Barbara Oakley on rewiring your brain

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There’s a great interview with Bookswarm client Dr Barbara Oakley on the New York Times today, all about her massively successful online course, Learning How to Learn. We designed and built Barbara’s website last year and we think she’s a real inspiration!

Read the article (up to 10 free article views allowed)


Bookswarm creates new P. D. James website for Faber

Faber & Faber has launched a website dedicated to the “beloved” crime writer and author P. D. James, on the date of the author’s birthday. The site was designed and built by Bookswarm in response to Faber’s brief to create an online hub for information about James, encouraging fans and new readers to discover more about her work and life.

Faber CEO Stephen Page says: “This site is a rich resource for readers, whether they are one of the huge number of P.D. James’s fans from around the world, or a reader coming to her books for the first time.”

Visit the new P. D. James website

FutureBook on ‘browser books’

Our friend Molly Flatt at FutureBook has just published a very interesting editorial piece about ‘browser books’ which takes as its starting point Phoenix Magazine‘s journey from delivering digital content via an app to delivering via a well-organised web-based magazine – the latter being created by yours truly.

It’s a series of nested pages off our main website, strung together with some smart but not particularly complicated code. It enables us to have a front cover and keep that bundled monthly issue feel – while also retaining total SEO, facilitating easy social sharing, and enabling effortless embedding and interactivity, all without taking the reader out of their flow. Obviously, because it’s online, it’s automatically compatible across all devices and browsers. And because it runs off a simple WordPress back-end, it’s utterly easy to use. Oh, and it appears to be working for our readers too, because we now have record viewing figures and an excellent dwell time.

We’ve used the same approach for other projects too – for example Books from Scotland. Because setting a defined number of publication dates per year and compiling content in to editions is much less daunting that trying to constantly ‘feed’ a blog, some clients, and their audiences, find this a really worthwhile approach, especially as you can tie all your social media and e-mail marketing schedules in to the publication of each new edition, and really put your weight behind it, rather than feeding content out in dribs and drabs.

Read the full article on FutureBook

Has social media made author websites obsolete?

An author website is still far more essential than Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, says Simon Appleby. This piece originally appears on the Bookseller’s Futurebook website.

It seems remarkable to me, in 2017, to even be discussing whether an author should have a website, but a quick Google search reveals ample evidence that it’s a commonly discussed topic. And the consensus is by no means clearly in favour of websites as essential. “Go where the audience is”, some sages will tell you, meaning Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the rest.

I’m here to tell you that this is bunk. Websites are in no way old hat. You may not need a fax machine in the 21st century, and you can certainly manage without a photocopier – but a website should still be as important to a writer as their laptop, notebook and thesaurus (print or digital).

Why? It’s helpful to take a step back and try and look at things from a broader perspective. The Internet is a technological marvel which has changed the world immeasurably in a tiny amount of time. There are people entering the world of work now who can’t remember the time before the Internet revolutionised the way we communicate, buy, sell, live and love. But many of us do remember. We remember the pain of long-distance communication; the dependence on analogue methods of information retrieval. Surely very few of us who remember those days would be keen to return to them permanently.

And when those of us who remember the before-times think about the killer apps which made us realise the power and possibility of this new and mysterious technology, I bet you my old 33.6 k modem that they were email and the World Wide Web. Email is the ravening beast which destroys our productivity – it’s fashionable to hate it, but not to ignore it. Yet the World Wide Web – somehow an information network containing over 6 billion websites, built from nothing in a little over 20 years? That’s passé?

To paraphrase the patron saint of geeks, Douglas Adams, the Web is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. Perhaps its very size has made it unfashionable or daunting. After all, a website owner is in competition with loads of other website owners to get users’ attention. But considering that a good reason not to take part at all seems a bit short-sighted to me.

The web naysayers would have authors (and presumably other organisations and individuals) retreat to the walled bear-pits, sorry, gardens that are the social networks. While these have their place (and I’m as easily distracted by Facebook as the next guy), they also have considerable downsides – trolls lurking under bridges, and shiny baubles to amuse you when you should be doing something productive.

