blog to book


anthologize logoRecently, I became aware of a new tool for authors called Anthologize.  Anthologize is a WordPress plugin created as part of the One Week One Tool project at George Mason University in Washington DC.  According to the press release accompanying the launch of Anthologize,

. . . [the] project was inspired by the model of rural “barn-raisings” to bring twelve dynamic individuals to CHNM with the mission to create, build, and release a digital tool useful to humanities scholars in seven days. The project offered the team a short course in the principles of open source software development, collaborative project management, and community outreach. The project’s team included professors, graduate students, recent undergraduates, museum professionals, librarians, and digital humanities staff.

In a nutshell, Anthologize lets authors quickly gather information from blogs and combine it with their own posts to create electronic documents, published in a variety of formats including PDF and ePUB.  Inside the tool, you can set up projects which consist of “parts” (chapters) and items (“content”).  These can come from your own posts or be imported via feeds from other sites.  You can drag and drop items to any place within the project.

anthologize plugin

The strength of the tools is that it leverages all of the WordPress capabilities in terms for pulling together a rich variety of content. and provides an organizational structure well suited to a book.  While powerful, the tool isn’t perfect.  A review by Teleogistic flagged some of its weaknesses – e.g. in the export process.

None of these export processes are perfect. Some require that certain libraries be installed on your server; some do not offer the kind of layout flexibility that we like; some are not great at text encoding; etc. This release is truly an alpha, a proof-of-concept.

However, the reviewer acknowledges that the tool is a potent framework for further development in the world of independent authorship, publishing, and distribution.

According to the Anthologize website, future plans for the tool include:

  • Importing blog comments into your editing environment and transform them into end notes or footnotes
  • Importing content via URL when an RSS feed is unavailable
  • Maintaining version control of the individual items in a project
  • Creating editions of your electronic documents
  • Providing an annotation interface for adding editorial comments during the crafting process
  • Developing an interface to aid in the construction of document indexes

Anthologize is clearly a major step forward in the evolution of blog to book.  It gives authors a way to organize their blog posts, as well as externally derived information, into a coherent book structure and then publish in formats that are suitable for print or e-book.  One can easily imagine Anthologize becoming a must have base tool for authors that others developers contribute to through complementary plugins – much like the NextGen Gallery plugin has become in the image gallery arena.

anthologize on the iPad

Anthologize can be downloaded and installed from the tool website’s download page, or you can download it from the plugins section on Wordpres.org. Check it out!

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FAIL blog LOLcatsThe FAIL blog is a blog for our times.  It’s a visual celebration of human foibles and fallability.   The Wikipedia describes the site and its community thus:

. . . a comedic blog website originally created by Leechio in January 2008. The blog steadily grew in popularity, and in April 2008 was sold to Pet Holdings Inc., owner of I Can Has Cheezburger?.  The site prominently features pictures and videos of someone (or something) failing at something they are supposed to do, or displaying blatant stupidity or incompetence, captioned with the words “fail” or “epic fail”.

The site has become wildly popular and fostered its own FAIL community.  Visitors can upload their own fail pictures or videos and also vote on their favorite fails.  The success of the site has led to the word “fail” becoming the go to adjective or noun used for any kind of wacky failure.  There are degrees of fail – e.g. EPIC FAIL.  The inevitable imitation fail blogs have begun appearing – there’s even a FAIL-book social site.

BEST OF FAIL BLOG: VERSION 2 

FAIL Nation book coverNo surprise then that the folks who started the FAIL blog and I Can Has Cheezburger Blog sites have published a book based on the blog content called FAIL Nation.  Described as “. . . your silent guide and handler to the not-even-close-to-perfect nation of FAIL, chock-full of irrelevant tips and useless suggestions” the book has defied its title and marched to an Amazon sales rank of  6,873 since it’s release in October. 

Much like the print success of Frank Warren’s Post Secret series, FAIL Nation has proven that its highly visual blog material can translate to book success.  Can Hollywood be far behind? 

Sometimes FAIL is WIN.


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Several interlinked shifts are leading to a whole new ecology within book publishing.   First is the loss of jobs in the industry.  Over the past year, for example, employment in print related industries, including book publishing, has fallen by almost 90,000 jobs.  Second, as technology plays a bigger role in all aspects of book publishing, many publishing jobs are becoming obsolete or are being radically transformed.  Third, the expectations that publishers have of authors is changing.  More and more, authors are asked to do a greater share of the marketing for their titles both before and after publication.

