Publishing & Writing | Behind the Curtain: Blog to Book From the Publisher’s Point of View


Speakers: Barb Dybwad (Moderator), Maria Ribas, Kristen Frantz, Denene Millner

Barb Dybwad: First official session of the day. Have to pump you up. Assuming many are here because you have a blog and want to write or a book or curious about the process. Definitely in the right place. I am the moderator. Blogger since 2001 and have been fortunate to do so professionally since 2004. Migrated over to the business side to manage business affiliates for Future PLC (UK publisher with a global portfolio). Monetization through the affiliate side. Writing daily for 15 years, waiting for any moment to turn into a book. Experts are at the forefront of doing so.

Maria Ribas: Literary representation in lifestyle non-fiction space: cooking design, lots of highly illustrated books. Help you get the book deal and help throughout the process.

Kristen Frantz: VP at independent press in Oakland. Publish non-fiction books in the area of self-help, business, management leadership and current affairs.

Denene Millner: NYT bestselling author of 25 books, two coming out this year. One with Taraji P. Hensen. Publisher of new imprint designed as a love letter to African-American children who rarely get to see themselves in books and their everyday experiences. Editor/founder of, writing on the intersection of parenting/race for eight years.

Barb Dybwad: Good place to start is at the start. I have all this material on a bunch of different topics. How do you determine if what you have already is going to be interesting to people in book form? How do you take the work you've already done and create a book or take a single topic and make it into a book. What makes an interesting pitch? How do you take the daily collection into a bound book?

Maria Ribas: The first thing anyone in publishing would ask is your platform. Novel or non-fiction, assuming non-fiction. The first question would be what is the market for the book and how are you going to reach that market? Writing online versus putting your book in a marketplace is you need to prove people out there want to read what you have and sell to them.

Kristen Frantz: Difference between blog and book content is that a book focuses on one big idea and what the book content allows you to do is delve in deeper on one compelling idea. That's one difference with book content. Book content also allows you to reach different markets outside of your blog audience, such as bookstores, libraries, gift stores, potentially as a training program, speaking engagements. A lot of opportunities for book content to get out there.

Denene Millner: Working on imprint from My Brown Baby to curate a book from more than 2,000 blog posts. Some wrote in the middle of the night that didn't make sense for a book, and others that were passionate and raw that fell into categories. Go through categories and determine what are the strongest categories and edited down. And then pulled out more that made sense. About organization and determining what was the most passionate writing. You want to have some kind of passion to make people pick up the book and buy it. If you've spent the last five years writing about diapers, it might not work for a book.

Barb Dybwad: Like the idea of finding what already resonates with people. Market often considered the blog audience. Is that enough to meet the threshold of finding a market? Especially for writers focused on the creative side as opposed to the business side. How do you start crossing into the marketing side of taking a blog audience and conceive of that as a traditional publisher market?

Maria Ribas: What is my goal in doing the book? If the goal is to make current audience happy, that's great, but if you want to reach a new audience, need to stand on its own as a quality book that someone will pick up and find interesting in the store regardless of knowing the author or not. A book is a lot of work. You want to expand your audience with a book. Many options to create a specific option for your audience. On the traditional publishing route, it needs to exist in the market on its own.

Kristen Frantz: Worked with regular bloggers with large social media audience, but when book brought out they didn't have enough audience to market the book. Put something out as the thought leader on the topic. Strong social media/blogging not always enough. Think about online presence, speaking a large factor in book sales, other ways you can get the book really circulated, build you email list is key for authors. Biggest success comes from a strong, devoted email list. Business authors often blog regularly and build their email list and when a book comes out, they send an email blast and get responses where companies will want to buy 500 copies of the book. Leveraging email list and speaking is key.

Denene Millner: Agree with other comments. Just because you get 500 likes on Facebook doesn't mean you'll get 500 people to buy your book. Social media presence doesn't necessarily translate into sold book. For her book, building an audience solely to her books to get people into the zone of blogger versus author, and we want you to buy the books. Getting media presence on TV and talking about parenting and naturally translates into background and show she's an expert. Use your platform to talk outside your blog and social media channels.

Barb Dybwad: Good point about 500 likes on Facebook not the same as 500 book sales. As I made the shift to marketing, one of the most useful models was the idea of a purchasing funnel. Can someone elaborate on the funnel and how to get some kind of sense of converting social media.

Denene Millner: Talking to an amazing marketing who runs site Black And Married With Kids, and they do work in converting their audience into sales. He offers their audience things they want and need, and if you are black and want to be married with children, he knows how to talk with you directly. Get emails every week about products they offer, including give-aways for free in exchange for an email address, and they call it upsells. They figured out how to convert their audience, and a 10 percent conversion is pretty good.

