Bloggers and book bloggers dream of landing even one book deal for the content they publish on their sites. In 2006, Jessica Hagy started a blog on a whim. She drew cheeky graphs and charts on 3 x 5 inch index cards at www.thisisindexed.com. Now her site houses close to 3,000 cards, and in 205 she’ll release her third traditionally published book based upon her blog.
That’s right… Hagy’s blog helped her land three—not just one—blog-to-book deals. In fact, she signed a contract with her literary agent, Ted Weinstein, that first year. He helped her get the traditional publishing contracts for Indexed, a straight blog-to-book collection released by Penguin’s Viking Studio in 2008; How to Be Interesting, which started as a single post on Frobes.com but became a full-length book published by Workman in 2013; and The Art of War, Visualized, which will be released by Workman in March 2015. Jessica explains, “I illustrated the public-domain translation of the Sun Tzu text line by line, publishing one chapter at a time on a bi-weekly basis. There are 13 chapters, and by chapter 3 my agent was telling me to put a proposal together. So I did.”
Hagy’s art and content has always been unique, but she says, “I’ve honed the style over time, changing how I use the images in content writing and the topics I touch upon.”
You may not be an artist, but you can still learn from Hagy. Here’s what she had to say about her blog, her book deals, and how to succeed whether you blog a book or book a blog.
What process did you use to find or to choose the blog posts that went into your books?
For the blog-to-book project (Indexed, via Penguin/Viking Studio, 2008), I was asked to choose 60 posts and then add 40 pages of new content. I based which 60 I chose on my Google analytics data and then crafted the other pieces to link the blog posts together in terms of subject matter.
For How to be Interesting, the original ten-point post became the outline of the book: each point became the title of a chapter. I think the book ended up being 276 pages.
For The Art of War, Visualized, I originally illustrated all 300+ lines of the original text. In the book form, I ended up illustrating multiple verses with a single image, so there are actually fewer and different images than I started with.
How did you organize posts, or did you keep the flow of posts that you originally constructed on the blog?
For Indexed, because my blog was jpegs only, a web-comic of sorts, I really just had to choose the order of the posts, since there wasn’t much in the way of narrative. I had a deck of index cards I laid out on a table in the university library, and arranged the parts in something of a topical order.
[See above for organizational information on the other two books.]
What percentage of your book ended up repurposed posts as opposed to new content?
- 60% from the blog
- 40% new content
How to be Interesting:
- 10% from the article
- 90% new content
Art of War, Visualized:
- I reworked the 300+ images I’d drawn to make sense for the page breaks and added an explanatory introduction.
What kind of editing did you need to do to make the blog posts work in a book?
For the first book, the oddest part was taking 3 x 5 inch index cards and redrawing those little things on 20 x 24 inch tracing paper. It’s a lot easier to draw a 2-inch circle than an 18-inch circle.
By 2012, when I was putting How to be Interesting together, scanner technology had gotten good enough that I could send everything electronically (as a word doc with embedded jpegs). For Art of War, I actually hand-painted all my graphs, and then scanned those and manipulated them digitally in inDesign to flow with text.
I think I had two months to get the content to my editor for the first book. It was a while ago. I think shorter timelines are better for me, because there’s less chance to procrastinate or over think. I like to turn things around in several weeks instead of several months—but who knows what the next project will require or demand.
Did you take your readers input (comments) into account before the manuscript went to press?
I used to (in 2006-2009) rely on comments for a lot of guidance. Then the army of spammers and the frightening people showed up, and now my blog is really difficult to comment on, and it’s entirely, brutally moderated. I’m one step from shutting off comments entirely.
How did blogging a book or booking your blog change your writing?
Thanks to my blog, now I get to write about ideas and be very playful with my work. Before the blog, I was working in advertising, writing corporate propaganda. My blog saved me from that career.
What advice would you offer to aspiring writers who might want to turn their blogs into books or blog a book?
Everyone with a blog is a writer. I think writers aspire to be authors. Writers just can’t help it; they have to get their thoughts out of their heads. If you just want to be an author, but don’t like writing, you’re in trouble.
I think the Internet is always changing, and there will always be new platforms to hop onto and play with. Right now, one viral hit can turn anybody into someone who’s got editors emailing them, asking to chat. So be experimental, and share your stuff in lots of places. You never know what post will be the post.
Do you have 3-5 tips you can offer on blogging books or booking blogs?
- Know and hone your own voice. Don’t try to be someone else or sound like someone else.
- Post regularly. It’s good for search engine karma, and it’ll make you a better writer.
- Be nice to everyone. The Internet never forgets.
What one thing did you do that increased your traffic or brought in more unique visitors?
I cross post content to reach multiple audiences. You have to be where the readers are; you can’t make them go to you. Twitter, Facebook, Medium, My blog, my homepage, and my various media outlets: They can all be used to amplify a single post.
Another interesting thing is that when companies offer me commissions, they’re basically paying me to advertise my own work. Getting my work in front of a lot of people by licensing it to corporations for campaigns, getting into major publications as editorial illustrations, being invited to speak at event—that’s not just a revenue stream, it’s a form of marketing.
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?
About a week after I started my blog in 2006, it made the front page of Metafilter. From there, it went all over the place. I knew nothing about blogging and had to become an expert really quickly. It was actually a little scary at first.
If you are traditionally published, how did your blog-to-book deal come about?
The first book, my editor emailed me, and my agent did the negotiations. The second book, my agent shopped the proposal, and we went to auction. The third book, we went back to my publisher, since they had the right of first refusal, and they made us a swell offer.
What’s the most important thing a blogger can do to get noticed in the blogosphere and build an author platform or fan base?
Have a distinct style, voice, and point of view. You’ll know you’re doing something right when other people start trying to rip you off.
About the Author
Jessica Hagy is an artist and writer best known for her Webby award-winning blog, Indexed (www.thisisindexed.com). A fixture in the creative online space, Jessica has been prolifically illustrating, consulting, and speaking to international media and for events since 2006.
Her work has been described as “deceptively simple,” “undeniably brilliant,” and “our favorite reason for the Internet to exist.” Her style of visual storytelling allows readers to draw their own conclusions and to actively participate in each narrative. “Her images don’t always tell us what to think; quite often, they elegantly offer us ideas to think about.”
She mixes data (both quantitative and qualitative) with humor, insight, and simple visuals to make even the most complex concepts immediately accessible and relevant. Her commissioned work frequently appears in various web formats, galleries, books, magazines, newspapers, television outlets, and advertising campaigns.
She lives and works in Seattle, Washington.