Which Comes First, the Chicken or the Blog: Pitching a Blog-to-Book Idea or Moving from Book-to-Blog

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Smiling girl

Once upon a time, writers wrote a book, then launched a blog to help promote it. I did that. And now, for my next act, I’m thinking about going in the opposite direction. Why? Because in the new world publishing order, where "platform" is key to an author’s success, writers are learning the importance of engaging readers well before their book is born. Yet authors, both emerging and established, are left with justifiable questions about the order of things.

Here are just a few:

1. Logistics -— Do I start the blog before I land the book contract, or after?

2. Creative process —- Do I use the blog as a sounding board through which to develop the book idea, or do I think through the book and then turn to the blog?

3. Redundancy and originality —- How do I leverage the blog to generate interest in the book, rather than “give” it all away before the book comes out? How much material from the blog will my publisher allow me to use in the book, and how does that affect what content goes into the book and what goes on the blog?

There are as many answers to these questions as there are blogs. Well, perhaps not quite as many. But to show you what I mean, let me break this down.

1. Logistics

In speaking to She Writers who have succeeded, exponentially, in moving from blog to book, I’ve learned that there are some (like Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project book and blog) who started with the book contract then built the blog. Others, like Pamela Redmond Satran, author of the book How Not to Act Old and a blog of the same name, started the blog because she couldn't sell the idea as a magazine article and was eager to learn about blogging nevertheless. Both Gretchen and Pamela’s books were New York Times bestsellers. Egg, chicken. Chicken, egg.

2. Creative Process

This one’s still more complicated. Some of us like to think in public, in the messy, free-associative, hyperlinked way that blogs allow. Writers who begin as bloggers are conditioned to create in this way. But for others, including those seasoned writers among us who entered the craft long before the web hatched, creativity takes place in private, in the “shed,” to borrow a term from jazz. As journalist Sarah Glazer recently wrote in a column titled “Writing as Solitude,” not everything we write should go instantly to readers. Sarah quotes New Republic art critic Jed Perl, who says, “Writing, before it is anything else, is a way of clarifying one’s thoughts. For many of us who love the act of writing ... there is something monastic about the process, a confrontation with one’s thoughts that has a value apart from the proximity or even perhaps the desirability of any other readers.” She goes on to question “whether the very personal Internet blog, by breaking down the traditional privacy of the diary, can actually make for worse writing -— when there’s no time for reflection or for the critical eye of an editor. A kind of garrulousness descending into logorrhea.” Sarah Glazer is not alone. ‘Nuf said.

3. Originality

Here is where publishers, methinks, are short-sighted -- and confusing us all. As Pamela suggested in a recent She Writes Radio interview with our own Kamy Wicoff (fast fwd to 6:30 if you listen), publishers, understandably baffled by a rapidly changing landscape, are hoarding and acting a bit like government subsidies that pay farmers not to farm. Over the past decade, traditional book publishers, who face stiff competition from online content -— including, at times, online versions of their own -— have learned to cover their bases. Book contracts these days often presuppose the publisher’s right to digital content, as well as rights in any medium that is known now or might be developed in the future and known to God or man. That leaves little room for the author to play.

As a book author-turned-blogger-turned-book-author-again-one-day, I have to wonder whether we all wouldn’t be better served if publishers acted as partners with their most cyber-innovative authors, encouraging experimentation through online forms rather than reactively reining us in. Might not more be gained, both for creativity and the bottom line, by embracing innovation in the very way we create our prose, and in the way we nurture audience? For here is where the rubber hits the road.

Platform, Virginia

At the end of the day, it all boils down to platform. Ah, platform, ubiquitous and, for reluctant adapters, cantankerous-sounding term. My Encarta World English Dictionary defines it as: 1. a raised level area of flooring for speakers, performers, or participants in a ceremony, making them easily visible to the audience. 5. the publicly announced policies and promises of a party seeking election, understood as the basis of its actions should it come to power. 6. a position of authority or prominence that provides a good opportunity for doing something. Authorial platform bears resonance with each sense of the word. It’s the ground on which we, as authors, stand -— metaphorically, literarily, and authoritatively. Less to do with shoes, it has everything to do with sales. Chicken, egg, sales.

At She Writes, the site I co-founded with the author Kamy Wicoff, we’re working hard to build a platform on which all of us can stand. In the meantime, publishers may not be our best allies when it comes to figuring out the order in which to write a book and blog. But we can turn to each other to share best practices and strategize what’s next.

In that regard, I hope you’ll join me on Wednesday, July 14 from 1-2pm ET (register here), when I’ll host an hour-long webinar with the aforementioned Pamela Redmond Satran. She’ll tell us how she created her blog hownottoactold.com, sold it as a book in under two months to Harper Collins, made that book into a bestseller, and had that bestseller optioned by DreamWorks. As with so much of what we’re doing at She Writes, this is a nuts and bolts learning opportunity. It covers everything from launching your blog to turning it into a book proposal to using your online presence to vault onto the bestseller list ... and beyond.

Beyond? Yes, beyond. Because whether we blog simply to express or with the high hopes of one day publishing a book, our words have the power to transport readers, whether they find us online or on the shelf, whether they make us bestsellers or merely architects of platform’s future.

Or is that future’s platform?

Be·yond : an area that lies outside what is known.


This post was originally posted at She Writes, a community and resource for women who write.

Deborah Siegel, Founding Partner of She Writes [www.shewrites.com], a community, resource, and virtual workplace for women who write

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