Helping authors publish

Category: Websites

International Day Of Disabled Persons

It’s the International Day Of Disabled Persons, so here’s a short list of easy ways to make your web pages and social media posts more accessible.

When writing hashtags, use BumpyCase (also known as CamelCase). It’s better for screen readers and is less ambiguous (note the difference between #CarEbook and #CareBook)

On web pages, use headings to communicate the organisation of the page, not to make the text bigger. If you want bigger text, just adjust the font size. Again, this helps screen readers and accessibility tools. It also helps with SEO.

Use clear link text on web pages. The text in the link should describe what it links to, even if read out of context. Avoid link text like “click here”, that doesn’t indicate what is being linked to.

Always set alt text (“alternative text”) for images. In the alt text field, describe the image as well as you can. If you’re not sure what would be useful, remember that any alt text is better than nothing. If you forget to add alt text when adding images to Twitter, the Alt Or Not browser extension can help.

Use a website theme that has good contrast between text and background. Light grey text on a white background is much more difficult to read than black text on a white background.

If you use self-hosted WordPress, the AWS for WordPress plugin will automatically create audio versions of your posts.

For more information, see the Content Best Practices chapter in the WordPress Accessibility Handbook, or the Web Accessibility Initiative’s web accessibility tutorials.

Why do you need an author website?

Every author should have a website. Some think that a Facebook page or an Amazon page is a viable alternative. Both are certainly useful and worth having, but they should complement an author website, not replace it.

The reason can be expressed in a single word: Control. You have no control over your Facebook page or Amazon page. Facebook and Amazon control how they look and can advertise competing books on your page. They can even remove your access or take the page down at any time, with no right to appeal.

A website, by contrast, is owned and controlled by you. If you decide that you don’t like the hosting company, you can move it elsewhere. No-one else can advertise their books on your site. You can choose the domain that you want to use. You can choose how it looks. If you use WordPress (which we use and recommend) you can easily change how it looks whenever you wish. Most WordPress themes are responsive, which means that they adapt well to different screen sizes. A lot of web browsing is done on mobile devices these days, so this is an important consideration.

Domain name

Get a domain that is tied to your name if you can. Your name with a .com at the end is ideal if you can get it. If you can’t get your name, try adding something like “author” or “books” to the end. For authors based in the UK, a .co.uk or .uk is a good alternative. Robin’s pen name is Russell Phillips, and his website is at RussellPhillips.uk.

A web address like that is professional and gives a good first impression. You can set up an email address for the domain. This keeps your book-related emails separate and gives a better impression than a GMail or Yahoo address. If you prefer, have emails forwarded to your webmail. Always set your mailing list’s “From” address to be your domain address, not GMail, Yahoo, or whatever. Doing this will help your emails to avoid the spam folder.

Flexibility and selling direct

Having your own website gives you a great deal of flexibility. It should always have all the details of your books, with buy links. Beyond that though, you can include whatever features you wish. Some people blog, some have a podcast. We strongly recommend including a mailing list sign-up form, and some people use pop-ups too.

Websites can also host content that will be of interest to your readers. Including information for book clubs might help it get chosen by a club. If you are willing to do author talks, make sure that is clear on your site, along with information about how to book you.

You can sell books and/or ebooks directly, giving you another revenue stream. Many readers prefer to buy all their books from a single store such as Amazon or Kobo, but some will value the opportunity to buy direct from the author. You can set everything up yourself using a WordPress plugin like WooCommerce, or use a company like Payhip which simplifies matters. Either way, the money from any sales will be paid to you immediately, not sixty or ninety days later as is typical with other vendors. You can create discount vouchers to help promote direct sales, or sell a new release from your website before releasing it on the other vendors.

Create and Edit Universal Book Links

A Universal Book Link (commonly referred to as a UBL) is a short link that will go to a web page showing links to all the stores where the ebook or audiobook can be bought. When the user clicks on any of the links, they will go to their local site if the store has one. Such a link is useful in all sorts of situations, but especially on social media, where a long list of links looks clunky at best.

This post will explain how to set up a Universal Book Link for any book (even if you are not the book’s author).

Screenshot of Books2Read login form
The Books2Read login form

You will need to login at books2read.com/authentication/login. Use your Draft2Digital account to log in if you have one. If you don’t, click on the I need to register a new account link to create an account. Any books published with Draft2Digital will automatically have an UBL already, which you can find on the book details page. See below for instructions on how to add affiliate codes or edit the link.

