How to turn your blog into a book

The movie Julie & Julia started out a blog, then became a book (and finally, a film).

It’s the most well-known example of a story that went from blog to book. But that tale — which, ironically, is partly about a frustrated writer — isn’t the only one. An increasing number of blogs are being published as books.

I’m one of the writers trying to make that happen. Whenever I talk about transforming my travel blog, Inkslinging in Africa, into a memoir, I say my blog is serving as a “skeleton” for my book. That’s because creating a book from a blog requires much more work than simply pasting together posts.

So how does one go about turning a blog into a book? What does it take?

Figure out your theme. Penelope Trunk, who got a six-figure book deal from her blog, says the main difference between blog posts and a book is that the latter has to have a Big Idea. She’s right. For me, that Big Idea is a theme, a thread that pulls all of my mini stories into one narrative, a story with a point.

Consider your voice. I love my blog voice. Blogging comes naturally to me. I’m funny on my travel blog, maybe even funnier than I am in real life. But my blog voice does not always translate into literary voice. Why? Because it’s choppy. On my blogs, I write in short sentences, quick paragraphs that are easy to read. But my book has to read smoothly, with longer paragraphs, because I’m writing entire chapters, not posts. A book is 300 pages, not eight paragraphs like a blog post. That means my book voice is slightly different than my blog voice. Maybe your blog voice translates directly to your book. But maybe it doesn’t. Either way, this is something to think about.

Add transitions. On my blog, it was okay for me to be in South Africa one day, Madagascar the next. That doesn’t work for my book. Taking the reader along for the ride is more literal, and smooth transitions are important.

Double — or triple — the stories. The book is about more than what I wrote on the blog. Otherwise, why would you buy it? Why would you buy my book if you could just scroll through my travel blog for the exact same stories? My book has got to offer more stories, more introspection, more something. Whatever your something is, offer more.

Add context. On my blog, I have an About Me section and a sidebar with links that explain background about why I left my job to travel. In the book, that’s gotta be in paragraph form, part of the story. I have to include background in an interesting way because the reader can’t just click around my book, choosing links that provide context.

Improve and reuse. Even blog posts that make it into the book must be rewritten better than they were on the blog. Think of the blog as a rough draft. The book version needs more description, dialogue, pretty much everything I neglected to include when I quickly wrote the post in an Internet cafe in Cameroon, trying to finish it before the power went out. For example, here’s a post I wrote for my travel blog; here’s the better version I wrote for the book.

Don’t forget to use the blog to sell your book. Write about the popularity of your blog in your book proposal. Inkslinging in Africa got 50,000 page views during its first six months. That may not be a huge number by some standards, but it’s impressive for an independent start-up, and it shows there’s a market for my stories.

Anyone out there embarking on a blog-to-book project? Or considering one? Got advice to add to the list above? What sort of blogs do you think might make good books?

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20 Responses

  1. This is an interesting subject for me. I’m not trying this out, but I enjoy reading blogs that are using this method to achieve a publishing goal. 365 Days of Slow Cooking was one that I found recently that is about to have a book released. Maybe there’s something a bit gimmicky about the most successful blog-to-book projects?

    Elizabeth
    Mystery Writing is Murder

  2. This is a very interesting thing to think about, I am sure there are a LOT of blog writers out there who want to translate what they’ve already done into a book and it is important to realize you can’t just print everything out and expect to be done.

  3. I saw Julie and Julia. Very good movie that inspired me with hope to keep plugging forward. I can see your blog easily becoming a book and a movie. You’ve got great stuff. I’ll buy a copy once you bring it to market.

    Steohen Termp

  4. Mine is sorta the other way around: I’m dying to write a book about amazing women in history and what we can learn from them (See Jane Soar!). I have an agent who is trying to sell it.

    I recently created a blog based on my book idea — See Jane Soar! The blog is exactly like you mentioned: less formal, much more “conversational” — because I am talking directly to my readers.

    Thanks for this post — I liked it so much, I Tweeted it 🙂

    Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

  5. Hi Alexis,

    I arrived here through a tweet by @quipsandtips. I’m so glad I did. Good on you for tackling this project. It looks like there are lots of things happening here so I’m headed over to subscribe…

    Cheers

    George

  6. I believe you are right. Once someone gets the hang on this blogging, it can not only be a good publishing method but for me it has been very healing. I am still looking forward to getting my book out there and when I do, I know it will open a whole new world out there. Thanks for your thoughts.