More to the point, you’re giving your personal, private information to a giant corporation which only values you as a way of generating data it can use to sell advertising, bolster its bottom line and grow its share price.

By using a social media platform, it’s as if you are playing a made-up sport where the governing body (which happens to be owned by a billionaire) invented the game and the rules only a few years ago. Those rules can change without consultation or prior warning. The authorities also lend you the kit, rent you the pitch and offer you the chance to sponsor the shirts (all for a reasonable fee of course). How generous of them! How open-hearted!

By comparison, the Web is like a proper sport, such as football or cricket, that’s been around for ages. Yes, there is a top tier of players, with fan clubs, floodlights, stadia and TV deals. But the spirit of the game belongs to all the players, not just the elites, and as long as it exists, it’s open to all, from ‘jumpers for goalposts’ amateurs all the way up to the big leagues. The rules of such sports may have evolved over time, but the way the game is played is recognisably the same, and if the governing body goes bust – so what? People will still play the game, and love it.

It’s arguably easier than ever to set up a web presence very quickly, with a small amount of technical skill and little or no money spent. Free blogging and DIY web platforms? Check. Free stock images? You got it. Take it from someone who’s been doing this a long time – entry-level platforms are easier than ever to use, and well within the compass of even the most technophobic of writers.

Of course, I would say all this wouldn’t I? Well, yes, it’s true – I design websites for a living, and I’m hardly going to talk down my own livelihood. But authors should not dismiss the web as being somehow less convenient, less popular or less valuable than social media platforms. Unlike those platforms, we can be pretty sure the web will be around for a long time to come.

Image source: WWW image

My Digital Life: Dr Barbara Oakley

Welcome to the third post of our new series, in which we ask our author clients to answer three questions about how they use digital marketing in their careers, and how it affects their writing.

This week: Dr Barbara Oakley, a professor of engineering at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan, and Ramón y Cajal Distinguished Scholar of Global Digital Learning at McMaster University. Her research involves bioengineering with an emphasis on neuroscience and cognitive psychology. Barbara teaches two massive open online courses (MOOCs), “Learning How to Learn” (the world’s most popular course) and “Mindshift” (based on her latest book of the same title), alongside legendary neuroscientist Terrence Sejnowski. She has received many awards for her teaching, including the American Society of Engineering Education’s Chester F. Carlson Award for technical innovation in education and the National Science Foundation New Century Scholar Award.

What do you is think the most effective thing you’ve done in the digital world?

The most effective thing I’ve done is a massive open online course called “Learning How to Learn,” through Coursera – University of California, San Diego.  We’ve had nearly 2 million enrolled students. A big part of the success of this course is that I used attention-grabbing techniques, humor, and solid science, to convey the key ideas.  A good explanation of how to create an online video course can be found in week 4 of my course “Mindshift” (it’s free). The courses have served to help introduce people to my books.

How do you feel about the way digital technology has made it easier for writers to connect with their readers?

The fact that so many people know about my work, and reach out to me, means that I’m constantly kept informed of the latest trends in what’s going on that’s related to my writing.  It’s not that I can respond to everyone. But the interaction I do have with my readers and viewers helps keep me sharp and helps me know what people are most interested in.

What’s the single best piece of advice you can give to other writers about the best use of digital marketing?

I’ve found that emails to those who have enrolled in my courses are the most effective means of outreach.  I send an email out each Friday to roughly 1.1 million students.  This weekly email builds a solid sense of community around my writing and my courses.

Visit Barbara’s website at

My Digital Life: Peter Fisk

Welcome to the second post of our new series, in which we ask our lovely author clients to answer three questions about how they use digital marketing in their careers, and how it affects their writing.

This week: Peter Fisk. Peter is a global business thought leader on growth and innovation, customers and marketing. He is a bestselling author, expert consultant and keynote speaker, helping business leaders to develop innovative strategies for business and brands. Having trained as a nuclear physicist he went on to work with brands from Coca Cola to RedBull, Virgin to Vodafone, is a professor at IE Business School, runs his own innovation company, GeniusWorks, and features on the Thinkers 50 radar of best business thinkers.

What do you is think the most effective thing you’ve done in the digital world?

