3405811164_d49a982c6eA question that nearly all writers who are bloggers—especially writers who are in the early years of their career—often ask, if only to themselves, is whether they should include on their blog any parts of their works in progress, or if they can ever turn what they blog into a traditionally published book.

There is no easy “yes” or “no” answer.

Some writers may substitute the instant gratification of blogging (Write. Proof. Publish. What could be faster?) for the harder, slower, more solitary process of outlining and drafting a longer work. Believe me, I understand all too well the temptation to publish a blog post rather than continue working on a short story or book chapter.

Then there is possibility—no, the certainty—that some print publishers will refuse to consider writing that is previously published online or that is self-published in any form. And some kinds of writing (memoirs and non-fiction) lend themselves more readily than others (fiction and poetry) to making the leap from blog to book.

Finally, there is the danger that by blogging about your project, you will diffuse the energy needed to complete it, in the same way that talking about our goals can trick us into thinking we’ve actually accomplished them.

What are the reasons for using a blog as a way to “pre-publish,” serialize, or work out details of a longer project? There certainly are famous blog-to-book precedents. More and more publishers are open to looking at blogs and bloggers as the platform for books. For busy writers who might benefit from manageable, daily or weekly goals, posting short excerpts might provide the incentive and momentum needed to finish a big work. You can find a loyal readership online–as long as you earn their loyalty with consistent postings and are open to comments and feedback.

Finally, I admit that I’m a little in love with how “blogging a book” continues the tradition of Charles Dickens, who serialized many of his novels in his own self-published magazines.

For academic authors who are more interested in eventual publication than becoming an overnight best-selling author, there are additional reasons to use a blog as a step to a book deal. In an interview on ProfHacker, Ken Wissoker, editorial director of Duke University Press, discusses “blogging your way toward a book”:

“How about a writing exercise, where you’d try things like, ‘Okay, speed trial, let me try to write the first part of the introduction.’ That would be fabulous, because people are often freer writers as bloggers. Authors wouldn’t be so tied to the research paper forms of writing, a style loved by neither publishers or readers. Most people would prefer to read something written in a more engaging fashion, and blogging the ideas first could help an author achieve that.

Blogging an idea, working it out online, benefiting from public discussion, receiving feedback and answers to queries, people contributing archives and ideas of what should be read—all of that I think is wonderful and will only improve the eventual book.

In the humanities, we tend to think of books as single-authored things, but they are all laboratory products, even if we don’t use those terms. There’s always a writing a group, there’s a reading group, there’s a group of people who gave feedback when you went to X place to give a talk, there’s somebody who came up to you after your presentation at an academic conference, and all those things contribute to what eventually comes out. And when reading someone’s acknowledgements, if you really knew how to parse the list, you get a sense of how everyone contributed to the final product. Being able to publish things online really scales up the laboratory idea in a really positive way.” Read More

Whatever you decide to do, don’t fall prey to “always do this” or “never do that” advice. Even the gurus do not have the answers or a crystal ball. Last year at a writing conference I heard one of the biggest names in the business give a categorical answer to the “should I blog my book?” question, only to read a very different response on her own blog a few months later. And even if there is a strategy that works well in general, what will work well for you might be completely different.

The times they are a changing, writers: “Don’t speak too soon, For the wheel’s still in spin.”

How will you “write out” the changing times?

Woman at laptop photo credit: Ed Yourdon (http://www.flickr.com/photos/yourdon/), made available under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License.