From Blog to Book: One Skeptic’s Journey

This is a guest post from David Teems. He is a close, personal friend and the author of several books, including his most recent, Tyndale: The Man Who Gave God An English Voice. Be sure to check out his blog and follow him on Twitter. If you want to guest post on this blog, check out the guidelines here.

I admit, when I hear someone suggest that you can take your blog posts and turn them into a book, I am skeptical. But when I really thought about it, for all my skepticism, and as much as it pains me to admit it, my first book, To Love Is Christ, came about just that way. Let me explain.

Bit and Bytes Becoming a Book - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/alengo, Image #18640372

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/alengo

On August 1, 2002 I made a vow to God. He and I weren’t on the best of terms at the time, and when I finally got fed up hearing myself complain, or filling my journal with more whine, I decided to do something dramatic. My strategy was both simple and logical. That morning I decided since the Scripture tells me that God is love, I would write every day for one year on that one subject, love. That was it. That was my strategy.

Having a successful marriage (a ridiculously wonderful wife), I knew I was good for a few months of self-generated text, all my pent up wisdom, all the ooze and rhapsody of a well-tuned lyric. But beyond that, beyond those first few months, my thought was that God himself would have to supply the details.

Being 2002, I could hardly call it a blog at the time, but I did vow to post one entry on my web site every day and to do so by 12 noon. I obligated myself to a deadline and to an audience. It wasn’t long before I began to add a benediction to each post, such as “May your Christ be a warm one. May your Christianity be a door and not a wall.”

Fifteen months from that first day in August, I had a manuscript that was eight inches deep. Somewhere during that time, Benita and I moved to Franklin, Tennessee.

I had been introduced to Jack Countryman by Gloria Gaither. Jack published beautiful devotional books for Thomas Nelson at the time, often with a CD in the back. I gave Jack a proposal with a copy of my recording In The Mourning: For Those Who Grieve in the hope of getting a book deal (I had put a booklet together to go with the music). Jack and his crew ultimately turned down the project, but his editor gave me a wonderful review of my writing. Jack told me if I had anything else, please bring it to him.

It was a start.

Once this huge manuscript had grown under my hand, I took the benedictions (there were one thousand of them) and put together what I then called The May Book because each benediction began with the word “may” and the metaphor of the month itself is so powerful with its suggestion of new life, I couldn’t resist. Nelson liked it, and wanted to publish it, but thought it might work better as a devotional. That was fortunate, I told them, because I had eight inches of devotional.

They asked me to compress each entry to two hundred words or less. After moaning a bit, I worked with their editor, Alice Sullivan, for months to compress this tall, wordy, over-the-top mess to a trim, readable, accessible devotional. During the editorial process, some days were as long as sixteen to eighteen hours. I hardly noticed.

Two things came out of the experience. Okay, maybe three. I will list them.

  1.  The regularity, the discipline, the day to day obligation made a writer out of me.
  2. Forcing myself to condense each entry to 200 words or less taught me the art of compression, of discovering what was necessary, what was excess, and what was not (what Williams Tyndale and Shakespeare called “pith”). To discover where the true music lay. I developed a kind of editorial savagery. Being a songwriter, I suppose I had a head start on the process.
  3. I got a book deal. The advance was not huge by any standard, but who cared? I WAS PUBLISHED. And the little event did wonderful things to my thought life, to my confidence, and to my renewed perception of God, and life.

I am forever grateful to Thomas Nelson, who worked with me in my nativity as an author to awaken my instincts, to season and sharpen them for good use. I’ve written many books since then, for Nelson and other publishers. I am grateful to God as well, who proved himself as good as his description, as John defined him, and for putting the dare in me in the first place.

God is love. Of that I am certain.

To Love Is Christ, as I titled it, will always be special to me. It is deliciously tweetable. Certainly, its voice is more lyrical than my other books, but it was the logical step in my evolution as a writer, in my transition from music to books.

So, I have put a muzzle on my skepticism. Your blog content can, indeed, become a book. That is, with a few necessary conditions. And as much as writers writing about writing on the internet borders on downright creepy at times, here are five conditions, five necessary obligations, that must be satisfied if your blog is to be publishable.

  1. Hard work. There is no way to circumnavigate this one.
  2. Obligating yourself to write every day. No exceptions.
  3. Developing an editorial savagery, or even better, a great ear. I have become somewhat lactose intolerant, that is, I am (hopefully) able to detect cheese when I am guilty of manufacturing it, or when I hear it. Ernest Hemingway called it by another, more colorful name, but to be able to detect it is critical. The ear is the primary organ for the writer.
  4. Learn and develop the art of restraint.
  5. Love language. Love it. Never stop learning the craft.