Barb Dybwad: Any other thoughts on how that funnel works, out of 500 likes, only 10 percent say they're interested and then 10 percent that buy it?

Kristen Frantz: A lot of authors have success doing a quiz or an assessment that collects an email address when you visit the website. Offer consulting or speaking, as well as companion workbooks.

Maria Ribas: Increasing conversion is engagement. Has become a buzzword. Have to look carefully at the type of audience you're building, and look at the depth of the connection. One of the most important things is to be a real person and connecting on a deeper level with your audience. There's lots of places where people can find the information, but it's your unique perspective that makes you stand out. See this a lot with successful cookbooks based on food blogs -- share the recopies and stories from their lives. Feeling like they know you and feeling like you're a friend makes a big difference. Want people to care enough to spend money on you.

Barb Dybwad: Beyond a general sense of having a market, how savvy do authors really need to be? Should you make it a priority? Should you take a course in marketing? Are there expectations for the author to be involved in the process and has that changed at all?

Maria Ribas: Think this is one of the things that changed most drastically. Used to be writers wrote the content and pass it off. Now author is entirely the driving force behind marketing. Publisher will give you insights, but it's you, your audience and your voice is much bigger now than writing a book. A lot of work, but a good way to grow your name in a national way and get your name out there.

Kristen Frantz: President of our company writes a piece called "The 10 Awful Truths Of Book Publishing" with stats. With small publishing, there's a lot of competition between free online media and buying a book. As a publisher, we won't publish a book without an author having a full marketing plan. Publishing guidelines available via Twitter account, and includes what is required. The blogger is closest to the audience, and just putting out books doesn't work anymore. Large and small bookshops are skeptical and harder to get into. One thing we do is partner with the author throughout the entire process. Bring the author in six months before publication and meet the office.

Denene Millner: Wrote first book, "Sisters Rules," publisher sent her on a 10-city book tour, and it was rooms full of people buying the books. In 2009 with Steve Harvey's book, the publisher loved the book, but nobody thought it would do well because he had the Steve Harvey show in the '90s, and nobody thought the book would take off like it did because nobody really understood is platform and how much he would talk up the book. It did very well because Steve Harvey talked it up almost a year in advance. He had a radio show and a huge platform, and he pushed the book every day on his radio show. He walked in very clear that he couldn't rely on the publisher to promote his book, didn't get big book signings because nobody thought it would do well. Huge part of the proposals even for celebrities is the marketing proposal. Charlie Wilson, frontman for the Gatt Band and now a solo artist, and has a great, hard story and finding his way back to the spotlight. Part of that marketing plan was aligning a tour video about the book, telling an arena to buy his book, selling books at the venue, through social media. Same deal with Taraji P. Hensen. She has to let people know it's coming because it's not guaranteed that she'll even get to talk about it on a TV interview. In 1997, people said what they can do for you, and now it's what can you do for us?

Maria Ribas: It's a wonderful time to be an author because you don't have to go into the two-year process not knowing if your book is going to do well. When the book comes out, you hope it does well and get media placements. You don't have to worry about that anymore if you have an audience because you'll be able to see your Amazon ranking go up. You'll know if people are going to buy the book and are able to build a cushion so it becomes a more successful process, if you start early.

Barb Dybwad: You mentioned two years is the timeframe and it's a lot of work. When do you start pitching to when you can expect to be accepted, and then to when you'll be published?

Maria Ribas: It takes years and years of the author building their platform, and then a literary agent would come in. Depending on schedules, can take from six weeks to a year. Need to have an outstanding proposal to blow editors away and get them excited about the book deal and to end up with the right publisher and a priority title so you get a majority of their marketing resources. Proposal gets sent to houses and hope lots of people are interested. Once the contract is reached, that's when the two years starts. Non-fiction sold on proposal, not fulling written. Take six months to a year to write, and then a year to market the book.

Kristen Frantz: Usually from contract to publication is a year. Author has often written pieces of the book before it's signed. Then a schedule is established for a draft manuscript and get a critical review and the editor works with the author to revise. About six months from review to finalized. During that time goes through copyedit, design, cover design (usually earlier) and then working with the author through the process of doing the edits through final publication.

Denene Millner: Never had two years to write a book. Usually writes in two to six weeks.

Maria Ribas: Working on a crash title, which has a fast turn around.

Barb Dybwad: How do you figure out who you should be pitching?

