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Total Website Strategy, Part 2: Managing Media, Customers, and Orders

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(SEE ALSO: Part 1)

As the hub of your online presence, your publisher Website has many different functions, including:

  • branding and positioning to promote your publishing house
  • promoting your authors
  • merchandising your books and other products
  • courting the media
  • staying in touch with your customers
  • providing an ordering portal for your consumer, commercial, and/or wholesale customers

Last month, Part 1 of this series covered the first three of these functions. What follows covers the rest.

Courting the Media

This is one area where most Websites I’ve seen—whether publisher-, author-, or book-centric—fail miserably. The worst of them simply ignore the fact that nowadays Websites are where editors and reporters go to find what they need to cover a story. If the materials they need aren’t provided in a single location that’s easy to find and use, they’ll simply move on.

So here’s the rule: It’s your job, as the publisher, author, or both, to create attractive, informative, and useful promotional materials (just as you do to populate a print press kit) and make them easy for media people to find and use in a single place on your Website.

This means removing all obstacles to their finding what they need. Here are a few tips on how to do that:

  • Clearly label the area “Newsroom,” so they will understand right away that you’ve created a place just to fill their needs. People sometimes use “Media Room” or “Press Room,” but I’ve become a little wary of “Media Room” because that term can now also mean a room where you put streaming media such as audio and video. And I have met at least one reporter who takes umbrage at being called “Press”; she says that since she doesn’t just write for print media anymore, that term and the term “press release” are both outdated. (Technically, she’s correct, but her stance on this does induce some eye-rolling.) So I use “Newsroom,” because there’s no mistaking what that means, and it doesn’t risk offending anyone.
  • Include a link to your Newsroom in your main navigation buttons or list. This not only makes it easy to find; it also indicates that you realize media people are pressed for time.
  • Put this link near either the beginning or end of that list or those buttons, where media people can easily see it when they’re scanning for it.
  • If you really want it to stand out, also put a graphic indicating that it’s a link to your Newsroom for those who are more visually oriented (hint: most media people are). The graphic can go at the top of a sidebar, if you have those in your Website layout, or somewhere else easy to see if you don’t. But still have the link in your main navigation bar as well—you can never provide too many ways to get to this material.
  • If you opted not to create individual, title-specific Websites, provide one Newsroom on your publisher site for materials about you and your company, and separate Newsrooms for each book title in appropriate areas near other information you post about them.

Once you’ve built a Newsroom into your Website, what do you populate it with? It’s kind of a no-brainer to include digital versions (PDFs or Word docs for copy; JPG files for images) of the elements in your traditional print press kit (and yes, you should continue to use physical press kits because some media, such as smaller community newspapers that are still most likely cover indie authors and their books, will want them).

Also include audio and video that’s interactive and engaging (to put these in your print press kit, you can burn to DVD). And if you have created smartphone and tablet apps related to your titles, post them as well.

Here’s a more detailed list of elements to post in Newsrooms. It’s not exhaustive by any means; look to each title to suggest its own content.

The book’s One Sheet (containing all pertinent descriptive sell copy, shelving, and order information)

This is the One Sheet we use as the heart of all press kit elements for our title Almost Perfect: Disabled Pets and the People Who Love Them.

Cover images. All Newsroom photos should be available in high resolution—at least 300 dpi at about 3″ × 5″—so they can be used for print or online, but it’s best to post just a thumbnail cover image that loads quickly into your Newsroom layout and make it clickable to the cover’s downloadable high-res file.

Representative interior photos if the book has interior art. Make sure whatever you post in high resolution has copyright clearance, because your posting it here gives implicit permission for the media to reproduce it to accompany a story about you, your authors, or your books.

Videos. A book trailer; author interviews.

Audio files. Author interviews.

Awards and other recognition, which might mean using an image of a certificate you or your authors have received for community service, or participation in events related to their titles.

