Wendy McClure just wanted a place to type out her thoughts. It was November 2000 and the Chicago children's-book editor had started a new diet and needed a place to expound on body image. So she posted an online journal, called it Pound and started writing.
That was nearly five years ago -- long before the term "blog" was part of the mainstream pop culture vocabulary.
Today, McClure's site brings in upward of 3,000 daily hits. She also has taken her popularity off-line with her new memoir, I'm Not the New Me. It arrived in bookstores last month.
A blogger writing a book? Isn't there something strangely converse going on here? After all, people visit blogs because -- instead of being static, like books -- they're regularly updated, sometimes on the hour.
True, but I'm Not the New Me is joining a growing list of born-from-blog book deals. Over the last few years, this genre has produced everything from novels and memoirs, such as Mimi Smartypants' The World According to Mimi Smartypants, and how-to manuals like The Weblog Handbook by renowned San Francisco blogger Rebecca Blood. Actor Wil Wheaton has even published two books compiled from entries off his popular Web log.
Although McClure's book is based largely on her online journal entries, the 33-year-old writer says she didn't just throw together some Pound entries (www.poundy.com) and "slap a book cover on it."
"I felt like I had a bigger story than just that," says McClure, on the phone recently from her home in Chicago. "There was a bigger theme about identity and body image."
Still, it certainly seems that McClure had an edge over other would-be writers. She didn't have to labor for a book deal by going through an endless exchange of proposals and rejections. Instead, she wrote her initial proposal after a friend mentioned her Web site to a publisher. Ultimately, the book was the subject of a bidding war by those hot to get a writer with an established audience and talent.
Megan Lynch, an associate editor at Riverhead Books, was already a fan of the Pound site. She knew McClure had something to say that went beyond just counting Weight Watchers points and believed McClure's words could easily make the jump from the Internet to the printed page. Reading McClure's journal, Lynch adds, she recognized a "real writer," not just a way to cash in on the blogging trend.
"I fell in love with Wendy's book proposal -- it was enough to show me that her abilities went beyond blogging," Lynch says. "We would have published her book either way -- but the success of her Web site helped."
Readers can expect to see more bloggers-turned-book authors in the coming months. Jessica Cutler -- the Senate mail clerk who, in May last year, shocked Washington with her titillating tell-all online diary The Washingtonienne (archived at washingtoniennearchive.blog-spot.com), will publish a novel in June by the same name. Another Capitol Hill novel, Dog Days, by political gossip columnist Ana Marie Cox (www.wonkette.com), is due in October. In March, look for Jen Lancaster's memoir, Bitter is the New Black, based on the author's cheeky but intimate Jennsylvania.com blog.
Jerome Kramer, editor-in-chief of the online book magazine The Book Standard, agrees that one reason the trend is strong is because publishers can turn to the Internet to find a "pre-built audience."
"They're looking for proven models and tried-and-true sources from which to create books," Kramer says. "Publishers are getting into this pop culture-to-press thing and blogging is hot."
And, adds Kramer, on the phone from his Manhattan office, the medium is still rich with untapped talent.
"Blogging only reached the critical mass tipping point about two years ago -- and it's still tipping," he says.
Pamela Ribon was one of the first notable bloggers to nab a book deal. Her darkly funny 2002 novel, Why Girls Are Weird, based
loosely on her own experiences as a well-liked online diarist, hit the Amazon Top 200 fiction chart six months before its publication date.
The Austin, Texas-based author has another novel due early next year and she credits her journal for helping her find an audience -- although these days it sometimes works the other way around.
"I still get a few e-mails a day from someone who has stumbled upon the book and then found the Web site," Ribon wrote in an e-mail to the Sacramento Bee. "The blog keeps me in constant contact with my audience, so I have a good idea who I'm writing for."
Indeed, it's not always a case of putting the blog before the book.
Keith Thomson didn't have an online presence before he signed a deal for his high-seas caper, Pirates of Pensacola, but the format helped generate enough interest to push the title to the top of Amazon.com's "early adopters" pre-sales list.
In turn, Thomson says his blog, a fictional chronicle of his book's characters and adventures, brought him invaluable support and feedback -- he used reader responses to tweak the final version of the book.
The format, he says, is "the great new minor leagues for writers" seeking an audience and a book deal.
"If you're an agent and hear about 10,000 people who are excited about a blog -- I think you'd have to pay attention to that," he says.
Lynch, the Riverhead book editor, agrees. But, she adds, if anyone is looking to blogs to revolutionize the publishing industry, think again -- this isn't really a case of new school publishing vs. old school.
"Blogging is a new form, but I think you can compare it to ... something like the success of a (Sex and the City author) Candace Bushnell," Lynch says. "That was the ... model of someone who had a regular column and got a book deal from it. That's what it's like now with blogs."
"I got a fancy degree," she says, "and when I finally do publish a book? It's because of this wacky Internet thing."
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