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From Blogging to Published Book: The Nitty Gritty Pros, Cons and Considerations

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.”

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  • http://www.ramblingsofawahm.com/mbdb-blog-topic/ Allie | Ramblings of a WAHM

    Jenny,

    What an amazing journey and it sounds like you are just getting started.
    This does give a real glimpse into the life of a blogger gone author but still blogger. So fascinating.

    I thank you for being a person that brings blogging to light in the mainstream; you help make it more legitimate. Many still do not know what a blog is or just simply don’t take it serious as a method of communication and learning. But it is people that cross into the main stream of books, newspapers or just TV and radio, that help bloggers know they do matter.

    Congrats on your book! And your fascinating blog and journey!

    ~Allie

    • http://lifeaftercollege.org Jenny Blake

      Thank you so much Allie!! I really appreciate the kind words :) It’s funny how many people still have no clue what blogging is…I forget that sometimes since I’m so wrapped up in this world! And I never know what to say when people ask, “What do you do?” I could say I’m an author, but that is such a small percentage of what I actually spend my time on (compared to blogging, coaching, etc).

      Very nice to meet you — thanks so much for taking the time to leave a comment!

  • http://www.wetfishmarketing.com Rob

    This is a fantastic story Jenny, though it would be interesting to know how many visitors your site was receiving in order to get Nat Geo interested initially?

    Also did you do any other forms of marketing other than via your blog, guest posting and the book tour? The reason I ask is because at the moment I’m having a huge internal debate between self-publishing and traditional publishing, so any light you can shine on that would be much appreciated! :)

    • http://lifeaftercollege.org Jenny Blake

      Thanks so much Rob!! The funny thing is that my numbers were very small at the time — I didn’t even have a newsletter, and I was maybe getting 10K hits a month. But they found my blog through a list of “Top 10 Gen Y Blogs” and really resonated with my voice/content. Many of the publishers did reject me because my platform was too small (or because I “had no hook” and “young people don’t buy books”) but all it took was one :)

      I share a LOT more about my writing/publishing/marketing process on my book website, LACBook.com, under resources for authors — but in short, the publisher doesn’t really pay for any marketing — that’s all on you. I did a self-funded book tour which I would do again in a heartbeat. The publisher did pay for sending 200 advance copies (a HUGE help) and doing a radio tour — but most everything else was on me. The biggest boosts came from online efforts, which after reading this blog you know plenty about!

      You might also talk to Dave Ursillo (DaveUrsillo.com) who just launched his self-published book this week after being rejected by over 200 (!!) literary agents.

      Thanks for reading and leaving a comment!

  • http://www.commonsensemarketing.net Sarah Russell

    Fascinating stuff, Jenny – thanks for sharing!!!

    I have to admit, publishing a book and doing a book tour is a childhood dream of mine as well, though I’m not sure it’s one I want to pursue at this time. Any tips on how to find a literary agent or how you’d approach the process of finding a publisher differently after getting 27 rejections?

    • http://lifeaftercollege.org Jenny Blake

      Hi Sarah! Thanks so much for your comment :) The two books that were EXTREMELY helpful for me were How to Write a Book Proposal and How to Find a Literary Agent by Michael Larsen. I also share a whole bunch about my process, along with helpful resources, on my book website: LACBook.com (under resources for authors). On finding literary agents — starting with authors in your network is ideal, but many people “cold email” agents that they find by searching some of the big directories. Best of luck with your big dream!!

      • http://www.commonsensemarketing.net Sarah Russell

        Thanks for the recommendations!

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  • http://themileshighlife.com Andrew

    Great story, and congratulations on getting published.

    I’m sure many of us bloggers can identify with the “getting published” dream, which is no doubt one reason why so many of us keep blogs in the first place! I think for me, self publishing will come first, but if I could one day find a larger platform through trad publishers I would definitely be keen.

