Advice for bloggers who want to become authors

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I’ve been chewing over publishing trends, the Dooce suit, my own book coming out in a few months, and the emails I’ve gotten with book questions … this is to say, chewing over bloggers becoming authors. I’m hardly an expert on the subject other than my own personal experiences (my book and Columbia Publishing Course), but still … I’ve got some thought about bloggers becoming non-fiction authors. (Fiction is a whole different beast that I know nothing about.)

Heather’s recent suit may be the nail in the coffin of the publishing industry’s affair with blogging. There were a few years there when publishers got super excited about turning blogs into books, but a recent article in the Boston Herald talks about blog books performing weaker than expected:

“A book has to be bigger and last longer than a blog,” Kneerim said. “It has to be more than gossiping or talking about yourself.”

I think my lit agents saw this coming several years ago. When I first pitched them at the height of the blog frenzy in 2003 with an idea that was basically my blog in book form, they quickly shot it down. They were smart. Unless you’re a blogger with an enormous following, it just doesn’t really make sense. I’m confident that Heather Armstrong will indeed eventually write her books, and they will indeed do well. She’s got a devoted, enthusiastic reader-base who will buy her books if for no other reason than to support Heather and her (very good) writing, and her topics and writing style are universal enough to effectively be marketed to a mainstream, non-blog readership.

Hell, I bought Mimi Smartypants’ book because I love her writing and wanted to support her, but then I didn’t actually read the book. I mean, I’d already read most of it on her blog! Mimi herself seemed somewhat stumped by the whole book concept herself. (God, that’s part of what I love about her.)

It’s not surprising, really … the blog in book form is basically memoir, and as James Frey is evidence of, the memoir is on slightly shaky ground these days. Used to be anyone who survived an abusive childhood/weird schooling/anal sex could write their semi-truth and sell a bazillion books. But methinks those tides are turning.

This certainly isn’t to say that publishers won’t sign bloggers to write books. It’s just that the book can’t just be your blog, and the fact that you have a blog can’t be your main selling point as a writer. Sarah Brown’s book deal for instance: It’s not Queserasera.com: Now Even Better in Trade Paperback! It’s a Cringe-themed anthology. Sarah’s blog obviously stood as a great portfolio for her writing and proves that she’s got a readership base, but it’s not like the book is just her blog.

And look at Maggie Mason. She’s another writer with a blog filled with awesome little quips and quotes from her day-to-day life, but did she write a memoir? Did she write Mightygirl: Now It’s $12 Instead of Free? Nope. Despite the fact that stories about her life are cute and compelling, she wrote a service book about blogging.

Obviously, Offbeat Bride is another example of this. Sure, it’s got a component of memoir, telling the story of our wedding. But it’s really just a service book. It’s full of tips and advice and sidebars about how to do things. My story is in there, but the hope is that people (besides my friends and blog readers) will buy it because they need to get something from it other than just reading about me. It’s not like I’m Liberace or Elvis or something with legions of mainstream fans just DIEING to read about me.

This certainly wasn’t my idea — when trying to find a book idea to pitch, I wanted to do what I normally do, which is, well, write about myself. But the reality of the book business is that unless you’re really fascinating or titillating or well-known, most people don’t want to spend money to read about you. Oh, it breaks my little blogger-heart to say, but it’s true. As the memoir genre comes back down from a few years of extreme trendiness, bloggers who want to get published have to adapt.

So, I guess my advice to bloggers who want to be authors is the same as to anyone else who wants to write a book: Who would buy your book? What can you write that people need that they can’t get elsewhere? What can you write that no-one else can? These are the questions publishers will ask you, and that you should have answers for. Good luck, brave bloggers!

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