Erotica Readers & Writers Association Blog

Sunday, March 29, 2009

“Shameless” Website Tips from Lisabet Sarai

It’s hard to believe another month has gone by and we’re ready to discuss more tips on shameless self-promotion for writers! In my column this month I focus on one of the most important ways to reach potential readers of your book in our Internet age: your website or blog-site (which is like a website but not as expensive).

As I was researching this month’s column, I got to chatting with Lisabet Sarai, who will be well-known to fans of ERWA as the provocatively-clad Erotic Lure tour guide. Lisabet’s smart and very sexy short fiction can be found in numerous anthologies and she’s a prolific master of the erotic novel as well. Her classic debut novel Raw Silk, which takes place in sultry Thailand, was an inspiration for my own first novel set in the far east. Her latest release is the erotic thriller, Exposure.

Lisabet has recently redesigned her website to accommodate her ever-growing list of publications, and she agreed to share some of her insights into the process with the Shameless Self-Promotion Badge Squad.

SSP: I know you recently redesigned your site. Did you have particular goals for the new site?

LS: I implemented my original site back in 2000, after the first publication of my first novel (it's now on its third publisher!), using a WSIWYG tool called NetObjects Fusion. Over time, it grew to over 80 pages of static HTML. Generally, I got positive feedback about the site content, but I decided that I needed a new site for a variety of reasons.

1. The tool I was using had bugs that were causing me increasing frustration. It also produced only frames-based designs, which had started to look very old-fashioned. Furthermore, for every page I created, it generated a new header graphic. Both the frames and the superfluous graphics multiplied the number of files I had to manage and increased the amount of disk space my site consumed.

2. The site had grown so large that it was unfocused. I wanted to start from scratch, reorganizing to provide easier navigation and a clearer structure. I've moved into the epublishing and the romance worlds in the last few years, and I felt that my site was not especially effective as a vehicle for marketing. I wanted to make it easy and fast for visitors to find and buy my books.

Aside from simplicity and focus, my main goal for the site was fast and simple update. Things change so fast now, compared to eight years ago! I have new publishing credits every month or two. I run contests. I add free stories. I publish my newsletter as a page on my site. I needed to be able to create new pages or modify existing pages really quickly.

Finally, I wanted to give my readers a bit of a sense of who I am. This was the main goal of my original site (not, at the time, promotion. I had the crazy idea that the publisher would do the promotion LOL!), and I carried much of the personal content (with updates) over to the new site.

I know basic HTML - not fancy formatting or graphic design, but the core ideas and markup elements. So I decided to ask a professional web designer to create the graphics and layout for two templates - for the front page and inner pages. Then I took over, adding the body content, which was all pretty simple.

This has worked incredibly well. I can add a new page in minutes. All I do is copy a close existing page, and update the content. I have separate pages for books that have been published versus those that are coming soon, with parallel formats. On release day, all I need to do is select and cut the section from the "coming soon" page and paste it into my current pubs page, then upload the pages to my web host.

What features do you appreciate in another author’s website?

The features that I appreciate in another author's site are the same ones I have sought in my own:

--Simple, clean design and layout. I hate animated gifs, flashy graphics, embedded videos, music... I'm a writer! I feel that an author's site should focus on words. (I will be the first to admit, I am quite old-fashioned. I use MySpace, but most MySpace profile pages make me nauseous!)

--Easy navigation

--Ease of reading. Please spare me the purple text of the black background, the huge or the tiny fonts, the thousands of text colors!

--Browser independence

--Good content, of course. An author's website should allow you to get a sense of his or her style and preferred subject matter.

Have the contests you’ve sponsored on your site been helpful for promotion?

I'm really not sure. My main goal with my contests is to get more people into my notification network - on my Yahoo list and/or my mailing list. I also try to reply personally to contest entrants in order to establish a personal connection. Another writer commented on a publisher's list that you have to build your readership one person at a time. That's my intent with contests. I don't really expect them to translate directly into sales.

I will say that my new site makes the mechanics of contests much easier - because of the ease of update.

Any advice you have for newbies in designing a website for promotional purposes?

Oh, lots!

--Keep it simple - graphically and in terms of navigation

--Make it easy for your visitors to find information about your books, to read excerpts and buy the books

--Consult a professional about the graphic design unless you happen to have skills in that area

--Test on multiple browsers and with multiple screen resolutions

--Remember that not everyone has a fast Internet connection, even now. Big or numerous graphics take time to download.

--Use a variant of your pen name as your domain, if at all possible.

--Weigh carefully the costs and benefits of having someone else responsible for your updates. If you depend on someone else, you will not have the same flexibility and freedom.

Thanks so much for sharing this helpful information, Lisabet!

Find out more about Donna George Storey and her adventures in shameless self-promotion at her blog.

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