If you are an author with a book to sell, then it doesn’t really matter if you’re a self-published Kindle Store cowboy or a long-established writer aligned with a century old publishing house – you’re probably going to need a website to help you build a platform in order market yourself and your work.
There are few better ways to go about building your author platform than with WordPress. Its relative ease of use and its flexible nature make it easy to bend to your wishes.
Flexibility in WordPress is most usually achieved through the use of plugins. And so in this post we are going to run through some of the most essential plugins you will need in order to build this interactive marketing machine.
But first we’ll need to talk about the different components of a book author’s website.
Parts of an Author’s Website
As with writing, there are really no rules about what an author’s website must include. Yet again, as with writing, there are generally a few different common elements that should probably be included if you want to see success.
With that in mind, an author’s website should probably attempt to do at least some the following:
- Establish right away this is the site of a book author
- Interest readers in the work
- Connect with readers via social media
- Promote work via social proof
- Get readers onto an email list
- Let readers know about upcoming events (readings, book signings, new releases, etc.)
- Sell books
- Promote the author’s work via video
- Give readers a more in-depth look at the author to establish a deeper connection
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Plugins to Achieve These Goals
1. Establish That This is a Book Author’s Site
This first objective may sound blindingly obvious to some. To others it may be so obvious as to be a revelation.
You’d be surprised at how easy it is to overlook the obvious, especially when the obvious is obvious to you. You’re a writer and you know you’re a writer. Shouldn’t everybody know that? Well, no. You have to tell them. And you should do it in a blindingly obvious way.
Let’s take a quick look the site of John Locke, the first self-published Kindle author to sell over a million ebooks. (Note: The site is named donovancreed.com after his main protagonist.)
I pick Locke’s site because he is someone who’s had to learn how to market himself as an author, and he did it all himself. So whether you like his books or not (or whether you’ve even heard of him or not) is immaterial here.
The guy has obviously been doing something right.
So here’s the homepage of Locke’s site.
You’ll notice that nearly the top half of the page is taken up with an ad for one of his books. That’s only actually one of the ads that rotate automatically after a few seconds.
This little trick in WordPress can be easily done with something called a “slider.” Sliders often come incorporated into a lot of themes these days, but if your theme doesn’t have a slider, not to worry. There are plenty of slider plugins you can get to do the job.
Here are a few of the more popular slider plugins out there.
You also might want to check out some Parallex sliders that Clifford recently reviewed here at wpmu.org. Parallex sliders are a little more complicated, but for some they may be worth it. (With Parallex sliders different elements come sliding into the same picture at different times.)
Another post you may want to check out is Sarah’s somewhat recent review of 10 responsive slider plugins. (Responsive sliders respond to mobile devices and adjust accordingly.)
So a slider on the homepage may be a good way to advertise your books and make it clear that this is an author’s site. For pages other than the homepage, you will probably want to make sure that your header makes it clear what the site is about.
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2. Interest Readers in Your Work
Of course it’s important to get potential readers interested in your work. One good way to do that is to give them free previews.
There are a number of different ways you could go about this. You could simply put the previews on a section of your site. Or you could let visitors download a preview. (Or you could do both, of course.)
If you publish extended previews on your site, you may end up wanting to link different sections together in a logical way. Probably the easiest way to do that is with a series plugin. We’ll go over three.
1. Really Simple Series
The Really Simple Series plugin is, well, really simple. All you need to do is check a box for a category, and it will automatically link up all the posts in that category. The links appear at the bottom of each post like this:
2. Post Series
The Post Series plugin is also very easy to use. Simply add the name of a series to a box in the post editor.
3. Organize Series
The Organize Series plugin is a plugin that is a little more complicated than the first two, but it also gives you more options and flexibility. It lets you organize the order of the posts, for example. It also automatically creates a Table of Contents page for your series.
Here’s a look at the plugin in action.
We actually did a more in-depth look at this plugin in a previous post that you can check out here.