I wanted to write a book that was much more – had more reach, more longevity and more value than 300 pages of paper. “Gamechangers” was based on my curiosity of how companies win in the digital world, and 100 interviews with the most disruptive innovators across the world, in every region and every sector. How do they embrace the new technologies, the new markets, the new issues as businesses? What I got was a deep and constantly evolving insight into the fast-changing digital world. A web-based platform that combined blogs and videos, case studies and competitions, events and toolkits was the springboard from which I was able to launch the book. It enabled me to meet people more globally and actively than any publisher could, and to build an ongoing conversation with participants that embraced events, workshops and awards. The book is now physical and digital, more of a branded community, and has evolved significantly since its launch, with continual updates and new directions. Like the companies that it was originally inspired by, and continues to track – Airbnb to Buzzfeed, Coursera to Dalian Wanda – it has found a space to add real value in today’s hybrid and connected world.

How do you feel about the way digital technology has made it easier for writers to connect with their readers?

The ability to customise and collaborate, to build a conversation and ultimately a community is not new. But fundamentally different in the book publishing world. 4 years ago, I was invited to host the Future Book Forum, now held annually in Munich, and the biggest innovation workshop of publishers and printers in the world. Last year we had over 400 book people together, sharing their best ideas about how to take the industry forwards. As an author, I have learnt to think much more like a brand, to see the book as a mere catalyst, and to see the business model as much more significant that advances (no longer), royalties (trivial sums) and rights (still good money). The best crowdfunded books clearly show what audiences will pay for, with some Kickstarter stars generating over $1 million as they offer custom books to limited edition ego-books, dinner conversations with authors or corporate events. Similarly, linking to brand or corporate partners – aligning a fashion bio with a retail store, a sports handbook with a bestselling magazine – transforms the potential to promote the book (or range of products) to audiences, sometimes far in advance, generating advanced sales and reduced risk. The best form of course is co-created books, custom content that is more authentic and interesting, and word of mouth recommendation.

What’s the single best piece of advice you can give to other writers about the best use of digital marketing?

Digital marketing is all about rethinking ideas and networks. Its not just a promotional tool, but a way to fundamentally reinvent your book and your business model. As an author your value is not in bashing out the 300 pages, it is in having the idea. The big idea (which is usually captured in the first chapter!), that then catalyses a conversation, gets people thinking and talking, participating and sharing. Yes they will buy a copy, but more importantly they will talk to others. More than that they will want to be part of it, either by contributing their own insights and opinions, or by embracing the ideas more deeply through workshops or other activities. This is where value is created and real money can be made. Books still matter, they are the thought starters, and sometimes the enduring manuals. But more importantly they are ideas that become brands that become platforms that become communities. As a result they create impact – an applied action, a collective movement, sometimes even a force for change. Publishers are the ones who need to wake up to this opportunity, to work with authors and technologists to explore these opportunities. Today’s best businesses are ideas and networks companies. They have a powerful, addictive, important idea that is then spread through networks. Forget the linear world of supply and distribution chains that end in singular transactions. Think instead in terms of networks that multiply – social networks that engage more people with more trust, publishing networks that take your content further and faster, and technology networks that enable people to participant and engage more deeply. We live in an incredible time of change – time for authors, books and publishers to catch up!

Visit Peter’s website at

My Digital Life: Patrick Gale

Welcome to the first in a new series, in which we ask our lovely author clients to answer three questions about how they use digital marketing in their careers, and how it affects their writing.

Kicking us off is Patrick Gale. Patrick’s sixteenth novel, A Place Called Winter was a Radio 2 Book Club selection, was shortlisted for the Costa Novel Prize, the Walter Scott Prize and the Green Carnation Award and and is now being developed as a BBC serial. His two part film, Man in an Orange Shirt will be on BBC 2 this July along with a documentary about his work as part of the Gay Britannia season. He is a patron of the Charles Causley Trust and the Penzance LitFest, a director of Endelienta and artistic director of the North Cornwall Book Festival. He plays the cello and lives on the last farm in Cornwall.

What do you is think the most effective thing you’ve done in the digital world?