Create the Link

Screenshot of Universal Book Link page, showing where to paste a link
Paste a link here and Books2Read will find all the other links automatically

Once logged in, you will see a box labelled “Paste a link to your book”. Copy a link from Amazon or another store into this box and click “Make My Universal Link”.

Screenshot of a newly-created universal book link
Creating a Universal Book Link

Books2Read will contact all the supported ebook and audiobook sites to find your book. The book cover will appear along with the title and author name, and the list of sites to the right will update as it is found at each site. Your new Universal Book Link will replace the link you entered under the book details, and a “Copy Link” button will appear. Click this button to copy the link to your clipboard. Then you can paste the link into an email, social media post, etc.

Rename the Link

Screenshot of universal book link page, showing the link tools
Creating a better link name

By default, the link is made up of an odd set of letters and numbers, which is difficult to remember or read out on a podcast. You can set a custom link name by clicking on “Custom name your URL” and entering a new name into the box. This must be unique, so the system will check it is available as you type. Once you have a custom name that you are happy with, click on the green SAVE.

Affiliate Codes

If you have an affiliate account at Amazon or other retailers, you can add your affiliate codes at Books2Read, and the code will be added every time a reader clicks on any of your UBL links. To do this, click on “Affiliate Codes”, then “Manage My Affiliate Codes”.

This will take you to a page where you can enter your affiliate code for each store. Amazon has separate codes for each country’s store, so if you have affiliate codes for the other stores, click the “Show Amazon’s regional affiliate options” link to enter those.

Editing the Link

If you later need to edit an existing UBL, log into Books2Read and click “Link Tools” in the top bar, then “UBL Dashboard”. Your existing links will be listed. Click on the book title that you wish to edit, and you will go back to the same screen that you used to create it. Clicking the “Rescan for Links” button will cause Books2Read to search the stores for the book again. If necessary, you can also paste the link directly into the store’s entry on the right.

Using the Link

Screenshot of a Universal Book Link page
The Universal Book Link in action

Above is the Universal Book Link page, as a reader sees it. UBL pages are responsive, and look good on phone and tablet screens, as well as full-size monitors.

Use the link in emails, social media, and anywhere else that you normally share links. If the book has an audiobook edition, audiobook links will be listed below the ebook links. UBLs are also used to create reading lists.

Two WordPress Plugins For Authors

I’ve written two plugins for WordPress. They’re both free, designed primarily for authors, and available from the WordPress plugin repository.

Mobile Banner WordPress plugin

Mobile Banner

The Mobile Banner plugin was written to address a client requirement. It adds a discreet banner to the bottom of the screen when viewed on mobile (not on desktop). This banner can have whatever text the users wishes, and can link to a any URL.

The client that it was written for used it to link to their mailing list sign-up page, and it is used the same way on this website.

The plugin is available from the WordPress plugin directory, or you can search for “Mobile Banner Robin Phillips” in the WordPress plugins screen.

Local Links WordPress plugin

Local Links

Authors need to link to their books so that users can buy them. Some online stores have a site for each country that they operate in. It’s not practical to list the link for each country, but users often have to use their own country’s site. Users in the UK, for example, have to buy from amazon.co.uk, not amazon.com.

The Local Links plugin automatically edits links so that they point to the user’s local store. The links are tidied up, to make them simpler and avoid tracking. It will work on existing links and new ones. Simply add links to your site as usual, and they will be rewritten on the fly to send your visitors to their local site.

Stores supported are Amazon, Apple Books, Apple iTunes (audiobooks), Kobo, Alibris, Google Play, and AbeBooks.

Amazon has different affiliate codes for the different country sites. If you have Amazon affiliate codes, the relevant country’s code will be added to Amazon links.

The plugin is available from the WordPress plugin directory, or you can search for “Local Links Robin Phillips” in the WordPress plugins screen.

How to Set up Local Links to Ebook Stores

Screenshot showing message that UK users get when shopping for Kindle books on Amazon.com: "Kindle titles are available for UK customers on Amazon.co.uk."
UK readers can’t buy Kindle books from the US store

It’s generally considered good practice to link to all the stores where a given ebook is available. What is not always understood is that users in different countries should ideally be directed to their own stores. For example, a reader in the UK should be sent to a UK store where the vendor has one, with prices in British pounds. A user in Canada, on the other hand, would want prices in Canadian dollars.

