The Elephant and the Technophobe

The Elephant and the Technophobe

We’re talking (mostly) Tools this month – and Feedback Friday is going to hammer relentlessly at that topic, even when these emails decide to go spinning off route, down some cedar-scented hillside.

And this week, we have an elephant to deal with.

The elephant is Amazon or, more broadly, the digital domination of bookselling.

The fact is that (so far as fiction is concerned) most books are digital. Ebooks and audiobooks together account for well over 50% of all fiction sales. The true total is probably over 70%. That’s not a stat that you’ll see bandied around by the big trad publishers – their digital share is a lot lower than that – but it’s the correct one, nevertheless. Big trad publishers account for the vast majority of bookshops sales, so their sales are skewed towards print. But that still leaves a ton of high volume digital-first publishers and the whole self-pub market which is, on its own, larger than the whole of Penguin Random House.

Furthermore, print vs digital isn’t quite the right way to analyse things, because a lot of print books are sold digitally and the paths that lead up to a digital sale of a print book are normally themselves digital. So, for example, I recently read a very positive review online of Tom Holland’s Dominion, and I ended up ordering it from Amazon. The discovery, investigation and purchase process all happened online; but I still have a (very fat) book to read in the bath, not a screen.

Non-fiction is a bit less digital-first than fiction. And children’s books are (thank the Lord) still mostly physical, but digital selling tools are huge no matter what.

The upshot of all that?

You can’t ignore the digital route to sales, no matter what you’re selling or who your publisher may turn out to be.

There are lots of things that you may well choose not to do. For example, you may decide you don’t want a Twitter account, in which case I don’t care and nor will your publisher. The same goes for pretty much all other social media accounts. Social media is not an especially powerful way to sell books (or at least not to readers. If you’re super-engaged in books chat with the editors, agents, booksellers, reviewers, etc in your niche, then having those relationships will only be useful to you. But you can’t fake that engagement. If you’re not engaged now, that’s probably because you don’t want to be.

But you do need a website. It can be simple. It can be one page long if you want. But you do need one. At the very least you need the following:

A domain name

This is the top-level web address – so in my case, it’s

If you happen to have a very common name, or one you share with someone better known, then identify yourself with the “author” tag:  so,, for example.

Don’t name a website after your first book. That’s kinda fine for the first book itself, but the name will stale very quickly once we’ve written others. The exception would be if you KNOW you’re writing a particular long-running series. So, you could maybe call your website, but in most cases, I think that’s an approach best left to experienced self-published authors. You can’t really go wrong with an author-led domain name.

Costs for domain names should be trivial – the Jericho writers domain, for example, costs us a little more than £10 a year. (But you do have to keep renewing your purchase, or your website will vanish. You’ll get reminders, so don’t panic.)


This literally means that your website has to sit on a computer somewhere, and different hosts will look after that for you. (In fact, they probably rent space from Google, or Amazon or one of the other big cloud companies, which means you shouldn’t have to worry one whit about security.)

Your site will not make big demands of speed or memory or anything like that, so pretty much any web host will do for you.

Content management system (“CMS”)

Unless you fancy coding from scratch, you will need to build your website via an existing system designed for just that.

You have two basic alternatives here:

  1. Simple / limited. Wix and Squarespace both offer affordable, drag-and-drop website builders. Pretty much anyone can use these, except my mother-in-law who comes out in a rash and starts swearing at things in German, whenever she has to deal with tech. If you are like my mother-in-law, then ask someone for help. They can do the drag-and-drop stuff. You can choose the pictures and get the tea.
  2. More complex / powerful – or, in other words, WordPress. You need to be technically competent to handle this beast, or you need to pay someone.

Back in the day, WordPress was really the only way to go for people who wanted a powerful site (ie: one capable of handling a very wide range of functionality) but these days the simple options probably have enough power for 95% of authors, perhaps more.


Yes, you’ve got a great cover design for your first book. Yes, everyone loves it. No, you cannot use this for the major images of your site.

The reason is that any such design ages rapidly as you write more books. So your design idea – pictures, colours, fonts, and mood – need to highly consistent with your book cover and genre, but shouldn’t be too closely tied in. You can go and take a look at by way of example. No major element there is tied in to any one book, but the whole mood is very well synchronised with my US covers. (Which look different from those in the UK, because of the way the  books got published. I prioritised the US because the designs were better and because I sell more books there.)


Unless you’re a real superstar – JK Rowling level, or almost – people aren’t going to spend long on your site. They’re going to use it, not read it, if you see what I mean. So help them – simple, clearly signposted blocks of content is all you need. Give readers what they need/want, then shut up. In most cases, less is more.

Here are the pages you need:

  1. Home page
  2. About me [ie: you the author]
  3. The books [an in-order listing of what you’re selling]
  4. Probably a page each on individual books, once you have more than 2-3
  5. Contact
  6. Maybe a set of blog pages, if you like blogging
  7. Readers’ Club sign up page

With a simple site, you can have the first five items on that list as sections on your home page. You don’t have to have a blog under any circumstances – though it can make life easier when it comes to add pages. But you certainly don’t need to start your site with a blog. It’s easy enough to add it later.

The Readers’ Cub sign up page is essential for a properly run mailing list, but that page is delicate enough to deserve its own email.

Just do it

And finally – please don’t overthink this.

When I first sold my Fiona Griffiths stuff in the US, I flew out to New York to meet my publisher. At that stage, I didn’t have a website. I spoke to a junior marketing person who said, yeah, you need a website. So I sat in my hotel room and spent 2-3 hours building a site. When I saw everyone for lunch the next day, I had a nice site to show them.

I don’t turn red when I deal with computer things and I don’t swear darkly in bayrischce Deutsch, but I wasn’t especially skilled. I just got on with it. Nothing on this list costs much money. And the tools are now so developed that they’re super-simple.

Got that? Schön. Ende gut, alles gut.

Feedback Friday: Tools Season – The Freebie – Website

Two options for you this week.

Either – the freebie task again

Not many of you attempted or nailed the freebie task last week, so I recorded a short video to help explain a little more accurately how readers actually find and sign up to your mailing list:

Feedback Friday: Tools Season – The Freebie – Website

The key things to remember are:

  1. Readers will find your “Join my Readers’ Club” message after reading your paid-for book. So you’re not seeking to sell that book. You are looking to cement your relationship with the reader. (And of course get their email address: you can’t have a relationship if you don’t have a way to get in touch with them.)
  2. When they click the link that that message, they are taken to your website where they give you their email address. You have promised to give them a freebie, by way of reward, so …
  3. You use automation tools to deliver the freebie to your reader.
  4. The freebie is going to be read by readers who have read your paid-for book, liked it enough that they want to stay in communication with you, and have downloaded your freebie. You are not selling anything to these people – or not now anyway. You are cementing a relationship. Say that phrase fifty times every morning after doing your Salute to the Sun or your 10km Ruck-a-thon. Don’t sell to your mailing list sign ups. Welcome them.

If you want another go at the freebie task, then watch this video and give me:

  • The title of your full-length novel and 2-3 sentences about it, so we know what the freebie relates to.
  • The title of your freebie.
  • 2-3 sentences about what that freebie will offer.
  • Your welcome text. That’s probably only 150 words or so, but be warm and welcoming and personal.

Or – your website

If you have a website, give us the link so we can all laugh at you.

If you don’t yet have a website, tell us what you’re planning.

And obviously when I say, “we can all laugh at you”, I mean offer supportive positive feedback.

That’s it from me. Post yours here

Til soon.


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  1. Thought you might like to know that the mailing list sign up link on your author website doesn’t appear to be working. (Well, not for me, anyway.)