Publishing LOTS of Content Online
If you are looking to publish MUCH more content online (like a whole book), you may want to check out this post about organizing a book in WordPress.
Another way to give a potential previews is to offer PDFs. Here are some plugins that will help you do that.
1. Google Doc Embedder
2. Print Friendly and PDF Button
The Print Friendly and PDF Button plugin will convert any of your Posts or Pages to a PDF and add a button to the content area as well. Here’s a look at it in action.
3. WordPress Download Monitor
The WordPress Download Monitor plugin lets you easily track downloads you make available on your site.
Simply upload a file in the Admin area, and then insert the file into a Post or a Page via the new icon that will appear on your visual editor. (A shortcode will appear wherever you insert the file download.)
There are a number of options available in the plugin, but the basic set up will look like the following: insert download link with shortcode and the link appears live with the title used in the Admin area.
Offering PDFs without a Plugin
NOTE: You can insert a PDF for download by simply uploading it to your Media Library, getting the URL for it, and then linking to that URL as you would to any URL. You can also link an image to URL.
When the link is clicked, the PDF should automatically open in the browser. You can also inform users that they can save the PDF to their computer first by right clicking on the link and choosing “Save Link As ….”
Getting Visitors to “Pay” for Free Content
If you are giving away free content, you might consider having visitors “pay” for that content by “liking” it via Facebook, tweeting about it on Twitter, +1’ing it on Google Plus, or mentioning it on Linkedin. This increases your social media profile and brings in more visitors.
You can do this with WPMU DEV’s Pay with a Like plugin.
Here’s a look at the plugin in action.
The Pay with a Like plugin is a premium plugin, and there are certainly advantages to premium plugins from WPMU DEV (constant updates, new features, access to support, etc.), but for those who might not want to spend money on a plugin such as Pay with a Like, there is at least one free plugin I found that promises similar functionality called wpLike2Get.
Expanding on the Free Content Idea
Another idea that may work well is to use the above plugins to give “extra” content for a book already written. Let’s say you have published a Kindle book, and someone has already bought it. In that book you could place a link to a page on your site where the customer could get an extra chapter, for example, that wasn’t included in the book. If readers have bought your book and liked it enough to want more, then they will probably have no qualms about “paying” for even more content by liking or tweeting or +1’ing that content.
Use Short Quotations from Your Work
All of the information above applies to extended previews. But you might help draw readers to those previews by using quotations from your work in various places on your site and then linking to the preview.
In order to do this, you can use “testimonial” plugins. We will go over testimonial plugins later, so when reading that section, just keep in mind that those plugins can do double-duty if necessary.
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3. Connect with Readers via Social Media
Of course most think it’s super important for authors to use social media as much as they can in order to become more widely known and build stronger relationships with their readers. The following social media plugins should help you do just that.
Social Media Buttons
Floating Social – This premium plugin is from WPMU DEV. In fact, you can see an example of it to the left of this post. It should look something like this:
While of course we’re proud of the Floating Social plugin and know that it would work well for you, we also realize that some may want a free option for the time being. Below are some of the more popular free social media button plugins:
Commenting via Social Media Accounts
One nice (and easy) way to help spread your site on social media platforms is to get people to comment on your site using their social media accounts. In this way, their comments also get posted to their accounts on Facebook or Twitter or Google Plus, etc. Those comments, of course, also have a link back to your site.
Comments Plus from WPMU DEV will let you set your site up that way. Here’s a look at it.
The following Facebook plugins will help you do a host of different things such as automatically post to your Facebook Timeline, track activity, import comments made on Facebook, and more.
Ultimate Facebook – This is a WPMU DEV premium plugin, and so you can be sure that it’s updated regularly and you receive top-notch support for it. Here are a few of its features:
- Let (or force) users to your site register with their Facebook login
- Post new content to user’s walls, fan pages, events, etc.
