April 04, 2012 at 11:40 AM EDT
How to turn your blog into a book
We know many of you love your blogs, and gleefully publish photos and posts without thoughts to reuse your work in other forms. But we know some wonder: could this be a book? Recently we wrote about how a WordPress.com blogger scored a book deal for You Are Not So Smart. But what if you [...]

 We know many of you love your blogs, and gleefully publish photos and posts without thoughts to reuse your work in other forms. But we know some wonder: could this be a book? Recently we wrote about how a WordPress.com blogger scored a book deal for You Are Not So Smart. But what if you want to do it all yourself?

As a blogger who has authored several successful books with publishers, and who works on WordPress.com, I recently self-published a book based entirely on posts from my blog. I wanted to see what I could learn, and I’m here to share it all with you.

The book I self-published is called Mindfire: Big Ideas for Curious Minds. It’s a collection of my best essays from my WordPress blog at scottberkun.com, where I write about ideas, creativity and leadership. The book has done well, and has often been in the top 100 books on philosophy and other categories on amazon since it was published.

There are four questions I often get asked by other bloggers.

1. How do you shape a blog into a book?

This is the wrong way to start. A book is a different reading experience than a blog, and to “shape” a blog into a book assumes words are like clay, where you can shove them into any shape you like. A book is a longer reading experience, and every chapter, or every page, needs to line up in a readable way with the others. It will take some effort to rework  material written for a blog to fit well together as a book. Don’t start with the assumption you’ll include every single post on your blog, or keep them in the chronological order they were written.

The first step is to make two lists: possible posts and possible concepts. You might discover a book concept that’s strong, but you only have 10 or 12 posts that fit. That’s ok. You can always choose to write more. Of course the theme of your entire blog could be the theme for a book, but consider other concepts too.

I went back to the beginning and made a list of posts that might be good enough to include. I made a separate list of possible book concepts. One concept I saw in some of my posts was intelligent provocation: asking big questions and offering intelligent and entertaining answers. I filtered the list based on that concept, and arrived at 45 possible posts.  Then I hired an editor to help refine the list, and the result was 30 posts that, while all written independently, fit together into an excellent read.

There are services like Blurb or Blog2print that will take your WordPress.com blog and build a book from it. If your WordPress blog is self-hosted, and not on WordPress.com, you might take a look at Anthologize, a plugin that automates the process of converting your blog into an e-book. But these services do nothing to shape your work into a great read. No software can do this for you.  There is an enormous distance between a ‘book’ and a ‘book someone will enjoy reading’ and that distance is closed only by your hard work.

Plan to take a draft version of your book and ask people to read it. Ask for feedback on improving the order of posts, or which posts don’t fit. You’ll notice people expect tighter and more careful writing in a book, compared to reading posts online. It’s acting on this feedback that makes the difference between a book that feels like a book, and a book that feels like a bunch of random posts thrown together. Revise posts, or write new material, to develop the book into a singular strong narrative. I asked for volunteers on my blog for people to give feedback on the drafts and their input was a key part of making the book so strong.

2. How do you actually (self) publish a book?

To go the traditional route, you’ll need to reach out to publishers or agents and try to find one that’s interested. This takes significant effort beyond writing the book itself. In all cases, traditional or self-published, the hardest part is writing and editing an excellent book. If you’re dedicated to your book, self-publishing can allow you to focus your energy on making the book better, rather than in searching for someone to give you a chance you can give yourself.

If you already have a well edited manuscript, you are most of the way there: the technical parts of self-publishing are surprisingly easy. You take your complete manuscript, after it has been copyedited and reviewed by an editor, and convert it to a PDF. With a PDF in hand, there are many services that will convert your PDF to a print or digital book for you.

For Mindfire, I used Lightning Source for the print edition, and a service called BookBaby to manage the digital editions.  These services list the book on amazon.com, and it can be purchased like any other book on amazon.com, including Kindle, iBook and other digital versions. It doesn’t cost much: maybe a few hundred dollars. If you choose to only produce a digital version, it can be much cheaper.

The more work you do, the cheaper the services are. If you are willing to hire your own editor and cover designer, or do those tasks yourself, and take care of details like getting an ISBN number, you can user services like  Lightning Source or CreateSpace to simply print and distribute he book. But if you want to hire people to help you, services like CreateSpace and Lulu.com let you pay them to take care of many steps on your behalf.

3. Why would people buy a book if the content is free on the blog?

The rise of the iPad and Kindle have proven the demand for longer reading experiences, experiences longer than what the web provides. A compilation of your work offers a deeper experience than what people get through your blog alone. Blogs are fantastic for small to medium length reading experiences, but to consume 40 or 50 posts without interruption, posts that are chosen to fit together on a specific theme, you need something else. A book is a better experience for this kind of continuous reading.

A book gives you an object demonstrating your talents to potential clients, business partners or anyone in the world you wish to impress. Since a book is often perceived as being a greater accomplishment than having a blog, it can be a stronger invitation to a new reader to give your work a try. It also allows your fans and friends to buy copies of your book to give to their friends as gifts: it helps them help you spread word of your work.

4. How can I use my blog to help the book succeed with the book?

If you involve your readers as your produce the book, they will naturally help spread word when it’s done. Using polls I asked my readers to help pick the title, to give feedback on several rounds of cover designs, and many other decisions. This attracted new readers curious about how books are made, and allowed me to collaborate with my readers on the book, increasing their interest in seeing it finished and released.

It’s counterintuitive, but giving the book away for free for a time helps a new book, and your blog, tremendously.

First it rewards your regular readers – who deserves a free copy more than your regular readers? The free give-away helps enlist them to reach out to their networks to bring more people to your blog for the first time. I gave Mindfire away for free for 48 hours, and had over 10,000 people download the book. It’s true my blog is popular, but many of those downloads were by people who had never heard of me before. My great fans on my site helped spread word on twitter and Facebook of my free offer, spreading my reach for future blog posts and books. I still give 1/3rd of the book away for free as a preview for anyone who wants to give it a try.

5. What’s the first step to take?

You’re a blogger: start by blogging about it. Ask your readers if they’re interested in helping you work on a book. Post your list of book concepts and see what they think. Perhaps there’s an author, editor or designer who reads your work that can lend their expertise. Take a careful look at the work you’ve already written and start thinking about what concepts might match.

Have questions about converting your blog into a book? Leave a comment.


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