Blogs to Books – A Few Tips

If you’ve been following my new “just links” blog, you know that I’m using some of my old blog articles as the starting points for books.

Yes, some of this comes from my growing ambivalence about how I share information, online, especially in social media. Also, Jaron Lanier’s TED talk had a big impact on me.

I was so impressed by that, I went back & re-read Kill Your Blog, by Buck Flogging (aka Matt Stone).

  • Yes, that book has a terrible cover, and yes, his pen name is kind of clever but – when you switch the B & F – it’s more than a little vulgar. So is some of how he talks in this and other books. (So far, I don’t recommend the latter.)
  • Yes, his KDP numbers aren’t red-hot. In fact, they’re kind of horrible, as “Buck Flogging” and as Matt Stone.

Despite that, I think he makes some excellent points in Kill Your Blog. If you’re serious about turning your blog articles into books, it’s probably worth the $3.99 (or whatever it’s selling for, now).

Putting This Idea to Work

A couple of my blogs include 500+ articles, each. So, I’m turning some of them into book series.  I’ll break each site’s articles into bunches that total around 10k to 20k words. Most of these will be “Best of ____” books, with a subtitle identifying the focus.

Blogs to Books - for indie authorsIf you like this idea, I recommend reading the great how-to article, From Blog to Book, at SmartBlogger.com.

But now I’m faced with the mechanics of this process: First, getting my blog posts organized by topics. (I’m starting with WordPress blogs, not HTML sites.)

Then, copying & pasting the selected blog posts into Scrivener or a word processing program.

(Initially, I thought I’d just publish my blogs as printed books, through CreateSpace. For me, that means using a word processing program. Because: I’m a control freak when it comes to formatting, and I don’t yet have Vellum. Or a Mac.)

Is This Legal? Answer: Yes

I’ve heard mixed opinions about whether blogs can become Kindle books. (Years ago, it looks like Amazon actually encouraged it.)

Also, at their Content Guidelines page, Amazon said, “We will not accept content that is freely available on the web unless you are the copyright owner of that content.” (emphasis added)

So, this morning, I wrote to Amazon’s customer support for clarification.

Here was Amazon’s reply (in less than an hour):

Hello Eibhlin,

You can publish your blog as long as you hold the copyrights. There are no restrictions on it.

Our content guidelines are published on the Kindle Direct Publishing website, found here:

https://kdp.amazon.com/help?topicId=A3KIRDTX1UQJX0

Content that is in violation of these guidelines will not be offered for sale.

Thanks for your interest in Amazon KDP.

Converting Your Blog to a Book

Anyway, copying all those blog posts could be tedious.

I’ve looked at several approaches.

The first were BookWright, Blurb, and blog2print, and similar companies. Generally, you have to publish your book on their platform. That might be fine for some personal projects, but not for what I have in mind.

Then I tried BlogBooker. (Some instructions are at Edublogs.) It didn’t work for my site with about 150 articles. I got an error message. But, my computer or browser may have been the issue. It’s kind of old, and running Windows 7. So, BlogBooker might work for you.

You might be able to use a simple PDF plugin… maybe. The problem is the lack of control. I want to publish a 6″ x 9″ trade paperback, and plugins don’t give me many options. Here’s a pretty good article (at wpmudev) that lists several free plugins you can use.

However, I use Print Friendly as a browser plugin, to print and save PDFs of articles I’ll refer to, later. The ads are annoying at times, but the plugin usually works perfectly.

I’ve had the best luck with a free WP plugin, Anthologize. It’s kind of clunky, and I don’t recommend it for books that will include more than, say, 30 of your articles.

However, if you have more patience (or perhaps a better computer) than I do, the free version of Pressbooks might be worth trying. It’s open source. People have created lots of free, really attractive templates for your final/printed book, too. But, for some reason, it didn’t play well with my exported blog files. (Yes, I need to spend more time figuring it out.)

Also, there is a paid Pressbooks option. I used that when it was still free, and it did a very good job.

The Clunky, Manual Approach

Because I’m rushing to get one blog – a small-ish one with about 150 articles – into a book, I’m manually copying-and-pasting from the website.

Here’s my process:

  1. Use my website’s Sitemap to copy a list of all the article titles. Then, alphabetize the list so it’s easy to correlate with the actual website.
  2. Decide the main topics. In other words, how I’ll organize the book’s articles, so they flow logically, from one to the next.
  3. Use a printed list (and, in my case, highlighter pens) to indicate which article (on the alphabetical list) belongs in which chapter.
  4. Set up Scrivener (or OpenOffice or Word or something similar) with those headings and article/chapters.
  5. Go to the website, and cut-and-paste the articles into my manuscript.
  6. Edit the book, removing all hyperlinks (at least for the printed book).

