There was a time about 10 years ago when, if you had an awesome blog with a decent following, there was a pretty good chance an editor would be getting in touch with you to talk about a book deal. There was Julie Powell of Julie & Julia fame, who turned her cooking blog into both a book deal and a blockbuster movie starring Amy Adams and Meryl Streep. Jen Lancaster went from wittily blogging about unemployment on jennsylvania.com to being the New York Times best-selling author of nine memoirs and five novels. Darren Rowse, who found considerable (albeit meta) success while blogging about blogging at problogger.com, published ProBlogger the Book in 2008. Today, it’s in its third edition, and he runs a podcast, edits two mega-popular websites, and has speaking engagements around the globe.
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In a 2009 Mashable article, “From Blog to Book Deal: How 6 Authors Did It,” in every case, agents or publishers approached the bloggers, not the other way around. That’s right: Not that bloggers would be able to find an agent willing to talk, or a chance of getting a proposal in the door at a small publishing house. Thanks to the success of a few big blog-to-book conversions, editors were actively pursuing popular blogs – no querying necessary on the blogger’s part.
Today, these Cinderella stories are becoming rarer and rarer, thanks to a bit more market saturation and a lot more competition. But that doesn’t mean the blog-to-book pipeline is closed.
Finding platforms in more places
Publishing may be an industry with tighter purse strings these days, but the basics of how money is made hasn’t changed. Jane Friedman is a Publishers Weekly columnist and a fount of knowledge she shares at her blog, JaneFriedman.com. She says, “As much as ever, publishers still seek authors with proven concepts or content with an established audience.”
What made blogs such fertile ground for publishers was that they were a new place to find authors who already had platforms. Imagine the excitement for an editor or agent. It’s like stumbling into a conference center with a speaker in front of a captive audience of 50,000 people – a speaker you’d never even heard of. But blogs aren’t the only player in the existing platform game anymore: “Now, social media, multimedia, and online communities are a way to create and distribute content in a manner that’s on par with, and sometimes better than, blogs,” Friedman says.
Blogs-turned-books isn’t a dead-and-gone trend. But, like big shoulder pads and tapered jeans, the fad went a little crazy and had to be moderated. Today we also have podcasts, which function in the same way blogs do, generating engagement and enthusiasm. Friedman cites Instagram and Wattpad as other examples of places where creators are posting content and finding an audience. “Authors’ online platforms still translate into book deals,” she says. Blogs just aren’t the only way to build that platform nowadays.
Turning your blog into a book
With plenty of past blog-to-book experience, the publishing market has learned a few things. According to Nina Amir, inspiration to creation coach and author of How to Blog a Book: How to Write, Publish, and Promote Your Work One Post at a Time, there’s one major issue inherent in the very concept.
“Posts are typically not written with a book in mind,” she says. “Therefore, they don’t always make sense when compiled into a book manuscript.”
A reader can tell right away if a book is just recycled blog content patched together into a lazy manuscript. You might be able to self-publish such a book and get a few buyers via upsells off your website. But a good blog-turned-book is one that takes the subject of your site and goes from there. Amir says you should start planning based on one such topic, “then determine what posts work in that framework. This also tells you how much new content you need to create.”
Literary agent Maria Ribas of Stonesong, who also blogs at Cooks & Books (cooksplusbooks.com), gets asked about blog-turned-book deals a lot. How many readers do you need? How many page views, followers, or comments does it take to show an editor that you’re worth publishing?
With the disclaimer that every agent or situation is different, Ribas says that “a great goal for a blogger to have is 50,000 true fans.” That isn’t subscribers or unique visitors or anything like that – true fans are people “you feel certain would buy your book within 6 to 12 months of launch or even pre-order it before it releases.” You control that – through your passion and connection to your readers, making them care and engage with your brand.
That’s platform. That’s an author’s relationship with the audience, wherever that comes from – remember how Friedman said that was what made blogs a fertile ground for publishing in the first place?
Ribas suggests a formula like this: platform + concept + storytelling = a successful book. Bloggers with bigger numbers in the platform and concept department might be weaker on storytelling, or vice versa. But the book gets off the ground at least with the other strengths making up for it, and it’s key to show publishers all of your skills.
Amir sold her book, How to Blog a Book, based on a proposal to a publisher. She had a blog with growing traffic and other blog experience. She had a lot of other skills to show that she had a place in the market “and that I was willing and able to be a good business partner.” That’s key, especially in working with a smaller house where you’ll be heavily involved in sales and promotion. Proving that you know what it takes to move a book makes your proposal that much stronger.
Amir considers prescriptive nonfiction – think “how to” books – a field doing well for blogs-turned-books. There’s always a lot more for anyone to learn about – improving your life, yes, but also, say, improving your investing skills or learning a language.
Here, “authors become experts and authorities as they blog,” Amir says. Along the way, they’re building audience and platform, too. So what happens when the print title comes out? The keys to success are already in hand, and these authors often do quite well.
Many bloggers with highly shareable, meme-like content have gone on to write more than one book. Visually focused books are another market showing growth, a consideration for writers who may want to play with other forms besides words.
Ribas says the elements of platform matter differently in different categories. Few fiction blogs transition into books. (I know, back in Charles Dickens’ day, serialization was all the rage and people keep trying to bring it back. Trust me, that’s an uphill battle.)
Some memoirs have found great success, and those are the big titles the public hears about. But this is one of the categories that’s hardest to make a dent in, blog-based or otherwise. Ribas says her equation for book success in the memoir market is more heavily focused on concept and storytelling, rather than platform.
Where to take your idea
Some agents specifically represent blogs-to-books and might have experience in the field. But you don’t have to target just those agents who mention this designation. Those who deal with your genre will respond to a compelling book proposal laying out some of your content and platform. Having a blog shows that you aren’t new to your concept and that you’ve been producing and interacting with an audience over time.
If your blog doesn’t reflect your best self, or if it looks unprofessional, these are things that need to be dealt with before you get in touch with an editor or agent. Turning your blog into a book can’t work if your blog has no value on its own.
Wherever your writing shows up, it is part of your portfolio of work. It can build your body of work and draw readers to your brand. Thinking about your long-term publishing goals can seem far-fetched when you set out to blog about your favorite show, but an eye toward professionalism whenever you attach your name to work is something to consider.
If you have an idea for a great nonfiction book proposal, securing a domain name now and starting to blog won’t hurt anything. Even if you don’t earn a book deal just from your blog alone, growing an audience will always increase your standing with a publisher.
—Eliana Osborn is a busy freelance writer focusing on education and family issues for national publications. She is hoping meditation really is going to solve everything.