Around the time Bookswarm designed my website for me, I became far more relaxed about sharing my writing/talking/daily life with the online communities. This was just before a book tour for my novel, A Place Called Winter, and I really noticed the difference both in the size of audience my talks were attracting, in the speed and liveliness with which readers started responding to my work, and in the shelf-life of any articles I published. I handle it with care, as privacy is an issue, but I can’t now imagine returning to being a writer only present in the printed/published word.

How do you feel about the way digital technology has made it easier for writers to connect with their readers?

I’m sure it varies from writer to writer but my novels are intensely emotional and always used to generate a lot of mail. Now they generate a lot of tweets, Facebook comments and direct message. I love that immediacy. Readers now feel involved in the whole process – they get little hints of what I’m working on, sneak previews of the manuscript or design ideas for the book jacket – and I suspect that gives them a greater sense of ownership. Provided booksellers and festivals are also digitally connected, we can now work together to give book events free publicity they’d never get through conventional media. Twitter, especially , presents a great, buzzing hive of eager readers who are really generous at sharing information and recommendations. Far from killing off the book, as people initially feared it would, digital technology has sustained and enriched the entire publishing process. Sales seem to be as buoyant as ever and I regularly meet readers who are buying a novel of mine the second time, to get it signed, having already read it digitally.

What’s the single best piece of advice you can give to other writers about the best use of digital marketing?

Support other writers. I think readers get rapidly bored by talking billboards but they love to hear when a writer they like really rates some other writer they might not yet have discovered. We all enjoy the occasional crow, but boasting will never win the support that professional generosity does! And, speaking as the artistic director of one and the patron of a second, don’t forget to spread the word about the book festivals you visit; don’t assume they don’t need the extra oomph your support will give them online.

Visit Patrick’s website at

Introducing Bookswarm Consultancy

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Delivering consultancy services has always been a key part of what Bookswarm does – but providing information about that alongside our portfolio of core services has always been something of a challenge. So now we’ve created a new website to showcase some of our consultancy work. Take a look at Bookswarm Consultancy.

Bookswarm founder Simon Appleby has 20 years’ experience of delivering digital projects – websites, apps and e-books – and has spent the last 10 years working exclusively with publishers, authors, literary agents and reading charities. As well overseeing the design and production of an extensive portfolio of projects, Simon has also provided consultancy, delivered training and talks, and written articles for the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, The Bookseller, Futurebook and others.

Download our latest White Paper on e-commerce options for WordPress

We shared it with visitors to our stand at London Book Fair this week and now we’re sharing it with you – our latest white paper on selling with WordPress.

Bookswarm has built its business around WordPress, and one of the things we’re increasingly being asked by clients to work on is e-commerce. With the range of options widening we thought we’d provide a tour of some of the solutions out there, and look at some of the issues and challenges specifi c to the world of publishing, and to selling books online.

Download the white paper now

Meet Bookswarm at London Book Fair 2017, March 14-16

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Bookswarm will be exhibiting at London Book Fair at Olympia again this year – we’re on the Independent Publishing Agency Collective stand (3A40), which you can find directly opposite the Tech Bar.

If you’re going, please do come along and say hello. You could even join us and fellow IPAC members for a drink at 4pm on Wednesday 15th March!

And if you would like to organise a meeting with Bookswarm while you’re at the Fair, please contact us.

Looking back on 2016

2016 has been a busy year for Bookswarm. Simon Appleby looks back…

Don’t mention Brexit, don’t mention Trump, don’t mention Brexit, don’t mention Trump, don’t mention Brexit, don’t mention Trump. Putting events that shall not be named to one side, 2016 has been a busy and successful year for Bookswarm, and I thought it would be nice to look back and reflect on some of our work.

