The Big Problem With Blogging Your Book

by Joel Friedlander on October 15, 2010 · 20 comments

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There are lots of different kinds of author blogs, just as there are lots of kinds of authors. And there are many ways for authors to approach blogging as part of building an author platform. For instance, you can write a blog:

  • that’s a personal communication between you and your readers. Particularly if you already have a following, this is a great way to engage with your audience.
  • that adds timely or additional information to the subject you wrote your book about. As an expert, you can use the authority gained from your book to keep offering useful content to your readers, all the while enhancing your “brand.”
  • with the intention of assembling your blog posts into a book. Writers write, that’s what they do. Using a blog to help complete your next book just seems to make sense.

But there are problems with the last type of blog, where you intend to blog your book.

“How to Blog Your Book”

Some writers have advocated using a blog to assemble content for a book. Here’s how this scenario works:

  1. You create a complete outline of every section of the book you want to write. For this method, you want to break chapters up into “chunks” so the individual pieces aren’t too long or too short.
  2. You write a headline for each section of the outline.
  3. You turn each section into a blog post, using the headlines you wrote as the blog titles.
  4. You work through the outline in any order you like, since you know the position of everything in the final book.
  5. Presto! You put all the blog posts together in the order indicated by the outline, and you have a book.

Blogging Isn’t Book Writing

But there’s a serious problem with this plan. A crucial defect. A stumbling block you will be putting in your own way.

Because blogs aren’t books, and pieces of books make pretty bad blog articles. So here’s the problem:

  1. If you write your blog posts as “chunks” of your book, your blog will probably fail to attract any significant readership. Your book doesn’t need SEO, keywords, bullet lists, numbered lists, pull quotes, intriguing headlines or links. It doesn’t need any of the other things we do to create something people actually want to read. As bloggers we strive to publish content that engages web surfers within the few seconds they will look at your page before moving on.
  2. If you try to make a book out of your blog posts, it will probably be unreadable. A book that’s 100,000 words isn’t just 100 one-thousand-word blog posts. Books need to develop their content over the course of the entire work. It usually takes a team of people including the author and one or more editors to create a smooth narrative that communicates the author’s ideas clearly and consistently. Book readers make a commitment to a book that takes a lot longer than a few seconds.

So on the one hand you present readers with content that’s blog-like but in a book: they’re going to be reading a book that’s 75% lists, with bullets, bold type and all the other “chunking” tactics. On the other hand you present blog visitors with long prose sections that refer to other parts of a longer text, parts that aren’t even visible.

It seems to me you lose both ways.

You can certainly use editing to create the content for a book from blog articles, but that’s a long way off from the “blog your book” process.

Has blogging your book worked for you? Would you try it?

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    { 18 comments… read them below or add one }

    Nina Amir May 18, 2012 at 3:12 pm

    I happen to be THE advocate for blogging books, since I wrote the book (literally) on how to do it. Actually, I blogged the book on how to do it. I think it’s a superb way to get your book written and promote it at the same time. That said, I totally agree that you have to edit and revise. And not all blogs are meant to be books.

    There are purists who will say blogs should never be books. I don’t agree.

    And I’m totally with Seth Godin.

    With writer’s so pressed for time and so in need of building platform if they want to create successful books–and with blogs such an asset in author platform building, in my mind there is simply no better way to write your book and promote it (and you) at the same time than to blog your book.

    Reply

    Laura Pauling May 17, 2012 at 7:10 pm

    I never return ebooks – except for last week. I purchased a nonfiction and it was all blog posts. The author made no attempt to smooth it over to make it more like a book and she didn’t add any new content. Plus, the content is free all over the web. So I returned it.

    So I think it’s tricky and still requires a lot of work with added content and editing. Hard to do right.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander May 18, 2012 at 3:27 pm

    Laura, that’s interesting. Some of these books are the product of software that promises to create a “book” from your blog. Of course, very little editing goes into the process, since it’s pretty much automated, and I’m not surprised the result is unsatisfying, for the reasons I mentioned in the article.

    However, I do think now that there are many effective ways to create a book using a blog, but it remains true that you just can’t simply dump articles into a file and send it off to the printer and expect to get something people really want to read.

