a wider audience. Today’s news seems to reiterate the point that I make on a regular basis, that mainstream publishing houses are clearly listening to what the market is doing, even outside the bigger works.

The managing director of Penguin Random House Children’s UK, Francesca Dow, said in a statement: ‘We’re thrilled to be publishing The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep—a phenomenon that’s grabbing people’s attention all around the world.

‘We are excited now to be bringing this book to an even bigger audience here in the UK and internationally.

‘As a publisher we want to publish books that speak to people and have the power to support them.

‘This book is very clearly doing that.’

I have seen many authors wanting to achieve this dream, only to fall at the last hurdle for one reason or another. When speaking with authors at events, many are surprised to hear that agents and publishers may research them online prior to making any offers. It’s easier than you may think for publishers and agents to find your details and review how you interact with your audience. This can be done over social media, via interviews, or looking at your own website. This is a vital reason why your online platform should display outward professionalism and encourage the confidence of not just readers, but clearly industry professionals too. If you do not have a website or an online presence at all, publishers and agents can view this as a significant negative against your name. It will take more work in marketing terms to publicise you and your work if you refuse to embrace what is probably the least expensive, but most effective platform for publicity in today’s market.

It also means that publishers or agents may find it extremely difficult to even find your contact details in order to discuss future opportunities with you. The publishing industry is no longer simply about sending in submissions and waiting to hear back. This story demonstrates how the professionals are keeping their ear to the ground and seeking out future titles. If you cannot be easily found, you may be missing out on advancing your writing career.

If you look at Carl-Johan Forssen’s website you will see a very well presented site that immediately conveys legitimacy and professionalism in his field of work. We don’t know whether Random House took note of his online platform or not, but it would have certainly added to their confidence in him as a professional and an author if they had.

It’s never too early to assess whether you could present yourself more effectively online, and if you’re looking for advice or a friendly critique, please get in touch by email ( or via Twitter (@authordesigner).

Using Your Author Website to the Full – Part Two


Thank you for coming back to read part two of ‘Using Your Author Website to the Full‘, which I recently spoke about at The Self Publishing Conference 2014. If you weren’t able to attend, this information could prove extremely useful. If you were there, then this is a great re-cap on such a lot of the information that we spoke about on the day.

In part one, I spoke about ensuring your design and content was targeting the right people. Your website isn’t there to convey you as a person with family photos and every hobby and interest you may have; it is there to portray you as an author. Now that you may have had a chance to sort through this in you mind, it’s time to look at making it work. The very best website and author can go no-where if it doesn’t reach the correct people and work in the right way. 


Keeping Visitors on Your Website

Once you have people on your website, preferably potential or existing readers, you need to learn how to keep them there. Bounce rate, which refers to people who almost immediately click on and then off of a website can be very high if there isn’t content interesting enough or a design worthy enough to obtain their interest. The further you get in your writing career, the more content will naturally grow. You will need to add fresh new ideas to your website on a fairly regular basis in order to bring back readers and visitors.

I spoke last time about sample chapters and short stories, but there are many other options.

Book trailers are fairly new in author promotion, but you may have noticed more and more appearing on your TV advertising, as well as buzzing around the social media websites. When book trailers are done well, they can create a great sense of intrigue towards a book, much like a movie trailer. They certainly shouldn’t depict the entire details of your book, but it is another avenue to visually entice readers to your work. Websites such as Youtube have a huge impact in the world today, and utilising these can portray further professionalism and interaction between author and reader.

What’s more, website visitors tend to spend 88% longer on a website that has a video on the Home page – giving you more opportunity to convince them to buy that book! Whether it’s a book trailer, an interview or a welcome message from yourself, videos are a people pleaser. Also, if you ever find yourself presenting your book at a fair, show, launch or signing, it is something to have on display. And let’s be honest, who doesn’t dream of their book being on the big screen!

Remember those words and pages you threw away or changed through that long editing process? Utilise them! Another movie related piece of enticement, would be to add deleted scenes or an alternate ending (if your book is fiction). Extra chapters can also be added if your book is non-fiction.  

Another idea is to carry on using your characters. Your existing readers may have come to your website to find more information. Whilst they’re there, amuse them with telling them what your characters have been up to since the book was finished! This works particularly well with children’s books, as does colouring sheets. Add downloadable ‘sketches’ of your cover/characters and ask your readers to colour them in with their own ideas! You could even have this as a competition.

All exclusive content should bring people back to your website. Let them feel they have stumbled upon something they won’t find anywhere else.

It wasn’t until recently that website browsing on Mobile and Tablet devices has become vital to how you should review your website. Many website builders or older websites didn’t convert to a mobile/tablet friendly system until last year (or perhaps still haven’t) so make sure your website is presentable on these devices. Some may be viewed as a ‘mobile site’ (a simplified version of your website), which is fine as long as it is presentable and still branded/targeted to your audience. Others now offer to display your website in exactly the same way as it would appear on a computer, which is ideal, as long as the content is suited to this size of screen. Much like the thumbnail image of your book cover has effected cover design (viewed as a tiny image on a book retailer website), this style of internet browsing on smaller screens has also affected website design. Elements must be clearer, bigger and even more easy to navigate.


