I wish it was easy to take a series of blogs and turn them into a book and simply start collecting the money. It’s not. It’s a lot of work, but it can be worth it depending on what you hope to get out of that effort.
I’ve seen several articles or comments on articles where some people mistakenly believe you can take twenty blog posts that are around the same subject, drop them into a document as is, put them in some logical order and have a book. Sure you have to create a simple graphic with the title and your name, but you can do that in Word. They don’t consider there may even be additional editing, interstitial material, or seeing if that book meets the needs of an audience. Of course, because it’s all in Word you can upload it to most vendors — Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Google — fill out the form and press publish.
It’s true you can publish a book exactly that way. However, I would urge you to do a lot more if you want the book to have some success.
The only way I can see going direct from blog articles to a book without much work is if you initially wrote all those articles with the idea they would be chapters in a book at a later date. That means you purposefully wrote them to build on each other, to follow a natural progression of information and learning, and to make an important thematic point after all the material was read.
There is a lot more to creating a book that has a decent chance of actually selling copies beyond your immediate family and friends. Take a look at books that have been published around your topic and read a few of them. See how they are organized and how the author’s voice is consistent throughout. Study book covers and see what catches the reader’s eye. Look at the book descriptions and see what is emphasized. It’s important to do that because those books will be your competition.
First, let’s look at three questions to ask yourself when you are considering creating a book.
What will be the topic and focus of your book? This defines your audience — satisfying a reader’s need. For most people writing Medium articles, a book developed from those articles is most likely to be a nonfiction, self-help book. Even if you have specific expertise (e.g., Travel writing, business building, marketing, relationship building) then your book would most likely be geared toward those looking for advice on that particular area of expertise. All of these are huge areas. So consider narrowing the focus.
How many other books exist on the same topic and focus as yours? This answers the gap question. What will make your book different? If you are a travel writer, a gap may be covering exotic travel instead of the usual tourist spots in Europe. Or a gap may be narrowing the travel writing to a specific audience (e.g., solo travelers or adventure travelers) instead of trying to be a generalist serving families, seniors, solo travelers, etc. If you are a relationship writer, choose one particular area of relationships you wish to cover in detail. Is it self-esteem? Dating? Marriage in the first five years? Marriage after twenty years? Any one of these topics alone could be one or more books depending on the approach.
Why are you the best person to write this book? I think this is the hardest question for a writer to answer because there is ALWAYS someone better. But answering this question is at the heart of your book and will be the motivation for you continuing when the times get tough. Staying with the travel analogy, here are some ideas that may make you the best person to write it. You managed to travel throughout Asia for three years for only $1,000. This would speak to people on a budget and how you stayed in hostels that accepted work for payment (doing dishes, cleaning rooms). Or perhaps you led travel groups for adventure travel for the past two years.
The point is to capitalize on what is unique about you and your expertise or experience that you can share in writing this book. That uniqueness becomes your focus, your structure, how you approach each chapter, and how you address the gap in writing.
You are more than an information factory… You are a unique person who has a specific way of looking at the world, gleaning meaningful insights, and sharing that with someone else using your writing voice.
You are more than an information factory. Anyone can do that, even an AI program. You are a unique person who has a specific way of looking at the world, gleaning meaningful insights, and sharing that with someone else using your writing voice. Capture that and you have a good chance of being successful in the writing.
Now that you’ve answered those three big questions, let’s look at some realities and differences between writing blog articles and writing a book.
Finding Your Audience
First and foremost, selling a book is about the audience. The audience for blog articles is likely very different than the audience for books. This means that having thousands of Medium followers or LinkedIn followers doesn’t translate to anywhere near that many people willing to buy your book. This is particularly true in nonfiction.
I wrote for Medium, a blogging platform with more than 50 million followers worldwide. When I left I’d built to 1,000 regular readers. My past blogging experience on my own websites and guest blogs focused primarily on my fiction fanbase. I did do some guest blogs for writers but my email list of writers is only 3,000 strong. My email list of fiction fans is about 12,000 strong. It was clear to me who I was needing to please most.
When I came to Medium I also had to ask myself: “How are Medium readers different from my book readers?” The answer is they are not the same at all. As a consistent Medium writer, you can build a reputation as a good writer. If you primarily write on a single topic, you can also be seen as an expert if people find value in your writing. But reputation does not necessarily transfer to book sales unless you are a huge influencer and do a lot of audience engagement on that topic.
Medium is a platform of quick reads with a small economic investment. A book is an investment of both time and money.
Medium is a platform of quick reads. Even 14 minutes is considered long by blog standards but a very quick read by book standards. Millions of people are willing to five minutes to a quarter of an hour to read an article with an interesting title knowing they can give up on it the minute it gets boring. Also Medium is $5 per month for as many articles you want to read. That means if you get bored and abandon the article you haven’t lost your investment. There are thousands of other articles to read at no additional cost.