At the same time,  the continuing democritization of book publishing means that more books are being produced and marketed than ever before despite the down economy. These trends are symptomatic of an ongoing process of creative destruction and haves created a (mostly) freelance ecology of contractors who are retooling for the new era in publishing,

In addition to the traditional freelance jobs associated with the development of a book, here are some examples of non-traditional jobs this new ecosystem does or might include:

  • Ghost blogger – Many authors use blogs now as a way to build and maintain an audience for their work.  But blogging can be time consuming and the pace of frequent blogging can be demanding.  A ghost blogger is an individual that writes blog posts or tweets on behalf of an author.
  • Blog tour specialist – A person who sets up and manages blog tours, where an author’s work is reviewed on blog sites pertinent to the book’s content.

How to Create a Virtual Book Tour

  • Social media specialist – Someone who monitors and manages an author’s online presence, especially as it relates to the use of social sites like Facebook, Twitter, Shelfari and the like.  Many folks from the realms of traditional book PR are moving into this area.
  • Book project manager – As more of the work of marketing titles shifts to authors, they will need the assistance of a team of specialists who can help them get the greatest possible exposure for their work.  The role of this person is to help guide the author through the maze of choices and assemble / manage the right team of people for their book project.
  • Web developer – The continuing incursion of technology into book publishing arena brings with it the need for experts to help with author website development, widget creation, even database setup for certain types of titles.
  • E-book conversion specialists – There are now many e-book formats, some easier to navigate than others.  A number of companies and individuals now provide assistance with getting titles converted into all the major formats and making sure they look good in those formats.
  • Book video producers – Book trailers are becoming a popular and effective marketing tool.  Creating and distributing a quality video usually requires expertise outside that of the author or their publisher.
  • Analytics interpreter – These days, authors and publishers can be awash in numbers- e.g. website traffic, blog metrics, book sales data from BookScan, social media stats.  Gathering and interpreting this data will become more important as we move from intuition based to evidence based publishing.  Making sense of it all could become a specialty of its own.
  • Online writing coaches – This individual works with authors making the transition to new, compressed forms of writing – e.g. mobile phones, blogs, Twitter, etc.

The emergence of a new book publishing ecosystem is inevitable as the industry embraces technology.  It offers new opportunities and hope for those who have been displaced from book publishing firms over the last decade.


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Nick BelardesAs social media, like Facebook and Twitter, become more embedded into our lives, it seems only natural that writers would begin exploring how to use them as a new literary medium.  At first glance, it doesn’t seem feasible or sensible to consider a service like Twitter as a writing vehicle; after all what can you possibly say in 140 characters.  But, as Sarah Schmelling recently noted in the Huffington Post:

Twitter, too, is full of stories. It may be a cacophony of voices, but you can still easily “follow” someone through the establishment of their problem, rising tension, conflict, climax and resolution. And the trends like “first draft movie lines” can also be narrative entertainment: they’re like the movie scene where someone starts singing and little by little everyone, even that unlikely thug in the corner, eventually joins in.

Like full-blown blogs, Twitter microblogs could emerge as another form of writing in public.  The experiments are well underway.  These projects come in several flavors:

  • Story in chunks – A single author builds the story post by post.  He or she may already have a manuscript, but it gets chunked out a 140 or fewer characters at a time.  Author Nick Belardes has used this approach in his two Twitter novels Small Places and Bumble Square. 
  • Single post, single story – The ultra compressed novel.  An example is novelsin3lines by Félix Fénéon.  This is akin to the first draft movie lines that Ms. Schmelling refers to.
  • Collaborative story seeds -A starting post, followed by a sequence of  Twitter posts contributed by followers.  This process creates a story like one of those school science projects where you grow a crystal in a liquid.  One example is BBC Audiobooks America Twitter novel project.  Here is how it works.  Author Neil Gaiman kicked off the novel with the post:  Sam was brushing her hair when the girl in the mirror put down the hairbrush, smiled & said, “We don’t love you anymore.”  Thousands of people have responded with the next possible sentences.  The selected tweets are chosen by BBC Audiobooks and the final result will be posted on iTunes as a free podcast.

neil_gaiman_Twitter_post

For more examples, check out the Read Write Web which posted a nice list of Twitter novels in progress. 

Inspired?  Brandon Mendelson, who has written the Twitter novel The Falcon Can Hear the Falconer, has posted some good advice for wannabe Twitter novelists on TwiTips.  Key among his pointers is to maintain a separate site to provide the story’s updates from where it began and link to this site from the Twitter novel site.