    Reply

    Nina Amir May 18, 2012 at 4:12 pm

    Laura,

    That’s really a good point. If you blog a book you want to give the reader/buyer an incentive to purchase the book other than just ease of reading. I recommend writers/bloggers not only edit and revise to add depth to and smooth out their blogged copy but that they also add an intro and conclusion and a few extra chapters not found on the blog. Now the blogged book is “new.” Each chapter will read a bit differently than what is on the blog and there is additional content. This makes it worth purchasing.

    Reply

    Christy Pinheiro October 17, 2010 at 11:11 am

    I agree that blog posts make poor books– although I have used blog posts in my published books, in some ways, those writings took much longer to edit and prepare, because I feel that my blog writing is less formal and disjointed in a way (it’s basically free writing– whatever is on my mind at the moment). But a blog is such a great way to get creative juices flowing. It’s been the start of many great ideas.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander October 18, 2010 at 11:00 am

    I think you’ve nailed it here, Christy. There’s no way to avoid the fact that these are different media with different strength. Both are useful. But when transitioning from one to another, it can be a real and sometimes lengthy task to convert what works in one form into something that will work in the other. Thanks for chipping in.

    Reply

    Jamie D. October 15, 2010 at 8:19 pm

    I serialize about every other rough draft I write on my blog (fiction – romance, though I’ll start a thriller in January). I find some of my readers like watching the book develop in smaller increments, and then seeing how it turns out after I’ve revised and had it edited. For me, it’s both built an initial readership, and also made my writing better. Because I have to write each serial installment so that it both draws the reader quickly back into the story (after a couple days away) and leaves them waiting for the next one, each of my scenes pull the reader forward even after I smooth out the transitions in revisions. One of the most common comments I get on my novella is that readers “couldn’t put it down”.

    So perhaps blogging a non-fic book doesn’t work so well…but for me it’s been very good for my fiction, and I intend to keep going with that. :-)

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander October 15, 2010 at 10:09 pm

    Jamie, that’s very interesting, particularly the part about how the way you write for the blog makes your books even more readable when they become a book. Thanks for that.

    Reply

    Nina Amir May 18, 2012 at 4:05 pm

    That’s really interesting, Jamie. I love that you think it makes your writing better! I would think that would be true for fiction, since you do have to consider how you will draw your readers in and keep them coming back day to day.

    I’d love for you to visit my blog and shoot me an email. I’m looking for some fiction writers to write some guest posts for me on how they blog their books. I assume your are self-publishing. I’d love to get the details, since it seems to be working so well for you. I’m totally nonfiction, and I agree…it works super well for me.

    Reply

    Susan Daffron October 15, 2010 at 8:56 am

    Yeah, there used to be automated “blook” (blog-to-book) software. I don’t know if it still exists, but I thought that concept was truly awful.

    If the goal is to create a GOOD book, you can’t just cobble a bunch of blog posts together and call it a book. There needs to be an overall plan that includes a carefully crafted outline along with ruthless editing.

    Writing a book isn’t “easy” no matter how you do it. Writing and publishing take work as any published author will attest.

    And hey, thanks for attending the teleseminar! ;-)

    Reply

    Marcus October 15, 2010 at 3:55 pm

    Interesting that you mention the blog-to-book software, because I just read this morning that Borders has launched a startup doing something similar, called BookBrewer. It’s targeted to ebooks, which may be a little easier transition from blogs than print.

    While I have to wonder how effective their conversion will be, I’m interested in how it shakes out. My biggest concern is that it removes one of the most important steps in publishing, the editor, who’s been discussed in these last few comments. I’m worried about a world in which a tool exists to go directly from blog to book, because it may make people think there’s no need for the careful crafting and overall plan that make good books good.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander October 15, 2010 at 10:06 pm

    Marcus, this article is actually about the importance of the editorial process in creating books that people actually want to read. Besides that, I have yet to see any “automated” software that can do a decent conversion job on anything other than straight narrative material. It will be interesting to see what BookBrewer can do, thanks for the link.

    Reply

    Nina Amir May 18, 2012 at 4:09 pm

    There are lots of different options for getting your blog into a book–I mean automated ones. I’ve never used any of them. I could probably list at least 5. I usually tell people to copy and past their posts into a manuscript. And then to edit, revise, and then hire an editor. Even if you blog your book, you will still need to do this to make your book flow well as far as I am concerned. I blogged mine and it still needed a good bit of work from me, and I am a professional editor, and then from both my developmental editor and line editor at Writer’s Digest Books. So I DO NOT recommend just automatically converting a blog to a book with these programs or doing it with anything that leaves your book looking like a blog. Blech.