2016 has seen 40 new projects added to our portfolio, with clients encompassing everything from children’s poetry to high-end PR.

snap-2016-09-16-at-11-31-12It’s certainly been a productive year delivering new websites for some of the UK’s leading independent publishers:

  • April saw the launch of a new web presence for Saraband – the start of an exciting year for them which included the shortlisting of Graeme Macrae Burnet’s His Bloody Project for the 2016 Man Booker Prize.
  • In June, we launched the new Belgravia Books Collective site, which replaced separate sites for Gallic Books and its bookshop. Belgravia. Gallic Books are one of our oldest clients, so it was great to be able to revisit their sites in line with their changing needs and the new capabilites of WordPress, as well as providing a home on the web for new imprint Aardvark Bureau. Combining all the sites in one makes sense, as the publishers can offer all of their own titles for direct sale, under the umbrella of the bookshop’s larger inventory.
  • In October it was the turn of South-coast illustrated publishers Summersdale. Their new site is updated on a nightly basis with a feed from their Stison bibliographic data system, and we made a site which reflects the entertaining, informative and innovative values at the heart of their publishing.
  • In November we launched a new site for Atlantic Books. Driven by a feed from their Biblio system, the Atlantic site encompasses four different imprints. Each imprint has its own home page within the site, and the correct imprint branding is automatically used for each book.
  • Last but not least, we launched a new e-commerce website for Alma Books. As with Atlantic Books, the site is organised to reflect Alma’s five imprints.
  • Further afield, we also created a new website for Hoopoe, a new imprint of the American University in Cairo Press, and an e-commerce website for Wisconsin, USA-based specialist educational publisher Christopherus Homeschool Resources.

Snap 2016-08-26 at 10.28.00In our work for authors, we’ve covered a diverse range of writers. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Our website for K L Slater, is actually the second site we have made for the same author. Having already created a site for Kim Slater’s young adult books, her new site supports her psychological thrillers for adults.
  • Lloyd Clark is an historian, lecturer and broadcaster specialising in military history. We created a new site to showcase both his publishing and his broadcasting work, including doing Who Do You Think You Are? with Paul Hollywood.
  • Paul Bright is a children’s writer and poet, who has published many picture books for children as well as poetry for kids. Paul has also written for school reading programmes, CBeebies radio and BBC web sites, and had stories broadcast on CBeebies TV and CITV’s Bookaboo. We designed and built a website to showcase Paul’s work, including his contribution to the official Winnie-the-Pooh sequel The Best Bear in all the World.
  • Anne Holt is a journalist, lawyer, politician, news anchor and crime writer, published by Atlantic Books in the UK. This new website promoted Anne and her work ahead of the broadcast of a new television adaptation of her work, Modus, on BBC4.

Snap 2016-07-07 at 08.05.02The broader category of microsites and imprint sites encompasses any project designed to promote a particular list or book. Some favourites include:

  • Chambers – we took an existing site based on a different Content Management System and migrated it to take advantage of WordPress, whilst retaining key existing functionalities like the crossword solver. We also made it mobile friendly for the first time.
  • We were very pleased to help Walker Books on their book designed to encourage the next generation of coders, Get CodingThis site included easy management of the code samples that were referenced in various places in the book.
  • Also for Walker Books, we created promotional sites for Girl Out of Water and Moonlight Dreamersboth of which were very visual and tied in to the respective designs of the books

Looking up from the keyboard, we exhibited at London Book Fair 2016, where I did a panel about how authors could get the most out of social media, and Alex volunteered at WordCamp. WordPress has made it to version 4.7, we rolled out a new support system, and we’ve been working on loads of projects which will see the light of day in the first few weeks and months of 2017, including sites for Wasafiri Magazine, Pavilion Books and Michael O’Mara Books. It’s all fun and games!

We wish all of our clients a prosperous 2017, and look forward to working with clients new and existing. I will be writing another post soon to talk about some of the big things we will be focusing on in the coming year.

All the best,

Simon Appleby
Managing Director

Author websites for beginners

Bookswarm’s founder Simon Appleby rounds up some useful advice and information for authors considering taking the plunge on creating their first website, or renewing an existing web presence.

Why does an author need a website?

5614813544_b480316fcd_mHere are the three most important reasons:

1. A central hub of information about you

It gives you the ability to make it crystal clear to Google and other search engines precisely who you are. Your website is a central hub of information about you, to which both readers and search engines can go for authoritative information.

2. A flexible platform from which to engage

It gives you a flexible platform from which to engage more deeply with your readers, bloggers and the media. You can use it to gather email signups and really only with a website can you reliably and systematically build and own direct relationships. Social media platforms are great but unlike a website you don’t own them and the rules by which they play can change at any time.

