Every once in a while you get to meet someone who inspires deep respect, who inspires you, who you can use as a model in some area of your life. For me, that person is Liz Strauss.
While I was at BlogWorld & New Media Expo 2011 in Los Angeles this past November, I had the chance to hear Liz, the author of The Secret to Writing a Successful and Outstanding Blog: An Insider’s Guide to How Conversation Is Changing the Way that Business Works, speak and then to sit down and chat with her. She and I had an interesting conversation about blogging books and publishing in general. We covered a variety of topics, agreeing on most things even when it sounded like we didn’t.
It’s hard not to be impressed by Liz’s accomplishments. (In fact, I wrote a piece about how to accomplish your potential based on some advice she offered me during that same conversation.) If you don’t know Liz, here’s a not-so-brief bio: She writes Successful Blog as well as what she calls her “writing blog” and the Liz Strauss blog. She has over 20 years in print, software, and online publishing experience and is a strategist, CEO and founder of SOBCon. She has been named one of The Top Influencers Alive: 10 Breakout Influencers of 2011 and was on Forbes list of Top 10 Women Social Media Influencers in the same week. She also was named Top 100 Social Media & Internet Marketing Bloggers, Top 100 Most Influential Marketers of 2008 and 2009, the 50 of the Most Powerful and Influential Women of Social Media, and NxE’s Fifty Most Influential “Female” Bloggers. Liz is a social web strategist and community builder who works with businesses, universities, and individuals to help them understand how text, words, and images work in the culture of the social web. For more about her (Yes, there’s a lot more.), click here.
Liz knows a thing or two both about blogging and publishing—actually she knows much more. During my interview with her she offered some useful tips on blogging a book and some thoughtful advice on repurposing posts into a book as well as on the usefulness of comments when blogging a book. Although some of her views don’t align exactly with mine, such as those about feedback when blogging a book, they are worth taking into consideration. I thought about them carefully and definitely can understand her perspective, which is why I included them here in this post. I suggest you think about them as well, and keep them in mind as you blog your book or book your blog.
Here’s part one of our conversation which covers Liz’ tips on how to blog a book and how to book a blog (repurpose posts into a book), as well as her thoughts on if book bloggers should use comments as part of their writing process. Check back later this week for part two, which covers how to get more readers to comment on your blog.
With your background in publishing and your experience as a blogger, as well you expertise in helping organizations publish books, what tips would you offer writers and bloggers who are blogging books?
Think of your categories like your table of contents. Most people who write a blog about a cat named Fluffy, for example, name their categories things like “Fluffy’s Food,” “Fluffy’s Toys,” “Fluffy’s Whatever,” and nobody searches on Fluffy’s Food,” they search on “what cats eat.” When naming your categories, think of them as your table of contents, but don’t be clever. Name them in ways people will actually search for them so you’ll get the traffic and build your network before you need it.
Second, think of your tags as your index, and that helps to sort things as well.
Nobody’s really disciplined enough to do either one well enough for it to work.
Do you have any other suggestions for either setting out to write a book online—blogging a book—or repurpose posts into a book—booking a blog?
I actually thought about helping people do that. I would build eight buckets, or categories, that were going to be my eight chapters. I would still outline the book in a more traditional fashion before I ever started blogging it, because that actually makes blogging it a whole lot easier. It gives you your editorial calendar, allows you to come up with ideas and it keeps you focused. It would actually draw a better audience for the blog itself that way. It’s just way too easy when you’re blogging to start in thinking you’re blogging a book, then suddenly to start following your statistics or you’ll meet people who are writing about other things; then the next thing you know, you’ll end up writing about social media—even though your book was about dogs. You won’t even realize that you’ve gotten totally off topic from your book.
On this blog, I actually suggest to aspiring authors that they go through what I call “the proposal process.” I have them start with the format of a book proposal and evaluate the whole book idea doing basically what you suggest and more. They mind map the book’s content, come up with a table of contents, and create a document offline. Then they publish bits and pieces of it in posts—they bog a book.
That’s awesome. I’m the opposite, you know—4,300 blog posts. I’ve got, like, 63 books on my blog, and I don’t want to write any of them because I’ve already solved the problems by writing the blog posts. So, I really don’t care; you want to write a book out of them, go ahead.
Taking published posts and trying to figure out which posts to use for a book after the fact can be difficult as well, don’t you think?