- Import comments made on Facebook
- Like and Send buttons
- Fan Page Widgets
- And more
Facebook – This is the “official” plugin from Facebook itself, and so we’ll list it here. That said, it seems a number of people have had issues with it (at this writing, for example, it only has a 3-star rating). It is also said to conflict with other plugins at times. It may work for you; however, if it doesn’t, don’t be afraid to look elsewhere for a solution. “Official” may not always be the best, as it turns out.
Simple Facebook Connect – Again, if you’re looking for a free Facebook plugin, but you’re having issues with the official plugin from Facebook, you may want to try this one.
Add Link to Facebook – This is another Facebook plugin that will allow you to a number of things (even though its name makes it seem as if it only does one thing).
The Twitter Easy Tweet Embed plugin might very well be perfect for writers with work to promote. Essentially you pull out a quotation and encourage readers to tweet it. Tom, another blogger here on the site, not only wrote about it, he wrote the plugin!
The WP to Twitter plugin lets you post to Twitter when you post to your blog.
The Twitter Widget Pro plugin lets you import your Twitter feed into a widget on your sidebar.
Google + Plugin from WPMU DEV – Here are a few of the things it does:
- Add a +1 button to your site
- Integrate your WordPress site with Google Pages
- Post directly to WordPress from Google +
- Post from G+ directly to your BuddyPress activity stream
Tracking Your Social Media Efforts
Not long ago here on wpmu.org, Sarah wrote about tracking your social media efforts with the Social Metrics plugin. This can help you keep an eye on how you’re doing. (You can find the Social Metrics plugin itself here.)
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4. Promote Work via Social Proof
The idea of social proof is pretty simple: if people see others doing something or approving of something, then they will think it must be all right or good.
Starred reviews are social proof. Facebook likes are social proof. Testimonials are social proof.
You get the idea.
Below are some plugins that will help you use social proof to your favor.
Both of these plugins show visitors to your site that you already have fans on Facebook.
Of course reviews are hugely important when buying a book. So why not highlight your better reviews or even let visitors leave reviews on your site?
Below are some plugins that will let you do those things.
(As noted earlier, many of these plugins can also be used to display quotations from your work on your site.)
WP Customer Reviews
As it says on the plugin’s homepage, the WP Customer Reviews plugin “allows your customers and visitors to leave reviews or testimonials of your services. Reviews are Microformat enabled and can help crawlers such as Google Local Search and Google Places to index these reviews.”
The Testimonials Widget plugin lets you rotate testimonials one-by-one in a sidebar widget. It also allows you to easily link to the source of the quotation. Because of this, this plugin could easily be used to link quotations from your work to an extended sample of that work, for example, or even link quotations to a sales page for the work.
The LTW Testimonials plugin allows you to easily put reviews/blubs into a sidebar widget, but it also lets you put them into a Post or a Page with a shortcode. On top of that, it allows you to group reviews together. This would work perfectly for authors with more than one book. You could group reviews together by book, and then call them into the appropriate Page or Post with a shortcode for that group.
This plugin could also be used to link quotations from a work to extended samples of the work or to the book download page itself.
The Imperfect Quotes plugin also allows you to use a sidebar widget or shortcodes in Pages and Posts. You can call in random reviews/testimonials/blurbs in the sidebar widget, or you can specify a specific a blurb to call in. You can also call in specific blurbs with the shortcodes.
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5. Let Readers Know about Upcoming Events
If you’re an author that has a lot going on (readings/book signings, new releases, interviews, etc.), then you may want to put a calendar on your site that lets your fans know about upcoming events. Not all of these things need to be “offline,” of course. As long as there’s a set day when something happens, then you can put it on your calendar.
Events Plus from WPMU DEV
This is a premium plugin from WPMU DEV. Here are just a few of its features:
- Facebook and Twitter login
- Integrated Google Maps
- Widgets included
- Compatible with any WordPress theme
If you’re looking for a free events plugin, you might try one of the following:
6. Connect with Readers via Email
Email is still one of the most valuable forms of communication there is on the web. The following plugins will help you stay in touch with your visitors and help them stay in touch with you.
