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.

36 replies
  1. Pursue the Passion
    Pursue the Passion says:

    Fantastic post. As an aspiring author myself, I have had to address many of these questions and go back to the drawing board more often than I’d like.

    The thing I’ve learned is that book proposals are no fun to write, but they are your only representation of you and your idea. They take forever, and you need to do an unbelievably good job.

    The most important section of the book proposal is the marketing section, because at the end of the day, publishing books is a business. I like how this post addresses how a popular blog can enhance this section and better your chances at getting published.

    * * * * *

    Brett,
    Good points – writing the proposal is really, really hard, and the marketing section is most important. Thanks for the comment.

    –Penelope

  2. Rahul
    Rahul says:

    37signals’ Getting Real is probably a 6 figure book “deal” containing pretty much distilled/expanded versions of their blog posts. They never revealed how much they made, but they did self-publish it and didn’t have to go through a publisher, so they likely made a much larger amount of money off a much smaller sales amount. Which is also an angle to take.

    How do you feel about the idea of publishing a book yourself using the “power of the web” as your marketing device? You’re pretty progressive, all things considered, but at the same time you tend to lean towards several conservative, tried-and-true methods. It’d be interesting to hear your thoughts on the topic.

    * * * * * *

    This is a good question. I have a foot in the old media and the new media worlds, so I walk in both. If I were starting out today, I’d just focus on new media.

    But really it’s just two different sales channels for whatever you write. If you have big ideas, a book is a good thing to do with them. Books are good for big ideas. To some extent, you look at what you’re offering and ask yourself what fits best – old or new channels. Both are okay.

    –Penelope

  3. Caitlin
    Caitlin says:

    Great post, Penelope.

    I would also urge any aspiring author to check out the following resources, if they haven’t already.

    Any writer, no matter the genre, should check out Writer Beware, a site run by two writers, which is full of warnings about the scammers who masquerade as agents and publishers and take advantage of aspiring writers. Writer Beware is at http://accrispin.blogspot.com/

    A couple of great agent blogs:

    Pub Rants – a blog by Agent Kristin, a very nice literary agent
    http://pubrants.blogspot.com/

    Miss Snark -A blog by Miss Snark, an anonymous New York agent who tells it like it is. She’s now retired (as a blogger not an agent that is) but the blog archive is a gold mine.
    http://www.misssnark.blogspot.com

    Podcast – I Should Be Writing
    It’s a great podcast. She mainly talks about fiction writing and her specialist field is science fiction but so much of what she talks about is applicable to any writing and she does lots of great author interviews.
    http://www.ishouldbewriting.com or http://shouldwrite.blogspot.com

  4. Wendy
    Wendy says:

    Thanks Penelope. Just this week, I was actually pondering this issue (trying to leverage my blog into a book). This is timely and helpful.

    My blog and experience can help me fit most of the criteria (which is encouraging) – except the first one, which is probably the most important.

    Hmmm…how to make a blog about cities solve a problem at the individual level….

  5. TJ McCue
    TJ McCue says:

    Penelope,
    This is indeed a great post and very insightful. Thank you for sharing at this level. I have a question that i don’t mean to sound skeptical, but how much of the acceptance of your proposal would you say was impacted by your status as a nationally known columnist for two of the nation’s best known traditional and online media outlets?

    I did a short columnist stint at the Wall Street Journal years ago (related to startups) and have found it easier to get published since that experience. To be fair, even when i don’t mention it, i still get my articles published. But i’ve been involved with friends working on book proposals and the book process seems far more intense and difficult.

    Will you be cross-checking your dbase to see how many of your subscribers purchase the book?

    * * * * *

    TJ, good question. I think it does matter that I am a print columnist, but it’s not the whole picture. Not all print columnists have book deals. When my publisher announced that they purchased my book, they called me a blogger, not a print columnist. So that tells you something.

    But really, you’re selling the whole package:  I am more appealing because I write for print so I can get print coverage for the book.  But I’m less appealing because I have young kids so I can’t travel constantly.

    We each have to package ourselves in our best light. If you’re a blogger, that’ll be a big part of your package. 
     

    Penelope

  6. dave
    dave says:

    “I only chose agents who said they weren't accepting new clients…” You are so brazen Penelope! Perhaps this is fodder for another post, but I am interested in this approach.

    Did Ms. Rabiner come to you in this manner?

    * * * * *

    yes

  7. Jason Alba
    Jason Alba says:

    Thanks for sharing this – I’m in the middle (or, towards the end) of my first book. While it isn’t based on my almost-year-old-blog, and I already have a publisher and all that stuff, all of this information is very, very interesting.

    One thing I love about your blog is that you mix some “this is how I’m doing it” (which I read as “this is how I’m becoming successful”) with the other job/career stuff that you write about.

    Jason Alba
    CEO
    — self-serve job security —

  8. Fran
    Fran says:

    Great tips. I am sure that being able to share great and useful ideas is a sure way of increasing the number of viewers.

  9. dontaveous wright
    dontaveous wright says:

    i’m trying to find out how to write a book,as far as writing that’s not a problem, but how would i get started in. i have wrote one book title my life and i would love to have the world to read it. so please help me if you can.

  10. Marina Rey
    Marina Rey says:

    I like these tips. I’ve always wondered how people who maintain blogs (that have now gotten big) end up with book deals. That would be my ideal. I’ll have to follow through with some of this advice for sure.

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