Upcoming events. Google Calendar is a great free tool (google.com/calendar/render?hl=en&pli=1), but remember to keep it updated.

Previous media coverage. Links to online articles are great, as long as you keep them updated. Check all links at least once every six months to be sure they’re still live; nothing says “outdated” like dead hotlinks. Along with live links, you can post a PDF or JPG for viewing and downloading, having scanned an article to make an image or requested and obtained a PDF from the publication in which it appeared. Some will oblige, some won’t, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. You’ll have greater success if you request this PDF as soon as a story appears. Once it’s been archived, the answer’s almost always “No,” not because people can’t get it for you, but because getting it is too much work.

Staying in Touch with Your Customers

As your social/Internet hub, your publisher Website should provide a way for you to stay in touch with your existing and potential customers. Per the often-cited 80/20 sales rule, you get 80 percent of your business from 20 percent of your customers. The corollary 80/20 products rule says you get 80 percent of your profit from 20 percent of your products. And the corollary 80/20 marketing rule says you get 80 percent of your sales by retaining existing customers while spending only 20 percent of your marketing budget on them. Which translates to the reality that it’s far cheaper to maintain solid relationships with people who’ve already purchased from you than it is to chase new business.

Of course, you should always be seeking and promoting to new customers; it would be business suicide not to. But neglecting to stay in touch with existing customers could be just as deadly, and would probably lead to a quicker death.

My point here is that your Website should enable outreach to your customers. This nearly always means using either a blog or an e-newsletter. Blogs about publishing are likely to be relatively ineffective, since end users don’t really care about publishing issues unless they pertain to new books, and it will be hard to blog often enough about them. Also, blogging is a passive or “pull” channel; you must pull people to your site to read the blog, which is a real challenge.

That’s why I recommend an e-newsletter as the most effective choice for staying in touch with customers. It’s a “push” technology—you push it out to people who have subscribed, qualifying themselves as good sales leads.

To offer an e-newsletter on your Website:

  • Sign up with one of the many email newsletter services, such as Constant Contact, MailChimp, or AWeber. Depending on how many addresses your mailing list has, these services are priced from free to reasonable, usually on a per-month price basis payable annually.
  • Set up your account profile with the service.
  • Choose an appropriate name for your newsletter that aligns with your publishing company’s brand. For instance, our newsletter is called The Anvil, since our name is Word Forge Books. It reinforces the analogy of a blacksmith shop, which I chose to embody the concept of finely crafted products in which we take great pride.
  • Determine a realistic frequency. I recommend a monthly publication, which shows up often enough to remind people you’re still here, without being obnoxious. But definitely commit to publishing at least quarterly.
  • Set up an editorial calendar for your content, so you won’t be freaked out by Blank Page Syndrome every time you sit down to write your newsletter. Use your release date schedule to drive the main content, and fill in around that with items of lesser importance. It’s helpful if some ancillary content relates to the main theme of the issue, but it’s not critical.

And remember that you needn’t focus on a book launch for each issue. Publisher Toni Albert of Trickle Creek Books (tricklecreekbooks.com), whose mission is to teach kids to care for the Earth, sends Splash! A Drop of News You Can Use every month. It’s generally very brief, maybe a screen or two, and I look forward to taking a little break in my busy workday to get some wonderful tidbit about the natural world. Short can be very sweet.

  • Decide whether it would be more effective to do a single, general-interest newsletter or to divide your customers into smaller, topic-specific segments and do several newsletters that appeal directly to these more narrowly defined interests.
  • Set up as many different newsletter “groups” or “categories” as you feel you can service well (different services use different terms). Be honest with yourself about your resources for making this happen. Better to do one newsletter well and with adequate frequency than several only passably and irregularly.
  • Export your customer list with its email addresses (you do collect this information from your customers, right?) to the required format and import them into your chosen newsletter service account. Note: Make sure to back up this list regularly. It’s one of your most valuable business assets.
  • Copy the snippet of code provided by the service and paste it into the platform you use for your Website—Wordpress, Joomla, Drupal, DreamWeaver, or whatever. This will create a small but attractive visual signup widget on the site that people can use to subscribe to your e-newsletter.
  • Use the service’s platform to create your newsletter in beautiful HTML format. Use some of the many free or nearly free stock photo and illustration Websites to source your graphics; make sure your content is truly interesting and interactive, and make darn sure your template includes a link back to your Website.
  • The template will automatically include stock language with an unsubscribe link, which is legally required. I recommend going into that field and making the stock language more warm and friendly, but you won’t be able to remove it, and you shouldn’t anyway.