Subscribe by Email – This premium plugin from WPMU DEV lets users sign up to be notified of new posts from your site. Check out the video below.
Subscribe 2 – This free plugin also lets visitors sign up to subscribe to updates.
Aweber Web Form Widget – If you use Aweber, a popular pay email service, then this official plugin from the Aweber team may be worth checking out.
If you would like to send out newsletters, then the following plugins should help.
E-Newsletter — A premium plugin from WPMU DEV, E-Newsletter lets you use professionally-designed templates to get a professional look.
WYSIJA Newsletters – This free plugin also provides newsletter templates to help you style your communications.
MailChimp Newsletter Integration — If you use the popular Mailchimp email service, then this premium plugin from WPMU DEV should help make your life a little easier when sending newsletters.
The following popular contact form plugins should make it easier for your site’s visitors to get in touch with you.
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7. Sell Books
Of course the ultimate business goal of an author is to sell books. And so you will want to make it easy for visitors to your site to buy your books.
As Amazon is obviously the top dog when it comes to book-selling, most authors will have their books listed there. Many Amazon plugins, however, are designed to sell all sorts of products, not just books from one author. That said, the following Amazon plugins may be worth checking out. They will allow you to specify specific products (i.e. your books) and give you a number of options for displaying them.
Using Amazon Associate Tools
Another option here may be to use tools that Amazon itself provides to its “Associates” (i.e. its affiliate marketers). You can find these tools by signing up to be an Associate here.
Once you have the code that you’re happy with from Amazon, you can place it in the HTML version of a Post or a Page, or you can insert it into a default WordPress text/html widget in your sidebar.
Using Your Own Book Cover Images
The one thing that I didn’t especially like about the Amazon widgets and Amazon tools I found was that the images they displayed tended to be on the small side.
You want to attract attention to your book covers, and so the bigger they are the better.
Because of this, it might be best to simply put your own images into your sidebar (or wherever), and make them as big as is appropriate.
You could use the default text/html widget and link a cover of your book to its sales page. But if you aren’t comfortable with HTML, then you could get an image widget to make the job easier.
The aptly-named Image Widget plugin can do the trick for you. Simply upload your image into the widget, and then provide the link to the sales page. Here’s a look at two book cover images that take advantage of all the space available in the sidebar.
8. Promote Work via Video
Some authors have discovered the power of video in the marketing of their books. From “book trailers” to interviews to video blogs to readings of a work, video can be a great way to get readers and potential readers into a deeper connection with you.
Here are a few video plugins you may want to check out if you decide to go the video route.
- Video Sidebar Widgets – This plugin will help you easily put videos in your sidebar.
- Tubepress – This plugin will help you set up a gallery of videos.
If you would like to simply embed a YouTube video into a Post or a Page but aren’t sure how to do that, here’s a simple beginner’s guide.
9. Give Readers an In-depth Look at the Author
Finally, connecting in a personal way to readers is one of the best ways to market yourself and your books. With the explosion of social media, that’s easier than ever. Still, however, if you’re like most people, then your “social media life” is spread out all over the place: Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, etc.
If you could bring all those pieces together, however, then it could give visitors to your site an easy way to get to know you better. The following tutorial about creating a dynamically updating About Page is slightly involved, but it might just be the answer for those looking to make the extra effort.
Here’s a look at one possible dynamic About Page. Notice how it’s pulling in the latest content from different social media sites.
Obviously the plugins listed above are not the end of the conversation. However, they should at least get you started if you’re looking to build an author platform with WordPress.
Let us know in the comments if you know of plugins that might be a good addition to this list.
Also, if you have any ideas about how writers might effectively use their websites to connect with readers and promote their books, then let us hear those too.
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