You may think of a better system. For now, this is working for me. It’s a little clunkier than I’d like, but I’m rushing through this project.

If you have a large blog or two, consider turning it into a book. I hope my insights are helpful. (Yes, I’ll update this article as I learn more about the fastest & most elegant ways to turn blogs into books.)

If you have suggestions or questions, be sure to ask me in comments.

TED-ish Talk Tips – and a question

Lately, I’ve been creating YouTube videos to promote my nonfiction books. Often, I share one or two tips from a book, and then point viewers to it at Amazon.

TED-ish Talk Tips for Video Book TrailersThat presents some slight problems.

First of all, there is no way I’m stepping in front of a camera. That’s a privacy issue.

So, my presentation has to be compelling.

The second issue is a quirky one. I’m kind of famous in one niche, and people know my voice from lots of radio shows, public appearances, podcasts, and so on.

(I was on the History Channel once, as well. It was less fun than I’d hoped.)

But this means I can’t sound like myself in videos under another pen name. Someone is sure to notice the voice and say, “Hey, wait… I know that voice! She’s [pen name]!”

So, my presentation has to say everything in text, usually in slides, right there on the screen.

(I use music for the backgrounds. If you’re doing this, I recommend getting the 7-day free trial membership at AudioBlocks.com. You can download 20 audios per day. It’ll save you money while you’re deciding whether you want to continue making videos.)

Anyway…

To keep my slides interesting, I’m studying TED Talks.

As a shortcut to understanding what works – and doesn’t – in related slide presentations, I like a book called How To Design Ted Worthy Presentation Slides, by Akash Karia.

If you don’t mind reading an older version of that book – it’s shorter by about 35 pages – you can find a PDF of it here: http://communicationskillstips.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/How-to-Design-TED-Wothy-Presentation-Slides.pdf

He links to some great resources.

Meanwhile…

Like many people, I’m stepping away from Facebook. Not entirely, because – for now – it’s still useful for connecting with fellow writers. And for advertising, maybe.

(Seeing how wrong Facebook got my interests, I’m not as enthusiastic about their “targeted” ads, now.)

I might just use HootSuite to post quick links at my Facebook page. It is a convenient way for people to see them.

Or, I’m considering doing that at a blog (maybe here), and people will see those posts if they’ve subscribed to my emails (in the right column on this page), or if they use an RSS reader. (Yeah. I know. That’s very old-school, but it’s something I may go back to, myself.)

So, I’m interested in your reactions. How would you feel about a mix of quick, short links-plus-blurbs here, in addition to my usual everything-but-the-kitchen-sink posts?

Or, should I set up a “just the links, ma’am” kind of blog, for those posts?

UPDATE: The response was almost immediate. Many of my readers made it clear that they prefer infrequent, personal, sometimes-long articles. So, I’ll be setting up a separate micro-posts blog for links, trivia, and the occasional/fleeting bright idea.

WILR – Productivity for Indie Authors

WILR is “What I Learned Reading…”

Lately, I’ve been digging deeper into writing basics. I want more success from my books.

The truth is: I tend to come up with a book idea, and do a casual check to see if the market is viable. Then, I study the top few books – at least their book blurbs and some of their reviews.

At most, I spend about two or three hours on this.

Then, if everything looks good, I write the book.

If it’s nonfiction, I’m quick to push the “publish” button. I can practically write nonfiction in my sleep, so completing a book isn’t difficult.

If it’s fiction… that’s another matter. I tend to reach the midpoint. Then, I realize that I hate my book, hadn’t thought it through, or I have some other Very Good Reason to stop writing.

So, I quit, thinking I’ll get back to that book, later. Maybe.

And then I move on to the next project, usually following the same pattern.

This is not a healthy career path.

So, I’m reading (and sometimes re-reading) books, studying courses, watching videos, and generally re-educating myself about writing. (Especially fiction, but I’ll talk about those books in later articles.)

In the WILR series, I’ll talk about books (etc.) that I like, those that I don’t, and what I’m learning from each.

Note: These will not be summaries of everything in each book or course. I’ll talk about the points that made a difference to me. (You mileage may vary.)

productivity for indie authors by david lee martinThe first book has to be Productivity for Indie Authors, by David Lee Martin. For me, it’s the book that recently changed everything
about my writing career.

It’s the book that started me on my current re-education path.

David is minister, a successful author, and a long-time friend and someone whose integrity I trust. (You may know him from his free report, Published Is Better Than Perfect.)

When David offered to send me a beta copy of his productivity book, I dropped everything to read it.

It was time well spent.

This book really does live up to its title (and subtitle).

Here are a few things I learned, reading it.

First of all, I’m not a great writer. (This may not be stop-the-presses news to some people.)

I’m a storyteller.

Before reading David’s book, I didn’t realize the importance of this. Or even the distinction.

