Issue 51 - DIY Self Publishing Guide - Megg Jensen, Nina Amir, Bryan Chick and Ali Luke

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Nina Amir is the type of person that believes one is never enough. Let’s start with books. Nina can claim authorship of not just one but nine books and worries that she has more ideas than she has writing time! Then there are speaking topics. Nina speaks about everything from writing to Judaism to personal improvement. And finally blogs—Nina has created five blogs. And not just blogs! One, Write Nonfiction NOW!, is both a blog and a special month-long writing challenge each November.

Another blog, How to Blog a Book, was created with the express purpose of writing a book. And Nina not only wrote the book but had it published by Writer’s Digest Books! In October, WOW! Women on Writing will be launching a blog tour for Nina’s book, How to Blog a Book. But the idea of using a blog to write a book, approach publishers, build a platform, and develop readers—all at the same time—was too intriguing for us to wait until October to tell you about this great idea. So Nina took some time to tell us how she blogged a book, and why it’s an ideal way for many writers to complete their books.

WOW:  Could you give us a bit of background for your most unusual book: How to Blog a Book. What made you decide to write a book using a blog format and why this choice of topic?

Nina:  To be honest, the idea and opportunity dropped in my lap. I was given the opportunity to speak on a panel at the San Francisco Writers Conference. The topic was blogging and blogging books, but not one of the panelists was an expert on blogging books. In fact, I don’t think there was such a thing at the time. I knew a lot of bloggers were landing book deals, but they hadn’t set out to blog a book from scratch; they were repurposing existing blog posts into books once their successful blogs were discovered by agents or publishers. I thought it would be much easier to blog a book from scratch, and I decided to become the expert, if you will. I set out to blog a book about how to blog a book—how to write, publish, and promote a book in cyberspace. And that’s what I did over the next five months. I blogged the first draft of my book and became the leading expert on the topic. I later also landed a traditional book deal for that book and produced a bestseller, proving that the concept works. You can write a book on a blog, which promotes the book at the same time, and land a traditional book deal or create a successful book—or both.

WOW:  So this wasn’t a blog that just happened to turn into a book, like we’ve seen in the past? What was the plan: traditional publisher, self-publishing, or e-publishing?

Nina:  I always planned on blogging a book from scratch, from start to finish. was never just a blog—except after I finished blogging the book. I already had an agent—so I was ahead of the game by one step—and I planned on having her market the book to a traditional publisher. That said, I thought the book was extremely timely, and I wanted to be first to market. Thus, I was editing it as she peddled it to publishers with my own Plan B in mind if she didn’t succeed: I would self-publish (and quickly).

WOW:  So under what circumstances would you have moved on to Plan B?

Nina:  If I hadn’t received a contract in a timely manner and if the publisher had not been willing to publish the book in less than a year, I would have self-published to ensure the book was first to market.

I would consider self-publishing another book. I actually have several books I will likely self-publish—or thought I would self-publish. Recently, however, I’ve had some interest from traditional publishers for these topics. Although I’d love to make more money per book, I, personally, don’t have the time to mess with editors and designers—and prefer not to spend my money on them. I like getting an advance—knowing I got paid something for my book—and knowing someone else is handling production of my books, so I can just write. So if I can get them traditionally published, I’ll go that route. If not, I’ll self-publish them. I also have a few other topics—I have more books in me than I might ever get written—and these might end up self-published as well.

“It’s the easiest and fastest way to write, publish, and promote a book—and become the expert on your topic at the same time.”

WOW:  Do you think following How to Blog a Book will work for everyone? Are there some genres or topics that lend themselves more to blogging than others? How can we determine if our personal book plans will work in a blog format?

Nina:  No, blogging a book won’t work for everyone. Lots of aspiring authors, writers, and published authors refuse to blog. Period. Some don’t like blogging. Some are afraid to give their work away. Some are afraid their work will be stolen. Some are afraid. Period. Some are writing books that don’t lend themselves to being blogged.

Nonfiction lends itself best to blogging. I think almost any nonfiction writer can successfully blog a book and should consider it. It’s the easiest and fastest way to write, publish, and promote a book—and become the expert on your topic at the same time.

Fiction writers should also consider blogging books. Short stories work well on blogs, as do novels. (Memoirs, while nonfiction, read like novels and can be easily and successfully blogged as well.) This takes a bit more planning and craft, but it’s well worth it. Some fiction writers say blogging books makes them better writers because they must work harder to create their book in short compelling pieces.

To determine if your book idea might work as a blogged book, mind map the content, or create a content plan and table of contents; and then see if you can break it down into blog-post-sized bits (250 to500 words). If you can chunk down each chapter into many small pieces, you can blog your book.

