by Laura Matthews (@thinkStory)
With more writers blogging, and with self-publishing making it easier than ever for bloggers to repurpose their content, the distinction between the two is gradually disappearing. But books and blogs are very different in some ways. I’ve written often here about “booking your blog” and other ways that blogging and publishing intersect, so I’m excited today to offer you this article from Laura Matthews on how you bloggers might start to think about getting your content into books and actually (gasp!) having people pay you for your work. Interested? Read on.
You’ve been writing your blog for a while, maybe for years, and you’ve got a bit of a following. Unfortunately, all that word count doesn’t help pay the bills. Someone says, “Why don’t you sell your blog as a book? It’s free money.” Your heart goes “cha-ching!”
This scenario isn’t too far out there. Maybe it’s not quite free money, but it is money you’re leaving on the table. You probably have all kinds of great material in your blog. So how do you go about shaping it into a book (or books)?
First, it’s important to consider the primary difference between a blog and a book.
A blog, by its nature, is chronological—entries are posted on a particular date to meet a particular need. Books, not so much. The only important chronological moment for a book is the moment the reader picks it up.
It’s the moment in their life that matters, not the moment you wrote the blog entry. The text therefore needs to be edited to be distinctly relevant to the reader’s life, not the writer’s. The book has to stand on its own separate from the calendar or the Internet and continue to be relevant into the foreseeable future to extend its shelf life.
For this and other reasons, it’s best to avoid those “publish it fast” services that allow you to upload your entire blog for conversion into a manuscript. This results in basically a printed out version of your blog by date. Without any editing or organizing, readers may find themselves confused, or worse, bored. Who wants a book that could be titled “Blog Entries, 2011”? Not the best use of your material.
Instead, the only printout you should do is for you. Printing out each blog entry on separate sheets (sorry trees!) can make it simple to sort entries into the different topics your blog has covered over the years—which brings us to the next step.
While blogs can cover whatever myriad interests the author has, a book generally presents a single theme or subject and develops it fully. For example, I know a blogger who blogs about:
- current events,
- how she’s losing weight, and
- cute stories about her dog.
If I were her editor, I’d tell her to separate out entries for #1, #4, and #5 to see if there’s enough material to do a book about each.
I’d also tell her not to bother with the movies or the current events unless somehow they can be made timeless—a larger editing job. But it could be she’s got three books in there that she could leverage into money makers.
Once you’ve got your subject and a batch of blog entries that could make up your book, it’s time to throw them all into one Word document and start honing the material for publication. Here are some things to consider as you edit.
Time flows differently in a book. In a blog, you can say “the other day” or “last week” because the date stamp of the blog entry is there to orient the reader. In a book, you can’t. Saying “recently” in a book doesn’t make sense, because even publication dates on books are often far distant from the date of the events the book is retelling. So, in a book, you’d need to give specific time frames, like “early in 2012,” or “after I got engaged.”
Blog entries are by nature brief. In a book, you have more space and there’s more need to be complete.
For example, if you mention Ben Franklin and his kite-flying in a blog entry, like I just did, you may only have to say as much as I’ve done here if you include the link. People who know who he is enough to get the reference can skip the link. If they don’t remember enough about him to understand, they have the choice to click and find out more.
In a book, you’d need to serve both kinds of readers. You’d need to explain, right at the point of mention, who the yay Ben Franklin is and what he did with that kite, because believe it or not, not everyone will know.
Blogs frequently reference outside sources. Say you have an affinity for CS Lewis, and his ideas frequently dovetail with yours. In a blog entry, you might give him a simple characterization every time, such as “the author of the Narnia stories,” or “the famous Christian apologetic” (or you might just link to his biography on Wikipedia).
In a book, you’d handle this differently. On first mention, you’d give a deeper explanation of why you like him, something that the reader will remember. Then, you can quote him throughout the book without further characterization.
Another issue is quoting outside material. When you can link, like on a blog, this is great. You can use a brief excerpt or a few lines, then link to a source for the content in full.
In a book, you can’t link, so you must give full credit in a reference, either with a footnote or endnotes, preferably to a print version rather than an online page (since the link might change). At times, you might even need permission to use the material, especially for complete works such as poetry, lyrics, or photographs.
Blog entries are more forgiving of the habitual phrases we all use as writers, because each entry is standalone and readers probably only read them one at a time. However, our “crutch” phrases need to be spotted and minimized in a book manuscript.
Phrases we love, such as “again and again” or “I’ve often thought that” probably should only appear once in a book.
Titles of blog entries don’t always translate well to being titles of chapters in a book. While you might have “What I learned on 9/11” on a blog post because it’s good for SEO, in a book it’s better to focus on the theme, i.e., “Healing after Traumatic Events.”
Often blog entries describe some “aha” moment we’d like to share with our readers. We have a sudden inspiration that has truly changed us, and we want everyone to benefit from it. In the blog entry you might say things like, “This has taught me a lot and I now intend to move ahead with implementing it in my life.”
In a book, you’ll want to state not only the intention but also the results. How did whatever it was help you going forward? How did it impact your life?
If you write about your personal life, make sure the events all cohere. In a blog, you can tell the same story five different ways in a six-month period, knowing that readers probably won’t remember all the details every time. You might refer to your tenth birthday as the one where you suffered the disappointment of chocolate cake instead of vanilla. Months later, you might talk about your tenth birthday as the amazing time Grandpa taught you to fish.
In a book, these two accounts would need to be harmonized. Was it a great birthday or a lousy one?
Likewise, if you’re using a current event as an example—such as a story about a woman who remained positive even after losing her home in a fire—in a book you’d want to include the ending of the story. Enough time has probably passed that you could find out if the woman is okay now.
In the blog entry, you might say, “I hope only the best for her going forward.” In the book, the reader wants to know if that hope came true.
Go Forth and Publish
These are just a few things to think about when developing a book from a blog. The most important point is to remember when people read a book, they have different expectations than when they’re reading a blog (even if they’re the same person). Editing to fulfill those different expectations will make your book relevant and engaging, and perhaps bring you a little more of that cash. Cha-ching!
Laura Matthews is a freelance book editor in Santa Monica, California. Find out more about her Blog2Book service at her website, www.thinkStory.biz.