    Reply

    Susan Daffron October 15, 2010 at 7:25 am

    I agree that any book that starts as blog posts needs to be edited. However, I disagree that online writing (i.e. blog posts) can’t be turned into books. It’s particularly helpful if you are writing non-fiction, although it could work for fiction too. (Think “serialization,” which has been around since Charles Dickens was writing.)

    Most of my writing is online and now most of it is now in book form too. Seth Godin has done the same thing. I’m no Seth, but my books have won awards. Most people don’t have any idea my books started as online articles. (I know this because they’ve told me.) That’s the value of good editing.

    The process is not “automatic” but it can be done. The problem most people have with writing a book is the writing part. If blogging is what you need to do to actually write something, there’s no reason that writing can’t be used in a book later, if you are strategic about it. One of our training classes explains how.

    I’ve published 10 books that make money for me now. If I hadn’t drawn from my online writing, they wouldn’t exist.

    Another advantage is that with a blog, you can find out from readers what they need to know before the book is even finished. You actually end up writing the book readers need and want. Chris Anderson did this with the Long Tail. The blog can also then be used to promote the book, after the book is published. With the blog, ideally you have attracted a ready audience of folks who are interested in the topic and buy the book.

    Susan Daffron
    Logical Expressions, Inc. http://www.LogicalExpressions.com
    SelfPubU – http://www.SelfPubU.com

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander October 15, 2010 at 8:46 am

    Hey Susan, thanks for your thoughtful comments. I was trying to point out here that there’s no “easy” path from blog to book or book to blog.

    >The process is not “automatic” but it can be done.

    Yes, exactly. I don’t think you can simply glide over the reality that to create really good books the editing needed is not trivial and can become a pretty big project in itself.

    As writers, using blogs to generate content is an excellent and practical idea, and I’m doing it also. (I learned a lot from your telesiminar on this subject, thanks for that!) Mostly what I was trying to point out here was the impossibility of simply dumping content meant for one form into another and expecting it to work.

    Reply

    Michael N. Marcus October 15, 2010 at 12:21 am

    While some of my blog posts have evolved into book chapters, much more flows the other way — from book to blog.

    At any moment, I am typically involved with several books and blogs, so a subject that attracts or interests me could end up in any medium, or in multiple media.

    From a marketing standpoint, exerpts of a book offered for free online may interest readers to buy books.

    Michael N. Marcus

    http://www.BookMakingBlog.blogspot.com
    http://www.Self-Pub.info
    — Create Better Books, with the Silver Sands Publishing Series: http://www.silversandsbooks.com/booksaboutpublishing.html
    — “Stories I’d Tell My Children (but maybe not until they’re adults),” http://www.amazon.com/dp/0981661750

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander October 15, 2010 at 8:28 am

    Well, now we know where all those prolific blog posts come from Michael. Do you do anything to your content to put it into a format more suited to blogging when you transfer it from your books? That’s what I would be interested in.

    Reply

    Michael N. Marcus October 15, 2010 at 10:23 am

    >>now we know where all those prolific blog posts come from<>Do you do anything to your content to put it into a format more suited to blogging<<

    It depends on the material, but the adaptation is usually pretty simple. Of course, most of my books are non-fiction how-to's — not novels — so they're easy to copy-n-paste.

    Yesterday and today my http://BookMakingBlog.blogspot.com has a two-parter with cover design tips that came from a book about self-pubbing. It didn't need much work.

    I changed some paragraph sequences, may have combined or broken up paragraphs, used some different artwork (color instead of grayscale, for example), changed artwork size and positions (since I'm dealing with one tall "page," not two-page spreads). I also did some updates.

    I made the two blog posts out of approx. eight pages of a twelve-page chapter.

    It's important to be aware that while a blog page can be infinitely tall, there is a limit to what people will read at one time, and a long page may make it hard for people to keep track of where they are. Breaker heads and changes in text weight and color, and photos can help.

    Last year I published a book on telecommunications. It included some material from I book I wrote in 1976, and material written for magazine articles and websites (in the pre-blog era going back to 1995). After the book came out, I used some of its text in my now-dormant telecom blog.

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