If you are a blogger and write for your blog regularly, you have probably thought about expanding your writings into your own book. Digital books are very popular now, since everyone has multiple gadgets they can read them on, and they are very portable. There are also services now that make it easy for self-publishers to create physical books.
So where do you start?
Obviously, you are going to need a topic for your book, and you will need to do the actual writing of it. As a blogger, you are already familiar with this and if you are even considering writing a book, you most likely not only have a topic or two, but have already started writing it in your head.
I could go into list of suggestions and tips for writing, but you most likely already have all your own, so I want to focus instead on how to take your writing and make it into a book.
Writing a book is not the same as writing a blog. Well, almost. The differences really depend on a few variables which need to be considered.
Why do you want to write a book? If you already have a blog, then you are regularly producing material to inform and entertain people, so why do you feel you need to be producing a book as well?
The most philanthropic answer is “I want to help other people, and I feel a book could reach a larger audience.” Publishing a book can certainly be useful in reaching a more people who have never found your blog, since they might get a copy of your book from another source and be enlightened by your expertise. If they really like it, they might then be directed to your blog, and this gets you more traffic (always a bonus!).
Gaining traffic to your blog is a good reason in itself, since your book establishes you as a serious writer and helps promote your brand. You can then think of it as helping others as well as yourself. Many people publish books to attract readers to their blogs. In many cases, the books are even used as “free goodies” for people who subscribe to your blog.
Of course, another purpose is to make money. While many people might think that is a selfish goal, it really isn’t. There is no reason why you can’t help people while making some profit. Furthermore, many of us have to pay for resources that help us create our free stuff, like servers for hosting the blog and domain names. Then you have the reality of how much time you put into what you create which you could be spending on something that did earn you money.
Having a blog means you already have established an audience on a subject, but that doesn’t have to be the same target audience as your book. For example, in the course of writing articles, you may have come across a number of useful products and websites that could be useful for people. This would be a great topic for a book, in which you share your experience with others, even if you have rarely or never written about the sites in your blog.
Judith Meyer has successfully published a few books based on this idea. Her books contain a large number (72, to be exact) of descriptions and links to websites she has found useful in learning particular languages. She obviously spent many hours exploring and compiling the lists, which make it easier for people to find materials in a language, and she makes them available to people for a small fee. This is the same as a travel book listing the best places to visit while in a country. You can find her “72 Ways to Learn French for Free” on Amazon.
“Student life in the UK: A guide for international students“, by Agnieszka Karch, has a very distinct audience and purpose in mind. Her book describes her experiences as an international student while also providing helpful information on attending the university, including explanations of the jargon used. In contrast, her blog, 5-Minute Language, focuses more on tips for languages and reviews of language resources.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with have an audience similar to your blog.
Ron Gullekson’s book, “Language Master Key: How to Unlock Your Brain’s Ability to Learn Any Language“, contains a number of sections that are related to language learning and give you good information and useful tips.
Benny Lewis, in his “Fluent in 3 Months“, also contains a variety of articles related to language learning, many taken from his blog of the same name.
Malachi Rempen, the genius behind the language and travel comic “Itchy Feet”, sells books, both printed and Kindle ebooks, of his comics which are all available online for free. He does do some creative formatting, so the books are not exactly the same. This is a very common practice among cartoonist, and they have been selling books that are compilations of their works which appeared in newspapers for years.
So why would you want to buy or even have a free copy of a book which contains essentially the same content as a blog? The biggest reason is convenience. A blog has its information spread out over many articles, perhaps even years apart. Getting a book which contains all the information in a single form, with indexing for ease of use, makes much more sense. Also, when you have it in an electronic or print format, it becomes much more portable.
A third consideration is the format you want your book published in. This depends largely on the first two conditions.
Generally, if you plan to sell the book on something like Amazon, you will need to put it into a format that allows it to be viewed easily on a variety of devices. The most popular file formats are EPUB, Mobi, and PDF.
The first two are flexible, meaning the reader can change the fonts, font sizes, and spacing. This is ideal since they can be easily viewed on a large variety of devices with little difference in readability. Whether you use a phone, a tablet, a laptop, or a desktop computer, the book will remain very readable.
