Where is Shepherd going in 2023?
Work has started on genres and age-groups!
Every two weeks, I share my notes on building Shepherd.com. Shepherd makes exploring and discovering new books fun (while helping authors get their books in front of the most likely readers). Please join us as a founding member if you want to support us.
Summary: December 19th to January 27th
I took a big holiday break and skipped the last few updates. So this is a big post.
Here is a quick summary of what is going:
We finished the work to automate 90% of book creation. Before this, everything about a book was created manually. Now we just have to check the system for errors and find a high-definition copy of the book’s cover image.
We started work on adding genres and ages to the website. This is a massive project with a lot of complexity. We are aiming to launch it in late March.
I did a ton of user testing to fix some core problems that readers were hitting on the site. I’ll explain more below.
The designer and I are working to finalize designs for the following:
Adding filters to the bookshelf page (genre/age/etc.).
Improving navigation on the bookshelf page.
Fixing user confusion with the click-to-meet element on the bookshelf page.
Adding filters to the books-like page (genre/age/etc.).
Improving navigation on the books-like page.
Adding why a book is recommended on the books-like page.
Improving the explore-this-book feature.
Plus, other design tweaks as we add genre and age groups to the site.
I’ve done a lot of end-of-year cleaning and I am slowly getting better organized. The last few months were insanely busy, and I needed to map out 2023 priorities and test a lot of my assumptions.
Where is Shepherd going in 2023?
Holistically my mission with Shepherd is to create fun and unique ways for readers to discover and explore books. While helping authors to meet new readers and sell books (I want to make it easier for authors to connect with readers).
Tactically, my big goal for 2023 is to reach financial break-even by the end of the year. To do that, I need to increase traffic to the website by 3x.
Why is this goal so important?
I am funding Shepherd with my savings, and I will run out of money in December. The good news is we are on track to hit this goal, and I feel confident we can achieve this (the Founding Members program has been a huge help financially).
With this in mind, what big features will we add in 2023?
We will launch pages where readers can explore books based on genre.
We will launch pages where readers can explore books based on a child's age, the child's US school grade, and other age groups (like YA).
We will launch filters on bookshelves so that you can narrow down a bookshelf to see only books within a specific genre or age group. So if you are on a bookshelf about solar systems, you can filter that to books for middle schoolers. Or, if you are on the bookshelf about space colonization, you can filter to see only non-fiction or only a genre like science fiction or hard science fiction.
We will launch pages to help readers find new books within topics and genres.
We will launch pages around book series and work to integrate that into the site (something a lot of fiction authors have been requesting).
We will launch a new format so that authors can share their favorite books of the year. This will be a very unique feature, so that is all I will say for now :). More details coming soon.
We will launch a personalized book recommendation email feature for readers. It will enable readers to pick their favorite books, genres, topics, and authors and receive recommended books and book lists based on that (via email). This is a huge project, and we will add user accounts as part of this work (an important step for many future features).
I am testing two new formats to help authors connect with readers. We should be able to launch both this year, and I will know more toward summer.
This is a pretty aggressive roadmap. I hope we can do all of this in 2023, and I will know how feasible that is as we get further into the year (and maybe a few other things).
What do you think?
Hit reply or leave me a comment.
How I am fixing the click-to-meet element…
In the last newsletter, I talked about why the click-to-meet element on our bookshelf pages is not working. Today I want to share how I am fixing this.
Here is the old version of this design element.
What is the problem?
Nobody clicks on the click-to-meet area, and very few people realized that the recommender is an author.
My hypothesis was that the layout is confusing and not following a clear hierarchy. The click-to-meet area is disconnected from the author making the recommendation.
Here is the new version of this design element.
How does this fix the problem?
It clearly shows who is making the recommendation, indicates they are an author, and gives them a clear link to learn more about the recommender.
It also puts the spotlight on their list rather than their book (I want to get readers to the book recommendation page as it converts best for the recommender’s own book).
How do I know this is fixed? (famous last words)
I use a service called UserBob to ask random people to record themself while testing the new design. This is a great way to ensure something is not confusing because you get real user feedback. I did ~50 five-minute video recordings with users as I figured out how to fix this design issue.
This new format will ship in late March.
Design preview: The new filter/tab design for bookshelves.
Keep in mind that this is a very early mockup that could use fake filler data.
As we get genres and age-group data integrated into the website, I aim to help readers find the specific type of book they are looking for.
What am I working to improve on this page?
Help readers jump right to books they are interested in, whether that be genre, age group, or other factors.
Add tabbed navigation to help readers jump from books to book lists and related topics more clearly. Right now, book lists and related bookshelves are at the bottom of the page and require a lot of scrolling.
Demonstrate why you should trust our book picks and what Shepherd is all about. The meet-the-expert area is a mess, and I am working on that with the designer.
User testing is going well and I will have more mockups to share in February!
What is going on outside of Shepherd?
I had an amazing Christmas!
My mom and stepdad visited, and it was amazing to hang out with them. I hope they return for a much longer stay once my stepdad retires.
The bad news is that I hit a metaphorical wall over the holidays. I was utterly exhausted and had some health issues. This is the second year I have been sick for Christmas, and I really want to prevent this from happening in 2023. I need to manage my end-of-year energy better ⚡.
The good news is I got some good rest and feel good. We took a long week on the way home to visit Granada and Malaga, Spain. That was very fun!
What am I reading?
Operation Trojan Horse - A thriller about India’s counter-terrorism team.
An unpublished book - My brother introduced me to a friend who has a book I am interested in for a project idea to help me understand book marketing better. I am looking forward to reading it!
I just finished Machinehood by S.B. Divya. What a FANTASTIC book! The world and future she paints around bioengineering, AI, and robots are unreal.
P.S. Picture of Malaga in January, what a treat :)
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Feel free to hit me up with any questions as always :)