If you told someone ten years ago that you were a blogger, most would look at you with an eyebrow raised, perplexed by what that actually meant… and wondering if you pay your bills.
The blogging world has evolved a lot over the years, and many bloggers, myself included, have been able to get their start in publishing because they proved they can write on a subject and built an online community of engaged fans via a blog.
While the blogging and online business landscape is continuing to evolve and grow at lightning speed, one thing is certain: blogging can lead to opportunities in publishing, if done right.
So, whether you’ve been blogging for years or are just getting started, I want to pass on my best tips for bloggers who consider themselves aspiring authors and hope for a shot in the publishing space.
- Start with Self-Publishing
- Understand What a Publisher is Looking For
- Be Patient (Don’t Try to Get a Book Deal Your First Year Blogging)
- Make Sure You’re Growing Your Numbers
- Create Buy In By Building Community (not just an audience)
I’ll break each of these down a bit below!
Start with Self-Publishing
If you’re just getting started, it can be helpful to start your publishing career off with self-publishing after you’ve built a little bit of a reader base.
There’s a few reasons for this:
- It helps you get used to the book writing and launching process.
Trust me, it’s a big jump to go from writing 1,000 word blog posts to a 50,000 word manuscript that makes sense! Self publishing a smaller work, like a devotional or guidebook, was a really helpful stepping stone for me. That said, if you have a really strong trade book idea that you hope to have published, I wouldn’t recommend starting with that as your self-published work. Instead, I’d suggest sharing a portion of that idea in a guidebook or gift book type of work. A gift book is something like a devotional, daily read, workbook or guide book. Think of what you’d see on a coffee table.
- It can be a more sustainable financial path with a smaller audience.
The royalty rate on a traditionally published book is much smaller than if you were to self-publish via Amazon’s self-publishing services. Although you may get an upfront advance from a publisher, it typically isn’t massive, especially if you’re not an established public figure or don’t have a massive audience. So, where you might make 18% on a traditionally published book sale, you could make over 80% on a self published book sale. Plus, this route is faster. It typically takes about two years to release a traditionally published book, whereas you could have a self-published book available in 2-3 months if you wanted to.
- It gives you a way to prove to publishers that you can sell books.
I remember feeling surprised that publishers would ask how many of my self-published devotionals had sold since I released it. When I shared this information (I think the number was between 5,000-10,000 at the time), I had more opportunity. It makes complete sense if you think about it – a publisher is much more likely to take a risk and invest in creating a book if they have an indicator of how that author’s book might sell by being able to look at the sales of previous works that they’ve published.
Understand What a Publisher is Looking For
When I say understand what a publisher is looking for, I’m focusing specifically on the book idea itself. You might think you have the best idea in the world because it’s close to your heart and means something to you.
I learned quickly in my publishing journey that that’s not enough. Remember, while your book is a message, it is also a product.
So, if a publisher is going to invest in creating a product to sell, they’ll want to know why it would sell, right? It’s just basic business.
Specifically, when it comes to formulating your kick butt book idea, you need to be able to clearly answer two questions:
- What is the clear need this book addresses and solves?
- How is this work different from other books on a similar topic? In other words, what is the unique angle / what makes it stand out?
Make sure that you really think through these questions, research similar books on the market, and consider what will make your book “on trend” with what’s selling well in your genre while still holding its own unique message and standing out from the crowd.
Make Your Mission to Grow your Community
Notice how I didn’t say “audience.”
I find far too many bloggers and influencers way too focused on building an audience and not focused enough on building a community.
An audience is like a bunch of spectators that watch your brand. A community is like a family or circle of great friends that feel connected to you, love your brand, and literally carry its growth on their backs because they just can’t help but share about it and invite other friends into the party.
Now, I’d love to tell you numbers don’t matter but when it comes to getting published, they do. If you’re hoping to get picked up by a publisher, it’s important to understand that this is a business.
When a publisher makes you an offer for a book, they essentially make a calculated estimate of how many books they think they can sell. Gone are the days where an author wrote a book and a publisher handled all the marketing.
A publisher can certainly help with that, and a huge benefit of traditional publishing is that a publishing house is also a distribution channel, getting your book into stores like Barnes and Noble, Target, etc. (something an independent author cannot do on their own).
That said, you are the best, and primary, marketer for your book. It’s not because the publisher doesn’t care, it’s just because it makes sense.
Think about it. Do you buy a book because Harper Collins, a big corporate machine, shares it on their Instagram or advertises it on a billboard? Or do you buy a book because your friends recommended it, or because you saw the author sharing about it and want to support the person who wrote it?
Most of the time, books sell best when authors are deeply invested in the marketing process. You can’t hide in this business and hope to succeed, especially in the world of non-fiction.
You need to build a know, like, and trust factor with an established online community… and they’re much more likely to buy your book if they feel like they know you, right?
In addition to sharing information on your niche expertise and providing value on that subject to your target demographic, you need to regularly show your face and allow your readers to get to know you.
These components MUST exist together.
Far too often, I see bloggers do one or the other.
1. They keep a pretty word-heavy blog and don’t show their face much although they do share a boatload of helpful information. Little to no pictures or personal touches. It’s so information heavy that it can really lack the connection piece. This can make it difficult to transition to a non-fiction author. It’s not to say it can’t be done but remember why people pick up books — sure they want to learn but they also want a story. Information heavy books are tough to sell if they don’t offer any connection or storyline
2. They are suuuuper personal on their blog but offer no real value and have very little focus. In other words, this type of blogger is always sharing her favorite outfits and where she and her husband went to dinner and how cute her dog is and things along those lines… but she’s not exactly providing value, education, or information to help readers solve a problem. It’s just all things lifestyle, and therefore unclear what she’s a “go-to” for… and this can make it tough to stand out in a sea of thousands of other lifestyle bloggers, as well as establish authority in a certain niche.
Both of these approaches can make it tough to break into publishing because neither really establish you as a go-to in an area with a know-like-trust factor.
You really need a blend of both personal and informational content to develop buy in and grow into writing books that your community will want to buy.
Remember, a book deal is a partnership, and begins with a publishing house making a financial investment in you. Publishers are now much more likely to take on authors who already have established audiences they know that they can sell books to.
Don’t be discouraged if you don’t have a big community yet. No one goes from blogger to published author overnight. It takes time to build.
Plus, the key isn’t necessarily a massive audience but an ENGAGED COMMUNITY who care about what you do and the work you create. If you focus your energy on creating a community who will SHOW UP to buy and read your book, as well as share it with friends, you’ll be much more successful, and make a whole lot more impact, as an author.