Long ago, in a publishing climate far, far away, we had things called blog-to-book deals. Here is an 11 year old article in the New York Times about it that I’m mentioned in (look, I just invented the thirst-link). I’ve done app-to-book deals, tinyletter-to-book deals, twitter-to-book deals, tumblr-to-book, self-published-to-traditionally-published deals. Now, in almost-2020, we don’t have blogs or tumblr any more, (and isn’t tinyletter phasing out?) but we still have book deals from people making stuff that is not necessarily book shaped. All this didn’t start with lolcats or Shit My Dad Said or #FML; it was just easier to watch the ideas rise from web to print when we were all on the internet all the time.
I guarantee there is a newsletter-to-book deal happening this very second, if it hasn’t already. I’m only slightly annoyed I haven’t done it yet, if only to add to my list of -to-book deals. I’m a completist.
What these all have in common is that the author (and agent and editor) saw something in the content being created that would appeal to a book-buying market. Notice what I didn’t say there. I didn’t say we all saw something AMAZING. That’s true and concurrent with appeal to a book-buying market, but it has to be both at the same time. There are a lot of things that are amazing that are not appealing to a book-buying market. There are no gif-to-book deals, because that is basically impossible (no one would buy an “enhanced ebook” as we call it, of gifs because not only is that dumb and probably wouldn’t work well and take WAY more effort to code/create than a standard ebook, and we couldn’t charge more that $8-9 for it BUT ALSO gifs are free on the internet. No one needs to pay money for them). There are things that work great in books, that people like buying books about (cats! WWII! baseball! romance! dad jokes!) and things people don’t (….too many to name here, but a surprising one from my experience is books with both knitting and crochet patterns. Those things are different! Knitters and crocheters are not the same!).
Writing a book is often a gateway to other bigger things. Speaking gigs. Article publications. Other bigger books. Maybe a movie deal. I probably get 3-4 queries a week (yes, even when I’m closed) from people saying something like I have this stuff and I want to turn it into a book and get a book deal. They haven’t said I have written a book. They just have a lot of content. Often that’s blog/newsletter posts, tweets, photographs/instagrams, craft patterns, newspaper columns, and screenplays (more on that last one in a minute). A book is not a container you fill to the top with words and sew the binding on. It is not if you write it, they will come. If you’ve spent all year making stuff and think it should be in a book, you can’t just sculpt a 6 x 9 rectangle out of your content and call it a book.
Your book has to be a book. It has to fit nicely on a shelf in a store (i.e. genre) and meet readers’ expectations of length, quality, and value. Someone has to want it, and the people who know you BEST have to want it. (Which is why you can’t print out your blog posts and make them a book. Your best readers have already read it.) Even if you edit it all, it still has to show your platform, your readers, there’s something new worth $15-25 in there. Your content might be good. Your pictures of the sunset out your back window in the Catskills might be gorgeous, but if there isn’t an identifiable person with $25 in their pocket with a reason to go into B&N to get your book, then I can’t sell it.
That’s an actual thing I do, try to picture the person with $25 and a reason to buy your book. I call it my reason to buy factor—groundbreaking, I know. Does this book have 98% new content and the author 1M followers on Instagram? Does this book make a great graduation gift for those who already have Oh, the Places You’ll Go? Is this book for the person scanning the shelves looking for real-talk advice written by a name they’ll recognize? That’s how I figure out if I can sell something (in the case for non-fiction).
That’s how I can turn your already created content into a book. Otherwise, I can’t help.
Now, screenplays. I get a good number of queries for screenplays which is bad because I don’t represent screenplays and I’ve read like 2 in my whole life. I don’t know how to write them and I don’t know how to evaluate them and I don’t sell them so basically, sending me these is huge waste of time for all of us. After I tell the querier that I don’t rep screenplays (which is VERY NICE OF ME because I could just delete it) I sometimes get a response that’s like ok but I can just make this into a novel do you want to read that can you help me do that? Uh, no. I cannot do that or help you do that or read that. Tbh, I kinda don’t believe that’s a good idea. I am 100% CERTAIN that there are books out there that started as screenplays and ended up selling and are great and fabulous and I have maybe even read them without knowing. Well done on all parties who did that. But I can’t do that and if your primary goal is to turn your screenplay into a novel so that it will sell and then get made into a movie, then I kinda think your priorities are out of whack. I definitely believe in the novel as art, but not only as art, and it’s not like it’s sacrilege to do this. It’s just probably going to be bad because your aim is not to make a good book, it’s to make a movie, and you can’t make a thing out of a thing. You go forth and make the movie, or you go forth and write the novel. I think Yoda said something like this but I forget because I like Star Trek better.
If I ever get to write a book about publishing based on this newsletter, you bet there are going to be parts in the book that you’ve already seen here. But probably only a page or two here and there, because this is not a book. It’s not organized or paced like a book. You come here to get different things than you would from a book. I would make like 45% fewer jokes (“jokes”) because over the course of 1000 words it’s fine, but over 50,000 words it’s tedious and awkward. A newsletter is not a book. If I wrote a book, I’d write a book, not just collect my writings and serve them to the reader.
Some writers get really depressed (I mean, full stop, hang in there, luv u) when presented with the many, many words they’ve already written and the fact that they probably can’t use them for a book. Yeah, it’s not fun to put in a lot of work and not reach the goal you want. If you want to write a book, write a book. If you want to blog or newsletter or however we’re denominalizing these days, then do the thing. It might create the PLATFORM by which you have the opportunity to do the other things you want to do, with or without the content you’ve already created. I, a Taurus sun with Capricorn rising, think all work is good work. You just can’t always predict how you’ll get to use that work.
A little housekeeping: posting will be light going into the New Year save for A MEGA HUGE YEAR END ACCOUNTING OF MY AGENTING AND READING that you won’t want to miss, for subscribers only. Curious how many books I’ve sold and read? Do you like pie charts and bar graphs? This is what I did last year before I started this thing. YOU WON’T WANT TO MISS OUT! SUBSCRIBE HERE!
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I really enjoyed this and enjoy your newsletter very much. I have known about Substack since it was just a hot idea. Yours is the first I've subscribed to.