So far, publishers aren’t lining up to sign Twitter novelists.  But as the medium evolves, it could become a good place to try out story ideas and see what can build a following.  Japanese cell phone novelists have shown that novels in short bites can be successful.  (Now, if we could only come up with a better name for this writing form – something that didn’t start with “Tw” and sound like baby talk.)


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365 days. 536 recipes. One girl and a crappy outer borough kitchen.
Julie Powell (The Julie / Julia Project – August 25, 2002)

Julie and Julia movie posterBlog to book success stories have been around for awhile.  Now Julie & Julia has entered new territory – making a profitable  transition from blog to book to movie.  The first month’s box office receipts topped $70 million.  Sales of Julie & Julia (the book – Amazon rank 90) were brisk and Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking (Amazon rank 4) have sold more this past month than they did in entire years past.

julie_powellFor the aspiring writer, are there attributes that augur well for a blog in terms of turning it into a book and perhaps a movie?  What was it that made Julie & Julia a hit?  Here are some thoughts:

  • Celebrity – The blog involves a celebrity – in this case Julia Child.  What made the whole thing interesting was that she would have the conversation with Julia Child (who was not supportive of the blog) as well as her readers.
  • Drama – Julie Powell made herself the story; setting out her challenge in a very pubic way.  And she had a definite deadline; there was no ambiguity about whether she would succeed or flop.
  • That could be me! – Julie Powell took on the fears of EveryCook – preparing difficult recipes and sharing all her travails with her audience.  Each day, her readers could empathize with her discouragements and celebrate her triumphs, but be glad they weren’t going through it themselves.  In some respects, it was like reality TV.

All the right elements for any good story. The blogging medium might be new, but the formula for success is age old.  Bon appetit!

Julie & Julia movie trailer


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blog on KindleAmazon recently rolled out a new program called Kindle Publishing for Blogs.  The beta program offers Kindle owners subscriptions to blogs.  Blogger receive 30% of anywhere from $0.99 to $1.99 per reader per month; so for every thousand readers, a blogger could get $999 to $1,999.  (It’s not clear how Amazon determines the price it charges for a particular blog subscription.)   The setup process  takes about 12 to 48 hours before a blog appears in the Kindle Store. 

For bloggers, it offers potentially wider distribution.  As Shawn Farner commented on GizHQ, “Aside from giving the content creator a weak 30 percent, the new system could present an opportunity for blogs to tap into new audiences and become more widely read, and I’m all for that.”

But it’s unclear how Amazon will get consumers to pay for what they can now get for free.  Kit Eaton of Fast Company wondered about Amazon’s larger strategy:

. . . blogs derive much of their power from their nowness–their real-time relevance is what’s presenting a challenge to traditional media reporting. By offering them to Kindle readers as so much dead text…is this Amazon’s subtle way of propping up the ailing newspaper industry?

Either that, or Amazon is thinking far into the future to a time when people will pay to read blog posts. Hard to imagine, but not outside the realm of possibility.

Some other possibilities:

  • Amazon sees blogs eventually supplanting newspapers (and in some cases magazines), at least in the US.  As these blog based news organizations grow in influence and sophistication, they may begin offering premium content for subscribers.
  • Amazon sees a tie between blogs and books.  Blogs can function as the progenitor of books, and as an extension to a published book.  Blogs by popular authors may command a small subscription price and help drive sales of books.  
  • Amazon thinks readers may be willing to pay for a different blog reading experience – something between a computer screen and a printed page.
  • Amazon isn’t sure what to expect but thinks the experiment is worth a shot.

One thing is sure; if the Kindle blog publishing program is successful, other purveyors of e-readers will soon follow with similar programs of their own.

Jeff Bezos and Bestselling Authors Discuss Amazon Kindle


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gregg-taylor-and-lori-thiessenWe have often discussed the benefits of blogging for authors.  Blogs are a great platform for building an audience while you develop your work.  But blogs can also serve as an excellent vehicle for researching your book, especially when you are tyring to identify and explain new social trends. 

Gregg Taylor and Lori Thiessen have set up a blog to help them gather stories and information for Coffee Shop Office, which details the phenomenon of a new class of mobile entrepreneurs; those individuals you see with their laptops working from coffee shops. 