Denene Millner: Agent will know who to pitch, and best advice is to get an agent. It's the difference between walking into court with a lawyer.

Audience Member: How?

Denene Millner: For first book, the editor who was going to pick it up wanted the book in a month for $15,000. A friend's agent talked to her on her behalf without understanding why, and by the time the agent finished with it, she had a $50,000 advance. The agent is going to let them know you're represented and will make sure it's a good match for the publisher. As an author pays attention to the landscape, but that's an agent's job to make relationships with editors and know the lay of the land, what people are looking for, and come back and inform who and what a proposal should be written for. Agent Victoria spends her days trying to figure out how to make authors money.

Kristen Frantz: Don't have to have an agent to come to us. Very author friendly, but part of philosophy is not to pay big advances. has a copy of tie publication agreement and why they think the agreement is fair. Have a clause that the author can get out of the contract at any time with a six month window. Only had that happen once in 24-year history. Work with agents all the time, and they're experts and can help you figure things out. Important to find the right publisher based on visiting the bookstore and see who's publishing in your area. The right fit with the right publisher will get you the most out of the relationship. Better to be a lead title in a smaller house.

Audience Member: Let's say you can tackle all those big things -- speaking engagements, wide audience and book proposal written -- how do you go about finding the right agent? Or finding the right publisher? How do you find the right agent when your book might be too similar to other books in the space?

Maria Ribas: Find an agent in your space. Publishing world is very small, and literary agents go on lunches and talk about what they're looking for. Couldn't take on fiction because not a fiction agent, but within my space, they all know each other. Don't necessarily want to be with a generalist, you want someone who really knows your category to keep up with the trends. To find agents, look for authors you love and look in the acknowledgments and start doing research from there.

Barb Dybwad: Talked about how having an agent can increase advance, but are there any other things to be aware of in an agreement, either gotchas or definite asks for a contract?

Denene Millner: Film and television rights. If you don't know you'd like to keep those rights, the publisher may decide they have the film and TV rights and they'll only give you 50 percent. The flip side is your publisher may not be interested in flipping it. With the rights, able to have more flexibility for film and TV. Also audio rights and foreign rights. Without an agent, like walking into a court room without a lawyer and not knowing law.

Audience Member: When pitching your proposal, how important is your social media footprint in numbers versus quality?

Kristen Frantz: For us, we don't need huge numbers. More interested in consistency, consistent blogged and an email list of a few thousand names. Twitter followers in to 5,000-10,0000 range, same numbers on LinkedIn, coupled with the plan.

Maria Ribas: Both quantity and quality matter. Has signed people with a proposal she wouldn't buy but had a huge platform and asked about a different book. If you can prove you have an audience large enough to buy your book, an agent will probably work with you to find a book that works. An author in the mid-platform range might want to do something more targeted with a specific targeted hook to bring in additional readers.

Audience Member: When you're turning a blog into a book, you can go a collection of essays or a memoir, is one of those more appealing?

Kristen Frantz: For us, one big compelling idea versus taking your blog and creating essays out of it. Compilation books never do as well as books with a central idea.

Maria Ribas: Five years ago, you could have a book with 20 percent repurposed content, but moving away from that. Want to have people spend money on a book so they can't find it online. Even all original essays have a higher bar to gain that platform. Otherwise, focus on a key specific topic.

Audience Member: Because writing about passionate topics, are there safeguards we should take when shopping the content? If the idea is new, how do you protect the idea from being stolen?

Kristen Frantz: The more an author is sharing and being generous with their content, the more the book sells.

Denene Millner: Never had that issues across 30 years of written and 35 books.

Kristen Frantz: Also never had that happen.

Barb Dybwad: In the start-up world, there's a mentality that an idea isn't valuable, it's the execution.

Maria Ribas: That's similar. The idea itself is only 10 percent of what is unique about the proposal.

Barb Dybwad: Copyright by making content public can actually protect things better than protecting them and is then covered by copyright laws.

Audience Member: For Denene Millner, how do you write a book in six weeks?

Denene Millner: The money is really good, but started with the Associated Press before the internet as a journalist. Learned how to bad up everything she was writing and write on deadline. Would write 4-6 stories every day before 3 p.m., and using the phone and calling people to get facts. The reporting ability comes in when doing celebrity memoirs, and being able to write fast and get the information is something learned over the last 30 years. I just get it done. Took time for family to understand the speed. If having to write a book in 6 weeks, including interviewing, transcribing and writing, requires somebody else to cook dinner, take care of the kids, be quiet.