Image: Matthew Loffhagen
An incredibly popular but commonly overlooked form of writing, the blog is a surprisingly versatile medium. In fact, it’s not uncommon for a person to write multiple blogs, separating them on the basis of topic (one on cooking and one on knitting), purpose (one as a diary and one for film reviews), or audience (one travel memoir for friends and family, one for opinion pieces aimed at a wider audience).
With so much content out there, a regular blog reader will never run out of great sources of writing, but for bloggers this audience may not seem like enough. By their nature, blogs are easy to write and publish and so many readers who are more familiar with traditional sources of entertainment won’t go to the trouble of separating the high-quality content from the dross. One excellent way for bloggers to pursue this audience is to transform their blog into book form, but this is a task that’s often easier said than done.
For those who want to reach a wider audience, however, it’s a journey well worth taking, and so in this article I’ll be exploring some of the things bloggers can do to make the transition from blog to book in a way that flatters the content and satisfies the reader. As with any translation of work from one medium to another, the key to success is in understanding and respecting the differences.
Appreciating the medium
The most important thing when transforming your blog into a book is in understanding that you are creating a new work which will be understood on its own terms. When a book is made into a movie, the film maker is expected to take the pre-existing content and reshape it into a great film. No allowances are made for whether that content suits the medium of film – where it doesn’t, the film maker is expected to make changes. Likewise your book will be treated as a book, not as a more ordered collection of blog posts.
Obviously the fact that you’re converting written content into a different type of written content makes things easier, but changes will probably still be required. Don’t think what presents your blog in the best light, but instead focus on what will make the best book. The biggest difference is in making sure that you are curating rather than collecting.
The cutting room floor
Most blogs have a personality of their own which is clear to the reader. The ease with which they can be created leads to a fluid approach to content – a person writing philosophically might indulge in a few movie reviews when the mood strikes them, or a person chronicling their day-to-day life might become a travel writer for the duration of a holiday. This is why readers are said to ‘follow’ blogs – they continue to engage with them on what is often a winding road. A blog is not understood as something which can be ‘finished’; instead it is something which might eventually ‘end’ for any number of reasons.
Books are very different animals. They are closed units, and readers begin them with the assumption that content will be consistent and that the author had some form of end in mind when they began writing.
It’s because of this difference that the number one problem with blog-to-book conversions is writers simply including every blog post they’ve written between set dates. Familiar with catering for a blog readership, many bloggers fail to appreciate that a book reader may be incredibly surprised by a drastic shift in tone or subject.
Rather than using every blog entry, bloggers should curate their posts in the interest of creating a cohesive whole. Using the above example of a memoirist who goes on holiday, it may be that the holiday writing doesn’t contribute to the whole of sharing your everyday life and outlook. Excising those posts from the book may create something with a much more identifiable theme, and this is ideal for a successful blog-to-book conversion.
Themes (and why you need them)
The theme of a book is the standard by which you should curate your entries. When considered as a whole, what do you want your book to be about? How does each entry you intend to include inform this theme, and what does your presentation of these entries do to focus the reader’s attention on it?
In Jon Ronson’s Out of the Ordinary: True Tales of Everyday Craziness, the journalist collects an array of online and offline articles. At first glance, these differ vastly in terms of subject, covering marriage, fatherhood, cults and gameshow cheats. While he’s a popular writer the fact that these ideas interest him is not enough to sell a book; the reader needs a broader theme to understand what it is they’re buying.
Ronson solves this problem by embracing the theme of illogical behavior. While the subject of each separate piece of writing is different, they are brought together under the umbrella of the ‘everyday craziness’ of the human condition.
This theme, bringing together the separate articles into a cohesive whole, is achieved through three steps. The first is in content curation. Ronson selects material which, even when it’s mundane, features some instance of odd behavior. The second step is in the ordering of the book; the entries become odder and odder as the book continues. At the beginning, he recounts odd conversations with his son, and by the end he’s dealing with extreme religious behavior. This makes the material which seems less connected to the central theme feel more like a precursor – a slow introduction to what the book is ‘really’ about.
This sense of a journey is key to making a blog-book feel satisfying to read. Whether it’s a series of events or an exploration of an idea, your reader should feel that your account has had some kind of arc to it. If your pre-existing content doesn’t quite create this effect, you can still make it work by adopting the third step Ronson uses to create theme.
This third step is adding new content which creates or stresses the unifying context of your theme. In Out of the Ordinary, Ronson adds a foreword and an afterword, explicitly pointing out links between pieces, and how they inform the whole. Another way to do this is to group disparate entries under headings of their own. Here the wider theme is respected, but even further structure is given to justify the inclusion of each piece. Pieces could be categorized according to chronology, mood, recurring events or characters, or to tell their own story. Simply telling your reader that two things are connected, and offering a few reasons, is incredibly effective. Ronson uses this device to justify moving from a story about going to the toilet at a restaurant to encounters with convicted felons.
At first, I did stories on people who were maybe just eccentric. [Convicted terrorist Omar Bakri] was a natural progression from that.
Jon Ronson, Out of the Ordinary
A successful whole
Like anything worth doing, turning a blog to a book can take a lot of work. It’s vital to understand that while your blog content might give you most of the ingredients for a great book, there’s still a huge difference between a pile of ingredients and the finished meal. Of course, if you keep the end product in mind, appreciate how books differs from blogs, and don’t shy away from the extra work it takes to make one into the other, then you can create something fantastic.
For more on creating structure in pre-existing work try The right way to write a memoir, or if your blog errs on the side of creative nonfiction, check out Writing creative nonfiction – how to stay safe (and legal).
Do you have questions about how to convert a specific type of blog into book form? Get in touch with your questions using the comments.