Search Engine Optimism (SEO)

To some degree SEO is something your website designer will handle (if you have one). Upon building your website, they should create keywords and phrases for Google to pick up when they look through (crawl) your website for listing in their results. They should always contain the obvious, including any book titles, your genre/s and your author name, as this is most likely how people will look for you. Be cautious though, too many keywords, or unrelated words will flag your site with Google and will have an impact on where your website is listed. Your web designer should help with this, if you have one.

If you’re designing and building a website yourself, you will need to submit your website address (e.g to Google. There are many companies who offer to do this for you, but there is no need. You can easily do this yourself and it should take anywhere between three days and three weeks to list – depending on how busy Google is(!). Once you have done this, you can do the same with other search engines, but it is most likely that it will list automatically once on Google.

Another way for you to encourage your website to come higher in search results is links. A link to your website (wherever it may appear) is very valuable to your SEO. Ensure there is a link to your website from any social media or author profile’s you have on the internet, including any interviews you may have. Google will pick up on these and believe your website is of better interest than it perhaps initially was, therefore moving your website up the rankings on search results.

Try not to expect too much too soon. Google is a waiting game, and it pays to keep an eye on things and keep trying new ideas. Visit your website once in a while too (which you should do to check for errors anyway),but go via Google. It will pick up on your ‘hit’ and count it towards how ‘popular’ your website is.

I will go into more detail on how you can use Google in a later post.


Selling Your Book Online

It goes without saying really (although I have come across some before!), that your website should offer direct links to where your book is available to buy online. I hear from a lot of authors that they aren’t ‘in it for the money’ and they just love to write:- well that may be the case, but if you have published your work, and it is for sale, you need to sell it in order for people to read it! So don’t be ashamed to offer links to a few online retailers, to make it super easy for potential readers to buy the book with one click. Don’t overdo it however. Too many authors get a little excited that their book is available (rightly so!) on Amazon, Waterstones, WHSmith, Book Depository as well as numerous others, but keep it to two or three links to make it clearer. You can always add ‘and all good book retailers’ if you want to make it obvious that it’s elsewhere.

Another thing I hear a lot is authors who dislike having a link to Amazon. We all know the profits (or lack of) that authors make from sales on Amazon, but it is the biggest book retailer in the world, and therefore all those readers out there have an Amazon account, making it very easy to buy books instantly. The question you may have to ask yourself is do you want to sell more at a smaller profit, or less with a bigger margin? If you only sell via small retailers or yourself directly, it’s a more long winded system for your reader to go through. That being said, it is now very easy for authors to sell editions themselves from their own website. With payment systems such as PayPal (which again a lot of people hold an account with), it’s easier than ever to offer your book for sale on your website. If this is something you do, or are interested in doing, consider offering them something else (again something exclusive) such as signed copies, to entice them away from the big retailers, and to buy direct from the author instead. 


Well, I think that’s probably enough for Part two. In part three, I will go into Website Statistics and how best to use these to further advance your website.

If you have any questions about this post, visit me at my website (, on Twitter ( or at Google+ ( You can also email me direct at

Thanks for reading!

Using Your Author Website to the Full – Part One

On behalf of myself and the entire team who put together The Self Publishing Conference 2014, I would like to thank any of you who attended. It was a brilliant day and we have all received a huge influx of positive feedback.


As promised in my last session of the day, How to Use Your Author Website to the Full, I am blogging some of the points we discussed in a series of posts. We got through most of them, but with all of you taking part, you will know we run over by half an hour. At least you were enjoying it and taking away lots of useful tips!

I spoke about why an author needed a website in my first session of the day, which I have blogged about previously. Once you have a website as an author, there is a myth that it will just work and pull in thousands of new sales. To some extent it will work, but as with anything, people (most importantly readers) will need to know it is there to benefit from any sort of promotion, and this takes some time and effort. If your website isn’t pulling in as much attention as you hoped, here are a few elements you may wish to check your doing correctly.


Is Your Design Working?

The first question to ask yourself is whether your design is working. A website design, and in fact all elements of your book promotion should appeal to your reader in the same way your book cover needs to. It needs to be branded, professional and targeted to your market audience. Lack of branding can confuse a reader to believing they haven’t come to the correct website and lack of professionalism can damage your author image. It may be that if they see a badly edited or designed website, this may reflect onto your writing and books. If you put them off with your design, you are going to lose their attention very quickly. Professionalism creates a sense of legitimacy.

If you feel your design isn’t as professional as other authors that write in your genre, spend a little time on some design research. It is likely that as an author, you read in the genre you write, so take some time out to browse popular authors to see what they are offering from their websites, and how their design is pulling in your readers.

Another question I come across a lot is authors who write books in two genres. Do you really need two websites for each market? The answer depends really on what the genres are. If they compliment each-other, then it’s possible that you will be offering books to readers that read both styles; for example historical fiction and historical non-fiction. However if your books are polar opposites (I’ve seen websites offering sweet historical romances and modern erotica), then you need to consider using separate sites. You want to avoid deterring readers at all costs. You also need to ensure that your brand is represented, and it may be that this isn’t consistent over your two different genres.

