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How to Get a Six Figure Book Deal From Your Blog

This post has been submitted by Penelope Trunk – columnist at the Boston Glob and Yahoo! Finance, blogger at www.blog.penelopetrunk.com and author of Brazen Careerist: The New Rules for Success.

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, from Rachel Klayman, the editor who did Barack Obama’s recent book.

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 build 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 blogophere, 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.
No one really knows if any blogger besides Guy Kawasaki can make a difference in book sales. Of course, I hope that my book with change all that, and people will say, ‘Wow, the bloggers took that book to the bestsellers list.’ But until something like that happens, you need to tell the book publishers that you can get a lot of attention from conventional media outlets.

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 LH 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. Your blog goes 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 Writer’s Market 2007 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 make 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.

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. Jason says:

    Neat post. I never thought about it that way, but I assume there will one day be a greater bridge between bloggers and non-fiction book writers.

  2. Brian says:

    What about Gina at Lifehacker.com? Her book is nothing but blog posts (but then again, maybe it’s not worth 6 figures).

  3. Santosuke says:

    The handicap I see here is that it’s not easy to have a successful blog about something that can become a book. I mean, it’s not very likely a book from Gizmodo, Kotaku or Boing Boing right? I think many (not to say all) of the topics that can get wide media attention are covered by big blogs already (fashion, blogging, internet, etc.) so to have a successful blog you’re probably gonna try something different that will get the attention of the blogosphere but not from the 30 year olds with a kid.
    Anyway, luckily for us exceptions are the norm in the blogging world ;)

  4. Ponn Sabra says:

    Incredibly creative advice!

    As an author who turned to blogging as a platform for branding and pre-launch publicity, which helped my book become an instant best-seller…its truly interesting to see the tables have turned. I wholeheartedly believe that the tables have turned to favor the expert who has a loyal following and can prove his/her expertise to become a successful book author–and you, Penelope, are a prime example!

    Thanks Darren for sharing yet another interesting guest perspective, how blogging has turned to benefit many–the author and their readers! Truly a win-win scenario ;-)

  5. Peter Cooper says:

    Good tips, but people need to be aware that getting a “six figure” deal is extremely unlikely with the way the publishing industry is now. Getting a book deal is hard enough, and no-one should be disappointed with a five figure advance ;-) Don’t be put off.. any book deal with a good publisher is a good deal.

    Ultimately, if the book’s good and the market’s there, you’ll reach six figures on royalties, no matter what the advance, compared to the relatively unlikely chance of a publisher stumping up a $100k+ advance.

  6. One of the best guest posts ever on your site, Darren. Thanks for a GREAT read, Penelope!!!! :)

  7. In the begining of your post you said about everything: you need some luck… That’s it!

    For instance, J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter’s writter) spent about 10 years writing before being “discovered” and climbing to the writers limbo.

    I knew it was complicated to publish something, but never imagined it would be this hard…

    Rosinha

  8. Brad says:

    Indeed, landing a book deal would probably be the “holy grail” for most bloggers. But unless you’re a very famous, well-known blogger who has incredible insight on a specific topic, then don’t count on it.

    The publishing industry is one of the subjects I blog about, and as Mr. Cooper said above, getting a six-figure book deal is very rare and very uncommon. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a five-figure deal and you’ll be on your own for marketing and promotion (publishers sink their advertising dollars into books that are a “sure thing” – think Stephen King).

    Most first time book authors end up with an advance for a few thousand dollars, and that’s about it. If it’s one of the big publishing houses, you’ll get a larger advance, but not much marketing/ad help. If it’s a smaller, independent publisher, you’ll probably get a smaller advance but they’ll be much more active marketing your book.

    Right now the publishing world is swamped with too many books and not enough people buying them. Unless things change, it’s only going to get worse.

    Sorry for such a bleak post, but it’s the current reality of the publishing world. Also, sorry for rambling so much! Thanks for reading!!!

  9. Sounds like some good advice to take with a grain of salt. I mean the whole point of a good blog is finding a good niche which does not cross over to mega book sales too easily. But if you are looking to write books later, I would say treat your blog very professionaly so that editors and the like will have something worthwhile to look at (from a publishing standpoint).