Reading on Medium is not a heavy investment at all when you have a plethora of topics and approaches to choose from. In the reader’s mind that $5 is prorated over possibly hundreds of articles read in a month. I tend to read or scan seven to ten articles per day. That means I read over 200 articles per month. That calculates out to costing me a little over two cents per article. At spending only two cents to read something that may teach me something or make me feel good, my economic expectation of value for my reading experience is lowered because I know I can always move on and find something better for my next two cent investment.
A book is an investment. Even if your ebook is only priced at $3 or $4, an ebook it is still an investment (and likely $10 or more in print). The first thing the reader is going to ask is: “Can I get this information for free — or through some other vehicle I’m already paying for like Medium— rather than buying this book?” In other words, what is the value proposition for me as a reader?
From a mental commitment perspective, when a reader purchases a book the expectations of value go up significantly. The reader is likely making a mental commitment to spend several hours with that book in order to learn something new or glean important insights about an issue. Also, the reader has made an economic decision that there is enough new or important information in your book, that it is worth spending that money now instead of spending the time to search for free articles to get the same information.
How Will Your Book Deliver on Those Heightened Reader Expectations?
This is where knowing your audience defines what is actually in your book. Simply taking twenty articles and putting them in some logical order is not enough. The book reader wants more than overviews or generalized statements that are typical of articles because of the word count limit. They want an entire experience that is giving them more than they can get already online. They also want a satisfying emotional experience for having spent that much time with one person’s opinion or expertise.
In the advertising world, they often talk about “pain points.” This means identifying what is most frustrating to your audience that they want to address? In the book world, this is where gaps in the existing literature are found. It may be that there are books on your same topic but they aren’t successful because they aren’t satisfying reader expectations. It’s your job to discover why and make your book address them better.
If you don’t know your audience’s pain points or how your book addresses them, it is likely your book will not to do well in the marketplace.
If you don’t know your audience’s pain points or how your book addresses them, it is likely your book will not do well in the marketplace. If you do know the answers to this, then it would behoove you to specifically point out these pain points in your book and then explicitly address them. That makes it easy for the reader to find them and then after reading to say: “Yes! That is what I needed to know.”
How to Discover What Those Pain Points Are
When I began writing my series of nonfiction books for authors, I did a survey to find those areas that self-publishing authors found confusing or difficult to overcome. I was able to do this because I belonged to several writer organizations and I could tap into the membership base by asking them to link to a voluntary survey in a newsletter. My promise to the organization’s membership was to share the aggregated results.
Also, prior to writing the books, I had already begun to share what I was learning about self-publishing as I moved my own publishing career from traditional publishers to self-publishing in 2011. I shared my career transition on my blog, in workshops I gave for writers’ groups, and eventually in workshops with a fee. At each event, I collected email addresses of those who were interested in hearing more as I continued my journey.
My initial survey targeted authors who were considering self-publishing or had already self-published at least one book. I began the survey by gathering some general demographics regarding where they were in their publishing journey (e.g., writing their first book, publishing their first book, transitioning from traditional to indie publishing, etc.) Then I asked three open ended questions:
- What scares you the most about self-publishing?
- What are your biggest struggles or confusion about the publishing process?
- What do you wish you’d known when you published your first book?
Depending on your topic, your survey could ask similarly open-ended questions. I advise going this way rather than multiple choice because there may be things your audience wants to know that you haven’t considered because they seem so natural or obvious to you. For example, one of the surprising things I learned from those questions was that the majority of authors (including those who’d had traditional contracts) had no understanding of copyright law basics or the purpose of ISBNs. So that became an early chapter in my first book.
Before beginning to write my book I had some good data about my audience. I knew that 70% of my potential audience consisted of people who were self-publishing their first book. Their pain points were fear of not knowing the basics, the cost of doing things like editing and cover design, and wondering how they would compete against traditional publishers. Typically, this group had already read many articles about self-publishing but had received conflicting views as to what worked. They were seeking a deeper understanding of the steps with logical reasons behind them and concrete examples.
Audience lesson #1 was to differentiate my book from the plethora of self-help articles out there. That meant more depth of information, more step-by-step instruction, and more description of the why things work the way they do in the publishing arena.
Another 22% of my potential audience were people who had already self-published between one and three fiction books but had not seen any traction in terms of sales. They were making less than $500/year across all their publications. They wanted to know if the problem was the writing, the market, or something they missed along the way.
Audience lesson #2 was to show people why they may not be getting sales even though the book was well-written and edited. That meant I needed to provide case studies — examples of how a well-written book might not sell based on things other than the writing. I decided to address these issues in more detail in a separate book from the needs of audience #1.
