Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Is your best route to a book through a blog? Sometimes.

Say you want to write a book.

What's the best way to get to be a published author? Start blogging. Get a million readers. (This reminds me of the old Steve Martin joke: How do you become a millionaire? You take a million dollars, put it in the bank...)

This blog-to-book thing began a few years ago, and took over in part because publishers are looking for writers who already have what they call "a platform." (This translates into risk-free, sales without spending money on publicity.) And blogs and Twitter feeds are a big-time platform. There are lots of examples, the most famous of which is probably Julie and Julia, which went from blog-to-book-to-movie.

Justin Halpern's hilarious Twitter feed, Shit My Dad Says, went from Tweet-to-book-to-sitcom, featuring William Shatner. (Of course, Halpern was a comedy writer to begin with. And he has 1.5 million followers on Twitter.)

In some cases, the authors didn't even have to work for months on a book proposal!
This drives old people crazy and makes them dismissive of this trend. Where are the long years of suffering?

Case in point: Mad Man blogger Natasha Vargas-Cooper. The publisher called her. Her book, Mad Men Unbuttoned is a collection of essays spun off from her blog, Footnotes of Mad Men.

Here's what she told writer Kevin Nguyen about the blog-to-book process in The Bygone Bureau, an online magazine:

For the blog, and probably for the book too, where do you do most of your research?

Oh my god. So the book was much different beast than the blog. I actually thought, how hard can it be to write a book? Please. But that shit is hard!

For the blog, I try to do it instantly. If it airs on Sunday, that shit should be up Sunday night, at the latest Monday. That’s just the cycle of the internet, which is fine. With the book I wanted something lasting, and something that works beyond the ephemeral. So I did a lot of research at the UCLA library and their archives and at the Cal Arts library. They have a really great art and animation school. So you have a lot of 1960s early design that was coming out of California.

Her book, which features 86 essays, is probably more substantive than most of the blog-to-books out there, which include tomes as deep as Texts from Last Night, and lots of others. Is this trend a publishing bubble? It depends on whether the publishers make money on these books.

Here's a Gawker post from 2008 that asks whether these blog-to-books will actually sell.

It would be interesting to find out the answer to this in 2010. What strikes me in this post is the dollar amount of the contracts: $350,000 for a book based on this blog??

A former student of mine did write a proposal and eventually found a publisher willing to give her a fraction of that amount for her blog-to-book. She's working on it now. The thing is a great, snarky, funny idea that took off like a TGV earlier this year, thanks to a Twitter feed that went nuts on the first day.

Even though the amount was less than half of her annual salary, she quit her job and is throwing all her energy into the book. She's investing her time on the gamble that she'll now be a blogger/book author. I hope she succeeds.

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