A book from blog posts?


Maybe you have been harbouring secret thoughts about getting a book from those blog posts that you’ve been writing. I think about it too, occasionally, as patter is now several books worth of words.

Well, before you take the plunge, it’s worth just thinking about blogging and book writing. What do they have in common? How might they be different? What kind of book do you have in mind?

Some bloggers put together a set of their most popular posts to create quickie ebooks. Such ebooks are downloadable from their website, and are either completely free or sold at very low cost. In blog based publications, the bloggers may have tidied the posts up and ordered them – but in essence what you get is a set of short pieces some of which you may have already read.

But the collection is convenient. It saves you the trouble of searching and hunting through the blog and and ebook is something that you can save on your desktop or ereader and easily refer to. These quickie blog ebooks are generally intended for existing blog readers (and maybe their friends). The established blog reader downloads/buys the ebook, knowing what they will get. And because of that, they are generally happy campers.

These convenience ebooks are of course not the only books that academics want to produce, or that academic readers want to read. You may be wondering whether blog posts can support something other than the quickie convenience ebook.

If you’re thinking about blogging and book-ing, it’s worth spending a bit of time on the differences between your average academic blog, whether in ebook form or not, and the more mainstream academic monograph. Here’s a few key points of difference to start off with.

Your average academic blog Your average academic monograph
A post is its own mini-argument or narrative. It has its own rhetorical integrity. Your average academic book is a big argument or narrative made up of several mini arguments or narratives – moves – arranged in logical order.There is a strong meta commentary which establishes continuity between each of the moves.
A blog post is usually shortish and focused on one idea. Niceties of argument may be acknowledged but are generally not able to be pursued in any depth or detail. A book chapter is usually 5k words or more. This length means that the writer has the space to deal with ideas in a nuanced way.While a chapter usually addresses one overall point, it also has sub threads. Sub threads are not finished off in one chapter but carry on, possibly for the entire book.

Book chapters usually explore ideas in detail, offering various interpretations; they outline and deal with debates. Chapters can deal with complexity.

Most blog posts use hyperlinks in order to reference scholarly works but also to make connections with other online materials. Your average academic book, even in digital versions, uses a standard academic referencing system and reference list. These may have hyperlinks, but at present book publishing tends to lag behind the possibilities offered by blogs.
Many blog posts are written in a relatively  informal style. They use a vocabulary which sits somewhere between academese and everyday speech. Sentences tend to an active tense. They are on the shorter side. Blogs often use slang, memes, make more popular culture references and engage in more polemic than would be countenanced by academic book readers. Bloggers often address the reader directly – you. Academic prose tends to use more passive tense, nominalisation and longer sentences, than other forms of writing. Arguably, much of what counts as academic writing does rather more of this than is desirable. The mode of address tends to be more formal, eschews the second person pronoun (you), and uses the first (I, me, we) consciously and carefully. Some academic ‘styles’ forbid anything that might be seen as ‘vernacular’.
Seasoned bloggers tend to have a strong ‘voice’. They build up a blogger identity over time. They talk about themselves in order to make ‘human connections’ with readers. Some academic writers have a strong ‘voice’ and create a textual personal presence. Many however are a muted present in their text.
Blog posts often use images as a way to communicate additional information. Academic book publishers tend to restrict the use of images. Cost, they say.
Most successful bloggers know their readers. Their blog may not have initially been designed with specific people in mind, but over time, bloggers get a strong sense of who they are writing for. Academic book authors do have a sense of who they are writing for, but this is often quite diffuse.
Blogs often reach and help to create a community of interest which is not simply academic. Academic books are generally written for an academic readership, although there are a few academic books which cross over into the ‘popular’.
Blogs tend to be restricted in their design capacities – fonts, columns and so on. However, blogs are able to use moving image, sound, zoom, annotation and so on. These features create specific opportunities for bloggers. The printed page is capable of particular  layouts – the use of breakout boxes, multiple columns, footnotes, typographic variation, use of white space and so on. These design features create specific opportunities for writers.
Blogs are quick to write and can respond immediately to new ideas, events or conversations and debates. Books take a while to get together. While publishers can now print on demand, and the time from manuscript to press can be quite short, it usually isn’t. Books are also intended to have a longish shelf-life and do not date as quickly as something which is immediately responsive.
Blogs are usually free. Academic books cost. How they cost.
Some blogs have a lot of readers. Very few academic monographs sell a lot. (And some sales may now be not only via, but also because of, social media.)

This is not all there is of course. But these few differences do suggest that your average academic reader comes to an academic  book expecting something that is bound by convention and disciplinary traditions – the bottom line is that they think they will find a complex and well evidenced argument or narrative through which they are guided by an authoritative writer. A collection of blog posts won’t do this without quite a bit more  work being done on them.

Blog to book

So what kind of work might be needed to turn the one thing – the blog posts – into another – the book?

Well for starters, making isolated posts coherent and connected. The reader can’t be left to fill in the gaps between posts, these will have to be created.

And allowing for debate and complexity. The reader will probably want to see more nuance at the time they are reading something, rather than in another subsequent post.

Attending to the referencing. The blogger will have to do something with all of those hyperlink.

And how to write.. what kind of authorial voice and style do they want to adopt. Are those truisms, rants and slogans and trite sayings ( yes I confess Im guilty of all of these)  really OK in an academic book? And grammar – oh  grammar, my own experience of working blog posts into a book suggests a lot of attention to the grammatical niceties that I missed as I was cranking out posts. (My customary high speed writing and scanty editing of blog posts is, well, pretty obvious.)

Here’s three ways I think about the relationships between blogs and books.

Blog posts are the raw material that can be further worked on and worked over for a book. Barbara and my most recent book, Detox your writing, was just this. We took some ideas from patter, wrestled with them a lot, and added quite a bit more.

A blog can be a way to work through some ideas than end up in book form. My research blogs  often do just this.

A blog may be a way to extend a book that is already written. That is how this blog started, as a way to do bits and pieces of pedagogical writing that were too fragmented for another book, but which expanded on what was already in the books.

But blogs are not books in waiting

I’m very conscious of the fact that some people think that blogging is an inferior form of academic writing. Put simply and applied to me, this means that this blog is not as important as my academic books or journal articles.  And that I would be better off spending my time writing more books and articles.

I think this is sheer nonsense.

Blogs are their own form of writing. They don’t do the same thing as books. They don’t work the same way. They may be complementary to an academic book or article, but they are different.

A blog is not a place to dump things that didn’t make it into publication. A blog does not have to be a means to a more superior and prestigious monograph end. (This blog does not aspire to be a book even as I worry about it becoming too large for even me to remember what’s on it.)

At their best, blogs are more than useful, they are creative. They are their own little art form. A blog is a blog is a blog. Even academic blogs.