“I’ve got a successful blog with thousands of readers. Can I turn my blog posts into a book?” That’s a question we hear several times a year from prospective authors seeking a publishing house.
The answer is: Yes. And, no, meaning that there’s more to developing a successful book than simply reprinting online columns.
Usually, I say, “Let’s talk about the overall theme of your online columns. What are the most popular articles you’ve published in the last year or so? Tell me about the columns readers have told you they shared with friends. What’s your message that you already know connects with people?”
Front Edge Publishing follows traditional best practices in publishing, including carefully weighing the message, the writing style and the potential audience of each new book. Publishers want to bring fresh, compelling books into the world. So, major publishing houses generally are reluctant to package blog posts as new books.
Two Examples of Blog Posts that Became Successful Books
Of course, there are many examples of books drawn from already published online materials. Usually, these books involve expert curation of popular online materials. No one in traditional publishing simply shovels blog posts into a book.
The editors at New World Library, founded in Oakland California in the 1970s, are master curators of books with an eagerly waiting audience. My favorite example of this is Why Dogs Hump and Bees Get Depressed by animal behavior researcher Marc Bekoff (who will be featured soon in an upcoming ReadTheSpirit cover story talking about his newest book). Marc has written more than two dozen books over the years and I’ve read most of them. One of the few I keep in my permanent library is this 2013 book, Why Dogs. The reason is simple: That volume collects the best of the countless online columns Marc wrote about scientific research into animal behavior—including columns I’ve shared with friends over the years. I keep that book on my shelf because I often want to pull out my favorites and share them with friends, once again.
And, here’s a second popular example: At Front Edge Publishing, our best-selling book Changing Our Mind, by Dr. David Gushee, includes material he first published online. In fact, because readers peppered Dr. Gushee with more requests after the first edition appeared, we added even more of his online content in subsequent editions.
Why Blogs and Other Online Writing Can Help to Shape a Book
One of the most popular columnists in our ReadTheSpirit online magazine is author, pastoral counselor, expert caregiver and educator Benjamin Pratt. Readers love his columns so much that they email either our home office—or they find Ben directly—to describe how much they enjoy his stories. (His latest was about becoming a Papa at age 70—that is, to a nest full of endangered baby bluebirds.)
A few years ago, Ben and our editors gathered together a number of his most popular columns and shaped them into the book, Short Stuff from a Tall Guy.
What Ben and our editors have learned is:
- Writing online begins to establish and expand your audience before your book debuts. That’s valuable because “discoverability,” helping people to find a newly published book, is the biggest challenging in publishing.
- Writing online tests your voice and helps editors shape your story with you. A week after his bluebird column appeared, Ben was on the phone, telling me, “I love the ongoing collaboration we have in shaping these pieces. We’ve learned so much over the years about how to perfectly shape these stories for readers.”
- When your book appears, you’ve already got an online home—and a connected audience—to help promote that book.
Harold Heie: Going Even Further in Crowdsourcing a Book Online
A decade ago, “crowdsourcing” emerged as a powerful concept for developing books by inviting online readers to help shape the content. The term originally came from software developers who welcomed others to help with major innovations. Today, the term is sometimes confused with the more specific idea of crowdfunding at hubs such as Kickstarter.
In May 2019, we are proud to be publishing the newest book by a master of cooperative, online collaboration in developing fresh research: Harold Heie, a scholar with a long list of accomplishments in promoting constructive conversations between Americans who deeply disagree with each other. His new book is titled Reforming American Politics: A Christian Perspective on Moving Past Conflict to Conversation.
In these pages, Harold lays out a persuasive argument that “Christians” should not allow themselves to be co-opted by angry political activists to become cannon fodder in our current culture wars. On the contrary, Harold argues, the timeless teachings of Christianity hold the key to constructive, hospitable conversations.
How does Harold know this?
He conducted nearly a year of in-depth online research through his unique website www.RespectfulConversation.net (If you’re telling people about this, remember that’s “dot net,” not “dot com”)
How Harold Heie Used His eCircle to Turn Blog Posts into a Book
“We should give readers a specific example of how Harold conducted his online research with his many different discussion partners to create the chapters of his book,” our Production Manager Dmitri Barvinok told me as I was preparing this column. “If readers buy Harold’s book, they may want to go back to the original online materials and learn more about how these discussions took place.
“A good example is this collection of responses that informed the first chapter of Harold’s book,” Dmitri said. “If readers look at that page within Harold’s website, they will then need to scroll down the page to find where this conversation started. Harold began by introducing his conversation partners, then he showed them two video news clips and asked them to start talking about these very different perspectives. Jeff started that part of the conversation, then Kim followed—and so on through the posts.”
“In addition, on the right-menu sidebar about halfway down the page, is the ‘Conversation Topics’ section. Click on any of the subheadings to view the discussion page for a different topic. Every topic is also the title of a chapter in the book, except for Chapter 11, which is Harold’s own analysis of the discussions that took place.”
We Welcome Online Columnists, Bloggers and Journalists to Contact Us
We certainly practice what I’m preaching here. In 2019, among the many new authors we are meeting, our publishing house team is including several online writers and journalists in discussions about developing books from their public writing.
We welcome your inquiries at [email protected]