I’ll never forget the moment in 2009 that I received an email from National Geographic with the subject line, “Are you interested in writing a book for Gen Y?” I looked over both shoulders. Who, me? Is this a joke? This must be spam. Book deal via email is the new Nigerian wire fraud.
It wasn’t a joke. National Geographic was interested in publishing a book based on my blog as they looked to expand to a younger market within health and wellness. I had finished my book proposal one week prior, and hadn’t yet begun my search for an agent. Over the six months prior, I had hit a case of paralyzing book block where I couldn’t bear to open the Word file with my book in it because self-publishing seemed like an insurmountable mountain of work.
National Geographic never ended up making an offer; but it did give me the encouragement and confidence I needed to move past my massive fears around the publishing process. It motivated me to finish my proposal, find a literary agent, and pitch to publishers. After 27 rejections, Running Press said yes, and they released my book, Life After College: The Complete Guide to Getting What You Want, in March of this year.
Going from Blog to Book may be living the dream for you (it certainly was for me), but don’t be discouraged if you’re not following that path. Here are some of the considerations and potential misconceptions to help you assess whether writing a book is right for you.
Note from Corbett: The guest post that follows is by Jenny Blake of Life After College. Jenny is one of the people I enjoyed connecting with most in Portland earlier this year (at the World Domination Summit). She’s incredibly modest, despite having worked at Google, starting a popular blog, publishing a successful book and appearing on live TV, all by the distinguished age of 27.
Jenny is one of those people you can bet will be doing ridiculously amazing things in the future, so I was thrilled to meet her and really glad that she wanted to write a guest post here.
If you’ve thought about writing a book, but aren’t sure how to do it, or whether it’s really for you, Jenny’s going to break it down for you here. Read on…
6 Key Things to Consider when Going from Blog to Book with a Traditional Publisher
1. Money: If you get a book deal with a traditional publisher, advance checks that I’ve seen range from $10-$25K for a first-time author WITH a sizeable platform and career already. If you don’t have a strong platform (high-traffic blog, newsletter subscribers, speaking engagements) it’s really tough to get a non-fiction book deal.
The standard literary agent commission is 15%, then you’ll be taxed on whatever you take home after that. Publishers don’t pay for much promotion beyond sending out advance copies, so it’s wise to save your advance check for book-related expenses (with a few celebratory splurges here and there, of course).
You won’t see any royalties until you earn back your advance — so on a $15K advance, you’d need to sell about 10K-15K books in order to start receiving your hefty $1/book payout. For a point of comparison, my book has sold ~5K copies since the release in March; I keep track at Amazon’s Author Central — and have yet to see the first stats report from the publisher!
2. Time: Writing, editing, publishing and promoting my book was a 2.5 year process for me, the lion’s share of which happened on nights and weekends while I was working full-time at Google. With a schedule like that, something has got to give, and it my case it was my social life. You can also see that a $10-$25K advance (with 15% taken out for the agent) amortized over the time spent producing the work is mere pennies on the hour. Not the most lucrative income stream by a long haul if you’re trying to take your blogging career full-time.
3. Credibility: For as popular and accessible as self-publishing has become, I found that landing a traditional publisher brought a new level of cache and credibility to my blog. I was getting asked to guest post more, to be interviewed by traditional media, to present to Seth Godin’s Domino Project team, and found I had an easier time setting up meetings with bloggers and authors I had long admired. My book demonstrated that I had made it through an elusive gauntlet of traditional publishing that, while believed by many to be on it’s way out, still garnered a great amount of respect.
4. Traffic: This is, after all, a blog about traffic! My blog readers seemed to become more “sticky” after I got the book deal. Over the course of the next year, my RSS subscribers doubled and I started building my first newsletter to share my behind-the-scenes experiences with the publishing process. My traffic continued to grow at a steady rate, but the spikes were MUCH higher than they were previously:
5. Newsletter Subscribers: Publishing my book was an excellent way to share my hero’s journey (as Joseph Campbell would put it) with my readers, and build a strong relationship over a long period of time. They could see my ups and downs as we went along, and when the book came out they were much more invested in my success and in helping me spread the word.
However, the two actions that increased my newsletter subscribers more than anything were not book related: redesigning my website and placing the subscribe box in the top right corner, and finally adding a sign-up incentive (my Organized Like a Ninja toolkit). The re-launch and toolkit happened on the same day — see if you can guess which one on the graph below:
6. New Opportunities: The book deal was never about the money for me. It was a catalyst to help me take my blog and my emerging business more seriously. I took a 3-month sabbatical from Google to go on a self-funded 10-city book tour, then ended up making the tough decision not to return so that I could take my blog, book and business full-time. It was THE hardest decision of my life, but the best one I’ve ever made. The book didn’t fund my foray in to self-employment, but it opened the door to many great opportunities. Some highlights:
- Having Seth Godin link to my 15-tab book marketing spreadsheet (which received 6K downloads as a result)
- Speaking at TEDxCMU, Authors@Google, Columbia, and delivering my first keynote at the 20SB Summit
- Signing books in bookstores (a childhood dream), doing a 30-city radio tour and making my way on to a morning news show (BetterTV in NYC)
- With momentum on my side, I sold out my first course, Make Sh*t Happen, in less than 24 hours (revenue of $10K for Q4 to pay the bills that will support me as I continue to promote the book)
One of the most fun correlations is seeing a spike in book sales when I do cool things on my blog. For example, you can see the impact of my recent course launch (Sept 13) on book sales:
Here’s another view from Amazon’s Author Central of my overall sales statistics:
It Takes Patience
Publishing a book with a traditional publisher takes time (a minimum of one year from receiving the offer to seeing your book on shelves) and it does not directly pay well based on the advance check alone (and most authors never see royalties).
However, the credibility, opportunities and exciting experiences are priceless for many people — myself included. Publishing my book didn’t get me riches or fame, but it taught me to take myself and my work seriously, and it gave me the courage I needed to quit my job and pursue my passions full-time as a solopreneur.
If you’ve got a dream to publish a book from your blog, you CAN do it.
You don’t need a traditional publisher to get all the benefits I shared above — you need to believe in yourself, ask for help when you need it, and commit. It’s a matter of dedicating the time and doing the work.
As Michael Larsen (author of How to Write a Book Proposal) said to me, “With all of the publishing options available today, it’s not a matter of IF you will get published, but WHEN and HOW.”