The final 8% of my potential readers were people who’d had traditional contracts in the past but were dissatisfied with their sales or were dropped by their publishers when sales were not sufficient. These writers were now switching to self-publishing and wondering how to do that and generate more income without the help of a traditional publisher. Most of this audience had the same pain points as audience #1.
Discoverability, Audience Leverage, and Sales
Writing a book and writing a blog on Medium have very different leverage points. Medium already provides a platform with millions of readers and a search engine that delivers articles to those readers based on the keywords they identify, their past reading history, and who they follow. It is a sophisticated engine that is difficult for the average author to duplicate on their own.
Medium already provides a platform with millions of readers and a search engine that delivers articles to those readers…When you publish a book, you need to have all that same SEO expertise in place for yourself.
In many ways Medium’s platform automatically provides a potential audience for you based on you using their SEO tools wisely — keyword selection, writing for theme-based publications, having a good profile page with a featured article and a link to your website. All of these things provide a foundation to drive readers to your articles. To bring in additional people is then up to you to do via email lists, social media postings, and simple word-of-mouth.
When you publish a book, you need to have all that same SEO expertise in place for yourself. That means you need to have built good SEO on your personal website that caters to your potential readers. You need to use your social media pages and posts in a way that also generates SEO (e.g., hashtags, categories, headlines, etc.). On your book distribution sites (Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Google, etc.) you need to take advantage of the built-in SEO capabilities they provide — similar to Medium — for your book categories, keywords, descriptions, and author profiles.
All of the above also feeds into search engines like Google. You want to be sure that when readers are looking for your book, by title or your name, that you actually show up in Google in search results (not on page 26 but on page 1 or 2). Getting your book to show up with a generic keyword on page one is very hard because that tends to be reserved for advertisers.
Taking full advantage of the SEO platforms at booksellers, like Amazon, goes a long way toward your book and name landing on page one of a search engine. That is because those vendors make millions of sales and have high traffic from search engines which makes it more likely you will show up at the top of a Google list even if your sales at that vendor aren’t bestseller status.
You’d also really benefit from having built an email list, in advance of the release. You should be building that now with the types of readers who might be interested in purchasing your type of book. In that way, you will know how to reach prospective “warm” buyers from the start and build up a word-of-mouth recommendation that can then be used to entice readers not known to you.
What should you expect in sales?
Honestly, not a lot unless you’ve done everything above and have a reputation for writing in the topic and a good following to start. The mean indie-author income in 2019 on a first book (fiction or nonfiction) is about $250 in the first year and $2,500 for the lifetime of the book. I know; pretty depressing.
If your book is of interest to a traditional publishing house that pays advances (not all publishers pay advances anymore), the average advance on a first book is about $2,000 and you probably won’t see any more after that because at royalties of only 10% of net it will take a long time to earn out that advance. According to the Authors Guild (a membership organization primarily for traditionally published authors) the mean annual income was $3,800.
Thousands of indie authors do make more than that $250 in a year, but that usually happens for those who continue to produce books along the same topic areas and work very hard at marketing, connecting with readers, and giving them what they want.The last data I saw for indie authors who publish a minimum of one book a year and have at least five books in their list was a mean annual income of about $10,000. Unfortunately, because of increased competition and decreased discoverability, that is down from the early days of indie publishing in the 2011–2014 time frame.
No matter which route you choose, indie or traditional, don’t plan on it bringing you riches. You might get enough money for a nice night out for two with dinner and a drink. Just as most Medium bloggers don’t make enough to pay the bills — you’ve seen the monthly stat that only 8% made at least $100 — the same is true for most book authors.
If Money Isn’t Abundant Why Write a Book?
There are other reasons to consider taking the time to create a book based on your blog posts. Being an author makes you an instant “expert” in many people’s minds. This is why the majority of consultants and personal coaches write at least one book (or hire a ghostwriter). The average person thinks that having a book means you must really know what you are talking about.
You can use your book as an entree to help you get speaking engagements. Sometimes those engagements give you the opportunity to sell books after the speech. If you are interested in getting into the paid workshop business, a book can be a way for people to sample your ideas before paying. If you are a freelancer, having a book might impress potential clients.
Personally, I think the best reason to expend time and energy in a book is that you want to make a difference. One way to do that is to write a book that will truly help others. If you can do that, you will find your readers over several years as they have a need for your specific information. Because you actually helped them, they will personally thank you for the help you provided.
Every time I get an email or see a social media post that thanks me for the information in a book, or a fiction story that spoke to a reader, it is gold to me. It makes me feel like I’m doing something to give back in the world. It keeps me going no matter the economic ups and downs of publishing and marketing. It tells me that those hundreds of hours alone writing and editing and publishing are worth it.