Both Gregg and Lori are entrepreneurs themselves.  Gregg, through his Vancouver BC based company, Transitions Career & Business Consultants Inc., coordinates public and private sector career planning programs and provides career counselling, success coaching and HR consulting services.   He has a keen sense of the latest workplace and workforce trends and had the idea for the book.  Not so coincidentally, his grandfather started a coffee company in Montreal in the early 1900’s.  Lori writes and provides other contract business services through her own business, Scriptorium Ink.  She has an interdisciplinary background in history, psychology, sociology, and philosophy.  She provides the literary prowess and creative flair for the project. 

We recently interviewed Lori about the Coffee Shop Office project and her and Gregg’s experience  with using a research blog.

FPP:  What is Coffee Shop Office about and how did you come up with the idea for the book?

LT:  The Coffee Shop Office is about people using their local caffeinated watering hole as their alternative or even preferred office. Gregg is the brains behind the idea. He was sitting in his local coffee shop and noticed that just about everybody was working away on something, either solo or with another person or people. Gregg is fascinated with new work trends and wanted to investigate this one further.

Gregg asked me to come on board and help him with the research and writing. Plus it’s just more fun having someone else to work with.

FPP:  What motivated you to set up your site and blogs as part of the book project?

LT:  Setting up a website and the blogs seemed a no-brainer because much of our lives, social and business, are being carried out online. We wanted to connect firsthand with people who were using the coffee shop as their alternative or preferred office, and hear about their experiences. That’s why there is a link on the website and the blogs to our online survey. We want to capture as much raw data on this work trend as possible.

Gregg also felt that packaging the research material into manageable chunks, like posts of about 350 words, would make the book writing process a bit less daunting. We’ve been finding out that blog writing and book writing are two different animals. Writing the posts have been useful though, as a way to really focus in on a particularly juicy piece of information.

FPP:  You how have two blogs. How does each of your blogs help you gather research for the book?

LT:  When Gregg and I first started working on this project, I was constantly attracted by information outside of the scope of the coffee shop office topic. For instance, I am a history buff and became a bit obsessed with the history of coffeehouses until Gregg pulled her back to the 21st century coffee shop.

All this information was fascinating for both Gregg and I. It seemed a shame to ‘waste’ it so the caffeculture blog was born. It encapsulates all the meta-topic stuff to do with coffee, like coffee culture around the world.

FPP:  What has the response been from your readers?

LT:   Our readers have been very supportive and kind. The comments have been very positive with people chiming in about their own coffee shop experiences which is what we were hoping for.

FPP:  Were you surprised by some of the things you’ve learned from readers?

LT:  I have been somewhat surprised, but gratified that many of the readers come from Britain, Australia and Europe as well as Canada and the US.

One Coffee Shop Office blog reader wrote in this wonderful advice about how to secure your computer data when working remotely. Neither Gregg nor I are really up on the tech-side of cafe commuting so it was a great piece of information to receive.

FPP:  Has the site been effective in connecting you with the media?

LT:  It hasn’t been nearly as effective as we had hoped initially. But the online world is full of people wanting their project, product, etc. to be noticed so it’s all about jockeying for attention through search engine optimization.

However, we have been delighted with the number of people who have picked up on our blog and promoted us to their readers. 

FPP:  Have you used the site as a marketing platform, and if so, how effective have you found it to be thus far?

LT:  At this point, Gregg and I haven’t really been fast-tracking the marketing side of the project. We’ve been engulfed by researching and writing.  However, we will be taking the marketing full-throttle in the next while, and the website and blogs will play an important role.

FPP:  Are there any other things you would do (or do differently) to gather research on a future book project?

LT:  Not really. Research is, by its very nature, a time-consuming task and covers a wide range of media. We sift through blog sites, websites, article indexes, newspapers (both local and international), books, social media and mainstream media to thoroughly know our topic. There is always something more to learn. We also had a librarian friend do an article search for us that provided some great foundational concepts such as “third spaces”, the idea of community spaces where people connect outside of home and office.

FPP:  What advice would give authors about using a blog for book research?

LT:  Do it. You never know when someone will provide you with a different view of your topic that may lead you into something really exciting. But always double check the information if you can. There are many knowledgeable people out there, however, not everyone possesses reliable information. If you can’t verify the information, then don’t use it in your book. It’s your name on the book and your reputation on the line.

FPP:  What is the next step for Coffee Shop Office?

LT:  Keep on writing the book and marketing the heck out of this project to publishers. And Gregg mentioned something about total media domination … Then settle down for a nice, celebratory cuppa joe!

Want to know more about Coffee Shop Office or share your own coffee house commuting stories?  You can contact Gregg and Lori at coffeeshopoffice@gmail.com.


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