3. A place to link to

It gives a logical place for anybody (e.g. journalists, publishers, bloggers) writing about you to link to.

What does a good author website look like?

There’s no definitive answer to this question – it all depends on:

  • The type of books you write
  • Your target audience(s)
  • The ways in which you wish to engage with your audience, and how much time and effort you are able to put in to creating website content
  • How you want to express yourself and your personality on the web

4937023263_fbaa43cfcb_mMany people find that looking at other authors’ sites is a great source of inspiration for their own, and many a brief starts with the words “I want it to look a bit like [insert author name here]”!

If you’re not sure where to look for inspiration, I have written several pieces over the years examining ‘what good looks like’:

Take a look to get some food for thought – and remember, sometimes knowing what you don’t like is as useful as knowing what you do like.

What kind of content should an author website have on it?

8497864053_e6f2023963_zThat very much depends on you and on your audience, as well as your available time to create it. Of course, not all of these ideas will suit all types of writer, but you could consider:

  • News stories or blog posts (blog posts tend to be more opinion, news stories more fact)
  • Event details
  • A listing of your books with access to purchase them from online retailers (or even directly from you, if you want)
  • Samples of your books
  • Going behind the scenes with blog posts about the creative process, your research or how / where / when you write
  • Pictures and videos of locations from your research trips
  • Feeds from social media channels on which you are active

For a few more ideas, Bookswarm client Shannon Selin blogged for us with some excellent Blog Writing Tips for Authors, and I talked about content ideas in the context of social media strategy at my talk for London Book Fair earlier this year.

How much does it cost to build an author website?

7027604401_406e35ba1f_zLess than you may think! Over the course of a number of years and many successful projects delivered for authors across a wide range of genres, we have been able to put together a standard package for authors designed to meet all your key needs. Bookswarm will design and build a WordPress-based website optimised for you, including a range of features designed specifically for authors; and the design will be unique to you – not based on a template.

The cost of this is £1,800 (plus VAT). We know that’s a meaningful investment in your success, and we now offer authors the chance to pay for this in the normal way, or to set up a payment plan over 6 or 12 months, allowing you to divide the cost up in to manageable chunks.

Please get in touch if you would like to discuss how Bookswarm can help you

How easy is it to manage the website after it’s built?

3730930942_1b6835eef7_mThe author websites that we build use WordPress. WordPress is an Open Source, free blogging platform which has developed over time in to a full-blown Content Management System (CMS). It’s estimated WordPress now runs 25% of all websites that have a Content Management System (CMS).

Bookswarm uses WordPress for almost all its website needs. We have developed numerous client websites using WordPress, and all of the sites that you can see in our portfolio use WordPress.

Although you will need some basic IT skills in order to manage your site, you won’t need to know how to use HTML – everything is point-and-click and WYSIWYG, and if you can log in to web-based e-mail, and use the basic functions of a word processor, you probably have most of the required know-how. All of our clients receive a training session as part of the project, and all our websites have a built-in support plugin so you can easily reach out and ask us for help.

Once you’re logged in, editing a page, adding a new blog post or event, or setting up new pages, is at your fingertips. WordPress makes embedding media really easy too, so if you want to share video or audio clips you simply need to know how to copy and paste their addresses.

We also provide a drag-and-drop form builder that allows you to easily create web forms – perfect if you want to run competitions, survey your readers, or simply have a contact form for your fans.

What’s stopping you?

4334937069_5abb9e6dba_mWhether it’s taking the plunge and contacting us, setting up a free blog on a platform like Tumblr or having a play with WordPress yourself, we think all authors should have a digital presence that they control, and we’re always surprised by how many still don’t.

This article is only a small taster of the know-how that Bookswarm bring to each and every project we work on. We hope you’ve found it useful. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us.


Image credits

Why?: Ksayer1 on Flickr
Designer’s notebook: Saaleha Bamjee on Flickr
Word: Tom Woodward on Flickr
Money: Tax Credits on Flickr
WordPress t-shirt: Andrew Abogado on Flickr
Water: nina | athena on Flickr