The blog phenomenon
Way back in May 2004, the New Yorker prophesied,
Books by bloggers will be a trend, a cultural phenomenon.
And they weren’t wrong.
In the years that followed, hundreds of bloggers have transferred their content from the web into book pages – physical or otherwise.
But what makes those who really ‘make it’ so successful?
And, is there anything you can do, with your small blog, to be the next big hit?
The Ubiquitous Blog
There are over 160,000,000 blogs on the Internet, and, on any given day, thousands more are created (one every half a second, to be exact!).
While many are business blogs, traffic drivers, or private, personal musings, thousands of blogs are driven by a passion or an expertise that forces the author to keep on writing and publishing.
Every once in a while, one of these bloggers steps up, stands out, and finds that they have what it takes to take that passion and turn it into a career that makes them famous.
We’ve picked four exceptional examples of people who have taken their blog way beyond average, sealing a book deal, moving into a speaking career, consultancy, or pushing their blog to new heights.
1. Tim Ferriss: The 4-Hour Work Week
Ferriss is a Princeton graduate with a penchant for excessive productivity, who, in 2007 took his relatively new (but rapidly growing) blog, and wrote a book that shot to the top of the Bestseller Lists.
Like a fish to water, Ferriss found the blog format a natural medium to convey his message of fast, efficient success.
Ferriss’ quick progression to success is attributed to his ability to tap in to the zeitgeist of the time, before we even realised what it was.
He also promoted, and promoted.
But in a way that was smarter rather than harder; he truly practiced what he preached be selecting only strategies that he thought would read a critical mass of readers (no book signings then!).
Ferriss had a three-pronged approach to promoting his book:
- Create a phenomenon.
- Polarise opinion — strong ideas generate critics; he welcomed them.
- Encourage community around his ideas and create super-fans who became advocates for his ideas (and ultimately, of course, the book).
In 2007, Ferriss released his book, The 4-Hour Work Week with Random House, and promptly followed that with The 4-Hour Body, and, most recently, The 4-Hour Chef, each reaching bestseller status in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, or Business Week.
Tim Ferriss has become a phenomenon himself, a media star, of course known for his books, and now an Angel Investor.
Ferriss did not do this by accident. He isn’t shy of asking for help, making connections, and saying no to the things that won’t return the results.
And it all started with a very intentional blog to bestseller strategy.
2. Pamela Slim: Escape From Cubicle Nation
She was making the shift from corporate training manager to virtual coaching, targeting corporate employees dying to escape their ‘cubicles’ and the 9-5 life.
Slim’s topic resonated around the world, and, in 2006, her site visits jumped from 100 to 20,000 in 24 hours after Silicon Valley’s Guy Kawasaki linked to her post, Open Letter to CXO’s Across the Corporate World.
Slim was interested in turning her blogging into a book for the personal challenge, but also because for business, books open doors.
She’d talked to a few publishers, but it wasn’t until she was approached by an editor from Penguin Portfolio, her dream publisher, and asked if she would to put together a proposal for her book Escape From Cubicle Nation: From Corporate Prisoner to Thriving Entrepreneur, that she found the right home for her book. And, in six weeks, the deal was closed.
Slim told Mashable that getting a traditional publishing deal doesn’t make you rich:
You have to think of it in terms of what can a book do for your business, not making a living just from book sales.
Was Pamela Slim lucky? A quirk of timing? Again hitting that zeitgeist that Tim Ferriss tapped into?
Maybe, and it’s easy to pass off success as a fluke. But there are lessons from her success:
- Slim noticed the patterns of dissatisfaction in the workplace, and she started to look deeper, and focus.
- She did. And consistently. She took that blog challenge and implemented.
- She kept the security of a job at first, not quitting that day job too soon.
- And she didn’t just write, she offered services — coaching at first and, later, created online products.
Will you be as successful? Maybe.
Success is definitely easier to predict in hindsight. But, again, note the intention that was just waiting for the right timing.
3. Darren Rowse: Problogger
Melbourne based blogger and author Darren Rowse read his first blog in 2002 – and published his own not long after.
At the time, he was working three part-time jobs, as well as completing a degree in theology.
Rowse’s many blogs (he is a big deal in the digital photography space) remained a hobby until he toyed with the idea of advertising to help pay his ISP and hosting costs over his various blogs.
After realising he could actually make a living doing this, Rowse started Problogger, a blog that tells the story of his success, and provides other bloggers a space to discover how to make a living from blogging.
Rowse co-authored a book, Problogger: Secrets to Blogging Your Way To a 6 Figure Income, in 2006 with Chris Garrett, published by Wiley.
In his post ‘Becoming a Problogger‘, Rowse outlines four main lessons from his journey from hobby-blogger to high-scale professional:
- Blogging for an income takes time.
- Take it one step at a time.
- You need hard work and discipline.
- Always follow your dreams.
For Rowse, the blog has been his success, and the book is an offshoot, unlike, say Tim Ferriss, who is known internationally for his books.
And note the order of the lessons that Darren Rowse shares…
Yes follow your passion, but time, discipline, and hard work come first.
4. Brandon Stanton: Humans of New York
In the summer of 2010, photographer Brandon Stanton set out on an ambitious project: to single-handedly create a photographic census of New York City.
And in 2013 the book came out: Humans of New York: Stories, which hit the top of the New York Times bestseller list, and remained there for 45 weeks.
What does Brandon do that has captured our hearts?
It’s the story.
HONY isn’t solely a photo blog; the images are accompanied by a quote from the sitter, just enough words to give us an insight into and a connection with them.
What can we learn from Stanton?
- Persistence. He posted for a year before he started to add quotes — and that’s when he got an upswing in attention.
- Pay attention to what works. In a Reddit AMA, Stanton says, “The path of HONY has been a constant process of ditching what’s not working, and doubling down on what’s working.” It was watching what worked that led him to focus on social media.
- Passion. Stanton wanted a book, but wasn’t wedded to what that would look like. Stick with your passions and do what it takes to pay the bills.
Blog to Bestseller Takeaways
Is there a standard formula here that you can see, and then follow?
Yes and no. There are commonalities, but there are also differences.
We see the very strategic Tim Ferriss, compared with the passionate Brandon Stanton, seemingly going day by day.
Can we learn anything from these four examples of wildly successful bloggers turned authors?
I think so.
- Persistence as key. All our case studies talk about it, and it’s what I’ve observed. The seven year overnight success.
- Passion yes; it’s essential, but it’s not enough. You have to do what you love, but not at the expensive of paying the bills.
- Side-hustles, hard work and discipline — all our success stories have it.
- And talent. Whether a learned skill (Ferriss admits he is not a natural writer), or something that is a natural interest and you develop it, you have to do something that makes you stand out. These people are the top of their game, not because it was given to them, but because they earned it.
Books by bloggers are definitely a cultural phenomenon.
Question is, will yours be next?
Do you have favourite blog to book stories? Did one of these stand out for you? Let us know on social media?