Remember, statistically you have three seconds to convince your website visitor to stay on your website. I will give you a few tips on how to do this, other than having the correct design, in a later post.


Is Your Content Working?

After looking at the design, you will want to concentrate on exactly what your author website contains. Is your existing content offering visitors something they are looking for? As I just mentioned, it’s down to the three second rule. You need to immediately let you visitor know they are in the right place (design), where you want them to go (content and design) and how to get there (content). 

Assuming you have covered the first point of design, you then need to let them know what you want them to do. You can do this by ensuring your content is clear and not overwhelming. Your book/s should have prominence, with an immediate link to ‘find out more’ and purchase links. You also need to provide a clear navigation to other pages. This can be done through a menu, making sure the links are clear and concise. Don’t name your pages with quirky titles – you may know what it means, but you readers may not. In other words, the page that contains information on your books, should be labelled in your menu as ‘Books’, NOT ‘My Library’, ‘My World’ or ‘Offerings’. Keep it simple, so that people can easily navigate around your website. You will also want to ensure that any references in your text to your book are linked to the Book page. That way, if people are reading, they don’t need to scroll to the top of the page to find the menu again. I know this sounds particularly lazy, but any encouragement is essential.

When it comes to the amount of content you provide in your website, this can vary enormously between author’s websites. Some have thousands of words on each page, which quite frankly, unless you’re JK Rowling, people aren’t going to read or take that much of an interest. You want them to read your book, not pages and pages of content on your website. Remember that your website is ultimately a selling tool, and a place for current readers to find out more about you and your other works. People get very bored, very easily, so keep what you write shorter (around two to three paragraphs is ideal) in order to keep their attention. I will be talking about exactly which content you want on each page in a later post (exactly so as not to overwhelm you…and keep you coming back – I do practice what I preach!).

It’s not just the amount of content you need to consider though, you will also want to consider the quality. Does your website offer something that readers can’t find anywhere else? People love to believe they have found something exclusive, so offer just that on your website. For example 43% of readers agree that they will return to a website if it offers free short stories from an author they like, and 33% admit to wanting a free sample chapter prior to buying a book. Both these can be offered on your website.

Another way to bring people back to your website is via Newsletters and Blogs. If you have the time, you can spend a short while on a daily, weekly or monthly basis writing a few hundred words to let your followers know that you have something new to offer them, some news to share, or an interesting discussion on the topic of your work. It is important again not to overwhelm them with too much information, or too frequently. A newsletter does provide visibility, but people will all too quickly delete a newsletter emailed to them without reading it if it lands in their inbox too often. A blog on the other hand allows them to drop in when they have the time. There are obvious advantages to both, and some authors will use both for assurance that they’re reaching as many readers as possible.

I will reiterate the point that if you keep your website updated (no reader enjoys an out-of-date website), then you have more reasons to pull in visitors to your website. And of course, a website is one of the best promotional tools, which you can update as often as needed, so take advantage of it! It doesn’t need to take very long, but can have a big effect.

I hope this initial lot of information has been useful. I will update you with the next section of ideas and tips to offer your readers in the next post, so watch this space! If you want to get updates of when these will appear, follow this blog or keep an eye on my Twitter and Google+ feeds. You can of course also find some information at or email me at


Until next time,


Cover Design – Identifying Your Target Audience

If you are a self-publishing author, cover design as a service, is something that you will all come across at some point. Unless you do it yourself, you will no doubt research the many companies that offer cover design as a service (Author Design Studio included). Having worked with many authors, I definitely get the impression that you can all become quite disheartened at not being able to create a cover to appeal to everyone. By that I mean every book has a target audience, and this is possibly the first obstacle in the cover design process to overcome.

Every book out there has a main audience that it’s going to have to appeal to. It’s nigh on impossible to create a cover that appeals to every single reader that you believe would enjoy your book. As a cover designer, we must identify the largest part of that audience to target. It gives your book a better chance of selling if you create something to appeal to a single audience, than creating a mixed design which would only create confusion.

Now, having come to that decision, it’s not always easy to find which market you want to jump into. After all, Harry Potter covered a vast market, but if you noticed, it also had many different covers to enter into each genre. If you’re having difficulty deciding, speak to your cover designer and explain the message your book is trying to convey. It may be much clearer to someone who hasn’t spent every hour of every day for the past years thinking of this book!

Once you’ve decided on your genre and target audience, your cover designer should look into the market with you, discuss what’s selling, what’s eye-catching and how you can fit in whilst still stand out. Many covers in the same genre appear very similar, and whilst this attracts readers of similar books, your cover designer will also need to consider the balance of being different in a market that’s already potentially overcrowded.

As an author, you a more than likely a reader in the same genre that you write. Pop into a book shop and see what catches your eye, make a note and talk to your designer.

Design is in itself a creative process, and can become quite personal. Your designer should take on-board your ideas, and I’m sure they’ll offer some too, but the end result should be something that both you and your readers will love!