  10. Peter Chen says:

    Blog published as a book? I have a popular blog helping bloggers (especially those relatively new) who have found it a good resource, well written and easy to understand. The blog is Blogger Tips and Tricks. Read the comments they left in the blog or see a compilation at Comments left by appreciative and grateful bloggers in Blogger Tips and Tricks. The blog even got listed in the most important and the hardest directory to get listed in – DMOZ. You can read about it here: DMOZ, the most important directory and the hardest to get listed in, and Blogger Tips and Tricks got listed without even submitting. There is also a link to a site that gives tips on how to submit your site to DMOZ.

    Based on all the above, I think there is a good chance of my blog being eventually turned into a book, if not one on paper, then at least a downloadable PDF book. However, the problem is, the blog depend very much on links, and you can’t publish links in books.

    Anyone knows a way around that?

  11. Talk about Link Bait! You certainly had my attention from the title.

    Great post Penelope. I think most bloggers fall apart on points 1 and 2. They don’t have a unique blog that solves a problem (they are copying the ideas that Darren and other thought leader are writing) and they don’t have a big idea. People like simple, big ideas. It’s easy to understand and want to get involved in.

    For example, Darren’s “helping bloggers earn money” is simple, easy to understand, and is big. What blogger or prospective blogger would not be interested in reading more?

    I hope to see more ideas from you Penelope in the future! Great guest blog selection Darren.

  12. terra says:

    It’s amazing that most bloggers start out with simply the intention of starting a blog and getting a little recognition, and it eventually grows into the prospect of writing a book. I agree with the commentors above… great post and great guest author!

  13. The reason I started my blog in the first place was because I decided to give up writing my book! After 20 years experience, and an expert in the field, it is now easier to for me to write my “charpters” in the form of articles and posts.

  14. zool says:

    Hm.. quite impressive…
    hope this tips can help to improve my manga (Japanese cartoon) blog..

  15. karenlim says:

    Great , great, no awesome!

    It is what I need most now
    Thinking how I can convert information on my website (http://www.secretofunlimitedprosperity.com) on law of attraction into a book.

    If we do have pieces of information on our blog, any good ghostwriter to recommend?

    Cheers!

  16. ashok says:

    I very much enjoyed this post, esp. points 2 and 3 about the niche and having a big idea.

    It seems to me, from what little I’ve read, that what a lot of what a book attempts is to communicate an idea and deal with problems regarding an idea to multiple audiences. A book is inherently something with a unique structure, even if it seems organized as a collection of essays.

    That’s coming perilously close to saying that a lot of what passes for books might not be books in any proper sense. Are bloggers held to a higher standard of writing than some others who might get book deals?

  17. Ed Helvey says:

    Right on Target, Penelope!

    And, the comments seem to support precisely what is going on in publishing. I have been an independent non-fiction book publisher for the past (nearly) 10 years – not a great place for a guy with decades of experience in the recording industry. But getting traditionally published – whether from your blog or just good honest hard work writing a quality manuscript is the exception not the rule and “winning” those six figure advances is about the same as winning the Power Ball Lottery (I don’t play).

    For this reason, I’m in the process of becoming a reformed, recovering former publisher. I see more value for myself in blogging in the future on topics I’m well-versed in and in helping aspiring authors with good and great ideas to self-publish. Approaching self-publishing with the right attitude and good material will likely be more productive AND Successful then going the traditional route in many, many cases. It also allows the author more creative license to use their blogs and focus on niches that a self-published book can do very, very well in. Thanks for a great post, Penelope!

  18. Amazing post.

    I subscribed to your blog, Penelope.

    You’ve helped renew the fire of getting an agent and book deal in me again.

    PaulaNealMooney.com

  19. Neil says:

    Nice work Darren… I enjoy reading your blog daily. I guess we all dream of book deal.

  20. Tara says:

    All great tips.

    But what if your blog, life, and book aren’t non fiction?

  21. I’m trying to build backlinks.