Jared Gulian wanted eventually to write a book. Instead, he began his blog, Moon Over Martinborough without knowing how the content he produced would become a book. A year later, he I started figuring out how to turn his posts, which had become quite popular, into something publishable—a task he said was not so easy.
In both his blog and book, both of which are called “Moon Over Martinborough,” Jared tells the hilarious tale of how he and his partner—two American city boys—learn to become olive farmers on a small olive farm in New Zealand. “It’s a real fish-out-of-water tale,” he explains. “CJ and I now have our own line of artisan extra virgin olive oil, but when we first moved out here we didn’t know the first thing about olives.”
The book describes the first four years of the two men’s new life in New Zealand, their disasters and triumphs, surprises and pleasures. “But most of all I describe the warmth of the local community that welcomed us, saved us from certain peril, taught us how to cook, how to care for animals, and how to understand and love the land,” says Jared.
The blog covers Jared and CJ’s ongoing misadventures and has won several awards. Additionally, the book has been a bestseller in New Zealand.
The following is an interview with Jared on how he created a well-read blog, turned his blog into a successful book and landed a book deal.
Since you booked your blog (repurposed posts), what process did you use to find or to choose the blog posts that went into your book? And from how many posts did you have to choose?
After blogging for about a year, I slowed my blogging schedule so I could start repurposing the blog content into a book. I started out by combining all the blog posts I had so far into a giant Word document in the order they were published and printing the entire thing out. There were 72 posts totaling 79,675 words. I then read the entire thing.
I cut out blog posts that didn’t fit into the greater narrative story arc. For example, I cut posts that were a bit ‘off topic,’ such as posts about things that had happened when I was on vacation and not on our olive farm. The book is entirely about the olive farm.
How did you then organize the posts, or did you keep the flow of posts that you originally constructed on the blog?
I reorganized the posts into a kind of chronological order. I say ‘kind of’ because in order to keep the larger story arc going, and to keep the reader interested, I had to move some events forward and move some back.
I did a lot of reading about story arc around this time. One book I found especially useful was The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Vogler. It deals with basic storytelling arcs that can be found throughout time, from mythology to modern movies.
Of course, I’m writing about true events, so I was very limited about what I would move around in the timeline. My author’s note at the front of the book says, “I shifted the timeline of some minor events to fit the story arc, such as when the chickens and pigs first arrived on our tiny olive farm.”
What percentage of your book ended up repurposed posts as opposed to new content?
The book manuscript I ended up sending to publishers had 64 chapters and was 90,157 words. So it was 13% larger than my first printout of all the posts.
Once Random House NZ accepted it, I worked with the Publishing Director there and folded in her high-level feedback. This included moving some chapters around to further refine the story arc, combining some short chapters, and cutting the last chapter altogether (because the second to last chapter was a better ending).
After that, I worked with another editor who did a very close line edit to correct typos and confusing bits. One more editor looked at it after that, making a few more minor changes.
By the time I was done working with the Random House editors and we had the final manuscript that became the published book, I’d say about 60% of the content came from the blog. About 40% was brand new or significantly altered.
What kind of editing did you need to do to make the blog posts work in a book? Did you need to add transitions, revise for flow from one post to the next, rewrite because of the different timeline, etc.?
I worked a lot on the narrative arc over the entire book, since the blog posts were somewhat fragmented and choppy when I first looked at them as a whole.
Anther helpful book I read at the time was All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot. It’s the true story of a country vet in Yorkshire, and it was published in the 1970s. Herriot used a structure that made each chapter a stand-alone story about a separate vet visit, but all the stories added up to a larger story arc. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear that 1970s book came from a blog!
I chose the same model my book, with each chapter being a different mishap CJ and I found ourselves in (a different blog post, essentially). All the mishaps added up to the larger story arc.
I did a lot of work on transitions, and I did go through revising for flow. Sometimes there was a question raised in one chapter that was never answered later. So I either answered it if it added to the story, or I cut the question out altogether if it added nothing.
I also added more about my neighbors because in the blog posts they seemed a bit like ‘walk-on’ parts. Our neighbors have helped CJ and I out a lot, and I wanted to express more of their personalities because they’re important to our story.
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? Did you crowd source in any way?