WOW:  Now that was a surprise. I thought for sure you’d say book blogging is for nonfiction only. As you can see, I’m having trouble wrapping my brain around the concept. When I first began your book, I thought, But who would buy a book if they've already read the blog? So tell us . . . who? How can writers not only capture readers' interest but also convince them to make a purchase?

Nina:  Avid and loyal readers of a blog tend to be willing and eager to take home a souvenir from their favorite blog and blogger—a book. They will, indeed, purchase a book based on a blog, even if it is identical. Let’s face it; we often reread our favorite books. My daughter reread Harry Potter (each book) between three and ten times. How many times have you reread your favorite books? I go back and leaf through my favorite nonfiction books, looking for information on a regular basis. I highlight them and put little sticky notes on them. I can’t do that on a blog.

Plus, blogs are set up to have the most recent post first. They are cumbersome to read online from start to finish. So readers—especially newer ones—tend to welcome an e-book or p-book [print book] based on the blog.

And when you create a content plan for your blogged book, I suggest you not only plan out your content in a manner that keeps readers interested and coming back day after day, but that you also include some information that isn’t going to be published on the blog. This extra content will also entice readers (and publishers) to purchase the digital or printed book later when it becomes available. Remember, also, that the edited version of the blogged book will be a bit different and might be longer.

WOW:  Extra content. Sneaky. And a very good plan. Are there any advantages to blogging a book over the more traditional ways of writing a book?

Nina:  Yes! You will get your book written quickly in short spurts—250 to 500 words per day, so it doesn’t feel overwhelming. You can get feedback from real readers—not a critique group but actual people who would purchase your book. You will build author platform, or a fan base, at the same time (without too much effort). You are more likely to finish your book because you have readers waiting for the next installment (post). You will feel inspired to keep writing because you are getting read—and every writer wants to get read. You might get discovered by a publisher. These are just a few.

“A successful blog equals a successfully test-marketed book idea, the closest thing to a sure bet in the publishing industry.”

WOW:  Well now I feel like everyone should be blogging their book! But is blogging a book only for those who are willing to go the self-publishing route?

Nina:  No matter whether you want to become an indie publisher or you dream of having a traditional publisher back your book project, blogging a book can help you achieve your goals—and turn your book into a successful one. The reason blogs serve as such powerful promotional tools is their ability to help writers build a fan base or author platform; that’s what ensures the success of a book. It sells books—and it attracts publishers. A publisher is looking for a good business partner, a writer who can help sell books (who has a big platform). A successful blog equals a successfully test-marketed book idea, the closest thing to a sure bet in the publishing industry. This is something a publisher is willing to back. So yes, a blogged book is highly likely to result in a publishing contract, which explains all those blog-to-book deals, like Julie Powell’s Julie & Julia, Christian Lander’s Stuff White People Like, Leo Babauta’s Zen Habits, and more recently, Martha Alderson’s The Plot Whisperer, Jill Smokler’s Confessions of a Scary Mommy, and Jill Abramson’s The Puppy Diaries.

Each writer has to decide which route is best for them. Not every writer is a DIY-type of person. If not, they won’t like self-publishing. They will prefer traditional publishing, where the publisher handles editing, design, etc. Also, for nonfiction writers who want that expert-author status, traditional publishing still can offer you some clout that you don’t get with self-publishing; to some people, including the media, it still means something when a publisher invests in you and your idea. However, you do have more freedom and control with self-publishing, and you definitely make more money per book. So if you are a person who prefers to be in control and is in it for the money, self-publishing is for you. Plus, if you are writing the book of your heart and the book is not highly marketable, you will want to self-publish. I will always encourage a writer to write a book she feels passionate about, or she feels fulfills her purpose in some way, even if it doesn’t appear viable from a business perspective. Every book will find some readers; and in today’s publishing world, it is cheap and easy to produce e-books as well as POD books—if you are willing to hire editors and designers or want to use a subsidy press, like Lulu or Xlibris (although I do not recommend these).

WOW:  Entering the self-publishing world still feels scary because not long ago, self-published books were considered “second-class citizens” in the publishing world. Do you feel this attitude has changed?

Nina:  I think for the most part this attitude has changed, but not in all cases. It remains hard to get self-published books into brick-and-mortar bookstores. It remains difficult to get radio and television interviews, in many cases, if you don’t have a traditionally published book. So, there is some bias among traditional media.

When it comes to e-books, I see the playing field leveling to a great degree—although self-published authors have the freedom to offer their books for free or very low prices, and traditionally published authors can’t do this.

Quality has always made the difference between self-published books and traditionally published books. If indie authors get professional book editors to edit their books and professional book designers to design their books, their books will maintain the same high quality that book publishers, bookstores, and readers expect. The fact that many self-published authors have not or do not do this is what has made it difficult for indie books and authors to compete with traditionally published books and authors.

“If you are one of those aspiring authors who simply never gets your book written or finished, blogging a book is for you.”