Yes, the posts weren’t written to be connected to each other, which means they have to be rewritten in order to write a really good book. A really good blog posts stands alone. You can’t take 32 blog posts and put them together and have continuity. That’s like a myth. If you put the simplest blog posts written even in a series together, they still end. The one that comes next still has a beginning. So you still have to make that transition happen. Otherwise it still like reading a bunch of blog posts.
Or else you have to design the book to be like a set of memos, a set of blog posts. Jason Fried did a really good job of that in his book Rework. If you know he has a blog, you can recognize that what he’s done. But he writes such brilliant and beautifully done blog posts, that if you don’t know he has a blog you just figure he wrote very short chapters—as in one-page chapters.
Most bloggers who repurpose their posts into a book actually combine them to create longer chapters.
Right, and actually, as a person who’s done a lot of content writing can do that.
One of the first projects I ever worked on was for reluctant readers. We only had sixteen lines of type to write critical science information about topics with words like photosynthesis in them. One of the things I found out really early in my editorial career was that it is far easier to write twelve lines of text than it is to take sixteen lines of text and edit it to twelve lines of text. It is far easier to take twelve lines of text and edit it to sixteen lines of text, and you get way better copy if you know what you’re writing to start with.
I did it; I actually wrote a series of blog posts on six-plus traits of writing, and then I turned that into an e-book. I know the experience of it, and it’s like, “Yeah, I already wrote that, and I want to keep this copy, and…” You write the transition, and the transition is written at different times than the blog post, and you don’t really read the blog post the same way you would’ve read the blog post when you were writing it. So the voice sort of shifts, you know? You either need an excellent editor, or you really ought to just start over?
I think the way Dan Pink writes a book from a blog is the way to do it, where he actually writes a whole draft of a chapter on his blog and gets feedback, as opposed to writing blog posts. I think it’s a far stronger way. A book is about a one-way conversation, and a blog post is about a two-way conversation.
You are known for getting a huge number of comments on your blogs. For those aspiring authors blogging a book, it seems to me that comments from readers would provide great feedback on their content. What do you think?
I don’t think you want to get feedback if you’re writing a book, because it’s inappropriate to be getting doing so while you’re still writing. That’s sort of like building a strategy with a team; the best way to build a strategy is to go off and build the strategy and then put it in front of the team and say, “Here’s the strategy. What do you think of it?” If you try to build a strategy with a team, you end up with a camel. You can’t build a budget with a team. You can build a piece of the budget on your own and put all the pieces together.
When you write a book, though, you usually want feedback; you want to show your manuscript to readers or a critique group. The readers of a blog are the same people who will actually read the book. Wouldn’t their comments provide good feedback?
You want feedback on completed things, though. If you get feedback on every piece, that’s like, saying, “I’ve mixed the eggs and the butter, what do you think?” “Okay, now I’ve added the salt, what do you think?” “Okay, now I’ve added the flour, what do you think?”
I understand what you’re saying, but you might get some suggestion that make you decide to add or change something, because you still are creating the first draft of your manuscript. Don’t you think that would be valuable to the process?
I think that’s the same as asking a crowd-sourcing design, and I you’re more likely to get ninety percent of things that are going to waste your time. I would purposely keep it into the realm where people are commenting on what you’re doing, and where you’re saying ‘thank you’, that’s a great idea, and not have a conversation about it. You should own your book, and it should be your work, not crowd-sourced.
If you’re writing a book, you can’t give up the expert role while you’re mixing the butter and the eggs. In the blogger’s role, you can actually learn with your community. You can say, “I’m going to find this out: Does anybody want to go exploring with me? it’s more like the researcher kind of thing, you know?
You can’t be a driver and a passenger at the same time. Writing a book is about being the driver. You can then ask somebody how well you drove, even stop off in the middle at a rest area, and say, “How well am I driving?” But if you’re at the point where they’re telling you to turn your turn signals on, then you’re probably still a student driver and you probably shouldn’t be giving advice.
I was thrilled to get Liz’s input on how to blog a book and use comments in conjunction with doing so. I suggest you read her Successful Blog , and let me know what’s been working best for you when it comes to planning, writing and getting or utilizing comments on your blogged book. I’d love to know.
Check back in a few days for part two of my interview with Liz when she tells us how to get more readers to comment on our blogs.