That’s it. Happy blogmaking. Of the list above, I’m particularly fond of #5. Content is great. It’s critical. But it is execution alone that will set you apart.

Questions: Have you ever thought about going from blog to book? What would it take? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • Jill

    I love this post, absolutely love it. Although I have been published in magazines and have always written, I took the plunge at the end of last January and began blogging (the techy side of blogging intimidated me for years). I am loving it. I love the feedback, I love thinking about my audience (Christian women and, primarily, moms). I love searching for ways to use language beautifully.

    I feel like I am back in my honors English classes; writing and rewriting for a favorite prof (although my prof is now invisible). Writing always clarifies our thoughts and causes us to more closely observe the every day of life so thoughtful blogging is a truly maturing process. I look forward to the new year and hope to write about how my book developed through the maturing process of writing for my blog.

    Merry Christmas to everyone! Emmanuel! God is with us!

    Jill Farris
    http://www.generationawomanhood.wordpress.com

     

  • Anonymous

    @KellyECombs:disqus .,…I can‘t believe….My best friend’s mom makes $69 an hour on the computer. She has been out of job for 9 months but last month her check was $6576 just working on the computer for a few hours….Read about it here… NeedJob

  • http://uma-maheswaran.blogspot.com/ Uma Maheswaran S

    Though I have never thought of sailing from blogging to wrtiting books, this post has opened my eyes to new horizons. Thank for the encouragement David! You have awaken the writer in me.

  • http://www.chaplainmike.com Mike Hansen

    Great post. Inspiring. I’m a hospital chaplain. I used to pastor in churches more than a decade ago, and loved, really loved writing and preaching sermons. I loved/hated the thinking process, you know? I was writing a new sermon pretty much every week for  the better part of 3 years. I was a blogger! I have started to blog this past fall and I see it. I am constantly thinking of different things to write on and almost have a hard time keeping up the typing with the ideas, concepts and illustrations from life. I have some themes I’ve developed and hope to unpack as I write. I don’t write sermons anymore and I miss it. Blogging has become that platform.

    Specifically for converting a blog into a book, I have a question. Forgive me if you address this further along down the comments-I haven’t read them all, but I will. So, you write, and write. I see that you had to whittle down your first published work. How do you then create a demand that the reading public wants to pay for, when you’ve already published it for free? I mean, I get the idea: you laboriously write and sweat it out into your blog. Then package it neatly in a accessible format, be it paper, electronically, or both. Obviously it can be done successfully too. I guess mine is kind of a philosophical question too. Why take what’s public domain and limit it?

    Thanks for sharing too.

    • http://davidteems.com David Teems

      Let me redirect your question. Consider this: an audience is cultivated, and will return again to your site, respond enthusiastically to your blog, or buy your book, usually for one reason. Because you’ve charmed them.

      One comment I often get in one form or another about my bio of King James [MAJESTIE: The King Behind the King James Bible—Nelson, 2010] is “I get the feeling you had a blast writing this.” And I did. In spite of the scores of books I read in preparation, the deep research, the uncertainties, and the tireless detail, it hardly seemed like work. It set off triggers in me that were delightful. I came under a spell. I was charmed.

      The most successful relationship between author and reader takes place when the charm becomes mutual, when your delight becomes your reader’s delight. When your joy is that immediate, that flush, when you’re having that much fun, it can’t help but show in the writing.

      Follow those triggers. Listen to your inner Hamlet as well as your inner Rodney Dangerfield. Somewhere between them is an an irresistible text. 

      As Mike Hyatt preaches so well, LEAD your readers. It’s all about leadership. Effective writing is about nothing else but leadership. Show them the trail of your passion, and find the language worthy of it.    

      But it begins with you. You have to be charmed to charm.

  • http://www.ryanhanley.com/2011/11/29/how-small-business-can-leverage-social-media-to-fight-back-against-their-big-business-competitors/ Ryan Hanley

    Great Article… 

    I Love language as well… I Love it. 

    And I really enjoyed the story you told here today.

    Thank you.

  • http://www.dmessner.com David Messner

    Great article. It is so inspiring to hear the full story behind the points of wisdom you gave. Thank you.

  • Anonymous

    Yes I have. I blog about my husband’s Alzheimer’s. Yet many times the writing doesn’t go on the blog, but in a paper for my counseling classes. What’s not on the blog? Authority issues when a loved one has Alzheimer’s, managing anger biblically, dying well, guns, stopping driving, for starters. I know that someday it will be a book.

  • http://www.irunurun.com/blog/ Travis Dommert

    David – thank you for this post and for sharing your story and the wisdom in it.  

