WordPress themes and plugins to get readers, reviewers, and press

WordPress themes and plugins to get readers, reviewers, and press

There are a ton of WordPress themes and plugins out there fit for the hungry writer trying to grow her following from scratch. But, there’s something you’ll want to take care of first: finding human readers to drive to your site.

Too often, people build a website because someone says they have to, and they have no plan to drive traffic. They might say, “I’ll advertise,” or “I’ll do SEO,” or “I’ll build an email list.” In many cases though, you have to build from scratch, and finding people is a lot harder than just picking one strategy.  This guide will aim to fix that, and to teach you about some killer themes and plugins you can use to look good in front of readers, reviewers, and press.

As a self-published author these are some of my most valuable tips and tricks for drumming up traffic from scratch. With little tweaking you can implement these same principles as a self produced musician, freelance photographer, or local artist looking for your big break.

The Basics: Driving Traffic to Your Site

Even before you have a website, you can publish your book on Amazon and reach out to readers, reviewers, and press. You should look at opportunities, big and small, that fit your audience, and think about, “if I were to build a website for myself or my book, what could I offer?”

Don’t just build a website and throw it up there. Figure out how it helps with all three groups.

For readers, your first job is to share your writing. Showcase any books you’ve published, and share news. You’ll play around with ideas like whether you want to offer supplemental content, sneak peaks, personal updates, special offers, or news, but while readers are on your site you need to capture their attention with an email newsletter signup. Keep them informed of any events (talks, book signings, giveaways, interviews), and tell them about your upcoming releases.

For reviewers, you’ll spend more time reaching out to them directly, but should one stumble on your website, you’ll want to include the books you’ve written, other reviews, op/eds, whatever. Amazon reviews are fine. No context is not. And leave an email on your contact page specifically reserved for reviewers to get in touch with you for special copies. Again, you’ll probably get more reviewers requesting copies if you proactively approach. Setup a “prerelease” campaign to get more responses. The point is, the more you send out, the more likely you are to build your digital footprint around the web. This is simple with the out of box version of WordPress, but don’t skip over it.

For Press, this is kind of the same. You’ll want to reach out to them to pitch stories, and your website gives them somewhere to find more information about you. I once got featured on a major blog because I found a query on HARO and sent a tip. That turned into the blogger suggesting I should write a post because it was lengthy. She not only included my tip, but she linked to the blog post. You’ll want to showcase as many press hits as you can get, and you’ll want to have blog posts to back it up in case they want more to read.

Given that, you need to make some choices about your site.

Step One: Pick a Theme

This might be the most confusing part of getting into WordPress if you haven’t figured out what you’re trying to accomplish. As long as you know who your target market is, and you have the pitch down for readers, reviewers, and press, then you should have a pretty good idea of what sort of look and feel you’re going for.

Now it’s time to find something you can customize easily with your own copy, images, and blog posts. You can get pretty creative with free tools like Canva, and I’d encourage experimenting while finding your first 100-500 subscribers. Anything less than that is difficult to capitalize on, but if you’re driven you might find a quicker path. Advertising on Amazon directly is probably worthwhile if you know what your readers are searching for, or other titles they’re reading. You can experiment with this pretty easily if you have the budget.

Author WordPress Site Considerations

If you’re heavily focused on blogging, even the standard WordPress theme, Twenty Seventeen, is a solid pick to get started. Keep in mind, this is the default theme, so its main goal is to showcase blog content. If you already have a following, that might be all you need, and you can add a couple plugins to make it easy for people to share your posts, and to signup for email newsletters.

When picking a theme, there’s a lot of really sharp looking designs out there. Ignore the bells and whistles. You’ll want to keep the following in mind at all times:

  • Who is my audience?
  • What am I writing about to get their attention?
  • Where can I find them?
  • What do they want?
  • How am I selling my books?

These are not the typical questions for picking out a theme, but they’ll help you search the theme repository based on features. Personally, I’m a fiction author, but I want to interact with people in the business and tech communities. My readers are fans of thrillers, mysteries, etc., but I also incorporate technology into my writing, and I interview people to try to better understand its nuances.

That means my personal website is built to look like a consulting business while my book website is built to look like it fits a thriller. For my site, I’ll showcase things I’ve done. That includes author interviews, talks, or posts about self-publishing for other authors, and I’ll link out to mentions I’ve gotten elsewhere.

My sites are basically digital pamphlets, but I link to them in the end of my ebook so people get prompted to sign up for the newsletter when they’re done. Never leave the reader without a next step. You might be more focused on the blog, or the layout of an image gallery, either way it should all complement your writing.

Think about your audience specifically.

  • Who are they?
  • How old are they?
  • What do they do for a living?
  • Where do they find new books?
  • What else are they reading?

These questions help you approach the massive theme repository with more of a sense of purpose.

Screenr WordPress Theme Home Page
Screenr is a free theme available in the WordPress repository.