    • http://lifeaftercollege.org Jenny Blake

      Thanks Andrew! I think self-publishing is awesome — it takes a LOT of work, but you get to be directly involved in every single aspect of it. And you’re still an author! Just writing the book is an enormous accomplishment — everything after that is icing on the cake :)

      I recommended him above, but you might reach out to Dave Ursillo (DaveUrsillo.com) — he just launched his self-published book this week after getting frustrated by his 200+ rejections from literary agents.

  • http://ebooksuccess4free.wordpress.com/ Jason Matthews

    Jenny, I really enjoyed this and congrats on all your awesome accomplishments! Question: are you selling ebooks as well? I looked on Amazon for Kindle copies and didn’t see them (maybe I missed it).

    • http://lifeaftercollege.org Jenny Blake

      Thanks so much Jason! Funny you should ask — I *just* got agreement from the publisher to do a Kindle version — should be out in about a month!

  • http://www.moneyspruce.com Jeffrey Trull

    Awesome story, and I especially like how she broke down the results with data and graphs. It’s great to see the impacts of this so in-depth.

    • http://lifeaftercollege.org Jenny Blake

      Thanks Jeffrey!! So glad you found the charts/data helpful :) Thanks for reading & commenting!

  • http://www.marcussortijas.com Marcus

    Jenny,

    This post was fantastic: inspiring, informative, and as Corbett would say, “Insanely useful.” I appreciate that you were honest about a book deal not being a jackpot in itself, but a priceless boost to your credibility. Sometimes our expectations can get distorted by all those news of multimillion-dollar advances to bestselling authors.

    Your writing about Gen Y is a relevant topic for me, being a member of that generation. Many of have graduated from college into a recession, so inspiring stories like yours are needed now more than ever.

    Keep up the great work, and look forward to reading more of your posts in the future.

    Marcus

    • http://lifeaftercollege.org Jenny Blake

      Marcus – so thrilled that you found the post helpful – I’m just trying to follow in Corbett’s “insanely useful” footsteps :) Publishing a book is really hard to quantify based on numbers alone (dollars, subscribers, etc) — for me the benefits were priceless but they also came with a HUGE amount of work. Thanks again for your kind words — looking forward to keeping in touch as well!

  • http://www.gettingonlineincome.com Lucy

    What about promotion?

    I always think of Tim Ferriss when it comes to this type of stuff. 4HWW could have been an ebook but he

    1) fluffled it enough to make it a hard cover
    2) promoted the hell out of it
    3) represented his brand 24/7

    Other than content, it seems that advertising makes a difference. Tim Ferris found (and/or cheater) his way into every media outlet he could.

    People sell more than 5K copies of crap even in a single month, I think with good advertising/promotion, people with GOOD CONTENT that bring value can actually explode. (personal analysis, there have yet to be any explosions in my camp)

  • http://www.accidentalcreative.com Todd Henry

    Jenny, EXCELLENT post! Thanks for bringing transparency and specificity to what is often an opaque and seemingly mystical process. (For what it’s worth…my experiences with The Accidental Creative were very similar!)

    • http://lifeaftercollege.org Jenny Blake

      Thanks Todd!! I really appreciate the kind words — and glad to hear your experiences were similar…though here’s hoping we’ll both end up striking it rich in royalties! ;-)

      Would love to talk more at some point when schedules allow :)

  • http://www.virtualassistantsussex.co.uk Sue Edwards

    Jenny,

    Really interesting blog. I too have self-published my first book and am working on the next one. Book sales have been good but hard work and would dearly love more. As you have no doubt found out so far books really don’t make you money, however people are more interested when I mention my book and this alone adds credibility to my VA and CV work. Now, on the back on that experience I have gained new clients helping to self-publish their first books too.

    I only briefly considered using a publisher. The costs I found out were prohibitive and I had no doubt that I could do it myself using the contacts I already had. I have also been told, and you mention this fact, that publishers do not do your marketing for you, and you also lose control of your sales. All in all I am pleased I went down the self-publishing route and my next book will be dealt in with the same way, although sales continue to be hard work and time consuming.

    I wish you well and good luck with future sales.

