This is cross-posted at ProBlogger. Which, by the way, is the online resource that has been the most helpful to me over the past year as I have been figuring out the blogging world. ProBlogger has great answers to a very wide range of how-to-blog questions.
I’m going to tell you how to get a six-figure book deal from your blog. People ask me this question all the time, and I have been a little hesitant to give people advice because I had only sold one book, and maybe it was luck, because it’s hard to know how to do anything from just doing it once. But now I feel like I know a bit because I just got my second book contract, based on my blog.
Here are ten tips for getting a book deal of your own that is based on that blog you’ve been writing.
1. Solve a problem.
Non-fiction books define a problem and offer a solution. This is what makes the consumer buy the book. A blog can be a fun rant. A book needs to be more than that.
Do the “how to be” test. Can you say, “My blog is about how to ….” And finish the sentence? You need to be able to do that to turn your blog into a nonfiction book.
For my book, I said I’m solving the problem that most career advice books are irrelevant to the current market. I did a they say/I say section. For example, they say report sexual harassment/I say don’t. They say don’t lie on your resume/ I say be practical.
2. Have a big idea.
A blog is a big pile of small ideas adding up to a community of people talking about those ideas. A book needs to be more than that. A book needs to add up to a big idea. You get your advance based on how big the idea is. One of the hardest lessons for me was that I thought I would just put a bunch of posts together in to a book. But my editor rejected that when I turned it in. The posts need to be organized in a way that builds up into bigger ideas (chapters) into a big, grand idea (the book).
Aside from Seth Godin, who is an industry unto himself (mostly as a public speaker), there is no record of printing out a blog and having a six-figure-worthy book.
3. If you’re in a niche, make it a big one.
Editors don’t like to buy a book that is in a field where no other books exist. In the blogosphere, if no one is blogging about your topic, it’s probably because you’re in a very small niche. Niches are fine for blogs, but not for six-figure book contracts.
Also, ask yourself if you are solving a problem for a mass market or a niche market. If you’re in a niche, you need to expand your reach by choosing topics for a more broad audience.
4. Have a big audience, but say they are old rather than young if you want a lot of money.
Most blog readers are young and most book buyers are old. Therefore, books that are geared exclusively toward young people often come out as paperback originals, which don’t get huge advances. Figure out how to sell your broader portion of the population.
5. Have a lot of blogger friends to promote the book, but talk mostly about USA Today.
It’s true that a few books, like The No Asshole Rule and The 4-Hour Work Week, got to the top because of initial support from bloggers. But publishers aren’t making bets that they can tell which books this will happen with next time. So you need to tell the book publishers that you can get a lot of attention from conventional media outlets. Editors are more comfortable with traditional media. After all, that’s what book publishing is.
6. Follow conventions.
Most of the non-blog world sees bloggers as the Wild West, at best, and a freak show at worst. The publishing industry is wary of being able to translate bloggers into authors, and there have been a lot of high profile flops. So make your writing look like the kind of writing that agents and editors are used to dealing with. This means not only very high quality writing samples (which will probably be blog posts). But you also need to follow the conventions for writing a killer proposal.
7. Find someone to model yourself after.
I am not the only person to get a book contract from a blog. Here are some others: Gina Trapani at Lifehacker, Shauna James at Gluten-Free Girl, and Joe Bageant. When you were in sixth grade, you read five paragraph essays in order to figure out how to write one. When you started blogging, you read other peoples’ blogs to figure out how you wanted to do your own. Now you should read books by bloggers in order to figure out how to package your own blog into a book.
8. Put your blog in the marketing section of your proposal.
A book proposal is about the idea, and who you are and how you’re going to sell the book. If you have a large blog readership, you can say that in the marketing section. You can’t say they’ll all buy the book. If that were true, Gina Trapani would have the one of the biggest selling books ever. But you can say that the blog will provide a lot of buzz and a lot of customers.
9. Trust that agents know a good proposal when they see one, but try again if you get a bad response.
Here’s how I got my agent: I bought The Writer’s Market and picked out five agents. Here was my criterion: I only chose agents who said they weren’t accepting new clients, because I wanted someone who was established and doing well. And I picked people whose last names started with letters at the end of the alphabet because I thought other people who pick agents randomly probably start at the beginning, so people at the end must not get as much mail.
This experience makes me trust the agenting system. It’s not hard to tell the big agents – look at the books they represent. Send your proposal to agents who represent books like yours. If no one likes your proposal, admit that your idea is flawed. Figure out why, fix the problems, and try again with another proposal.
10. Use blog comments to train yourself for rejection.
If there is any way to prepare for the constant rejection from the publishing industry, it’s by answering the negative commenters on your blog. Respond in an even-handed, respectful way. This is how you’ll have to respond to agents and editors who try to poke holes in your proposal. For example, I wrote eleven proposals that my agent said no to before she sold my most recent one.
That’s a lot of work. But, to be honest, it’s not as much work as posting to a blog five days a week.