In 2009, Larry Brooks (@storyfix) launched his blog, www.storyfix.com, to deliver core fiction writing craft tips, teaching, and perspective for writers at all levels. He had built a modest following from his novels and work as a writing teacher. Without much overt marketing, his site quickly gained traction.
He achieved blogging success “ by virtue of being ‘a fresh voice’ in this niche, which is crowded with old-school clichés and, too often, belief in toxic advice.”
By 2013, Larry had 8,000 subscribers and up to 30,000 monthly visits. In 2014, however, that monthly visit statistic shrank to about 4,000 when Google adjusted their algorithm, something that affected many bloggers in a similar manner.
In 2010, a friend told Larry that Writers Digest Books was looking for authors and had published a list of topics for which they were accepting proposals. He sent a few but didn’t receive a contract for any of them. Instead, he got an offer to expand the focus of Storyfix.com into a book proposal.
“In other words, they found my blog (an event that was collateral to me initially contacting them) and invited me to submit a book proposal based on it, which I did. The proposal was submitted without an agent and accepted quickly,” Larry explains.
Story Engineering was published in February 2011. Because of its quick success, Writers Digest Books published two subsequent writing books written by Larry and more are currently under current development.
The content of Story Engineering was based on material that had appeared on the blog but reshaped and contextually optimized for the book. The introduction, first chapter and closing originally were composed for the book rather than being an adaptation from blog posts.
To learn more about Larry’s blog-to-book journey, read on.
What was your blog-to-book process? How did find or choose the blog posts that went into your book? (And out of how many posts did you have to choose?)
My approach was to create a content outline optimized for the book and then (and only then) go into the bank of existing posts to find material that fit that outline. The goal was to create a flow to the book that made sense, and that become the initial and primary criteria for the selection of blog posts to use and adapt for that purpose.
How did you then organize your previously written posts into a book?
The blog was never written with a post-to-post “flow” that would translate into a book. One day there would be a post on structure, the next post one about how to find a great idea for a novel, the next one on how to approach an agent, for example. Thus, the hundreds of posts available at that time were like a sack full of content tossed willy-nilly into a shopping bag. From that “pile of content,” I had to pick and choose which to use and in what order to fulfill the needs of the book outline, which was created out of whole cloth rather than in reference to the posts themselves.
If I hadn’t already written something I needed for the book, I was more than willing and able to write it for the book itself without it ever appearing on the site as a post.
What percentage of your book ended up repurposed posts as opposed to new content?
I’d say about 70 percent of the book consists of adapted posts. That word—adapted—is key. Sometimes posts needed a complete rewrite before they fit with the flow and contextual needs of the manuscript, and other times I barely changed a thing.
What kind of editing did you need to do to make the previously written 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.?
Both in non-fiction and fiction, I am a firm believer in “mission-driven” content, especially for individual book chapters that fit within a broader context view. I know the expositional and instructional objective (including specific content, however, that be described or bulleted for each chapter before I write the chapter. Thus, I evaluated existing blog posts according to the flow, nature, and needs of the chapter of the book at that moment, adapting accordingly.
Of the blog posts I used as chapters in the book, I’d say half required a light edit only and half needed to be more robustly repurposed.
Did you take your blog readers input (comments) into account before the manuscript went to press?
Actually, no. Comments on the posts always seemed to be commiseration, rather than instructional enhancement. I value reader input, but in this case, it wasn’t a factor.
How did booking your blog make you a better writer?
I think every project, especially a book, offers an opportunity to become a better writer. I believe that the more mission-driven our process—chapters written from a vision for the whole as well as the parts—the more goal and criteria-driven the process becomes. Without clear goals for our chapters, it is hard to create criteria for the success of those chapters.
I believe this is as true for fiction as it is for non-fiction.
Being a “better writer” is very much a process of becoming a better planner of the work, based on a better understanding of what will meet the criteria for an effective reading and learning experience. In turn, this is an outgrowth of an understanding of the basic craft itself.
The more we work from this belief, the clearer, cleaner, and shorter the path toward improvement becomes. If it doesn’t happen that way, something may be wrong with the process…or (and this doesn’t apply to me in the least) perhaps you’ve reached the pinnacle of your craft and there is nothing left to learn.
Congratulations, if that is you.
Did booking your blog make you a better blogger?
I would say this is less clear to me, either way. I do know that writing a book sort of saps one of both energy and content, making the continuation of a fresh blog a bit more challenging.