  7. great tips! i have had a few ideas that i thought might work as a book but i get so easily burned out working on non-fiction. back to my poetry!

  8. I’m not sure how I’d go about doing this because I write fiction but what great ideas. Maybe a non-fiction idea will pop in my head one of these days.

  9. This is really interesting. Not something I’m thinking about, but lots to think about here. I do wonder about book voice needing to be less choppy than blog voice. Obviously, I agree with you in principle about flow but some of the great travel writers I’ve read do have short, staccato-esque, Hemmngway-like narratives that flow nicely as well. Not sure if I know which is best.

  10. This post is exactly why I love reading your blog! I’ve read a few books that started as blogs. Some of them do it well and some of them don’t. Yes, I’ve considered a blog-to-book idea or two. In fact, I’m still considering some, but I do wonder if blog-to-book ideas are running out of steam. I think blogs are a great way to develop your voice and experiment with ideas, testing them with an audience, though. And that’s where I’m at right now. Playing with ideas and tossing them out into the blogosphere to see what kind of audience I get.

  11. A couple things I learned in my blog-to-book experience:

    1. Pay careful attention to the contract. My book sold in 2005 (and came out in 2008), so blogs were newer then than they are now, but you’ll still want to make sure the contract is worded such that the publisher couldn’t ever go after you/your blog as competition with the book. In my contract, I think we stipulated that 10% of the content in the book could overlap the blog, but the rest needed to be original (thankfully, this proved to be easier than you might think). If you get an agent who’s done a few blog-to-book deals he/she will hopefully be familiar with this, but don’t count on it. Likewise, you may your contract with the agent to stipulate whether the representation is solely of the book, or the blog as well (in which case the agent could theoretically claim a portion of any revenues you get from reselling or licensing certain blog posts).

    2. Prioritize your writing. While continuing to blog is good for marketing/promoting your book, it can also threaten to compete with the writing you’re being paid to do. In my case, the blog ended up languishing as I focused on writing the book. Hard to say how that played out in the end, but for me the blog was always more of a means to other things — a stage in the journey — than an end itself, so I feel comfortable with how I prioritized. What makes sense for you may be a lot different, but be prepared to deal with that challenge.

    3. Respect the form. Things that work in a blog — especially when you have ongoing readers — don’t always work in a book, and that can lead to some painful editing choices. At the same time, though, a book can draw out a lot of other experiences or moments you wouldn’t have thought to chronicle in a blog. For me, the advice of a screenwriter friend tremendously helpful in hewing the narrative arc of individual scenes and the story as a whole. While it might not work for every book, I really find it helpful to follow a particular conflict (reconciling sexuality and faith, in my case) rather than just a certain theme (sexuality/chastity).

    Good luck!

  12. Hey there. Just wanted to say thanks for tweeting about my review of First Comes Love. And I’m so glad I’ve come across your blog. Looks like a great place with lots of useful information. Best of luck with your book project. I know what a process the whole thing can be–I’m going through it myself!

  13. Interesting stuff…

    How do you actually turn the words in your blog into the words in a book? Is there a website or is it all copy/pasting?

    Alastair

    • Hey Alastair,

      It’s all copying and pasting… Because whenever I use a blog post for part of a chapter, I revise it, make it work with the rest of the chapter, etc.

      But there are Web sites and services that turn blogs into books. Lulu.com does it, I think.

  14. I am also curious about technical, or legal, issues as I have been told you cannot sell first or all rights to a book manuscript if the material has been previously published as a blog…
    how do you address this issue?

    I am currently traveling in India for 5 months and hope to turn my blog about this adventure into a future book…

  15. Thanks so much for a great and insightful post. I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit myself lately and it’s refreshing to read from someone who is clearly trying to do something similar. Your tips are clear, concise, and helpful and I wish you the best of luck with your book deal!

  16. I’m really excited to use my blog as a platform to launch a book one day. The traffic on Financial Samurai is pretty strong with an Alexa ranking at 40,000, I think it might be an easy transition!

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