My blog readers had an enormous impact on me throughout the entire process. When I started the blog, I suddenly had this amazing reservoir of instant feedback from readers. I realized I got the best response when I made people laugh. So I wrote more along those lines.
Now people who have read the book are sending me messages like, “I’ve never giggled so much reading a book before,” and “I was laughing so loud that my wife kept coming over to find out what was so funny.” The book is like that because my blog readers taught me that.
I didn’t crowdsource anything, per se, other than the comments being my invaluable feedback reservoir.
How did blogging a book or booking your blog make you a better writer? Explain in what way.
On the internet there are a million distractions. A reader is always just one click away from leaving your blog. So I’ve really tried to hook the reader in as much as possible from the very first line of a blog post. They have to know immediately that something’s at stake in the story.
I believe that this focus on hooking the reader in and taking them on a journey has made me a better writer. And doing this over and over in every blog post makes for good practice.
Did booking your blog make you a better blogger (and how)? Did it improve your blog in any way?
Yes, I think I did become a better blogger. I just paid attention to when posts got a lot of hits and a lot of comments. Again, that was my feedback reservoir.
If there were very few comments on a post, I would go back and look at the post carefully. Was it too long? Was the story arc too weak? Not enough of a hook at the start? Was it ‘off topic’?
I still do this. A good writer is always learning.
What advice would you offer to aspiring writers who might want to turn their blogs into books or blog a book?
Write. You just have to keep doing it. There were many times when I was ready to give up. I thought my blog would never become a book. Now the book is a bestseller in New Zealand. I’m glad I didn’t give up.
Study. Read books about writing. Read novels and stories and essays you like over and over. Try to figure out how the author kept you engaged.
Improve your craft. It’s important to constantly ask yourself how you can improve your writing and to think about what you’re doing that might be causing you to lose readers. Don’t beat yourself up. Be gentle with yourself, but think critically and clearly. And seek feedback, either through your blog or through people you know personally.
If you’re not consciously trying to improve your craft, you’ll never get better. It doesn’t happen magically. You have to work at it.
What one thing did you do that increased your traffic or brought in more unique visitors?
Twitter. When I started a presence there, my blog traffic increased dramatically.
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?
When I started my blog in March 2009, the first month I had 12 page views. After 7 months I had built that to an average of 100 page views a day, which felt like a major milestone for me. Just recently week I had my best day ever, on July 9th 2013, which was 4,634 page views in one day.
Of course, it’s all relative and there are blogs that get tens of thousands of views every day. But there’s always someone with more traffic than you, so I don’t worry about that.
For me the tipping point for increased blog traffic was when the blog started winning awards. That drove a lot of people to my site and made them curious about what I was doing.
How did your blog-to-book deal come about?
I sent a book proposal to four publishers, and I heard back from two. They just pulled it out of the slush pile. I ended up signing a contract with Random House New Zealand.
I wrote about the process in my post Never give up: From blog to book.
What’s the most important thing a blogger can do to get noticed in the blogosphere and build an author platform or fan base?
Produce good content regularly and join the conversation. Okay, well, that’s two important things.
Has publishing a book affected your blog in any way? If so, how?
While the blog started out as stories about our life on the olive farm, it’s now also about my adventures with getting the book published. So the content scope has increased.
The media attention on the book has again driven more people to my blog. That best day ever I mentioned above was because that day I was interviewed on Radio NZ by a well known interviewer named Jim Mora.
And soon Radio NZ is going to start serializing 12 episodes from my book on a show called Country Life. I hope that will motivate more people to buy the book and to visit my blog.
About the Author
Jared Gulian, author of the memoir Moon Over Martinborough, is an award-winning blogger who works as a web strategist and advisor for the New Zealand government, for which he recently lead a highly regarded project to produce social media guidelines. He was born and raised in Michigan and has a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Arts in English. In 2007 he attended the summer Iowa workshop at Victoria University’s Institute of Modern Letters. His website is www.moonovermartinborough.com.
After a number of years spent working in the north of Japan, and then Tokyo, he and his partner moved to Wellington in 2003 and now have dual New Zealand/US citizenship. They produce the artisan Moon Over Martinborough extra virgin olive oil from olives grown in their Martinborough olive grove, and have a popular blog by the same name.