Want to Write a Book? Start a Blog

by Amy Julia Becker

About ten years ago I mentioned to someone “the list of books I want to write when I retire.” She looked at me and said, “You know, don’t you, that most people don’t have a list of books they want to write when they retire?” It was news to me.

Her comment came as a part of a growing realization that I wanted to write, and I wanted to write non-fiction books in particular. So I got started. The first book was an attempt to explain Christianity. I typed about 50 pages in and then abandoned it. The second was a memoir about getting to know my mother-in-law as she faced a cancer diagnosis. I finished that one, but never looked for a publisher. (That’s another, long, story, but the self-published book that resulted from it is Penelope Ayers.) The third, A Good and Perfect Gift, was a memoir about coming to receive our daughter Penny, who has Down syndrome, as a gift. With the third, I finally had an agent, a proposal, and a lot of interest from editors at publishing houses. And yet, over the course of the spring and summer of 2009, I received no after no after no. We couldn’t find a publisher because I didn’t have a platform. I was a no-name author with a hard-to-market story.

And so I started a blog. At first, it seemed like eating my spinach, something I had to do in order to achieve the long-term goal of writing books. I worried I would run out of things to write about. I worried no one would read it. I worried about exposing my family to the netherworld of cyberspace. But I couldn’t think of any other way to prove to the marketing teams at publishing houses that I would indeed have an audience for a book.

In the beginning, I only posted twice a week, and I had a handful of people who read what I wrote. Within a few months, I had started to write more frequently, in part because I had been told that successful bloggers post every day, but in part because I started to have more ideas. And I had started to enjoy it. Blogging forced me to sit down and write, and to write for an audience. Moreover, blogging forced me to expose my ideas to comment and critique on a daily basis, which meant that I got better and better at learning how to construct sentences and arguments. In time, I was invited to move my blog to beliefnet and then to Patheos, a multifaith religion website that connected me to other bloggers and offered a wider audience and greater writing support.

Blogging also gave me a place to try out ideas and figure out what stuck. I thought I was great at writing about passages from the Bible, for instance, and I had a series of book ideas based upon themes running through Scripture. I tried to write some of those ideas as series on my blog, and they got very little response. Few comments. Few people sharing them with others. And yet when I wrote about our family and linked the story of our lives to Scripture, my page views went up and people responded. It wasn’t that I shouldn’t be writing about Scripture, but I learned that I needed to do so in the role of storyteller rather than teacher.

Blogging helped me define, for myself and for my readers, what my writing was all about. I write about faith, family, and disability, and my blog has enabled me to cultivate an audience of people interested in at least one of those things, and often the places in which they intersect.

Finally, blogging opened up small but significant opportunities to write for other online publications. I was invited to write regularly for her.meneutics, the Christianity Today women’s blog, which eventually led to other invitations to write for the Christianity Today magazine. I submitted an essay about prenatal testing to Motherlode, the parenting blog of the New York Times, and after it was published an editor from parents.com reached out to me. Over the course of a few years, that initial contact has led to my current gig for parents.com in which I am writing personal essays about the upcoming presidential election.

 As I started to blog more frequently and with a greater sense of direction and purpose, people started to notice my writing outside of the blogging world too. About a year after my book proposal fell flat, I received two emails from editors at small Christian publishing houses. Both said, “I’ve been reading your blog and was wondering if you had any book ideas?” I signed a contract for A Good and Perfect Gift with Bethany House two months later. By that time, I was a better writer with a better sense of my potential audience and how to communicate with them.

 So—you want to write a non-fiction book? My best advice: start a blog.

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13 Responses to Want to Write a Book? Start a Blog

  1. Margot Starbuck says:

    WONDERFUL POST!!!!!

    • Lisa says:

      Amy Julia and Margot, you are both amazing and inspiring. I heard both of you at the Festival of Faith and Writing this spring. I was hooked:) Myself and my friends love all the words you share with others. THANK YOU!!

  2. As I work to balance building my platform with my blog and articles and writing my book, your post was timely, Amy Julia! Messages for me: the publishing process just…takes…time; and God has a plan, so I should just let go (again!). Thanks for writing and posting this!

  3. Tim says:

    Great insights, AJ. Awesome how God brought those platforms and then editors to you!

    I’ve heard that a lot of people start blogging to bolster their book ideas. I’m not sure why I write posts. If it hadn’t been for Jenny Rae Armstrong* telling me she was too busy to write on a topic I’d mentioned to her and that I should just write the article myself, I don’t know that I ever would have started. That has led to a lot of guest posts (for her and a bunch of others, as you know), but that’s all I do so I doubt any editors/publishers/agents pay me any mind anyway.

    Tim

    *Jen just posted another guest piece from me and I linked to it through my name above if anyone cares to take a look.

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  5. Love this post. And I have been sick of blogging. Thanks for the encouragement AJ!

  6. Thanks so much for this! I’ve been thinking a lot this summer about non-fiction, and have just started a new blog a few months ago. Like you said, writing for an audience has forced me to refine my thinking and narrow my topics (in my case, the intersection of post-Evangelical Christianity / culture / media). Your words were encouraging.

  7. Thank you Amy Julia! Your encouragement to me last year was so helpful, and I continue to be inspired and spurred on by your life and words. Bless you!

  8. Betsy says:

    Thank you, Amy Julia, for telling your blogging to book story. (Your example is a great message full of helpful advice.)

    My blog following is small, and I’ve been evaluating whether or not to continue, but your post encourages me and gives me some great ideas.

  9. Liz Ashbury says:

    Your article has inspired me all the more to continue and even post more often on my blog. I have been thinking for quite a while that blogging could be a creative way to start writing a book. After struggling with anorexia for 30 years (I am now recovered) I write in most of my posts of the importance of having a solid faith in Christ and to work on receiving His healing grace. It may not be my time just yet to write that book as I am still on the journey of helping those crossing the line into recovery. However, the feedback I have received from readers only confirms that blogging is a very useful tool for getting thoughts in writing and to make them work. Thank you for the inspiration! God bless!

  10. Angie Weszely says:

    You have inspired me, Amy Julia! I have been thinking a lot about starting to blog, but it seemed overwhelming. Your post was so clear and encouraging – thank you!

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  12. Sydney says:

    Thank you for this! I started a blog a few months ago just because I felt I needed to start somewhere, so I’m glad that I’m moving in the right direction :) Your post was very on point and very encouraging!

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