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Blog to Book: Making the Leap

Written By: Usree Bhattacharya on April 18, 2009 3 Comments

So a couple of news stories caught my attention today. The first piece appeared in the New York Times, entitled Public Provides Giggles; Bloggers Get the Book Deal. This piece begins by discussing blogs that have gone on to be published in traditional book format, like Pets Who Want to Kill Themselves, which evolved from a blog of the same name. That blog began being wooed by publishers within a week. Stuff White People Like also made the leap from blog to white paper version, “reworked” in the process. The author of the NYT article then goes on to discuss a new phenomenon:

But the latest frenzy is over books that take the lazy, Tom Sawyer approach to authorship. The creators come up with a goofy or witty idea, put it up on a simple platform like Twitter and Tumblr, and wait for contributors to provide all of the content. The authors put their energy into publicizing the sites and compiling the best material.

The author cites books developing out of blogs like I Can Has Cheeseburger and Postcards from Yo Momma as examples of this kind of Sawyerism. Some comments need to be made here. Blogging is a complex art. It’s a different kind of medium/genre, primarily collaborative in nature. The level of audience engagement one finds on blogs is possibly unrivaled; “authorship” is “co”-constructed through an elaborate interaction with others’ views. It is an interactive medium/genre, shaped by recipients in very active ways, such as through comments, hyperlinks, and trackbacks. Blogging is dialog, and cannot be done in isolation, and this fact introduces more constraints that you could imagine (since you are very aware of, and vulnerable to, reception), while also being liberatory in many ways (think of the fact that it’s low threshold self-publishing, for example). In addition, the process of successful elicitation of comments/contributions from the public is not as easy as the author makes it out to be. It is naive, also, to say that Twitter is a “simple” platform; this new form of social networking is also a massive, intricately woven web which only deceptively looks like it is easy to navigate (check out the New York Times’ topic discussion of Twitter to learn more).

A second article that caught my attention was about a Japanese woman called Toshiko Fukuda, who continuously texted her late husband when she thought about him (to a phone by his shrine), and has now compiled her texts in Job Transfer to Heaven Without Family-I Wanted to Be With You Longer.

Both articles note that there is a “book form” market for texts generated in non-traditional environments, like through the phone and online. That is, there is a market for remediated texts birthed in non-traditional spaces. Some of these books are selling like hot cakes, as the NYT article notes. Some are reworked, and others aren’t. Rather than bemoaning the rapidly changing face of book publishing, it would be interesting to think of how things are remediated, how they are transformed. That, Ms. Wortham, would be a more productive exercise.

Hat Tip: Andrew Sullivan.

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3 Responses to “Blog to Book: Making the Leap”

  1. daveski on: 25 April 2009 at 11:37 pm

    One might argue that those are not even books at all…just like you COULD ‘write a book’ using a blogging platform, the relationship between medium and uses of that medium seems really disjointed, unpredictable…and that seems like a pretty good thing. ‘Books’ are nice to hold. They don’t glow in your face and make you squint. There’s something about the relationship that you have with a book you can hold in your hands, the tension between looking into a world only partly revealed and the sense that it’s a totality into itself because, well, it fits between two covers and sits in your hand. The computer has such an emptiness about it, no matter how flashy or full the blog template and number of ‘users’.

    “Dialog”, too, so complicated, tenuous, out of control, isn’t it? The idea that you can ‘elicit’ dialog must say a lot about blogging, but it also seems counterintuitive. We might be able to elicit answers or responses, but can we really elicit dialog?

    Another late night overly ruminatory comment! Where’s the whoopee cushion??

  2. Youki on: 26 April 2009 at 2:07 am

    well isn’t it unfair to compare books, which have had two millenia to develop (codex), or even printed books, which have had centuries, to computers and ebooks, which are relatively new?

    I mean, imagine being part of the generation that saw the birth of the printed book. The claims made against ebooks now are probably similar to the claims made against the first mass-produced, printed books. Producing new technologies always come at a cost, but over time those costs tend to diminish as production technologies improve.

  3. daveski on: 26 April 2009 at 10:46 am

    Yeah I’m sure you’re right…I don’t know if there’s anything that people of that or this generation can or would want to do about it though…what I imagine as the tactile and aesthetic pleasure of holding a book in my hand, turning its pages, etc. must at some level be informed by my sense of the ‘storied’ tradition of books, their past, their tradition…

    But another interesting question to ask is whether the difference between computers that offer a ‘pleasurable’ interface (comfortable keys, colors, feel, build, size, etc.) and those that feel/look/sound like crap is the same kind of difference that separates pleasurable computers, say, with books. Which are of all kinds, weights, feels, etc. too…

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