The Blog vs. The Book: Smackdown

The Blog vs. The Book: Smackdown October 22, 2007

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!

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