Monday, October 14, 2013

From Blog to Book: Guest Post by Debbie Mitchell

I discovered Debbie Mitchell's blog last spring when I was one of 807,378 readers on CNN's iReport to stumble onto her thought-provoking and powerful post, "Why I Raise My Children Without Religion." After Debbie wrote this popular and controversial iReport:  she was discovered by two editors!

Isn't this what we writers dream of happening to us?  We work diligently on our blogs, drumming up support and readership, toying with monetization, trying to decide how much self-promotion is worth the time and effort it takes just to write for a living.  Debbie has been writing her blog for ten years.  Now she has a book due out this April based on her blog.

What I love about Debbie's writing is that it is heartfelt, honest, and provocative.  If she lived in my town, I'd be having coffee dates with her on a regular basis.

Please welcome Debbie Mitchell.  Read her success story and follow her sound advice for turning your blog into a book.


Blogging and Books
I’m thrilled to be writing a guest post for Amy’s blog. Thank you, Amy, for sharing your space!

I decided to write about a question I’ve been asked a few times: How did I land a book contract based on my blog? I’m happy to share what I’ve learned, and please feel free to ask if you have questions. But I have to tell you something up front: The subject of my book was not something I had expected to write about.

Like many of you, I have been a writer since I can remember. Although I’ve had many different jobs, when someone would ask me what I do for a living, I always wanted to shout, “I’m a writer! I’m a writer! I swear!” Before I even started kindergarten, I’d write down words on tiny pieces of paper, fold them up and stick them in my pocket, irritating my mother to no end when the laundry brought the paper out of my pockets and pasted dozens of tiny pieces to the wet clothes. 

Also, like many of you, I’m an introvert, and I’m hard-wired to prefer communication through the written word, to need quiet time to think and reflect. I find most writers I know are like this. We also have a running dialogue in our heads of things we are working on or want to write about, and we’re constantly scribbling ideas down. Don’t tell us your life story—you never know what a writer might “borrow.” 

About ten years ago, my father read an article about blogging in Business Week, and he suggested that I look into some of the sites mentioned. A few days later, I started blogging on Blogspot and Wordpress on various topics, but the only blog I maintained was one that had sprouted out of my frustration of living as a nonbeliever in a very Christian town. Although I wrote about a lot of other topics, my blog became a consistent and personal journal of my struggles with raising kids on the fringe. I just really wanted to reach out to people and find others who were in the same proverbial boat. So you know that cliché that your professors tell you, “Write what you know;” they were right. That’s where my most significant and passionate writing came from.

My next suggestion to getting published would be to send as many different essays and articles to as many different publications as possible: newspapers of all sizes, local magazines (even the ones you get for free), national magazines and Internet sites. Always include your blog address in your tagline so that readers can find you. If the subject of your blog is parenting, you might see if any relevant magazines or websites would be interested in running your work. Sometimes you’ll get paid, sometimes not. But you’ll be getting your writing out there—along with your blog address—and building your Publications List. I tried to write three to four articles a month, even when I worked at other jobs.

At the end of January this past year, I grew really frustrated with some articles that I had read on CNN and with some of the attitudes in my city. One morning, I sat down and wrote this piece. But I wanted to share it with the religion writers and readers on CNN because I wanted to say, “Hey! There are other folks out there who don’t think the same as you, who are doing something different.” So I uploaded my essay to iReports. And this is my third suggestion: Write about something that not too many people have tackled yet, or write about a topic in a dramatically different way.

That subject must have been on many people’s minds because the article was one of the most viewed of all times. Lots of people wrote to me saying, “I feel that way, too!” The article drove a lot of traffic to my blog, and apparently, a couple of editors, too. A few days after that CNN article ran, I was contacted by two publishers. One of the publishers wanted to turn my blog into a book, and the other wanted me to write a guide for parents who were, like me, raising their kids without religion. I chose the latter publisher and topic for several reasons, but I used a lot of the material in my blog to remind me of the struggles I faced over the past ten years. The book is called, Growing up Godless: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Kids without Religion, and it will be published in April by Sterling Publishing. I interviewed Amy for the book, by the way, and she shared a story about her family.

Honestly, I am often humbled by just how many good writers there are out there, and I will tell you that there is an element of luck involved in getting a book deal. I sent out a lot of queries over the years (on other subjects), but nothing ever materialized. It just so happened that I wrote about a topic that hit a nerve with me, and on that day, it also hit a nerve with a lot of people. I learned that you just never know when a piece of your writing will resonate with the crowd.

So don't give up. If you love to write, keep writing. It hones your skills. It uncovers your truth. It is how you speak to the world. It is your path into the fray; your armaments in life’s struggles. Keep going, if for no other reason than writing makes you a writer.

And sometimes, the best thing that comes out of the act of writing isn’t what we get for it; it’s what we become from it.  

Here are some useful links:

Why you should blog:

Blogs that became books:

Deborah Mitchell lives in Texas (for now) with her husband and two sons. She has worked many jobs, including teaching writing at a college near Dallas and working with underprivileged youth. She earned an undergraduate degree from North Carolina State University, and a graduate degree from the University of Texas at Dallas. Books, people, philosophy, religion and environmental science are a few of her interests. She blogs at