What advice would you offer to aspiring writers who might want to turn their blogs into books or blog a book?
It is tough to sell a book—either to a publisher or directly to readers—unless you have established your credibility to do so. Blogs offer us a way to develop and affirm that credibility through a growing readership, greater visibility within your niche, and the feedback received from post to post. Make sure you are truly viewed as an authority on your topic before you write a book about it.
One perspective is this: A book is always a gift to readers…or at least it should be…rather than, say, a mirror shining back on yourself. There needs to be something new and fresh inside the package they are unwrapping, and it needs to resonate as a contribution toward their goals and dreams via substantive, actionable truth and mentoring.
Do you have any tips you can offer on blogging books or booking blogs?
Blogs do not require a sequential presentation, for the most part. Thus, they become a great tapestry to explore your topic focus, to break it down, to go deep, and to circle back.
That said, anyone of those—exploring, breaking down, going deeper, circling back—necessarily work for the creation of a draft of a book, because the final draft of a book assumes itself to be the outcome—the product—of those forms of exploration.
My advice: Use your blog to grow and affirm your depth of comfort and knowledge of a topic and to establish yourself as a credible spokesperson (authority) for it.
The latter is required of a book author. A blog is often more a contribution to a community than it is a soapbox for expertise, especially if you don’t have it yet. Expertise is the sum of your blogging effort, not necessarily the content of any single post.
You can earn authority through blogging, which is one of the great upsides of that pursuit.
Blog often. But don’t post until you have something fresh, worthy, and relevant to contribute to the thread.
Every once in a while, make it personal. Confess your struggles. Share your hopes and your wins. Be one of them. Be funny, vulnerable, hungry, someone with a childlike fascination with the world and others.
What one thing did you do that increased your traffic or brought in more unique visitors?
Guest posting is the universal means of getting this done. I hammered away at established sites—huge sites—within my niche, inviting myself to guest post. They’ll say no (or they won’t even respond) at first… but keep at it. They will respond to an idea for a post long before they’ll respond to you personally. Keep that in mind and deluge such bloggers with killer ideas.
In so many things, “talent” is the ability to land on killer ideas as much or more as to develop the sentences that convey them.
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?
It took four years before a natural sticking point surfaced. The growth was pretty consistent over that time frame, primarily because I posted often (three to five times per week).
As for one single factor… Four of the bigger blogs in the writing space held a contest for the “Ten Best Writing Blogs” every year. (It has since diminished to one hosting blog judged only by that site owner…a vast, consequential difference.) In 2012, they named my site to their list…in the #1 position. That changed everything. Since then Storyfix.com has appeared on a number of such lists, including Writers Digest’s list of “101 Best Blogs for Writers” (six times).
While getting named to such a list is a good goal, remember that these are largely popularity contests rather than qualitative endorsements. It used to be the other way around, but any single site that offers such a list uses one of two metrics: the site-owner’s personal opinion or the nomination of readers, which is too often driven by “please vote for me!” solicitations from writers in that space. If this sounds cynical, know that I speak from experience, from both sides of this issue.
If you are self-published, why did you decide to go the indie route? And did you blog help your book succeed?
I’ve published ten books, only one of which (the most recent) was self-published. I did this because the topic was outside of my “brand” and field of expertise, which means it never had a shot within traditional publishing because I had no “platform” in that arena.
Don’t let that stop you, though. That book—the one I had no business writing—just won its category in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards, which is how things get started. Few of us arrive within a genre or niche fully formed; we have to carve our name out of the raw grist of perseverance.
As a result, I may start a blog on that topic…sort of a reverse path within the blog to book universe.
What’s the most important thing a blogger can do to get noticed in the blogosphere and build an author platform or fan base?
That’s easy. This is the first and most important thing a publisher looks for: Do you have an established “platform” within your niche?
That platform is primary composed of demonstrable website readership data, which is some combination of subscribers and site visits. In addition, you can add to this cache through guest posting credits and other bonafides (academic, awards, speaking/appearances, etc.).
But the platform trumps everything else. And the platform is almost entirely a product of the quality and consistency of your blog.
About the Blogger and Author
Larry Brooks (@storyfix) is the author of “Story Engineering,” and two other writing titles, all from Writers Digest Books. He is also the USA Today bestselling author of six novels and an award-winning book on relationships. His website is Storyfix.com. He blogs regularly on Killzone.com, in addition to teaching and speaking at conferences and workshops around the country, and occasionally a few stops that require a passport.