    Sue

    • http://lifeaftercollege.org Jenny Blake

      Hi Sue — I’m so happy you found this post helpful! HUGE congrats to you on self-publishing your first book — I have SO much admiration and respect for self-publishers because of the amount of work involved (that’s what caused my six month “book block”) — very true that marketing a book is all about your existing contacts — those are the people who will get out their wallet, not cold calls/emails/mailings that the publisher makes (or at least not in my experience).

      Best of luck to you and may you have a prosperous book sales future too!

  • http://www.nakedgirlinadress.com Naked Girl in a Dress

    This was incredibly helpful. I have been working on a book idea, but wondered how I was going to make it happen. I also wondered if I should look into traditional publishing with so many going the self-published route. I appreciate the inside perspective.

    • http://lifeaftercollege.org Jenny Blake

      Naked Girl in a Dress (fun nickname!) — thanks so much for the kind words — you might also enjoy some of the writing-related resources I share on my book website –> LACBook.com (under Resources for Authors). Thanks for reading!

  • http://www.theoasisofmysoul.com Ara & Spirit (Gureghian)

    Totally amazing. I have been keeping my Journal (our Journal!) for close to five years now. (The site “about us” tab will explain). This winter for myself I have decided to edit the close to 700 entries into a book with a DVD of maybe 200 photos going along… Your information is so valuable and as we are going to settle down just a bit this winter in the Big Bend area I will deeply read all your words.
    Thank you for helping others, this is the way it should be…
    Ara & Spirit

  • http://www.seedlingfinance.com Jonathan @ SeedlingFinance.com

    I think you summed it up best when you said “the credibility, opportunities and exciting experiences are priceless.”

    In today’s long-tail economy, where niche bloggers and solopreneurs can make a full-time living, writing a book is about moving up the tail and sharing your story with those who may not have otherwise found you.

    Congratulations on the book and, more importantly, on pursuing your passion!

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  • http://freetoliveyourdreams.com Emily

    Great list! The one we struggle with is time. Specifically DH, who is trying to write the 2nd draft of a novel that has taken him about 2 yrs to write. DS, almost five, is all about Daddy, which means working on the weekends or b4/after dinner is out for him. He has to somehow fit in writing very early in the morning or after DS goes to bed.

    This may be THE reason so many people want to write a book, but never do.

  • http://www.buildinternetbusiness.com Yayson Potter – Build Internet Business

    An amazing story. I’ll have to share this with my wife you is currently working on writing her first book about her birthing experience with our son after a hospital mistake. Thanks for this info!

  • http://www.annesamoilov.com/ Anne

    Your story is really inspiring. I work with @lkr and have to say you were the absolute highlight for me personally on her Facebook Fame book party. You came across so genuine and had some really valuable nuggets to share.
    I’m so glad I dug around the net a little find more!

  • http://www.deenasafari.com Deena Safari

    I love your story! It’s like the whole “Julie and Julia” thing. It gives the rest of us crazy writers hope that one day we’ll get an email that isn’t spam, too. :-) Best wishes to you on what’s sure to be a bright and successful future!

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  • http://nochnoch.com Noch Noch | be me. be natural.

    Just stumbled here – thanks for the insights since I”m hoping to publishing a book. seems like a long long journey! even just writing the proposal is taking a long time!
    Noch Noch

  • http://lessonsfromthecity.com Alan Chatfield

    I have written a few (well, 3) self-published books and have been writing my ‘main’ book for a little while. Blogging has proived a distraction but I realised recently that if I got myself a URL (amazingly the working title I have for my book was available as a .com URL) I could write the chapters via blog posts and record my progress there. Whether or not anyone visits the site, it’s not really very different for me from writing the content in Word or anything else and might just garner some more interest along the way.

    I’ve just started to create this site so not much there yet but I love the idea and think it already doesn’t look too bad. As I get closer to the finish line, with a little promotion, it may even allow me to sell some pre-orders of the book before I’m finished. Who knows?

    Thanks for the post Jenny, it was nice to read this after having made a similar decision myself,

    take care & best wishes,
    Alan

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