Last summer, I became a consulting editor with ITI’s Book Publishing Division. This is one of the coolest gigs ever — I get to bring good people, whose words deserve to be seen, together with a good company, that has been fantastic to publish with. What’s not to like?
So then one of the first people I talked to asked: “Why would I write a book and wait a year or more to see my writing in print, when I can blog and get my words out there immediately?” We had a nice conversation about it, and I put the question out of my mind. Then, someone else asked…
The book vs. blog idea seems kind of self-evident to me — and, I’m guessing, to all the bloggers whose online presence somehow leads to book contracts. But, I’m the kind of person who, without intervention, would probably at some point turn into one of those little old ladies you read about whose survivors are faced with the daunting tasks of cleaning out a house filled floor-to-ceiling with piles of newspaper, magazines and books. (True confession: The main reason I still bother belonging to ALA is that I like getting the print magazine every month, even though they seem to think no one notices it’s getting skimpier all the time…)
Blogs and books scratch a different itch. (Although I’m not going to get into the whole “sustained reading of complex texts” business, never fear!) I wouldn’t like doing without either, but online and print publication complement each other — we don’t need to make everything into a fight. So here, in no particular order, are some of my thoughts on this question:
Blogs are a huge plus in marketing your book. If people like what you blog, they are likely to want to read more, and a book gives them a nice big chunk of your work. If your blog is complementary to your book, you can use it to update the printed work when new developments emerge.
Form follows content. Some topics lend themselves to blogging; some could benefit from a more extended examination. If you have a lot to say on a particular topic, you can blog it as you think it, or you can think about building it into a longer, coherent whole. Writing a book lets you go more in depth and to include content that might be overkill on a blog.
Books reach a different audience. I’m not going to rehash recent rumblings about the insular nature of the biblioblogosphere, because it’s been overdone and overblown. Still, a large cross-section of the library community is more comfortable picking up a book rather than turning to a blog when they want to know more on a given topic. Others might do some reading online, yet still want print material for backup or for future reference. If you want to reach a different and larger audience, writing a book is one way to do it.
You get paid for writing books. Most people, aside from the very few who somehow land corporate sponsorship, don’t get paid for blogging. I’m not saying that you — or anyone else! — is going to get rich writing for librarians, but royalty checks are nothing to complain about.
Seeing your name on a book is just darn cool. I’ve written seven books now, and I still get a little rush every time I see my name on a new book cover. Maybe other authors are more jaded than I, but I’d be willing to bet that most get a secret thrill out of it.
Writing a book offers a certain permanence. People get tired of blogging, move on, change URLs, change interests, take their writing offline. You’ll still be able to pick up your book and flip through it in 5 years, 10 years, 20 years, as will future librarians and colleagues.
Writing a book looks good to others. Others, in this case, being a tenure committee, potential employers, your mom, your colleagues, conference organizers, what have you.
Writing a book lets you work with nice people. Such as myself . In all seriousness, writing a book, if you pick your publisher well, lets you take advantage of the best qualities of “gatekeepers” — gives you people to bounce your ideas off of, edit your work, encourage you when the going gets tough, and help make your writing stronger.
Writing a book helps you write anything else. Once you have made it through an entire book manuscript, writing an article, blog post, or presentation seems simpler in comparison.
Writing a book helps the profession. If part of our function as librarians is to collect and organize the literature of various fields, shouldn’t our own field be well-represented? The body of print literature that helps underpin librarianship also represents the field to others — to outsiders, to other professions, to potential librarians. When people look at our field, I, for one, want them to see a robust body of professional literature.
You can do both. The question as originally framed brings us back to either/or — either I blog my ideas, or I write them down in book form. Well, anyone who thinks seriously about the issues facing this profession has enough ideas to do both, and to benefit from the synergy of writing in multiple formats. It’s interesting to watch the genesis of blogs that are growing out of ongoing book projects and created to support books post-publication.
I’d love to hear what the rest of you think.
And, as for any of you that have been quietly kicking book ideas around in your head, why not let me know about them? Or ask me anything about writing for ITI — I’ll answer honestly and have fun kicking those ideas around with you. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or AIM rachelsgordon.