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How do I make the blog into a book?

What I like most about writing this blog is that it leads to conversations with people all around the world. I get advice, and sympathy, and connection, and crankiness, and humor, and on and on, until my three page investment turns into days of feeling like I am not at all alone.

pix from eos 006

“Look at all of our friends!”

The blog has taken the shape it has as a result of both the comments I get and the blogs I read. I’m not isolated or impervious; I absorb what I read and what I see and, mostly unconsciously, I challenge myself in response. The community aspect of blogging is so satisfying, but I still feel like a second tier writer, because I haven’t been accepted by the cool kids at the publishing houses and literary magazines.

“So not cool.”

I’ve been getting rejection letters from agents and publishers, telling me that I am a wonderful, talented, exquisite writer, but… but what? Isn’t that what I’ve spent my life working towards? Isn’t that the point? I can’t even begin to understand the market forces that turned publishing into this quagmire, whether there are just too many writers trying to get published, or too few publishers willing to take a risk.

When I was first looking for a graduate program in creative writing, and collecting rejections from the schools I’d applied to, I was told that MFA programs weren’t interested in my writing ability, they were interested in the uniqueness of my story. The writing, they believed, they could teach me, but they couldn’t teach me how to be interesting. I think agents and editors have taken the same view. They’re looking for a hook, a unique story, something the world is currently clamoring for, and if they have to rewrite every word, so be it. Most of them have graduate degrees in writing themselves.

It has been suggested to me that I try to make this blog into book, because dogs are popular lately, because people seem to like my blog posts, and because my novels are not getting picked up. But I don’t know. It feels like I’d be trying to make a piano into a guitar.

I’ve been reading through my blog posts from the beginning, and I’m not as disappointed as I was afraid I would be, but I’m also not magically coming up with an idea for how to structure it. Is it a book about writing the blog, or is it a book of the blog, not self-conscious, not even revised so much as sewn together?

My Delilah

Delilah is perplexed.

When I first started the blog, I was squeamish about memoir writing. One of the things I like most about writing fiction is that I can change things for the better. I can make up lives that I would want to live. It took me a while of writing blog posts to get desperate enough and brave enough to put more memoir and risk into the posts; to tell people who I really am, when I’m not just trying to be acceptable. And a lot of people reached out to me as a result, and showed deep understanding and compassion for me that I would never have gotten if I’d left out the painful parts.

Samson chewing on my brother.

Samson chewing on my brother.

I had a creative non-fiction teacher who said that the best way to write an essay is to bring two separate ideas together, and the drama and surprise will come from the place where the two ideas meet. I kept that in the back of my mind, not really getting it, until maybe a year into writing this blog. I started to notice that no matter how unrelated my chosen topic seemed to be to the theme of the blog – dogs – as soon as I forced myself to find a connection, the essay came together. For some reason, just writing about each topic that interests me can get bogged down, tedious, and flat, but when I try to combine it with the dogs, I find new things, new angles, that I didn’t know were there.

Dina

Dina always had her own way of seeing things.

Miss Butterfly.

Miss Butterfly brings socks and warmth.

Miss Cricket.

Miss Cricket makes everything more interesting.

I feel like every six months or so, I let myself reach down another level, admitting things that are scary to admit in public, showing another layer. And I’ve needed to do it this way, at this pace. I can only push my boundaries a little bit at a time, and only when I feel ready. I think there’s still a lot of room for me to grow, and that makes me worry about turning this into a memoir too soon.

I don’t want to lose this.

Harrumph.

Harrumph.

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About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

167 responses »

  1. Hi Rachel. I love your blog, read each update slowly to absorb all the finesse you weave in. You are a fabulous non-fiction writer. And I understand the frustration you feel. There are many successful books woven together from series of essays. You have so much material in your blog that you can use. Slices of life, your reactions and all the sniffs by the dogs. And believe me (I did LOTS of research before self publishing my first book) unless you are a “name” that is already out there, whether as a writer or just a celebrity with name recognition, you will be expected to do most of the marketing. For new/unknown authors, the publishing houses will only do a few standard things in the beginning (just before and after publishing) the rest is up to the author. So start working on it, the publishing part will follow in one or another form.

