Feature: Shepherd.com Offers a New Way for Readers and Authors to Connect

By Michele Mathews

Have you ever read a great book and wished you could find a similar book like it? I know I have, and I’m excited to learn more about an innovative online platform for readers and authors called Shepherd.

Launched in April 2021, entrepreneur Ben Fox started this bootstrap company with his savings, and he also makes money from display advertising, affiliate advertising, and memberships for authors. He also accepts donations. As Shepherd continues to grow, Fox says he aims “to cover 75% to 85% of our costs by the end of this year.”

What is Fox’s big goal for Shepherd? “Nothing will ever replace the ‘bookstore experience,’ but I want to reimagine online book discovery with more serendipity and delight,” he said. “And I want to do that while helping authors bump into the most likely readers for their book. Authors face an immense battle to get noticed, and I want to help readers find a broader range of authors than the typical top 100 list on Amazon or the New York Times.”

For readers, Fox is focused on two things. “I want to know what books people LOVED, not just what they liked. I want to create fun ways for readers to share the books they love the most (and why),” he says.

He also wants to create profiles of each reader’s Book DNA, a feature he is currently working on. “This will go beyond the typical five-star review format as the goal is to profile why you love the book so we can help you and other readers like you find books you will love (not just like).”

For now, when readers visit the website, they can search over 10,000 lists that are already available. These lists navigate readers to books they might like to read. Readers aren’t charged to search through the lists, but Fox says they will “launch a premium reader membership plan as we launch user accounts and more reader features over the next two years.”

So, how are these book recommendation lists created? Authors choose their top five favorite books based on their target audience of their own book. This gives them a chance to show off their voice, expertise, and passion.

As readers search the thousands of lists, they will not only find an author’s list, but they’ll find that author’s book as well. According to Fox, “Not only is that great for readers, but it will create thousands of book recommendation channels for authors to reach different slices of readers.”

Fox’s determination to help authors grow their audience is obvious. “And if their book has that magic spark, I want to help them meet more readers. I don’t want to live in a winner-takes-all book market where we are stuck with the same big-brand authors.”

I am sure most authors would agree with Fox. If you’re not a big name author, marketing is tough. Doing ads is expensive, and many times, authors spend a lot of money and still don’t sell enough books to recoup what they spent.

While Shepherd doesn’t charge authors to create a list for readers, they do offer a membership program as a founding member for a low cost each year. All of the money goes toward building new features and improving ones they’ve already implemented. Eventually, Fox would like to hire a full-time developer in addition to the part-time developer he already has.

The membership program does give authors a few perks. They get exclusive access to book boost ads to use one time a year. For 60 days, these ads run in various places on the website. A founding member’s list gets shared on the front page of the website. Other perks include first access to new features as they launch plus they get access to Fox, can help influence Shepherd’s feature roadmap, and can even suggest features.

As I’ve already said, Shepherd already has over 10,000 lists, so how are they marketing them to readers? According to Fox, they are “100% focused on two external marketing channels: search engine traffic and email marketing.”

Over the next two years, Fox said they are working to get the website pages ranked on DuckDuckGo, Google, and Bing, but it does take time—at least three years for Google. He is also working on launching a newsletter for readers.

For now, social media isn’t something Fox will do. “We encourage authors to share their book list on social media with their fan base.”

After spending time exploring Shepherd, I can see so much potential for both readers and authors. While it’s a young company, it will grow as word spreads about its features. “It won’t happen overnight, but Shepherd will eventually rival Goodreads because we have a soul,” Fox says.

I hope you’ll take some time to explore Shepherd to see what it can do for you—either as a reader, an author, or both.

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Article originally Published in the Summer 2024 Issue: Indie Summer Reads.

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