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Signed: One author’s how-to for getting a major book deal

Signed: One author’s how-to for getting a major book deal 5.00/5 (100.00%) 4 votes

By Leo Babauta of Zen Habits

It had always been my dream to become a published author. The day I got a contract for a print book, from a major publisher, I was on top of the world.

The day I saw my name on the cover of a real book – The Power of Less – I was in heaven.

Leo Babauta-power-of-less

However, aside from the joys of the ego, getting a print book deal is a great idea for any blogger — both in terms of an income stream and getting more exposure for you and your blog. I would never have gotten my book deal for The Power of Less if it hadn’t been for the success of my blog — yet another example of why building the foundation of readership will lead to many opportunities to grow your income. Zen Habits had more than 20K subscribers when I started shopping my book around, and about 25K when I finally got my contract.

It all started with a blog

When my blog started taking off, it proved that I had something to say that people wanted to hear — this is pure gold to a publisher. It also showed that I knew how to write well, and that I knew how to market myself online — something most traditional print publishers know nothing about. So book publishers and agents started emailing me, asking if I was interested in writing a book.

Of course I was. I signed with one of the agents after doing some research, then wrote a book proposal. My agent shopped the proposal around to a number of potential publishers, and several made me an offer. I went with the highest offer and best match.

That turned out to be the easy part – actually writing the book, then going through the editing and layout and design process, was much harder. And marketing the book, including doing late night radio interviews all through the night (I live on Guam, and US morning radio shows are on in the middle of the night on Guam), writing a ton of guest posts, and doing a ton of print media interviews — was a full-time job. It wore me out.

It was all worth it. Many people heard about Zen Habits who never would have without the book and its publicity, and my blog just continued to grow at an even faster rate. I’m not in love with doing print books, but it was an opportunity that paid off incredibly for me.

Pros and cons

Let’s go over the pros and cons of getting a book deal, in case they aren’t all obvious.

Pros:

  • You get a nice fat check when you sign the contract.
  • You gain authority as an expert — a published author seems a little more credible than a blogger.
  • You gain a wider audience — many people who read books might never have heard of your blog.
  • You get opportunities for interviews, guest posts, and other publicity that you never would have without being a published author.
  • Your blog’s traffic will grow at an even faster rate.

Cons:

  • It’s a long and arduous process, getting a contract and writing the book and going through the editing process and getting the book printed and then… gasp… the marketing. It’s really a lot of work, especially compared to publishing your own ebook.
  • Marketing the book is a full-time job, taking time away from your blog — which means your blog content and readers will suffer a bit. It’s hard to do both a blog and a book at the same time.
  • Well, there aren’t too many cons. It’s almost all upside — worth doing!

Leo’s 9 steps to getting the book deal

I outlined the things that led to my getting a book deal above, but let’s go over those steps, and I’ll expand a bit on each one.

1) Build the foundation. The rest of the stuff on this list matters naught unless you build this foundation first. Write amazing content, be insanely useful, help people solve problems, and market your blog with more amazing content elsewhere (guest posts, Twitter, etc). Write amazing content, be insanely useful, help people solve problems, and market your blog with more amazing content elsewhere. Grow your readership and prove your usefulness and marketability. Once you do this, you might just have the publishers knocking on your door.

2) Do some research. Look at what other books are out there on your topic — you want to be different from them somehow, put a twist on what’s been done before, be even more useful if possible. Check out the titles of these books and start brainstorming your own title — it doesn’t have to be the same as your blog (though it can be). Start writing up an outline for what should be in the book — what are you going to teach the reader, what problem are you going to solve, and how are you going to do it. Give careful attention to chapter titles — each chapter solves a sub-problem of the book’s main problem, and should have a good title.

3) Write the proposal. I just followed (roughly) a couple of suggested outlines for book proposals I found through Googling “book proposal.” There are a handful of good formats out there, but no single format that you need to follow. Basically, it’s a pitch that will show that you are going to write something amazing, that you know how to reach readers, and that you have great ideas for marketing the book.

4) Get an agent. The proposal will help get the agent. Shop around, do some research, talk to bloggers who have gotten book deals and see who they used. Contact the agent with a brief pitch — who you are, how successful you’ve been on your blog, your idea for a book, etc. If the agent shows interest, send over the proposal. It’s a good idea to talk on the phone with your potential agent before signing — you want to know if this agent is the right fit for you. Talk to some of the authors she’s represented, if possible, to see what their experiences have been.

5) Shop the proposal around. Once you sign with an agent, the agent will help you strengthen your proposal and even the title of your book if necessary. Then she’ll shop the proposal around to publishers who might be interested. If all goes right, you’ll get some offers, and perhaps talk with a couple of the interested publishers, and then you’ll need to choose one.

6) Sign the deal. The contract will be based on their offer, but you’ll also need to hammer out little details like the rights to the audio book, etc.

7) Write the book. This part ain’t easy. It’s a smart idea to put aside some time, take a break from your blog and even your day job if possible. The blog can go on running if you can line up some guest posts and run some “question” posts (where you pose a question to your readers and ask for answers in the comments). You can even write a few short ones in advance, and or run some classic ones from your archives (be sure to note this if you do republish old ones), and let your blog go on autopilot for the most part. Don’t moderate comments, or ask a blogger friend to do it for you. Hole yourself up, and just focus on writing. No email or social media until you’ve written at least a couple hours a day!

8) Go through a bunch of crap. After you submit the manuscript, you’re not done. Typically you have to go through some back-and-forth editing with your publisher, and you also need to work with the publisher on the cover design, page design, getting blurbs from other authors for the cover, planning a marketing campaign, and more. Yech.

9) Market, and market some more. In the month or two leading up to the launch of your book, you want to build up some anticipation for the launch, and line up guest posts on major blogs, and create a bunch of content to give away to go along with the marketing of your blog. You’ll also be setting up a ton of interviews, if all goes well, and when the launch comes, you’ll be working day and night for at least a month or two. Have a blast!

 

Leo Babauta Photograph by Karen Walrond


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