Thursday, February 10, 2011

Blogs-to-Books: Cashing in on the Blogosphere

In the race to monetize new media, new strategies are emerging every month (or so it seems). One that is paying off for some writers is to transform their blogs into books. Several well-known blogs have already capitalized on this trend: Julie & Julia, PostSecret, and Stuff White People Like. In the case of Julie & Julia, the author, Julie Powell, has cashed in on a major movie deal with the result being a wonderful studio picture written and directed by Nora Ephron and starring Meryl Streep. Beats a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, eh Julie?

Since 2005, publishers have been looking to the Internet for new opportunities and grist for the pub mill. What they are finding is that there is a lot of "talent" out there. "Talent" here does not mean we're talking about high literature; what it means is that bloggers are producing high-concept, commercial, and marketable fare that adapt well to traditional formats—voila, profit center. Make no mistake, some of these blogger/authors are writing some fun, entertaining blogs. Julie Powell's is a great example of a personal journey worthy of any literary treatment. Julie's story would have made a great book right from the git-go. But, if you look at the other two blogs mentioned earlier, you'll see instantly how they could adapt to a nonfiction format designed for any coffee table.

It should be noted that when I say blog-to-book I'm not talking about the numerous companies (Blogbinders, Blog Books, Blog2Print, etc.) "out there" who provide fee-based services for you to "transform" your blog into a printed book. These are fine for vanity projects, or folks who want a down-dirty hard copy. NO, I'm talking about a traditional publisher and/or agent making a deal with you to get your blog published in a traditional way.

So, what do you have to do to transform your blog into a book? Or is this some backward step in media evolution? Should authors shun "old" forms like print media and look forward—always forward?

Consider what several bloggers told Mashable: The Social Media Guide regarding their recent blog-to-book deals:

Blogger: Ben Huh

Blog: A collection of photos and videos depicting various kinds of failure. Huh acquired the blog in January of 2008 with his company, Pet Holdings — of I Can Has Cheezburger? fame.

Book: Fail Nation: A Visual Romp Through the World of Epic Fails, released in October 2009 by Harper Paperbacks, is basically the blog in book form — except formatted like a travel guide with landmarks and cultural notes.

Public Reaction: “We’ve helped infect the Internet with cat fever and popularize the word ‘FAIL’ world over.”

Highest traffic point: “Every month, we currently have 220 million page views and more than 12 million people coming to the Cheezburger Network.”

How did the book deal come about?: “We were contacted by several literary agents and we pushed it off for a while until we finally had the time to do it.”

Pamela Slim

Blog: Escape From Cubicle Nation shows readers how to do just that — bust out free from those three gray walls and start their own businesses.

Book: Escape From Cubicle Nation: From Corporate Prisoner to Thriving Entrepreneur, released in April 2009 by Portfolio Hardcover, is a guidebook containing Slim’s best material instructing corporate drones how to strike out on their lonesomes.

Highest traffic point: “At it’s highest point, it was about 100,000 page views a month. I have never had a tremendously high traffic blog or large number of subscribers. But I have a lot of really nice readers who happen to be the kind of people who pass on my articles to others.”

How did the book deal come about?: “I got my current book deal when my publisher (Penguin/Portfolio) approached me. I had dabbled in the idea of writing a book before and had met an agent through another author friend, but the effort didn’t really go anywhere. Frustrated by lack of action and no creativity in coming up with a good proposal, I just gave up and went back to blogging. About a year and a half later, I got an e-mail from Penguin saying they were very interested in my writing and wondered if I could put together a proposal. Since they were my number one choice for a publishing house, I moved like lightening. We closed a deal in six weeks.”

Blogger: Walker Lamond

Blog: A collection fatherly advice on how to be a good man.

Book: Rules for My Unborn Son, released in October 2009 by St. Martins — like the blog — offers a collection of advice from father to son.

Public Reaction: “My mom really likes it. And as it turns out, quite a few other people too. Within a few weeks of going online, I attracted my core group of a few thousand readers–mostly thanks to the Tumblr community, which (contrary to popular opinion of bloggers) is incredibly supportive, especially to new writers and ideas. I thought more people might call me out on being too earnest or square, but the reaction from most people has been really positive. You need a break from the snark and irony once in a while.”

Traffic-driving methods: “Tumblr. Without it I have no idea how anyone outside my group of friends would have found the site. But the staff at Tumblr and a few of the popular bloggers saw it and wrote about it, and I was off and running. Twitter has been a surprisingly good way to get more readers. The content on my site seems well suited for it, simply because it is short and a whole post usually fits in one tweet. It doesn’t drive people to my website, but the content gets passed around and I think that has helped strengthen the brand if you will.”

Highest traffic point: “That’s like asking someone their salary. It’s not a runaway hit like Penguins or What Fat People Like or one of those hot memes, but I think more people have read my site than say, the books of Ethan Hawke. So that’s something.”


These are just three examples from the December 17, 2009 post at
Mashable: The Social Media Guide. One thing to note on all these examples is the volume of hits per month (average). In order to get noticed by potential agents and pubs your blog will have to be in the hundreds of thousands or millions of hits per month. This is a lot of traffic! So, one of the success factors for getting your blog-to-book involves really savvy social network marketing strategizing on your part and really, really, really good SEO (search engine optimization). I'm going to do a more detailed post later down the line about steps bloggers need to take to leverage this process of book-to-blog for maximum results. I'm working with a friend on turning her terrific blog into a book, as we "speak," so I'll have some real-world experience with this in short order.

In the meantime, my take on this is pretty simple. Worry about print in ten years, not now. Right now, everything is on the table. Books are not going anywhere, but they are going to move into the background and lose their primacy as first-and-only choice for readers. As e-books evolve and become more viral, their print versions will become the aftermarket, rather than the other way around. But, right now print books are selling very well (not fiction!—nonfiction). Leveraging this fact is only smart if a blogger has a marketable idea that will translate to a printed page.

It's not enough to just write your clever blog. You have to market it, make it as viral as H1N1, and build your base into millions of hits. This means using every social media trick in the book—pun intended. Blog-to-book—one more window opens for writers, and it's a good thing.

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