From Blogging to Books to Bucks
Blogger and radio host Hugh Hewitt proclaims this The Year of the Blog in his Weekly Standard column. He outlines the ability of the blogosphere, collectively, to counterbalance the mainstream media. Interestingly, a growing number of bloggers are now taking part in one of the oldest media, book publishing:
Like many aspiring authors, Marrit Ingman had a tough time convincing publishers that her big book idea – a wry, downbeat memoir of postpartum depression – could sell. “I had to convince the publisher that an audience for the topic really did exist,” said Ms. Ingman, a Texas-based freelance journalist. “The big publishers kept telling us that mothers only wanted prescriptive or ‘positive’ books about being a parent.” But Ms. Ingman had her own persuader: her Web log. She’d been writing it for two years and had attracted a following of mothers. “I turned to readers of my blog,” she said. “I asked them to comment on whether a book like mine would be relevant to them. Readers wrote back expressing why they wanted to read about the experience of maternal anger. I stuck their comments into my proposal as pulled quotes.” Her readers were convincing. She and her agent, Jim Hornfischer, sold her memoir, “Inconsolable,” to Seal Press in August, she said. “The blog showed publishers she was committed to the subject matter and already had an audience,” Mr. Hornfischer said.
During the last year many Web logs, or blogs, have focused on the war in Iraq and the presidential campaign, and as these blogs gained a wider audience some publishers started paying attention to them. Sometimes publishers are interested in publishing elements of the blogs in book form; mostly they simply enjoy the blogger’s writing and want to publish a novel or nonfiction book by the blogger, usually on a topic unrelated to the blog.
One of the first to make the transition was Baghdad blogger known as Salam Pax, who wrote an online war diary from Iraq. Last year Grove Press published a collection of his work, “Salam Pax: The Clandestine Diary of an Ordinary Iraqi.” In June a former Senate aide, Jessica Cutler, whose blog documenting her sexual exploits with politicos dominated Capitol gossip in the spring, sold a Washington-focused novel to Hyperion for an advance well into six figures, said Kelly Notaras of Hyperion. Meanwhile, a British call girl with the pseudonym Belle de Jour, who had created a sensation with a blog about her experiences, has signed a six-figure deal with Warner Books to publish a memoir, said Amy Einhorn, executive editor at Warner Books who bought the book. Ms. Einhorn said that after she heard about the blog, “I downloaded the whole site, read it that night and then bought the book.” In October Ana Marie Cox, editor of wonkette.com, a racy, often wry Washington-based blog, sold her first novel, “Dog Days,” a comic tale with a political context, to Riverhead Books. She said she received a $275,000 advance. Lesser-known bloggers are also peddling books. Julie Powell, a Queens secretary who blogged about trying to make every recipe in Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking (Volume 1)” during the course of a year, signed with Little, Brown to write about the experience. Gordon Atkinson, a minister and blogger known as Real Live Preacher, published a collection of his work this fall with Eerdmans Publishing Company, a leader in religious books. An editor “found my blog only three weeks after I started it and asked if I was interested in doing a book,” he said, adding, “I was so surprised I thought he was my friend Larry playing a joke on me.”
Several factors make bloggers’ books attractive to agents and editors. “Word-of-mouth buzz is much more valuable than paid advertising,” Ms. Lee said. “I think if there’s a reason people come to your site, there’s a built-in audience.” Publishers were always happy to have authors who already have a platform, said Mr. Hornfischer, who also has started contacting other bloggers he enjoys. That built-in blog audience is growing; because the Web has no boundaries, it is international. The Perseus Development Corporation, a research-and-development firm that studies online trends, estimates there will be roughly 10 million hosted Web logs by the end of the year. Nearly 90 percent of blogs, Perseus says, are created by people under 30.
For the most part, though, the success stories are niche bloggers–especially those with a strong prurient appeal. It’s difficult to see how this would translate to those who merely comment on current events.