The business of blogging

The business of blogging

As a netizen, I am well aware of the influence popular blogs wield on their audience. Much like the newspaper ritual of yesterday, sifting for blog updates is not uncommon amongst loyal followers. A quick look at popular blogs suggests that bloggers endear themselves to an audience by sharing life experiences that resonate with many others or by expressing opinion on current affairs in a manner that is unlike other formal media institutions. A blogger’s style is casual, uncomplicated and more often that not, straight from the heart.

Interestingly, when these very same bloggers turn authors, the ball game changes – 800 word passages do not make the cut, opinion cannot flow lose and the final product is subject to much chopping and changing. In this piece, I speak to three bloggers, each of whom has been successful in crossing over to the other side.

With his blog, Domain Maximus, Sidin Vadukut, pokes fun at the working masses or in this the case, the average Indian who has been to a B-school. “My blog reflects the problems of my age group (the 25 to 35 demographic) and this resonates with people who share a background with me,” he says. Blogging began in 2002 for this management graduate from the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, as a more efficient way to stay in touch with his friends than mass email. In 2004, a blog post on the ‘travails of a young south-Indian man trying to find love’ put Vadukut on the blogging map. At present, Vadukut multi-tasks as a blogger, current managing editor of Livemint.com. He turned author with Dork: The Incredible Adventures of Robin ‘Einstein’ Varghese which is a sattire on workplace dynamics.

Much like Vadukut, Arnab Ray, writes about subjects that are on everybody’s mind, but, he puts his own twist on current affairs. In 2004, following a PhD in Computer Science from State University of New York, Ray began blogging under the pseudonym, Greatbong. When asked what makes his blog, Random Thoughts of a Demented Mind, Ray says, “Honesty. I never tone down my opinions or beliefs even if they are unpopular.” The blogger penned his first book, May I Hebb Your Attention Pliss! while simultaneously working at a research laboratory. Even as he generated new material for his book, Ray improved upon some of the existing pieces from his blog to run in print.

Unlike the men, Parul Sharma gave up a career in market research when she began her current blog, for, she was about to start the most challenging job of her life, that of being a mom. Bringing Up Adi chronicled the moments spent with her new born in a manner that most mothers, first-time or otherwise, could relate to. It was 2006 when Sharma began blogging and it was around the same time that her first book took shape. “My blog and book were exclusive from each other as I had already begun working on the manuscript,” she says. Not surprisingly, the book is about a young mother’s experiences and the publishers retained the working title of Bringing Up Vasu.

Author: Parul Sharma
Blog: Bringing Up Adi
First Book: Bringing Up Vasu

Blog to book

While sustaining a blog poses no limitations on bloggers, writing a book comes with its own set of rules. And this is something that publishers agree on unanimously. “I am not sure making a book out of blog posts would work—the narrative has to work as a book. And there has to be an enduring quality,” says Diya Kar Hazra, publishing director & rights director, Penguin Books India. Hazra was instrumental in publishing Vadukut’s first book in the Dork series. Deepthi Talwar, executive editor, Westland Ltd., stresses on the importance of developing a book in great detail, unlike a blog. “I think it is important that the book is not just a lift from the blog. Even if the blogger would like to write about the subject matter that he/she deals with in the blog, there has to be something more: a story, plot, characters…” she says.

Another key difference is that despite the opinions a blogger receives on the blog, it rarely changes the outcome. With a book, a publisher’s assessment counts for a lot more. Saugata Mukherjee, editor at Harper Collins India, who worked on Ray’s book, says, “Any discerning author knows the difference between a blog and a book – Arnab and I did have multiple discussions and we reached a mutual agreement, sometimes we went with his idea and at times, he took my suggestions.” Talwar who helped shape Sharma’s first book insists that the author was given complete freedom. “I am only there as an editor; if we felt drastic changes had to be made for the book to work, we would not have signed it on,” she says.

Humour sells best?

While each of these blogger turned authors hold a distinctive style, perhaps, an extension of their blogs, the use of humour is common. So, was this a conscious decision on their part? Sharma simply says, “I like it when I can make my readers laugh.” Ray and Vadukut maintain that their style is not contrived to gain popularity, it is what came easiest to them and it worked. However, their publishers do admit that it is easier to sell books that use humour. “A writer’s style need not always be humorous to gain commercial success though humour has a good chance of selling well,” says Hazra. Mukherjee adds that this genre of commercial fiction holds maximum readership. He also elaborates that authors with a ‘serious’ narrative are typically not seen on the blogosphere. “You do not see too many non-fiction writers maintaining blogs. I am not sure a blog is the right medium for a narrative that demands a great deal of concentration,” he adds.

“I am not sure making a book out of blog posts would work – the narrative has to work as a book. And there has to be an enduring quality” – Diya Kar Hazra, publishing director & rights director, Penguin Books India.

Ultimately, the sale of a book is determined by the quality of its own narrative. But, bloggers enjoy a head start when compared to other first-time authors. “On an average, I get close to 2000 hits as a blogger, but, for me to put a best seller, I need a much wider audience,” says Sharma. Ray believes blogging helped push sales to a great extent. “In my case, I was lucky that people were calling it the Greatbong book even before it was out,” he adds. Vadukut agrees, “My first 3000-4000 copies sold on the basis that I was a known blogger and I had the backing of the blogging community.”

Surprisingly, none of these authors relied heavily on the public relations (PR) machinery pushing sales. “My book sales were driven by word of mouth, in fact, I did not even have a launch,” says Sharma. Ray’s story is much the same. “I never hired a PR agency. I did all my promotion through my blog and through twitter. I organised one give-away contest and I did a virtual ‘meet the author’ using an online web conferencing service (the license for use was contributed by a reader) which was a great success,” he says. Vadukut went through a round of promotions which included activities on the blog and readings at bookstores, but, nothing on a scale too grand.

Up next

It must be said that with Vadukut, Ray and Sharma, each must have done something right the first time, for, their first book is far from being their last. In the Dork trilogy, Vadukut would ideally like to see his central character make an upward transition through three levels in the corporate cycle – entry, interim to top management. “I would like to stay honest to the timeline in the book, the first was based in 2007-2008, so, when the next one is out, it will reflect corporate culture of that time,” says Vadukut.

Ray says of his next, “I am presently working on a novel that can be characterized as belonging to the thriller-horror genre. My second book incidentally will not have a trace of humor in it. I hope that will dispel the urban legend that all bloggers write comedy.” Sharma’s second book titled By the Water Cooler is set for a release in October, 2010. The story is woven around the protagonist’s entry to a new office and her myriad experiences there. “Incidentally, this was the idea I first had for a book, but, life had its way and I wrote about motherhood first,” she says.

The publishers associated with each of these authors have expressed eagerness to continue their association, based on first-time performances. If this trend is anything to go by, blogs might very well be the stepping stone to a publishing deal in the near future. Writers, get blogging pronto!