My theme of choice is Screenr because it has the look and feel I want, and it’s highly customizable with the front page sections. It allows me to easily showcase press, videos, fun facts, a gallery, and pretty much anything I want. It also looks great as a blog if I want to switch out the front page.

Rock Star WordPress Theme Home Page
Rock Star is a free WordPress Theme by Catch Themes

For books and other creatives like musicians, check out Rock Star, which has a very clean layout. Think of it like a showcase for your book tour. Just be sure to use high quality images of your book cover, or some other piece of art related to your book. Good book covers sell. Photos of you on the stage, or interacting with readers, put people in the moment.

If you’re looking for a broader list of themes and you’re on a budget, here’s a list of free themes you’ll want to review.

Step Two: Use Hustle Pop-ups and Slide Ins to Collect Emails

People are coming to your site now, but that’s not enough. You don’t get people surrendering their email to you, or buying your book if you don’t ask. In almost every case, if the content you’ve published is really targeted, like a blog post featuring an interview you did while writing your book, a preview of the sequel, or a giveaway you’re planning on doing, you still need to make the pitch directly to the reader while they’re on your site.

There’s multiple triggers on Hustle which allows you to display a pop-up or slider based on:

  • Time on site
  • Percent of page viewed
  • Clicks
  • Exit Intent

You can set the position of the element also, and it comes with a couple colors and layouts to choose from, so throw in a custom image and you’re good to go. Also, you can determine whether you want to display the element on pages, posts, or otherwise, so you can get pretty tactical with your visitors.

The key here is that you’re building a following from scratch. Ignoring this stuff means you might not sell a book, which might not lead to a review, or it might not lead to press. And sometimes, it’s a series of small wins that leads to a huge opportunity. Chase every win you can get.

Simultaneously, as you put your name out there, you’ll hopefully get people searching you and your book title. You can target those keywords, and others for your book using a plugin like SmartCrawl Pro. That can ensure people looking for you, and related topics have a better chance of finding you. You’ll also want to make sure your site performance is optimized, so check out Smush for images and Hummingbird to improve load times. These can make a difference in search rankings, and time on site.

Step Three: Build Communities Around Your Books

This is probably the hardest, but it’s definitely worth it if you can pull it off. There are lots of people in book groups, but how many groups are led by the authors? Build individual communities around your book and generate topics of discussion directly through your site using a social plugin, like BuddyPress.

BuddyPress WordPress Plugin's Homepage
The BuddyPress WordPress Plugin is a great way to build communities for authors.

Some potential topics for discussion:

  • Book Discussion
  • Wiki
  • Questions
  • Quotes
  • Similar Reads

It doesn’t need to be anything profound, but if you target a specific group of people and they have something to say, it might be worth while to try and build out these communities on your turf. They can be a bit more private than say, a meetup, and members get direct access to you. Pretty premiere ain’t it?

It’s probably an uphill battle, but again, people talking about your book is what you want more than anything. In fact, this might be the holy grail of WordPress author marketing strategies if you can pull it off.

Step Four: Sell Your Book

There are a lot of ways to sell your book these days, but have you thought about selling an ebook directly through your website? Something supplemental, like if you’re a fiction author, release a travel guide, or a backstory for cheap.

Amazon now has author copies, so you can also theoretically sell signed copies directly through your site—at least there’s no indication from amazon that they don’t want you doing this. Why wouldn’t they? This can only enable you to sell more books on Amazon. Check out WooCommerce and turn your site into a store. This gives you another stream of revenue, and you can actually track conversions using something like Google Analytics.

Getting your book on amazon is pretty easy, but then hopefully you thought to include a link to your website so after someone reads the book they can join your newsletter. Or a discussion group. When people really like a book, they enjoy talking about its subject matter, which is why book groups are so gnarly. People talking about books is what sells books.

It’s sort of a cycle. You sell a book. People read the book. People talk about the book. You might as well take advantage of that by creating an end-to-end experience from the book to your website, and then capitalize on the website as much as possible.

Conclusion: Book Sales Are Huge, but Don’t Miss Other Opportunities

You may end up on the New York Times best seller list someday, and that’s what we all want, right? Many of us won’t necessarily get there though, or maybe the path to get there is more obscure.

In the meantime, while you’re not enjoying the top of the best seller list, try out some of these tactics, see if you can win yourself some readers, some reviewers, and press directly, because one of those victories might get you noticed by a big crowd. These tools can give you a powerful advantage in your efforts. Make use of them!



Do you have themes and plugins you recommend that help capture readers, reviewers, and press? Do you have other tactics for building your following in WordPress? Let me know in the comments. I'd love to hear any and all suggestions!

Will Ruff

Will Ruff Will is a former writer and Blog Editor for WPMU DEV. Before that, he worked in managed WordPress hosting and with a literary agency developing sites in WordPress. He recently self-published a novel and is an advocate for a secure and open web. He currently lives in Austin, TX.