    Reply
  2. The publishing thing is an issue for me too. I went to an author/ illustrator day at our regional library this week and it’s not easy but they were encouraging. They all spoke about hard work.
    Have you read “Marley & Me”? That was a newspaper column about his dog that turned into a novel and a film. That would be a good starting point.
    My 9 year old daughter, who I must admit is very intuitive and much smarter than me, told me that I should do jokes and the sort of stuff that goes viral on U-tube. I have also felt that a weight loss book would do well and my cousin who is a bikini model has proven what also attracts a crowd.
    I personally don’t read many novels at all much prefer non-fiction. Books about overcoming adversity like your dogs have are popular. That’s what I’m working on.
    My trouble is trying to get the rubber on the road. I think I need to have some form of hypnosis telling me to get on with it. I get so caught up in how to get started etc and do nothing.
    However, from attending those talks this week,. am realising that I am a panster with my writing and for a long work, I need to become more of a planner and that should help. I hope! xx Ro

    Reply
      • Thanks, Rachel. I have been thinking about your predicament. One idea I had would be to incorporate some New York scenes or journeys into your stories to bring out that sense of place. You could juxtaposition the stereotype of the busy, unemotional New Yorker to yourself with how you love and cared for your dogs and gave them a second chance. I’m not sure whether you are a New Yorker as such but I think you mentioned that you live on Long Island.
        I really like Max the Dog’s blog and how Tom incorporates Hawaii’s history and landmarks into Max’s adventures. I try to do that to some extent with my blog, giving it an Australian feel.

  3. I like the idea of writing as risk.

    Reply
  4. For me, Rachel, your ‘memoir moments’ in your blog are the heart of the blog, and I have always enjoyed reading your posts. Memoir has a long and strong standing in the literary world. Readers like me so admire writers who are brave enough and willing to share their personal lives with the world, and I always find moments that touch my own life so closely, and I am appreciative.

    Reply
  5. Hi Rachel. I always enjoy reading your posts. Thanks for sharing your world with us. I also wanted to let you know I nominated you for an Infinity Dreams Award.
    https://joannsfoodforthought.wordpress.com/2015/07/25/infinity-dreams-award/

    Reply
  6. I love this post! You are very talented and this really hits the mark for me too. I was sure I wanted to write a book when I retired but have no writing degree nor certainty of how to start. Blogging was a revelation and I agree that the acceptance and support from around the world in gratifying and (still) surprising.
    Thank you for your candor and vulnerability. You’re authentic and your writer’s voice is important and should be shared.

    Reply
  7. You have a fabulous blog, Rachel. Publishing will come. It took me years to achieve it, and you will too. Turning this blog into a book is a great idea. I have no doubt you have the skills to pull it off. Once you do, share in your blog stats in your query to make yourself look more profitable. And don’t fear going direct. That’s how I ended up scoring my publishing deal. Now, I don’t want an agent. There’s no need for one. It’s funny how different my journey turned out compared to what I’d always envisioned. My advice: keep all options open. There are several ways for a new writer to break into this business…if you’re willing to bend on what you believe is the “right” way. I wasted years on that foolish notion. Good luck, Rachel. I’ve got to get back to work before my editor kills me. LOL

    Reply
  8. just self publish, indie publish… on kindle and createspace… that’s what i did with my books, a bit of an initial learning curve, but i managed

    Reply
    • here is my author page, i’ve got one more book that is out there, that i’m busy still editing, and published too soon… it may get me assassinated lol it’s called ‘Christianity for Atheists’ lol fun read i’m sure 😛 amazon.com/author/nazareth

      i would dearly like to say that i would help you publish, but I can’t… I don’t even REMEMBER how I got the correct formatting for kindle, but if you go through createspace and publish in paperback FIRST, they will do the publishing in kindle FOR YOU FOR FREE…

      BUT, i still can’t help you, as I only have one book with IMAGES in it, and it’s the tiny children’s book, and it was hell figuring out how to get the images to work, and i DON’T REMEMBER HOW I DID IT.

      Reply
      • BUT then again, i had to do everything myself for free, and i think createspace will do your book for you for a price…. so there ya go, yer a published author lol

    • keep in mind tho, if you go this route, you won’t have big wigs to market your book for you, and that’s another hurdle i have yet to cross.

      Reply
  9. I love the way you interweave stories from your life with tales of dogs past and present. I can’t speak for publishers (a strange breed indeed!) but for me the idea’s a winner.
    Dogs are a great help when it comes to blogging – I couldn’t manage it without Millie!

    Reply
  10. I think you need to decide your reason for wanting a published book. If it’s to share your stories and influence others, the blog does it. If it’s to see your name on a book and feel that sense of accomplishment you can self publish (like I did). If it’s to sell a lot of books and make money, you need to rethink. We love all things dog, but I have heard agents and publishers moan, “Not another dog book?” It is indeed a tough world out there. Once your book is published, it goes on a shelf where possible readers can only see the spine! Without a national TV appearance or a professional (expensive) marketing campaign, how do you get anyone to know your book exists? Write me if you want to talk more. 🙂

    Reply
    • Interesting. Honestly, what I really want is to publish my novels, especially the first one. Not for the money, though that would be nice, but because I think it’s a really good book and it needs to be seen.

