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How to Create a Winning Website that Sells Faster | Catholic Writers Guild
The Catholic Writer’s Guild launches their online conference in 2023, and kindly invited me to present on building website that sell faster. These are my notes for the presentation!
So first off, the easy answer to a winning website that sells faster is this: summarize your brand in a simple headline, and include a great big button telling people what to do, like ‘buy my book’ or ‘join my list’ or something. Most people won’t actually do that, and it’s surprising how simple a change it is. Add it, and you’ll see fans convert faster and sales improve.
Ok, we’re done! Head back to your day. :)
Since you’re still here, let’s go into a little more theory. I’ve given you the end of this presentation, so let’s take a little detour into some of the thinking behind what makes a winning website, and how selling faster depends on how clearly you’re connecting to your reader.
If you’re reading this, I’m assuming we’re a writer with a new novel, or a series, but don’t know where to start with a website? Or you are early in your website journey. I’m assuming you’re pretty excited about getting your book and yourself out there. It’s probably safe to say that you’re a bit unnerved or overwhelmed at all the ‘must do’s’ online. Or people are visiting your website, and leaving without doing anything.
You’re not crazy. It can feel like a lot because it is a lot. But I’ve found a way to make it fun for myself, and to build websites that win people over to a mission or an idea, and sell things faster. It could be selling blog signups faster, or selling memberships faster, or consulting services faster.
Let’s talk about making a winning website that sells faster - only there’s a third ingredient to that. It’s not in the title, and today it makes all the difference. Drop a comment if you can guess it.
I’m Dominic, founder of LegendFiction, a community like CWG, but with more focus on dragons and ludicrous drama. I work full time in marketing and branding, but my heart lies in storytelling, like yours. For the last decade, I’ve been learning how to help a brand tell it’s story through its website, so that people ‘get’ it and take action. I host a writing community for fun, but have built, branded, launched, and redesigned hundreds of websites in the last five years. I’ve worked with startup agencies, freelance clients, and plenty of my own side projects.
Almost every time I’ll redesign a website, or overhaul a brand, they have been so happy and seen a boost in engagement. Made more sales. Got more comments. Not because we did anything magical. What we did was clear away the clutter and confusion, and bring to the front the message they are sharing to a specific person.
I think every author who’s working hard on a website hopes that people will flock to it and do one or some of these:
show interest in you
buy your book
join your email list
follow you on social media
refer you to their friends
invite you on podcasts
Now you may be an introvert, like me, and half of this sounds terrifying. That’s fine. You get to decide. But here’s what we’re talking about today. If you want to sell faster, you need a winning website. And that doesn’t mean a better template, or hiring a more expensive freelancer.
In fact, let’s ger clear about where this webinar goes.
I will not sell you on anything. Authors should be able to launch your site and get going for free.
A website is a hub for your activity online, the URL you give to people to easily find you, not just a sales funnel.
The faster you can create a connection with people, the faster you’ll sell
So I’m not going to tell you a specific theme you need to get that’s data-proved to ‘just work,’ or the best colors that psychology will say makes people click, or that it needs to load before people arrive… Some of that is good.
But it’s more important to take a step back and think about the role of a website, what’ it’s meant to do with you.
So no pressure to take notes today, just think and listen. I’ll drop a link in chat and you can go over all after.
What’s your current website? Drop it in in the comments below, and share your the big struggle or question you have? Let me share my approach for a half hour, and then we’ll open up for Q&Rs, questions and my responses.
Building author websites
The most exciting website I ever built for myself was for my first novel. It was a children’s novel about a ring that takes two children to a magical fantasy world of talking animals.
I wanted to build buzz for the sequel, and share the art I’d created, give away sample chapters, and start a private club. I had sent copies of this fantasy novel to a family of 4 kids, and they devoured it. They sat in trees, fought over reading it, and moaned that I didn’t give my girl main character enough of a role.
I built that website to be a home where I could keep writing and have fun with my audience. But I quickly realized I didn't know how to find more readers.
I tried building my own author brand website, and made a few sales, gained two editing gigs. But I couldn’t understand what I was missing.
Fast forward about 6 years, and I felt like I was at square one again, only this time with a client.
An author approached me, asking me to build his website. He had been working on a for years. I did my best. We started with an in-depth branding call to clarify who would buy it and what they'd get from it. Then designed a beautiful website with a big headline, simple ‘buy now’ button.
Then he wanted to know how the sales would happen. I told him that was on him. He could research podcasts, collaborate with creators, join groups. All the essentials folk will tell you online. Whether indie or traditional publishing, that’s how it works. I don’t think he was prepared to do much of that, since he already worked full time.
If you’re selling something wonderful, your website today needs to answer that third need I mentioned. You may have a winning book, and an easy Amazon checkout.