Bonus tip: If you want to provide an archive of past issues, simply take a few extra minutes when you’re writing each newsletter to copy and paste the content into a Word document and save it as a PDF. Then create a hidden page on your site (hide it by simply not including a link to it in your navigation) where you post all these PDFs for download. Include a link to this archived page in each issue.

Don’t worry about losing some contact info through reader pass-along. You won’t lose much, and people who don’t end up signing up are probably not in your target audience anyway.

Providing an Ordering Portal

If your Website doesn’t host an e-commerce area for your consumer and end-reader customers, you’re missing sales, plain and simple. Most small publishers offer an ordering mechanism, even if it’s as simple as a link to a PayPal payment gateway next to cover graphics, as on publisher Barbara Techel’s Joyful PawPrints Press Inc. site (joyfulpaws.com/books).

A lot more work is necessary to enable orders from retail and wholesale customers through your Website, since their discount levels and payment terms vary. Unless you have a dedicated Webmaster with the ability to program something that accommodates all these buyers’ variables, taking online orders from them can be an expensive proposition.

For this reason, you may opt to provide general trade policies on your Website and accept actual orders only by phone, or—if you’re working with an established buyer you trust—by email. Publisher Sheila Ruth at Imaginator Press (imaginatorpress.com/booksellers) does a good job with this at her site.

As you wrap up your planning, remember that whatever Websites you decide to create, you should build in free tools such as Google Custom Search (google.com/cse/?hl=en), which lets visitors find what they need on your site, and Google Analytics (google.com/analytics), which lets you see how your site is performing so you can tweak and update it until it’s pulling its weight as a member of your marketing and sales team.

It’s All Good

Clearly, you need to keep a great many considerations in mind when planning your publisher Website strategy. But don’t be overwhelmed: It’s a huge elephant to eat, so to speak, but if you allow yourself to eat it one chunk at a time, as you can handle it, you’ll still eat the whole elephant over time.

After all, the beauty of online marketing, including on Websites, is that activity can grow and morph at whatever speed and in whatever way you deem appropriate. So build out the most important, core parts of your site right away, and add other modules as you have the time and resources. The trick is to take the effort seriously, allocate the time and other necessary resources to get the job done, then schedule the work. We all know that if it doesn’t have a deadline, it sinks to the bottom of the “To Do” pile.

Also clearly, you need a solid plan for content, function, and deployment whether you opt for a general umbrella structure in which everything happens at your publisher-centric site, or for an integrated network of publisher«author«book sites, each of which includes direct reference and links to the others. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a piecemeal, cobbled-together mess that may actually hurt your marketing and sales efforts.

Using this series of articles as a guide to creating and implementing your own total Website strategy should make your search engine rankings and traffic rise, your media coverage increase, and your sales grow. All this may not happen immediately, but over time, your Website(s) will become a much stronger factor in your overall success.

And when you feel frustration (and you will) because you can’t get it all done at once, remember that marketing isn’t a sprint, it’s an endurance race in which he who lasts, laughs.

Mary Shafer is an independent publisher, an award-winning author, and a marketing consultant with more than 20 years in the industry. Formerly president of the MidAtlantic Book Publishers Association, a regional IBPA affiliate, she provides guidance for authors considering self-publishing and for indie publishers seeking greater success. To learn more: IndieNavigator.com.

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