Books are an old-fashioned medium, much like albums. In the iTunes era, the album model has increasingly struggled, and these days each single needs to stand on its own. I imagine this will happen with books via the ebook revolution soon. Right now, if you want chapter 1 of one of my books, I can make you buy chapter 8. In the future, you’ll be able to see that while 76% of people like you enjoyed chapter 1, only 15% of people like you made it through chapter 8. So you probably won’t download that one. And eventually, authors won’t crank out the chapter 8s of the world.
But for now, some of us are still cranking out full albums. All the Money in the World is the first book I’ve written while blogging daily. I know some high-brow literary types think blogging is debasing the English language. Personally, I think the authors of old were missing out on a critical writing tool: instant, argumentative feedback. A blog is like a standing focus group, letting me workshop my writing over and over again. I think of it as a college creative writing course, only much cheaper. I test drove chunks of the material on the blog, and in columns and features. I got to see what people responded strongly to, and what just fizzled. To be sure, the tone is different in books than on blogs — the writing is slightly more formal and the author can’t assume the reader is approaching the material within a day or two of you writing it. Still, in the past with books, we had to guess what people would find appealing. Now we know.
Currently, I’m in the process of re-engineering the book back out into new blog posts, columns, features, etc. Exactly how many 800-word articles and posts can an 80,000 word book be turned into? I’m starting to think the answer is more than the 100 math would suggest. But I’m also seeing that while my book is informing my blog, the existence of the blogosphere is informing book writing as well. You don’t want to write a book that can be summed up in a single article. Because then that one article will be written, and then you’ll be done. These days, we need constant content. In the age of blogs, non-fiction books need to be shaped by the conventions of story-telling, they need a bit of a sprawling scope, and they should have some personality, so that people like living in the author’s head for a while. They should like it for 800 words, and they should like it for 80,000 words too.
What books by bloggers have you read, and what blogs kept by authors do you enjoy?
photo courtesy flickr user Lin Pernille Photography
12 thoughts on “Book writing in the age of blogs”
This may not be what you’re getting at, but I think part of the appeal of blogs is the personal storyline.
For instance, you could buy a book on frugality that would sum up all the tactics I’ve blogged about for the last four years. But what my blog offers is a very personal touch. For example, you don’t just get to hear about how to avoid food waste, you get to watch me me work through the process of learning how to use up what I buy.
And you don’t just read that making a menu can save money, you get to see me do that every week.
And you get to watch me finding silver linings, being content with the simple things in life, or even complaining about being too cold in the dead of winter (the thermostat was at 65 and I don’t do well at that temperature!).
I know that’s an aspect of blogs that I really, really enjoy as a reader, and the personal touches that you incorporate into your books make them enjoyable to read as well.
@Kristen – certainly the plain how-to book, and definitely the reference book, is pretty much dead. Anything you wish to know is already on the internet. So what works in books and blogs is a bit more personality. Books wind up needing a longer sustained narrative (more of an arc of your story of reducing food waste, for instance), but still need the personal touch.
I believe there will be a shift back to in depth writing. I am getting tired of reading that constant stream of content. Personally, I am finding that when I come across a new blogger or author I want to read more from them about one specific topic.
I am also predicting that authors of nonfiction will move into the online teaching space as I way to connect with readers and promote their ideas.
But to answer your question I am enjoying the blog and writing from Michael Hyatt and Eric Reiss
@Ainslie – thanks for your comment. I will go check those blogs out! There definitely is more of an emphasis on connecting with readers now. I like finding out exactly what readers think, good or bad, and that was a lot harder decades ago. Now, ideally, an author builds readers into a community around certain ideas and interests. I’ve learned that the best customers for my books are newsletter and blog readers. Reaching people through other media helps, but usually it brings them to my blog first. Then they decide to become readers.
Great post Laura. I’m about to find this out for myself, as I may be working on a project that will use some of my blog post writing as the basis for an ebook. Now I’m wondering: after the book is out, can I write blog posts based on a book that was based on blog posts? Stay tuned.
@Michelle – why yes, yes you can. We use all parts of the buffalo here on this blog.
Gretchen Rubin, The Happiness Project
Marion Nestle, Food Politics
I used to have more but I threw out all the marketing and social media guys for being too much of an echo chamber.
@Joy – I’ll have to check out Marion Nestle’s blog, haven’t seen it yet. I see her quoted a lot.
Author/bloggers I read include Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project, Laurie Perry’s Crazy Aunt Purl, Jen Lancaster’s blog Jennsylvania, Sage Cohen’s Path of Possibility blog and, of course, yours!
Very insightful post Laura! I like the real-time feel of blogs especially since I can interact with the author. Since I feel like I “know” the blogger better, purchasing his or her book is another way to connect support someone whose insight I value. An example of a blogger whose book I purchased is your book 168 Hours, You Have More Time Than You Think (of course!) and David Meerman Scott author of The New Rules of PR.
I agree that blogs and online communication has it’s place. But I still love the smell, the rows and rows of books and the ambiance of my local library. Even if books go the way of the dodo bird, I’ll still have my own personal library of books.
And there’s nothing like curling up with a blanket, cup of hot tea or cocoa and a good book on a cold, rainy day.