In two-and-a-half weeks, I published eight volumes of “Best of…” books for Urban Semiotic, Go Inside, the Boles Blogs Network and a special tribute to Dr. Howard Stein.  The process of peeling back the onion of my writing life over years and years was both painful and exhilarating.  I discovered exactly what worked and what did not work. Here are seven of the best lessons I learned in editing eight book volumes of blog posts.

The first lesson is that an article that works as a successful blog post, does not always guarantee it will work in a “Best of” collection of similar works.  Some of the highest blog posts in readership work better in a live interaction setting than on a dead book page — even if that page is virtual and changeable.

The second lesson is that almost any review, of a product or a television show or a movie — never really works in a “Best of” series because reviews immediately feel old and tainted.  Reviews are some of our most highly read articles in the Boles Blogs Network, but in a book, they just don’t really fit because the context is off and the intention feels outdated.  A blog network needs reviews to survive the eyes — a book series, not so much.

The third lesson is that is quoting from outside sources is bothersome.  There was a time in the history of these blogs, when I would link, and then quote, a large amount of text from outside sources to help make my arguments instead of making them on my own.  I call that the “Andrew Sullivan Style of Non-Blogging Blogging” where you embed a big text quote from elsewhere and put a few of your own sentences around it and call it an original “blog post.”  Andrew has found wild success in that non-writing mode, and next month he even plans to charge his readers $20 a year to have access to his link bait.  That’s pretty gutsy for him, but you’d never be able to ever make a “Best of” series out of any of his blog tripe — or my older, imitative, tripe — and so if you are writing for immortality and future influence, stay away from over-quoting outside sources you didn’t write.  Just summarize their thoughts and link back to be fair to their mind and you have the same effect in the end — but your overall word count will be smaller, so you’ll have to actually write a bit more to be better.

The fourth lesson I learned is that Movable Type and WordPress still hate each other. Many of our early imports and exports for articles are still a formatting mishmash of misshapen, ugly, line breaks — and the only way to fix that is to individually edit each article and reformat using an excellent App like TextSoap and then republishing the article.

The fifth lesson is that typos are, unfortunately, a way of life in the publishing business.  Sure, you try to be keen and use your eyes and the eyes of thousands — but there will always be slipups or other tiny blunders that will make you crazy after realizing the mistakes have been there for years.  You edit the article and fix it and forget it and, if you’re lucky, include the cleaned up version in your “Best of” book series.

The sixth lesson is that asking questions was great for a blog and super lousy for a  “Best of” book series.  There was a time in the history of blogging when we encouraged readers to join the discussion and place a comment on an article — and you facilitated that interaction by asking questions in the article that begged a reader reply.  Those Q&A days are dead forever with the rise of social networking and Twitter.  Readers will now “reply” to you via their Twitter accounts or in a private Facebook message — and none of that helps keep a live conversation propagating on a blog post.  I spent a lot of time editing out superfluous questions in my articles for the “Best of” series because there is no honest way to encourage a reply in a virtual book format with a private reader.  Readers buy a book to learn something; readers interact with a blog to tell you something.

The seventh lesson I learned in creating an eight volume “Best of” blogs book series in 2.5 weeks is that any article that shares a story about the universal human condition is absolute gold.  The Lesson of the Singing Bowl and Men and Abortion and the Lesson of the First Number are but of few examples of evergreen writing and they all work now and forever because they are stories that are not defined by the mode of their publication.  You can read Howard Stein Rents a Revenge here or on a Kindle or on a smartphone or on a tablet and the experience of the story is precisely the same:  Emotional and not iterative.

The gift of prescient understanding that stories about people are permanently enmeshing is the most important lesson I learned in curating the “Best of” series and, if you are writing for universal relevance in the worlds you put together, you will use that final lesson to your ultimate advantage moving forward — because everything you write should be “Best of” material — and not just 10% of what you publish. Know your work once and measure your successes twice, and teach yourself a little something about yourself along the way by curating your own “Best of” series with a redactive hard edge and a cruel editorial eye.

12 Comments

  1. David,

    Have you looked at any of the software that’s out there specifically made to format for ebook readers like the Kindle? Apparently they make formatting quite easy. I have read that Word to Kindle messes up quite a lot of formatting and that it creates more problems than it solves.

      1. David,

        I was relating to your comment about line breaks and the like.

        Many of our early imports and exports for articles are still a formatting mishmash of misshapen, ugly, line breaks — and the only way to fix that is to individually edit each article and reformat using an excellent App like TextSoap and then republishing the article.

        It would seem a program specially made to format for ebooks may be better than a general app like TextSoap. I may be wrong, though.

        1. Huh?

          You conveniently left out the first sentence of the paragraph you are “quoting” — here’s the whole thing:

          The fourth lesson I learned is that Movable Type and WordPress still hate each other. Many of our early imports and exports for articles are still a formatting mishmash of misshapen, ugly, line breaks — and the only way to fix that is to individually edit each article and reformat using an excellent App like TextSoap and then republishing the article.

          I am clearly talking about article formatting here in the blog with Movable Type and WordPress and nothing to do with the Kindle. I’m not sure what your agenda is here, but it is disquieting.

  2. These are good pointers. It’s interesting to go back and look and what you wrote before and evaluate it. I guess it makes sense that the stories that last the longest are those with a special meaning to the writer that others can relate to when reading.

    1. Yes, it was definitely a wild mind ride to go back and read what had been written — some of it was okay, a lot of it was pretty good, and a bit of it was excellent. The fact that you strive for excellence every day is a harsh reminder just how liquid that goalpost can be in a changing world. We need to be alert and vigilant. Sometimes your best on a day is not quite good enough in comparison with everything that has come before.

  3. I can feel your pain about going back and reading what was written. I had a similar editing job of all my old research papers and while the words hadn’t changed, I had. It was like looking at the words of a stranger.

  4. David,

    I particularly like the third lesson here. I used to use a lot more block quotes but with your help have learned to use my own writing to make the arguments instead of just having big blocks of text talk for me.

    Thinking about how to make sure what you write is closer to “Best of” than not is certainly intimidating — but inspiring as well. Thank you for making this book series a reality!