WOW:  If you had to give wannabe authors any advice about blogging a book, what would you tell them?

Nina:  Blogging a book is a no-brainer. It’s the quickest and easiest way to write, publish, and promote your work at the same time. If you are one of those aspiring authors who refuses to promote yourself and your book, blogging a book is for you. If you are one of those aspiring authors who simply never gets your book written or finished, blogging a book is for you. If you are an aspiring author who refuses to build a platform—even though you know you need one, blogging a book is for you. If you are an aspiring author who is wondering how to attract a publisher or make one notice you, blogging is for you.

And . . . just start. Remember, blogging is writing. Don’t think of it as something hard or foreign. Once the blog is set up, all you need to do is write a little bit and do it often. That’s all. Don’t think of it as some big huge job you must take on that will be one more thing you have to do. Consider it your daily writing time. Sit down. Write for thirty minutes or an hour—on your book. Then copy and paste your day’s work into your blog. Hit publish. Voilà. You are blogging your book. And you are building a platform—a readership for the end product, a finished book. Easy schmeasy.

“Just do it,” as Nike says.

WOW:  I’ve heard of online tools (like PressBooks) that can easily import your blog posts into e-book format. Are there any that you recommend?

Nina:  No, I haven’t used any. I suggest you create a manuscript off-line, as you blog your book. You are writing daily in a word processing program and then copying and pasting into your blog platform. Then you have a manuscript that is easy to edit and that can easily be given to a designer.

WOW:  So it doesn’t actually have to be any more complicated than using word processing to write your book. If, after finishing this interview, one (or many) of our readers says, “That’s for me,” what should they do?

Nina:  I suggest you begin a new blog devoted to the book. Then go through the following steps.

  1. Choose your topic carefully. Choose a topic that attracts readers, that interests you, and that interests a lot of people. If possible, choose a topic you feel passionate about since you’ll be writing about this subject for a while—even after you finish blogging your book.
  2. Create a business plan for your book. Take the time to look at the big picture for your blogged book and see it through the eyes of an acquisitions editor. This means going through what I call the book “proposal process.” This is how you create a business plan for both book and author. You don’t have to write a proposal, but you do need to compile the information necessary for a proposal.
  3. Hone your topic for success. Based on the blog and book competition, evaluate if and how you need to angle your blogged book to make it unique in the marketplace—the bookstore and the blogosphere.
  4. Map out your book’s content. Brainstorm all the subjects you might cover in the book, and then group related subjects into chapters. Group the other subjects by relevance into these chapters; these become content for the chapters. If you are writing fiction or memoir, map out your story arc or do a time line of events you plan to include in your book. Then create a content plan delineated by chapters. Your content plan should include material that will not appear on your blog. This extra content, available only in the printed version or e-book version of your blogged book, offers an enticement to your blog readers and to a publisher to purchase it.
  5. Break your content into post-sized pieces. Blog posts are short—between 250 and 500 words. The topics from number four that you grouped into chapters constitute blog posts. Organize and break down your chapters further by developing actual subheadings for each topic you will cover in each chapter. If you are writing fiction or a memoir, you will want to break your story arc and time line down into vignettes or scenes you can easily write about in post-sized bits.
  6. Blog your book often and regularly. To build the kind of loyal fan base successful bloggers garner, you now need to blog your book on a consistent and frequent schedule. Write and post twice a week—three to seven times a week is better—a short bit of your book.
  7. Publicize your posts. Share each published post on your social networks.
  8. Edit and revise. Once your first draft is finished, get professional editorial help to polish it up.

WOW:  My goodness, you make it sound so easy! Or what was it you said, “Easy schmeasy.” It’s so tempting to try, and I’d love to hear from anyone out there who decides to dive into blogging a book.


For a complete tutorial, check out Nina’s book, How to Blog a Book: Write, Publish, and Promote Your Work One Post at a Time.

Jodi M. Webb lives in Pottsville, Pennsylvania with her husband and three children. She has written hundreds of articles for publications such as The History Magazine, Pennsylvania Magazine, and Christian Science Monitor. She has also contributed to anthologies on baseball, gardening, pop culture, married life and the military. Pennsylvania Trivia (Blue Bike Books), a book she co-authored, was released in September 2008. In her spare time, she works on her first novel—the story of a group of women on the home front during World War II.

Jodi is also WOW! Women On Writing’s Blog Tour Manager. You can email her at jodi[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com.


Enjoyed this interview?  You may also like:

How to Build a Solid Author Platform? Use WordPress!

How to Start, Optimize, and Monetize Your Blog

How to Attract New and Repeat Visitors to Read Your Blog

Pioneers of Cyberspace: Collaborative Novel Writing through Blogging

Julie Powell, author of Julie & Julia, Dishes On Cleaving

E-Publishing Platforms for Long-Form Journalism

How to Write a Nonfiction Book Proposal


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