      Reply
      • Then I think you go to writing conferences to buy 10 minutes with a pro, research agents, and keep at it until someone takes notice. Polish your elevator speech, find something in your novel that strikes a chord with today’s culture (or add it), and become Ms. Rachel Marketing Mankowitz! I’d love to read your book. Hey, you could serialize it in a blog…

      • So much to think about! Thank you!

  11. so you knew all that stuff already? where was my token ‘thank you’?

    Reply
  12. do you know what i would do if i had your kind of writing talent? just sit around all day writing harlequin romances and rake in the dough and have a great time doing it….

    Reply
  13. Thank you for visiting my blog. I love your dog’s and hope you don’t let rejection letters keep you from your passion! Have you considered self publishing a compilation of the “dog blogs”?

    Reply
  14. It’ll be a long time before I’m ready to turn one of my blogs into a book (http://pittmanlettersproject.com/) because I haven’t even started to transcribe the letters yet, but I’ve been setting up a model on iBooks Author and hope that someday Apple will accept it. If not, I’m looking at this post about self-publishing with WordPress: http://wptavern.com/how-to-self-publish-a-book-with-wordpress

    I’m not a writer by trade, but have a PhD in English and have published journal articles. Somehow, I think books are a whole other thing.

    Good luck. I have found these comments inspiring to me, too.

    Reply
  15. There is always the option to self publish using Bookrix or marketing houses of that kind. You format your book and they will market it. An option. Lovely blog!

    Reply
  16. I’m so pleased you wrote this post. I have also been looking into getting some work published but have no idea where to start. I do a flurry of research and then life takes over. I think publishers are becoming increasingly wary as there are so many self publishing options now. Anyone can use the title of “author” but can they really live up to it in print.
    I am sure if you continue to remain focused on your goal something will come up which will lead you in the right direction. Good luck!

    Reply
  17. Good luck and don’t give up. Sometimes a dream keeps you going.

    Reply
  18. You definitely have a book here. Yes, the question is structure, and how? It will come to you. Start experimenting with structure… as an exercise. Take all the pressure off. Fantasize. What would your perfect novel look like? What is the arc? Now find the arc of your journey with dogs, our best “animal” friends. They teach us about our own humanity, or the lack of it, every single day. I know you will do this!!!!!

    Reply
  19. When I’m writing, I write “scene-by-scene.” And somewhere along the way, the plot begins to form. I wish I could outline, but it just doesn’t seem to work. Good luck with your writing! You definitely have a book here!

    Reply
  20. Fascinating post and equally interesting comments. I’m about three months away from self-publishing my first book and would be delighted to share the journey with you. Perhaps as a post over on Learning from Dogs.

    But will just add this. That an experienced, and much published, author said to me that writing the book is the easy part.

    Reply
  21. Reblogged this on Miss Musings writing essentials and commented:
    I thought this was an interesting article.
    I do hope she is able to accomplish what she speaks of. Also this is the reason why so many just self publish

    Reply
  22. a friend of mine was recently published, however it’s a religious (or philosophical) book (though could have been under philosophy) he wrote it from a scientific POV. I haven’t read it but I did a preview/review for it here . https://multiscreenmotivision.wordpress.com/2015/05/01/book-bind-friday-another-point-of-view-by-richard-jubak/

    I don’t know if you can self publish then try to get officially published (with the agent & publisher) but it might be a good Idea to maybe make a few copies of what the book would be (in full) and pass around (or make it as a file for kindl etc it would be cheaper to pass it around that way) Just a couple of ideas.

    I reblogged this to my writing blog Miss Musings Writing Essentials

    Reply
  23. I admire your honesty about the publishing world and would like you to remember there are many ways of telling the same story and I am discovering the beauty of cut and paste as you edit your work as (in my case) it makes me look at my story in a different way. On the topic of a book I think your pictures of past dogs to be a strong way to go letting them tell the story of them and you.

    Reply
  24. Your blog is terrific, Rachel, and I do think you could take some of your favorite posts and turn them into a book. But if your goal is to publish your novels, then I’d advise you to do that, one way or another. I’ve been publishing with Booktrope and am happy with the way they work. They’re a hybrid and they mix some of the best parts of indie publishing with the best of traditional. There’s a lot more info at http://www.booktrope.com

    Reply

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