I spend a lot of time looking at blogs and websites. Maybe too much time. Sometimes I feel like if I have to see one more watercolor Facebook icon or read one more About Me page, I will just flop over, dead from too much Interneting.
But 95% of the time, I just love it. It’s fascinating to see the front end of a blog or website and then talk to its owner and learn more about their back end stats and strategies. I guess it’s sort of like seeing how the blog sausage is made. (“Blog sausage” sounds wrong. In a hilarious way. I will now have to dedicate my remaining years to proliferating this phrase.)
ANYWAY. It’s become so incredibly important to have a strong online platform before you launch a book that it’s impossible to overlook the power of a well-done website or blog. Yet if there’s one thing I’ve seen from speaking to hundreds of bloggers, it’s that very few of them know what the heck anyone else is doing. Sure, there are plenty of online courses you can take that could help you build traffic, but there’s nothing like seeing how that traffic converts into real business (as in product sales) to show you how important certain overlooked areas are.
There are 4 areas that I think are especially overlooked, and where I think many people are stifling their engagement, throttling their traffic, and overall slowing down the growth of their businesses. Here are the mistakes I see most often:
This week’s “read” is more of a “look”–just as we’re on the conversation of book covers, Buzzfeed released a list of 32 of the Most Beautiful Book Covers of 2014. There are some really excellent covers on here, and though the list skews toward upmarket literary fiction (where there are less conventions to adhere to than genre fiction or nonfiction), it’s still a great example of what’s working in the market now. And while it’s tempting to just say “It’s pretty. I like it.” (I do this ALL the time, heh), it’s much more helpful to try to dissect why it works. Here are my favorites and why I think they are awesome:
Gold foil is very hot right now in the online world, but this is the first book cover I’ve seen tap into the trend. It’s a bit hard to tell from this image if they used full gold foil on the entire cover or just reserved it for the author’s name (since this is an expensive production add-on), but it looks incredible. It’s eye-catching enough to stand out on a bookstore table, but it also doesn’t pigeonhole the book into too narrow of a genre. I think the cover of the hardcover edition of the work (which you can see here) looked too science-fiction-y, but you can tell by the back cover copy that this book is meant to be genre-defying. And for that, you need an ungenred, ungendered cover!
People judge books by their covers. This is the cold hard truth of publishing. A book cover is the very first thing a reader will see of your work, and so it’s incredibly important to get it just right.
Think of a book cover like the package of any other consumer good (and by “package” I mean the overall look or style of a product, not its container). A MacBook Pro might have a super-fast processor and long battery life, but it’s the elegant design that draws in most consumers. A BMW might have great horsepower and a fuel-efficient engine, but the sleek lines are what catches your eye on the road. In a crowded marketplace, looks matter.
One of my all-time favorite blogs is Zen Habits by Leo Babauta. It’s amazing because it’s different–just look at the main page, and you’re instantly struck by how it looks nothing like anything else on the internet. No ads, no images, no lists of posts, very few links, and no social media icons. It’s just one post on a blank page, with a few links that lead you to years and years of archived posts. It’s quiet in a noisy world. As much as I always tell my authors about the importance of design, this is the perfect example that website design doesn’t have to be cookie cutter–it just has to be impactful.
Lucky for us, the writing on Zen Habits is just as impactful. Leo’s such a master of condensing so much knowledge and inspiration into just a few short sentences. Makes my long-winded self jealous! And I also think his approach to writing as a profession, particularly writing on the internet, is incredible. He went the traditional route for a while, running a blog with ads and writing a book with a traditional publisher, then decided the whole thing just wasn’t jibing with his minimalist values. So he uncopyrighted his blog posts (more on this here), pulled all his ads, and refocused on helping his readers in a more direct way. He moved his business model to one of building value with his readers, so that now they directly support his business by signing up for his great e-courses and buying his ebooks, instead of having third parties, like advertisers, support the business. It’s both a radical idea and a simple idea–not too different from a business model like that of NPR, where the emphasis is on serving the public, and then inspiring the public to support you back.