The Blog vs. The Book: Smackdown

Why blog? This is a question I am sure that many bloggers’ spouses ask them and/or themselves. In the case of academic bloggers there can be a further question: Why not spend this time writing a book. I have never seen the two as antithetical to one another (and still don’t). On the contrary, I think one can flow naturally into the other. Nevertheless, having heard the question asked, I thought it might be useful to answer the question “Why blog, when you could be working on your next book?”

1) When you write a book, you only know how many copies have been sold. With a blog, you can know how many people visit it, from what countries, and other such information. Apparently someone from Azerbaijan has visited my blog. One day (thanks to the Pharyngula blog pointing visitors my way) I had nearly 2,000 visitors.

2) When a blogger mentions how many visitors he has had, other bloggers can help deflate his ego by leaving comments and telling them how paltry his numbers are compared to their own. I eagerly await the comment that says “You got excited about that many visitors in a 24-hour period?! Dude…”

3) The comments feature in general is fantastic. It was one of the major reasons I moved to Blogger from having a blog hosted on the university web server – although for anyone reluctant to do so, there are scripts that will allow you to add the comments feature to a blog that doesn’t have it built in. Anyway, if someone scribbles something in the margin of their own copy of a book I wrote, I will probably never get that feedback. On a blog, one is more likely to hear directly from one’s readers, and to interact in a more conversation and personal way.

4) On a blog, you have the chance to comment directly on current events as they happen (or, more likely, as soon as other blogs clue you in to what has been going on). I am not sure if and when my book on the burial of Jesus will see the light of day, but it certainly doesn’t look like it will be able to ride the crest of the wave of interest generated by the documentary about the Talpiot tomb.

5) As far as academic writing is concerned, a book I read recently by Bernard Haisch quoted the statistic that the average number of readers of any given scientific paper is .6. It is no surprise, then, that there are so many science blogs! Although I’d like to think that in Biblical studies and religion the number might be higher, writing short (or even long) blog entries will make what one has to say accessible to an audience that would probably not read one’s academic papers and articles.

6) A blog is (or at least has the potential to be) complementary to a book. It is a great way of testing ideas and getting feedback while working on a larger volume. Conversely, it is a place one can take a book one has written and discuss it further. Moreover, writers have long been given the advice to write every day. Authors and composers as a rule discard more than they publish. Not only is a blog one place to practice the discipline of writing regularly, but there is a wider audience that can help by sharing its wisdom and insight into what should be thrown out and not pursued further.

Are there other reasons that you can think of? If so, I’d love to hear them. Is there something I’ve been writing about here that deserves to be pursued in a book? Probably not – but I’ll probably do it anyway. Your input might, at the very least, help me choose to pursue a topic that at least one potential reader is interested in!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11734019573868663947 Steve Martin

    #7. You don’t need to have all your arguments figured out before you publish. I was writing an essay on Evangelicalism & Evolution – it was getting longer & longer (book length) but the end of the tunnel seemed even farther away – every answered question spawned two new & more difficult ones. Now a good author knows how to control such scope creep … but I realized my objective was not to publish, but to discuss. Voila – blogging saved the day for many of the reasons you’ve already stated.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06788065724877625817 Gabriel Mckee

    You’re absolutely right re: point 6. I launched my blog as a place to continue talking about religion in SF after finishing “The Gospel According to Science Fiction.” I’m not going to stop reading SF or thinking about theology, but it will be a few years before I start thinking about another book on the subject. My blog (www.sfgospel.com, plug, plug) is a great place for me to continue thinking and writing about religion and sf without having to worry about deadlines (or tying together an argument over 30 pages). I also love the informality– there were a lot of stories I didn’t talk about in my book because I didn’t have more than a sentence or two to say about them or because they were too nichey and didn’t fit into the categories I was discussing. The less formal nature of a blog allows writing those one or two sentences without worrying about it being too short or too long.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/davidscottlewis David Scott Lewis

    1) Demonstrating that I’m current.2) Commenting on timely and/or dated issues.3) Commenting on things that are not only not worthy of a book, but not even worthy of an article.These are my three main reasons for blogging. OK, there are two other reasons, but they won’t apply (at least not directly) to academic types:4) Generating leads.5) Demonstrating thought leadership on a corporate level.By living in China (now, for almost four years), I need to demonstrate that I’m still up on things to my colleagues, potential employers, and the like back in Silicon Valley. Although China is certainly a dynamic place to live, the Web 2.0 world is equally dynamic (albeit in a much different way) — and if one is looking to get back in the Valley at some point (as I am, although maybe not for another six years), it’s important to demonstrate that one hasn’t become irrelevant and out of touch.Of course, it’s also possible to (and, matter of fact, does indeed) generate leads of all sorts, for sales, channel development, strategic partnerships, you name it. It adds to the visibility of a company, and often enhances credibility by demonstrating thought leadership. (In a sense, demonstrating thought leadership is EXACTLY what you’re doing, too, even though the phrase “thought leadership” may have never entered your mind.)For me, I’d scale it as:i) Comments to blog posts (like this).ii) *** Original blog posts. ***iii) Trade magazine articles.iv) Conference papers and poster sessions.v) Peer-reviewed journal articles.vi) Peer-reviewed journal articles in highly-cited journals.vii) Books of a popular nature.viii) Books of a scholarly nature.What I’m listing is a somewhat natural (at least for me) order of progression in complexity.People in corporate positions, especially in business development positions, need to concentrate on items i-iii. Item vii may help, too, but is a lot of effort, probably more effort than it’s worth in a corporate setting.For academics on a tenure track, well, writing an article for a trade magazine may have zero value, although the equivalent, like Christianity Today, The Christian Century or Sojourners may have some value. (Actually, what do you think about this? Does it add value for an academician? Worst case: Might help sell some more books. But Christianity Today isn’t Theology Today, to be sure.)When you think about it, blogging may have the highest payback of all publishing endeavors, although I will counter that e-newsletters have an even higher payback if structured properly.


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