But what about your audience?
How do they connect with you?
If all you want to do is just sell books on autopilot, while you're off doing something else, you absolutely can. You can hire a freelancer from Fiverr to run ads for you, and launch a landing page for you. What that will cost you, I don’t know. I see ads for indie books on Facebook all the time, and they're trying very hard. Sometimes I’ll check out their website. The design might be snazzy, but it’s rare that I find what I’m looking for:
social proof: cues that people like me like this book, like testimonials.
the author: a better sense of who the author is and what they’re about.
If you don’t have those, you’ve probably got a sales funnel. That's not a winning website. You're here today because a website plays an important part in your adventure.
So here’s my third element to a winning website that sells faster.
Nope, it’s not keywords, or SEO, or an aggressive ad campaign. That can come after.
It’s community. Spending time with your audience, and giving them a voice with you. That only happens when you build a brand, not a website. The website shares your brand with people. The website is the meeting place for you, your mission, and the audience who want all that goodness.
The amazing thing about having followers or a community is that they will straight up tell you why they like you, or why you're valuable to them - if you spend time with them. They will tell you exactly what you need for your headlines, and those little blurbs explaining your site. You don’t need a marketing agency. You just need to talk with your people. Perhaps your beta readers and early followers.
You’re a writer already. So you’re ahead of many other websites: you can write with a purpose, and with verve.
Let’s focus on the brand. Who are you? Who are you for? What do you do, how, and why? The number one piece of advice for a better website was staring me in the first pages of the Interior Castle - know yourself. Until you do that, you can’t go anywhere.
In a few moments I’ll share more concretely about the simple things you can do to sell faster. One of them is obvious enough to make you roll your eyes - but it’s actually stunning how many don’t do it.
If you can guess, drop a comment.
What does it mean to win? We don’t all measure that the same way. And that’s good. Here are some of my definitions to a winning website:
A winning website builds an audience. Publishers want to see that an author can engage and build your own audience, in your own way. Hunkering over your next draft and mailing manuscripts from a mountain chalet doesn’t fly any more. Audiences get excited at connecting with their authors. Following you, chatting with you, being involved in your creative process. The veterans on this call know how collaborative creativity really is.
The question only you can answer is how much and what you do. Each of us have different energy levels and interests. Some love live video. Others the intimacy of a monthly blog. Whatever you do, your website is your home online that centers all your activity.
Your author site might start as a celebration of you and your work. but if you look at popular authors, you'll find they do something else. They highlight a mission pretty early on, and they’re very clear about their audience. The author is a voice for that mission. Yes, maybe the mission doesn’t exist without them spearheading it. But they’re stepping up and taking a stand for something.
You are too with your novels. Small indie author websites are no different. You’re physically selling a novel, or a series. But think of a cruise ship. When you visit the website for a cruise line, they’ve got the ‘buy now’ button or the prices up front. But you’re looking past that. You’re looking at the fun, the experience, the destination, the exploring.
A cruise ship isn’t selling tickets, but an adventure. Tickets are the specific transaction to make it happen. You also are offering an experience to people who love what you love, and the novel makes that happen. Sit with that, find out what it is.
That’s why genres, themes, and a specific reader helps you sell more books.
What were’ talking about here is branding. One of my favorite examples I once heard on a podcast was about Axe Body Spray. Nothing is more obviously built for, and marketed to, teen boys and young men. And that’s what makes it so powerful for everyone. Grandma might buy it, but not for herself, for her grandson. Because the marketing it so clear, the branding is so focused, she instantly knows who to get it for.
If you can focus on that, you’ll have a winning website.
When a visitor or reader lands on your site, they will be asking the same questions you and I do when we browse. A new website is exactly like a neanderthal turning a corner and finding a cave, or a new fruit tree, thousands of years ago.
Is this for me? What do I do?
We scan for cues, for clues. Are we in the right place? Did we make a mistake? Yes mistake? Back. Out, new tab. No mistake, ok, next question.
What do I do? What do people like me say?
Knowing what action to take, or not take, in any environment gives us focus. Taking action constructs an instant story in our minds: if I do this, I’ll get this result. And then we want to know if anyone like you has already experienced this. We don’t care as much about people unlike us. If every ‘Larry was here’ was an Olympian, that doesn’t help us. We want to know what people like us do.
Who are you? What happens when I act?
That’s what we need to know when we meet a person. Who are you? What does this world mean to you? Are we on the same page? And what are you asking me to do?
A winning website answers these questions quickly and simply.
When you’re starting out, you search for help online. Most listicles and search results will be very left brain. They will get you thinking of strategy, keywords, organic ranking, maybe paid ads.
