Book from Blog Posts

If you have been maintaining a weblog for any length of time, the idea that all that good work can be converted into a book will grow like a dawning light. The principles of the process seem straightforward enough. You have written reams of material, enough to fill a book. You have written on a variety of topics related to a central subject, which can be divided into reasonably coherent chapters. So what are the pitfalls?

The first one is the nature of the post itself. It is designed to be short: 400-500 words max. In book terms, that is a little more than a page. So while you may have 300 posts, jumping to a new topic every page makes for a bumpy book-reading experience. You in effect are adopting an epistolary style, hoping every “letter” is really interesting.

A book’s rhythm tends to work in longer sweeps. If you peruse any nonfiction book, you’ll notice that chapters are usually broken down into sections, which run roughly 3-5 pages long. To redesign your posts to fit such a pattern, you’d have to link 3-4 posts into one continuous narrative. Moreover, you’d have to do that 100 times.

That leads to a second problem: redundancy. When you are writing a single post, you need to introduce a topic each time. Otherwise, the reader wouldn’t know the context in which the subject is being raised. So, for instance, if you have a book on housing, you want to clump related data from American tech-driven cities vs. rust-belt cities, coastal vs. heartland cities, and international trends as well. When you shove them all together, how many times will you be repeating the same basic premise to lead off and end the topic? You may find, after culling almost all of that material, each post is only 300 words long.

Related to this issue is: discipline. A post is an informal vehicle. What makes most good blogs successful is the narrative voice. The spontaneous nature of this sort of writing can lead easily to versions of soapbox oratory. Such hectoring is fine in a short format, even enjoyable. But that’s because, as a reader, you know it won’t go on for long. Now let’s aggregate those appeals 300 times. How much of that stuff can you stand, even as a writer? With a book you have to maintain an even keel, because it doesn’t take that much for a boy to cry wolf.

Exercise: One way to avoid weaving together topics is to design the book as a collection of tips, e.g., 201 Ways to Solve a Housing Crisis. That way the posts can stay in the same format they were written. You will still, however, face the problems of repetition and shrillness of advocacy. And you have to ask yourself: is a tip book what I really wanted to write?

“Nature is ever at work building and pulling down, creating and destroying, keeping everything whirling and flowing, allowing no rest but in rhythmical motion, chasing everything in endless song out of one beautiful form into another.”
— John Muir

Copyright @ 2017, John Paine

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