EPUB is perhaps the most widely accepted, being the MP3 of ebooks. Barnes & Noble uses this format for its Nook reader. Meanwhile, Amazon uses a form of Mobi for its Kindle devices. Because both formats are designed to be flexible, it also means that the amount of formatting you put into such a book is limited. They don’t handle graphics, tables, and other precise placement of items well.
PDFs (Portable Document Format) have been around since before the web and were designed for fixed publishing. A PDF book can have any look you want, with many font sizes, colours, spacing, charts, and columns. Even the dimensions of the book can be whatever you want.
However, a PDF is also fixed, so that once you have created the document, no one else can edit it. While they can be read on multiple devices as well, you can only enlarge or shrink the view. If you don’t like the font or the spacing, you are stuck with it. The strength of the PDF is that you can create some really wonderful layouts.
I tend to think PDFS compared to the others like comparing a magazine to a normal book. The magazine looks great with all the fonts and images and columns, but it tends to need to be a certain size, while a book can be any size since you only having to shift words.
If someone offers you a free ebook, it is most likely going to be as a PDF, while if you buy a book for a device, it will be as EPUB or Mobi, so a more general way to look is PDF = free and EPUB/Mobi = for sale.
Kerstin Hammes provides an excellent example of how both are done. She sells two books on Amazon in the Kindle / Mobi format: “The Vocab Cookbook: The Fluent Guide to Building Vocabulary” and “Fluency Made Achievable“. Both are as you would find a regular print book, with all basic formatting of text without images. She also offers a free PDF book which is a guide to learning. It is a short book, rectangular in design, with colourful headers, bullet points, and even a lovely picture of her at the end.
PDF books tends to be shorter. It is the favourite format for people that have a little information but want it to look like a lot more. For this reason, when people talk about their ebook, ignore how many pages they say it is. The important issue is really how many words it has.
As an example, think of a child’s alphabet book. There might be a single word on each page with a large drawing. If it using the Latin alphabet, that would make a book that is about 26 pages long, yet with only 26 words. Meanwhile, a Kindle novel has between 250 and 300 words per page, and if such a book is only 10 pages long, it will still be over one hundred times longer than the book that has over twice as many pages.
Now, that might sound great to you. You could easily take one of your best post, format it as a PDF, and instantly have a 10 to 15 page long ebook, and this is actually a common thing to do. I’ve even seen an 8 page “book” that wouldn’t even equal half of a normal blog post, which might have 1500 words. The (hopefully) obvious warning here is: don’t attempt to sell something like that! Not unless you want a lot of people hating you.
So what does it all mean?
Now that I’ve introduced three basic considerations when writing an ebook, I should lay it out in a more basic way so you can see how they work together.
Ebooks which are for sale don’t need to be the size of a printed book. It is generally accepted now that ebooks will be shorter. However, if you plan to sell it, you need to make sure you are giving someone the value of their money.
The cheapest ebook is $0.99 USD, so make sure you are writing enough to be worth that. If a decent blog article is at least 1500 words in length, that equals a Kindle book between 5 and 6 pages. Would you pay someone almost a dollar to read their blog post? Probably not. Then you cannot expect someone to pay you that for yours.
Of course, there is more than just the length to consider. The content has to be worth it as well, and that is much harder to judge. Generally, make sure any book you sell has enough quality material to justify paying for it.
If you are planning to write just a little, hoping to lure people to your blog, then you are probably better off producing a free PDF. People really can’t complain about length when they get it for free, and you can still put it some very useful information.
I wrote my own book a year ago, taking it from a series of 6 articles I wrote for my magazine. I originally wanted to just create a compilation and distribute it freely, but someone suggested I look into publishing it for sale. That is when I started exploring all of this.
I revised the articles greatly, expanding them in many places, as well as providing introductory and closing sections to unite it as a book. It finally came out to a little over 16,000 words, which came out to 58 Kindle pages (275 words/page average). I then started selling it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and a few other places for $2.99. I have since then changed the price twice (once down, once up) and the cover once, all to experiment with the sales.
Once you have chosen your goal (free or for sale), your medium (fixed or flexible) and your audience, you can write your book. Once that is done, you will need to do the actual formatting and figure out how you wish to distribute it. That will be a focus for another article.
I hope this has helped you get some idea of the what is involved in publishing a book and what some of the choices are for what you develop. I welcome you thoughts and own personal experiences.