    I’ve written a few dozen blog posts this year…hardly daily, but a big step up from zilch.  I don’t think it would make a book…but there are themes emerging that reflect our insights and discoveries…and I fancy to think a book will be in the offing in time.

    The biggest theme is that we are all capable of amazing results in our work and life if we invest the time and discipline to master core skills, develop talents into strengths, and hone high-impact behaviors into a regular routine of behavior (what I call “drivers”).  

    All three reinforce the other…as was the case with your writing.  You got better at it (skill), you developed the critical eye and ear (talent), and you honed a daily routine that grew with momentum into 8 inches of material (driver).  

    So just as you nod to the oddity of writing about writing, I am inclined to write about process of building a process…that helps people become great at anything.

    Thanks and blessings!

  • http://uma-maheswaran.blogspot.com/ Uma Maheswaran S

    “…..we are all capable of amazing results in our work and life if we invest the time and discipline to master core skills, develop talents into strengths, and hone high-impact behaviors into a regular routine of behavior” - Thanks for this master tip Travis! It’s a great success secret.

  • http://uma-maheswaran.blogspot.com/ Uma Maheswaran S

    Thanks for the wonderful insights.

  • http://uma-maheswaran.blogspot.com/ Uma Maheswaran S

    “Writing always clarifies our thoughts and causes us to more closely observe the every day of life so thoughtful blogging is a truly maturing process.” — Thanks for this wonderful thoughts Jill! I am going through this similar phase in the process of  blogging.

  • http://uma-maheswaran.blogspot.com/ Uma Maheswaran S

    ” not everyone who starts finishes”. True, many in this world are great bunch of beginners.

  • http://www.dwaynes--world.blogspot.com Dwayne Morris

    Would love to write a book. The mere fact that I can’t shake loose from it convinces me that God has put it on my heart. I’m having a hard time determining a niche or topic. My blog (www.Dwaynes–World.blogspot.com) is my take on a variety of things. Any tips on how to narrow the target?

    • http://davidteems.com David Teems

      The best possible response I can make is from Scripture. Luke 12:34 says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  

      A book will ask the impossible. Long months of solitude, endless reading, endless self-examination, continual revision of both your text and yourself. It will demand an editorial slavishness, and all for the sake of a single idea, one that you wish to explore and shape. You will have to search your own fascination to decide on what to write about. But it is there. You may have to follow a trail of crumbs at times, but you will find. If you want it bad enough.

      The reward is in accomplishing something great, to see something you love come to life. But the cost is intense, and is worth a moment’s reflection. Here is another Scripture from Luke (14:28-31 NKJV) that may help. Between the Scripture reference above and this one lies your subject. “For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it . . . 

  • http://twitter.com/kalpesh_maniar kalpesh maniar

    Hi,

    Nothing gives more satisfaction then the comments of readers for an author. I would appreciate if you take some time to read my novel “The Lords Of Kumaon” I would love to hear from you about my first work. I sincerely hope you would encourage my book. Please visit http://thelordsofkumaon.blogspot.com Thank you.

  • http://www.tillhecomes.org Jeremy Myers

    Yes, I am working on turning my blog into a book. Actually, I am writing my book on my blog. It forces me to make progress, to give the ideas a test run, and to begin to develop and connect with my audience. So far, it’s been great. I am not sure my manuscript will be 8 inches tall though…

  • Derwin L. Gray

    David,

    That’s wasabfunny and wonderfully encouraging blog.

    Derwin

  • Dmondesir

    This is wonderful!  It’s nice to hear advice about this–from a Christian–who’s done it successfully.  It just hit me today that I’d like to turn my blog into a book and I will continue to write fervently–everyday–to make that dream a reality!  Thanks & God Bless!

  • Matt

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  • http://www.caminomyway.com/ Randall St. Germain

     I wrote my book first and now I’m blogging about my journeys with photos. It may not make sense to everyone, but it provides content, and I’m learning a lot as I go along. It is hard work. You are very right. I’ve only been blogging since November, and took two months to figure things out. My website audience has grown, especially in the last month, although I still have a long ways to go to reach your following, Michael. :) 
    Btw, “Learn and develop the art of restraint.”  Restraint is very important in many aspects of life. Could be a blog post in itself.

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  • http://www.trainupthechild.org/ Sheilahdaws

    My children have been after me to go from ‘blog to book’.  Hope to one day.  Thanks for the encouragement.

  • KD Bush

    Great post…my Pastor & I often talk about writing books, but have no idea where to begin.  So many thoughts and God ideas, but how do you get them all on paper and to be cohesive?  Thanks for shedding some really practical light!