In some cases, vendors insist on readers buying from their local store. Amazon, for instance, won’t allow British users to buy from Amazon.com. So, if you link to your book on Amazon.com, your British readers will have to go to Amazon.co.uk and find it there in order to buy it.

Universal Book Links

You may be familiar with Draft2Digital’s Universal Book Links (UBL). If you have a Draft2Digital account, or create an account at books2read.com, you can create universal book links. These links take the reader to a page that lists all the stores where the ebook can be bought. A less well-known benefit is that when the user clicks on the link, they will go to their local site if the store has one.

Universal book links are useful in some circumstances, but they require an extra click on the part of the reader, and every extra click is a point where a sale can be lost. If you have space to list individual stores, you can still take advantage of UBL’s ability to send a reader to their local site.

Screenshot showing the right-click menu used to get the Amazon link from a Books2Read page
Getting the Amazon link from a Books2Read page

To do this, set up your book’s universal book link as normal, then go to the universal book link page. Right-click on the store that you want a link for, and click “Copy link address” or “Copy Link Location”. The link will have a “?store=” bit at the end, e.g.

https://books2read.com/u/bzppKZ?store=amazon

Use that link instead of a standard one, and your reader will go straight to the local version of the store, without seeing the universal book link page.

Kobo & Apple Links

For Kobo and Apple links, there is another way to create localised links, without setting up a universal book link. For Apple Books, simply insert “geo.” between the “https://” and “itunes.apple.com”, so that your link looks something like this:

https://geo.itunes.apple.com/gb/book/the-losing-role/id1058016165

This works with audiobooks as well as ebooks. The reader will be taken to their local Apple Books store.

For Kobo, there are two options. You can use a link like this, with your own ISBN at the end:

https://www.kobobooks.com/search/search.html?q=9781466105478

This works even if you didn’t use an ISBN when uploading the book. In this case, the Kobo book page will show an ISBN starting with 123, which can be used.

The other option is to remove the country and language code from your book’s link. This is an example Kobo link, with the country code (gb) and language code (en) in bold:

https://www.kobo.com/gb/en/ebook/operation-nimrod

If we remove the country code and language code, we get:

https://www.kobo.com/ebook/operation-nimrod

This link will redirect the reader to their local Kobo site.

WordPress Plugin

This is, of course, all really quite technical, and if you have a lot of links on your website, changing them all could be time-consuming. I’ve written a free WordPress plugin that you can use to do this automatically. It’s available from the WordPress plugin directory, or you can search for “Local Links Robin Phillips” in the WordPress plugins screen. It will automatically edit your links on the fly, so all of your existing links will be localised, as well as any that you add in the future.

Setting up HTTPS and SSL on WordPress

There are several good reasons to set up HTTPS and SSL on your website. It gives your site a small SEO boost. You may need it for GDPR compliance, because the GDPR introduces a requirement to handle personal data securely. If you have an email sign-up form, this should use HTTPS, as GDPR considers emails to be personal data, and HTTP is not secure.

From July this year, the Chrome web browser will start labelling all web pages that do not have HTTPS as “Not secure“. This could cause some confusion, potentially giving your users the impression that your website has been hacked, or that it has some other security issue. Whatever else it does, it certainly won’t give a good impression.

SSL Certificate

HTTPS requires an SSL certificate, which will need to be installed on your web server by your hosting company, and they may have already done so. Website Planet have a simple form that you can use to check if you have a certificate (https://www.websiteplanet.com/webtools/ssl-checker/).

Screenshot of the Website Planet SSL Checker
SSL Checker results for authorhelp.uk

Simply enter your website address and click the button. The results include a lot of detail, but if the shield is green with a tick, then you have a certificate correctly installed. If you don’t have an SSL certificate, check your web hosting company’s documentation to find out how to add one. Some offer them for free, others charge extra. You can then use the SSL checker again to check that it is installed and set up.

WordPress Setup

Now that you have the certificate, you need to make sure that browsers actually view your pages over HTTPS instead of HTTP. If you’re using WordPress, I recommend the One Click SSL plugin.

Screenshot of One Click SSL settings
One Click SSL settings

Once it is installed and activated, go to the settings. It has a button to check that SSL is enabled. Assuming that check passes, you can then enable SSL. Make sure that SSL is enabled and that SSL Areas is set to “Everywhere” (see the screenshot above). Once that is done, every visitor to your website will use HTTPS instead of HTTP.

My WordPress hosting includes an SSL certificate and will serve all pages over HTTPS by default.

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