Then, in his book, I read:

See, to be truly productive we do not need to just be producing more. We need to be producing more of the right thing.

Then, he shared insights about identifying that right thing.

That made me pause. I had to go beyond looking at individual books’ sales, or even which book categories performed well for me.

My discovery: every one of my successful books, no matter how badly written, was written in a storytelling style.

When I write something that’s “just the facts, ma’am,” my books tend to fall flat.

Well, they still sell like hotcakes to data-hungry readers who don’t care if the book is well-written.

But, for anyone looking for something written with style, eloquence, and few typos…? Umm… no.

That can severely limit the size (and enthusiasm) of my audience.

This was a h-u-g-e “ah-HA!” for me, and it led to further discoveries.

It was the beginning of my current reading-and-studying binge.

In addition, I read The ONE Thing, which is a more general book about focus and productivity. David had made several references to this concept, and I wanted to know more.

While some of The ONE Thing was intended for a different audience, many of the suggestions applied to how I work, as well.

The ONE Thing brought me important additional clarity. But, I’ve talked with several friends who said they just couldn’t get through the book. So, you may want to see if your public library owns a copy you can borrow. (They probably do. For at least a year, it was a very trendy book.)

Anyway…

The rest of David’s book, Productivity for Indie Authors, delves into productivity tips and hacks. Many of them weren’t new to me, but the way David talked about them made a difference.

In some cases, he explained a fresh way to use things like templates, and how to apply the 80/20 rule, and so on. At other times, his context was something I previously hadn’t considered.

In general, I’ve been delighted to streamline more of my work with the ideas and tools he suggests.

But, for me, the biggest takeaway has been the new way I look at my writing career.

That triggered a rather large overhaul of how I do… well… almost everything.

Uncovering the storytelling ingredient was vital. It was the initial key.

(That may be unique to me. It’s not as if David said “this is the answer.” It just happened to be my answer, and I found it by thoughtfully reading David’s book.)

Regarding productivity, David began his book by explaining, “productivity will look different for different people at different times and stages in the development of their business.”

He’s 100% correct.

For me, some of his productivity advice was useful immediately. Other suggestions will be useful in the future.

But, the biggest thing I learned from reading Productivity for Indie Authors is what works (and doesn’t) in my writing career.

That led to me analyzing which things to do more of, which to do less of, and the areas where I need to develop better skills. (That’s one area where the 80/20 rule applies.)

In some ways, this has been humbling. I’ve had to admit to being a slacker. I’ve been looking for shortcuts. Too often, I’ve followed advice in lots of books, reports, and courses that assured me those shortcuts were viable.

Well, yes. They did work, short-term.

Long-term… not so great, and I got tired of constantly scrambling to write & publish new books to make up for the faltering sales of older books.

Now, I’m confident about the decisions I’ve made — and the new path I’m following — after reading David’s book.

I recommend it to any author/publisher at any level of expertise.

Here’s the link to Amazon.com: Productivity for Indie Authors, and here’s the link to Amazon.co.uk: Productivity for Indie Authors.

Story Grid: Review

Moving ahead with David Lee Martin’s brilliant “… Self-Publishing Trenches” advice, I’m ready to take another look at fiction archetypes & tropes.

If I’m going to follow David’s advice to the letter, I need to understand exactly what readers expect in my sub-genre.

The Story Grid, by CoyneThis wasn’t on David’s list of recommended reading, but — last night — I skimmed “The Story Grid” by Shawn Coyne. (Don’t even THINK about buying it in Kindle… this is a massive book you’ll need to read in print.)

While this book seems more geared to screenplays and literary fiction, I’m gleaning enough oh-my-goodness insights (for genre fiction) that it was well worth reading… and the fairly high price tag.

(Authors, if your public library has a copy, get it. Now.)

This huge book includes a lot of tropes you won’t find at TVTropes.org... and some of them are kind of important. (See http://www.storygrid.com/genres-have-conventions-and-obligatory-scenes/ for the tip of the iceberg, and a good preview of the book.)

But… that said, this IS a textbook. The writing style is good, but the information he’s throwing at you, in almost every sentence…? Kind of overwhelming.

So, I can’t recommend this book to new writers. (However, if you’ve written at least five works of fiction, I think it’s a worthwhile — and perhaps essential — read.)

Geeky writers — those of us who print out everything useful we find online, and highlight it — will love this book.

Authors with several books in print, but ho-hum sales or reviews, should probably read this. I promise, you’re likely to find at least one “ah-HA!” moment in The Story Grid.

Everyone else may use it for a doorstop, and wish they hadn’t spent the money.

I’m glad I bought it. It’s definitely helping me understand a second level of plotting that I didn’t really get.

If your fiction has been lacking something, but you’re not sure what, take a look at The Story Grid.

Here are the links: Amazon.comAmazon.co.uk