Jason Oberholtzer’s blog, I Love Charts (ilovecharts.tumblr.com), is a tumblr blog that puts up about 10 charts a day, Monday through Friday, culled from the Internet and submitted by followers or made by Oberholtzer and the blog’s cofounder Cody Westphal.
This past May 2012, the two bloggers released their first book, I Love Charts: The Book, published by Sourcebooks. The book contains charts featured on the website, new charts they created and new charts made by their friends in the charting community.
“What makes the book entirely different from our blog offering,” says Oberholtzer, “is that we put all the charts into a narrative of essays, which runs the course of the book, punctuated by larger essay asides. The writing explores the question ‘why do we chart?’ from a human perspective, drawing on our experience as curators and featuring writing of a very personal nature.”
Learn more about how the blog became successful, landed a book deal and became a book in this interview.
What what process did you use to find or choose the blog posts that went into your book? And out of how many posts did you have to choose?
We have posted over 7,000 charts on our blog. About 200 charts made it into our book. We first whittled the 7,000 down to 500 we liked and then went about requesting rights for usage of charts that had appeared elsewhere, approached our friends for new original content, made some new charts ourselves, and took stock of what we had. We built chapters and themes from what we felt was usable and edited out the charts that did not fit, leaving us at around 200. We then wrote all the chapters, fitting the charts into the narrative and further whittling how many we used, leaving us with the final product.
How did you then organize them, or did you keep the flow that you originally constructed on the blog?
We organized them thematically into chapters about the Internet, life, love, nerds, music, art, and imagination.
What percentage of your book ended up repurposed posts as opposed to new content?
Most of the charts are repurposed, but the writing is all new.
How much editing was necessary to complete your blogged book and make it flow? Did you run into any problems particular to blogging a book?
Some charts had to be redrawn to reach print quality.
Did you take your readers input (comments) into account before the manuscript went to press. How did comments affect the final version of the book?
We tried to include charts that had garnered a good deal of attention on our blog as well as less popular ones we were particularly fond of.
How did booking your blog make you a better writer?
We had no experience with this kind of writing, so it made us better by default. We also had no examples of this kind of book to pull from, so we were making it up as we went along.
Did booking your blog make you a better blogger (and how)?
It made me a better blogger because of all the thought I put into the function of our blog in my life and in the lives of our readers while writing the book. The book is in many ways self-referential. It tries to figure out why it deserves to exist as it goes along, tries to figure out what exactly a “blog book” is, while we try to figure out why exactly we are in the position to be writing anything worth people’s time and money. I’m not sure we answered any of those questions, but we teased out some themes that might have gotten us closer.
What advice would you offer to aspiring writers who might want to turn their blogs into books or blog a book?
Write. If there’s something you want to write, just do so and try to find somebody to put it on the Internet. Always have your byline going up somewhere. Once you are doing that consistently, focus on getting exposure through social media. It’s a numbers game at a certain point. If you can prove enough people will pay attention when you do something, you will be given opportunities to put things in front of them.
Do you have any tips you can offer on blogging books or booking blogs?
- Remember, a book is not a blog. Don’t be lazy and treat them like the same medium. If you get to write a book, take the time to write a book. Respect the form.
- Write what you want to write. We were approached to write a coffee table book, agreed to do so, and then changed our minds when we realized we didn’t care about coffee table books. We wanted to write something different, that we could be proud of, and we were able to do so because took a chance and asked.
What one thing did you do that increased your traffic or brought in more unique visitors?
Bring other people into the fold. Work with people, collaborate, do things for other blogs, invite other bloggers to do things on your blog. It’s usually pretty fun, and it brings more people to the party.
How long did it take for you to gain blog readers, and can you pin point any certain event that created a tipping point when readership increased noticeably?
We got lucky. Within a week of the blog’s existence, tumblr found out about us and promoted us on a Tumblr Tuesday post. Topherchris (from tumblr) put us on this track by finding us, and we’ve been seeing how far the track goes since.
How did your traditional blog-to-book deal come about?
We started to get some press outside of the tumblr community about a year and a half ago. Tumblr had grown significantly since we started, and so had we. Media was taking notice. We had a run of good press and were approached by a literary agent. We listened to his pitch and agreed to go forward with his guidance.
What’s the most important thing a blogger can do to get noticed in the blogosphere and build an author platform or fan base?
Be yourself and interact with people. Have fun out there and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. If you mess up or hurt feelings or just don’t do a good job one day, apologize and do your best to make amends and move on. The more of yourself you put out there, the more people are willing to give of themselves and that is the real reason I still do this. I get to meet people in odd little ways every day. I get to learn. I get to mess up and beat myself up for it. I get to share moments of joy with people.
I remember very fondly putting up our first post announcing our book deal and watching the notes come in. I knew probably three quarters of the tumblrs who were liking the post. I hadn’t interacted with most of them, but I knew them by their name, knew how long they had been following us, and getting that “like” from some people who had been there with us since day one, had submitted charts to us, played along with some of the silly things we’ve tried to do over the years really felt special. They got us to this position, and it’s hard to describe how rewarding it felt to share it with them. I suppose this has turned into a bit of a tangent, but I think if you don’t think of your readers like that, you are doing something wrong and won’t be here for long. People give you their time and input, so enjoy that energy and give back and be a well-rounded person and not just a content machine.
About the Author
Jason Oberholtzer is a writer, blogger, composer and musician living in Brooklyn, NY. He is the founder and curator of ILoveCharts, the coauthor of I Love Charts: The Book and has a column on Forbes.com, ChartsandLeisure.
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