When I saw Paul V. Vitagliano’s blog-to-book story, I was intrigued by both his story and the stories he had published on the blog and in the book, Born This Way: Real Stories of Growing Up. I immediately asked him if I could feature him here.
He conceptualized and launched the Born This Way Blog in January 2011 as a simple idea, he says. He wanted “to provide a global, welcoming space online for the LGBT community to share their growing up stories and experiences and to feature their childhood photos.” It became a huge success within just two weeks of launch.
It’s no wonder agents were beating down his door.
Paul’s book resembles the blog one hundred percent, although it features much shorter versions of the stories on the blog. If you love the photos and stories on line, you’ll want to hold this one in your hands for sure.
What process did you use to find or choose the blog posts that went into your book?
This was a process decided by my editor and me. I had some favorites I really wanted to see in the book, as did they. Both of us made concessions on who got chosen, though. Then we had two other considerations. One, did we have enough stories from each decade. Two, did we have enough women/lesbians and people of color in the mix, because with only just over 100 entries for the book—as opposed to over 600 on the blog at the time—we had to make sure it was as well-rounded as possible.
How did you then organize the posts, or did you keep the flow that you originally constructed?
At first I’d pitched grouping together the photos and stories with different themes, but then we all agreed that it would make more sense to make the book flow chronologically in time, starting in the 1940’s. Mainly because it would make it more interesting to see how people’s experiences changed as gay people became more accepted over the years, and how different a gay person’s experiences might be in the past compared to experiences from the last 10 to 20 years.
What percentage of your book ended up repurposed posts as opposed to new content?
The repurposed to new ratio was about 75% to 25%.
What kind of editing did you need to do to make the blog posts work in a book?
Editing my book was the toughest part. As my publisher made the book small in size like a children’s book—and we needed to feature a decently sized accompanying photo on every page as well—we had to really whittle down the text to only the most important, relevant details each person talked about. Then we also had to juggle how many stories might read in a sad way, as opposed to a funny or more lighthearted way.
How much new content did you later add to your book during the editing process?
We knew up front that the book had to have at least 20% new and exclusive content, so that was planned from the beginning. I made the decision that I wanted the most of the new and exclusive content to be LGBT subjects in the public eye (and/or famous).
How much editing was necessary to complete your blogged book and make it flow?
Every entry in the book had to be edited. Some entries were over 600 words, while some were only around 150. But even the shorter entries were paired down substantially. Our biggest problem was getting high-resolution photos necessary for each posting and also getting signed release forms sent back in time to meet the deadline.
How did booking your blog make you a better writer?
I think the only thing I learned from this experience (and from all the editing) is that sometimes shorter is indeed better. Especially in the “short attention span” kind of world we live in now, people simply do not take the time to peruse or read the way they used to.
What advice would you offer to aspiring writers who might want to turn their blogs into books or blog a book?
Obviously, if you have a blog with a big or decent readership, there’s a built in audience who will be interested in a book version. In my case, because the childhood photos were so charming and adorable, I knew it was the kind of thing that people would like to be able to hold in their hands and refer back to, as opposed to reading the blog version. So that’s something you have to really pitch to an editor: what makes a book version of your blog desirable in a way they can not get, simply be reading the blog.
Do you have any tips (3-5) you can offer on blogging books or booking blogs?
- Believe in yourself and your project 200%.
- Stand firm on the things that keep the essence and integrity of your blog intact in book form.
- Be aware that most book authors make a pittance on sales!
What one thing did you do that increased your traffic or brought in more unique visitors?
I don’t think I can cite anything here, other than the usual social media postings and just keeping awareness of the blog as high as possible.
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?
My blog was one of those rare cases where I did not do much publicity or promotion of it when it launched, but the early Facebook postings I made attracted people immediately. And that led to 100’s of major blogs and news sources picking it up and writing about it, within about two weeks from launch. The biggest turning point was when El Pais (basically the New York Times of all Spanish speaking countries) wrote an article about my blog. Two days later, I had 90,000 hits in one day! For a few months straight, watching the animated visitor counter on my blog was like watching a gas pump turn over numbers. It was mind-blowing!
If you are traditionally published, how did your blog-to-book deal come about?
Soon after my blog exploded, some literary agents “smelled blood” and emailed me to represent me. Some were only there for the money, and a few others really understood the potential of my blog (and/or a book) having a real cultural resonance and importance. So I chose an agent, and she pitched it where she thought it made the most sense. It should be noted that eight publishers turned it down, fearing it was too “niche” and/or controversial of a subject. But Quirk Books said “yes,” and you only need one yes!
What’s the most important thing a blogger can do to get noticed in the blogosphere and build an author platform or fan base?
It’s really all the usual and obvious things. These days, you have to have a visible and living presence on every social media platform available. The key is to find interesting and different ways to not only update each of those platforms on at least a weekly (if not daily) basis, but to keep your fans engaged in your project.
About the Author
Paul V. Vitagliano (better known as Paul V.) is a 30-year career club events and radio DJ, blogger, and writer. His Born This Way: Real Stories of Growing Up Gay book was released in October 2012. All info on where to find the book can be found at his website. He lives in Silver Lake, Los Angeles.