On Books and Blogs

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 rgordon@infotoday.com or AIM rachelsgordon.

8 Comments

  1. waltc:

    What I think is that you’ve done a fine job here laying out the continued worth of books in the field, speaking as one who used to write books (and might again) and who always appreciated working with a good publisher.

    As for the slender issues of American Libraries, I’m guessing that fewer ads (and ALA’s general expectation that AL is at least self-sustaining is the reason. Unfortunate but likely. Still, a good magazine, as you say.

  2. Ms. OPL:

    Like Rachel, I have written books (6 already, 1 in process, 1 at the idea stage) and am a blogger (OPL Plus, http://opls.blogspot.com). I see them as closely related.

    The book can expand on the blog and vice versa. I started my blog as an adjunct to my book, The OPL Sourcebook, and to my newsletter, The One-Person Library. I got tired of happening on neat sites and not being able to fit them into the newsletter for a few months or into the next edition of the book in a few years. And, of course, if people like the blog they might buy the book and/or the newsletter.

    Besides, I found out that I *love* blogging. At times it is like talking without knowing if anyone is listening, but I still like it. Not that I don’t enjoy writing books. The research is fun and, yes, it’s still a kick seeing my name in print.

    So, books or blogs–why not both?

  3. Thomas:

    Great post about the relationship between books and blogs.

    I’m currently writing a book on Library 2.0 (in norwegian for the norwegian library scene) and you can follow the process on my english language blog Librarian 1.5 http://lib1point5.wordpress.com

    What you say is probably very true in the english-language area where it is possible to publish books on very narrow fields and still have a market. In other languages the publishing of library related books is almost impossible as the market is too small (about 3000 librarians in all in Norway).

    In the small language areas blogs have been a great boon to library related professional writing. Finally we have an outlet that actually reaches our target audience (which might just be a few hundred people) and bypasses the paper publishing process which has rejected us.

  4. Fiona:

    Great post, and encapsulates a lot of things I’ve been thinking about recently.

    I’m currently working on an article about the forms of blogs in LIS and books about writing projects are starting to become more prominent. Other uses include blogs as promotional tools, and an updater to published items.

    I don’t know about other bloggers, but I still have this mindset that writing books is for the established, the experts, not the newbies. Which probably doesn’t apply anymore what with there being more opportunities than ever to write. But still, that thought, for me, is there.

    “Writing a book helps you write anything else”

    While I haven’t written a book, I did do a research degree that consisted of a 35000 word thesis, and it did help enormously with everything I’ve written since in terms of writing skills, but also helped in my day to day work with helping students to write literature reviews, use bibliographic managers, research methods etc. And yes, I have a very nice hardbound item on my shelf and at my university’s library with my name on it.

  5. Dorothea:

    Agree with Fiona above that thinking of myself as a potential book author is weird.

    Blogging allows freedom of expression and tone in a way that books don’t. Blogging also allows for working out one’s ideas in writing, in a way the more straitjacketed, formal book-authoring process doesn’t, quite.

    Text-artisanly rant here: blogging also allows ME to be in control of the typography. Rachel, I enjoyed Next-Gen Librarian, and its cover is great, but the interior design and typography look like something that somebody with ZERO book-design or typesetting experience knocked off in Microsoft Word.

    *Please* tell ITI to find real book designers! I can even recommend a couple, who work at very reasonable rates! No, they don’t have to get a new design for every book, but some competent stock designs/templates would raise their book quality immensely for very little extra outlay.

  6. Rachel:

    Fiona and Dorothea: It’s no stretch to picture either of you writing a book!

    And, to Fiona — I think that’s a common perception (books are for the experts). But doesn’t blogging and writing articles and thinking about issues in a sense MAKE you an expert? I’m of the firm belief that librarians are in a wonderful position to write books, because we know how to research them and can find out what we don’t know. I wrote my first book 4 years out of library school, and don’t know that I was an “expert” on the topic. It worked out fine :) .

    And, to Dorothea: I think they were going for a “NextGen” feel with the typography. They did ask me if an Arial font was OK, but I’m not sure I pictured the end result. What do you think of the “Accidental” series of books? I find their layouts clear and useful.

    Walt: I’ve no doubt about the economics of American Libraries. If an organization is going to start asking for dues increases, though, it might behoove it to think about how people perceive one of the most visible and tangible benefits of membership. Just saying…

    Judy: Exactly what I was getting at!

    Thomas: Thanks for the pointer to your blog, and also for the additional insights about blogs, books, and non-English-language markets.

  7. Dorothea:

    I’ll have to take a look at the Accidental books. But next-gen or not, Arial is *not* a font for print body copy. There are some “humanistic” sans-serifs that do look okay (though I’m old-skool enough to prefer serifs), but Arial is just — gagh. It doesn’t even have a real italic!

    And the first paragraph after a section heading never, ever, ever, EVER indents in a properly-typeset book. :)

  8. Katie:

    Great post Rachel! I have contributed to one book and am starting the process of contributing to another. I’ve written fiction novels. The thought of doing a non-fiction book on my own freaks me out. Part of it may be that I had a friend who recently finished the book from h*ll that I’d swear was cursed. Another is that I have no idea what I’d write about as it always seems like someone else is more in tune with the topic than I am. And also, I realize that my voice is so irreverant that I don’t know that anyone would take me seriously. Finally, I just don’t have the time. With my current writing commitments (LIS and fiction), my job, and my professional involvement, it’s hard to find time for myself. But I can concur that seeing your name in print on paper is a total rush :D

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