If you’re like me, you’re very right brain. And, if you’re starting out, you probably don’t need to spend a dime. I bet you’ve already invested in editing your manuscript and paying for a cover design.
So let’s get the essentials out of the way: you need a website on free hosting, an email list, and social profiles.
A website is where you point people to, whether at book fairs, signings, or podcast interviews.
An email list keeps you in touch with people who want to hear from you, and news up upcoming projects.
Social profiles create a human connection between your lives as people, and it’s where you share insights and gain feedback. Social media is not for promotions - exclusively. It’s where we go to be social.
Your website can be super simple, and free.
Check out WordPress.com, Wix, or Substack is my favorite. Substack is my new favorite these days. It’s got email and Patreon features built in for free. When I finished my own book last year, Rebel Dreams, I decided to turn the whole book into an online course using Substack and put it behind a paywall. In my case I’m doing more than selling a book, but growing an audience.
I’ve spent 6 years building in Wordpress, and love using it for many reasons. But what I love most about Substack is that you stay focused on getting launched and doing things. A temptation we have is to lavish time on the perfect template, the perfect theme. It’s more important to get going, and learn by doing.
I even launched a secondary blog this month on it. While it is a magazine-like layout, the focus is on one thing: building community around your content. This also shows people that you have a life and opinions outside the bookends of your novel.
But if you’re on Wordpress, or any others, use free email tools to gather signups. I like SendFox or MailerLite, and use both.
Again, your website will make selling faster - once people get there. It is a destination. Think about how you’ll spend time with your audience? How will you involve them?
Last November, I hosted LegendHaven, an online convention for my writing community.
One author shared that she goes live in IG and lets fans name her characters.
Another just hosts daily write-ins to give other writers a safe place to rest and write.
Another reads her stories on YouTube, and hosts occasional workshops.
I always look for ideas that excite me and brings me energy, not drain me, and keeps me from writing.
So the part we’ve all been waiting for; how to sell faster.
We want to sell books. So clarity it critical. If I ask anyone to buy something, it should be your own copy of Storybrand, by Donald Miller. Get it on Kindle, read it over a weekend. As authors, you’ll probably love it as much as I did.
Donald has had decades of experience in writing biographies and screenplays, and one day decided to pair the Hero’s Journey with branding and marketing. Not completely original, but what he did pioneer was a simple system to help people get clarity.
Most people’s websites are confusing when you land. They often say ‘welcome to my website,’ and feature the book. That’s a good way to begin.
Check to ensure you have a super clear button, with strong contrast, asking people to do something. Like subscribe, or ‘buy my book.’ If you squint, it should still look like the most important thing on the page.
Decide if your website is purely a book site, or an author site, or a community/content site.
A book site doesn’t need to do anything other than sell the book. Get a large cover on there, plenty of testimonials, and a big clear button.
An author site might feature you really prominently, and list your books and interviews. It is about you, and you don’t really expect engagement from visitors, just sales.
A community or content site is less about you and your book, and more about the world you’re building with your audience. You are actively inviting them in, asking for comments and feedback, sharing news and updates, and welcoming them with gifts.
This last version is always the most exciting to me, because that means you’re on a mission. Or starting a movement.
People subscribe to you to 1) follow you, but just as importantly, 2) to find themselves, to empower their voice.
You're helping them find that, because its also yours. And what’s the key value of a website that excites and empowers your readers to engage? Well, engagement. And also referrals. Your audience becomes your ambassadors.
So for your homepage, or any book landing page, you’ll need 3 simple things:
A clear headline: What is this website, this page, this book all about? Use the title, or speak to the mission.
A clear blurb: Describe 1) the best audience, 2) what they'll enjoy, and 2) how to get it. Don’t think about selling tickets, sell the destination.
A call to action: This can be a ‘buy now’ button, or an opt-in form with a sample story or a gift.
Social proof: prove to your visitors that readers love your world. Plus this is also good for keywords and showing up in search engines.
My #1 closing tip. Whether on social media or your website, stop thinking about algorithms and think about audience. The more you spend time with them, the more you’ll learn why they love it all with you. Listen, and use their testimonials and words to describe your book.
Don’t be afraid to tweak things. I’m overhauling or tweaking my headlines every six months on my projects, because I find a new turn of phrase, or a new word, that get’s me closer to the minds and hearts of my people.
The faster you can meet your audience, dial in your message, and get clarity, the easier it is to move books, get engagement, and things like podcast invites.
Bonus tip: record a short welcome video with Loom. No one is using video enough! Think about why you like watching a video from an author. Your audience feels the same way. Got interviews? use them!
The key is this. If you confuse, you lose. Go for simplicity.
Be ‘captain obvious’ about what you want people to do.
And then get back to using your website to build your fan base, or your movement.
its all about your brand, and the community supporting you.