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Can blogs and social media feeds aimed at quick laughs translate to successful books?
In this day and age, it’s not terribly rare for a blogger to have a following that rivals that of a published author in size and loyalty. The immediacy of the Internet, coupled with a blogger’s ability to weigh in on a wide range of topics in an accessible (and free) space, probably means that more young people these days would make a point of following web writers or social media posters than would be at the bookstore on release day to check out the latest published work of their favorite author.
Within that tradition, it’s not terribly surprising that numerous joke blogs or gag-filled Twitter feeds have built large enough followings to spark major corporate attention. In 2009, little-known comedy writer Justin Halpern started a simple Twitter account meant to document his elderly father’s always opinionated, often offensive, frequently hilarious remarks for the rest of the world to see. The feed, @shitmydadsays became an overnight sensation, gaining millions of followers, securing Halpern a book deal, and even attracting television network executives from CBS, who green-lighted a short-lived comedy series based around the Twitter feed’s original premise.
Evidently, Chronicle Books saw talent, humor, and originality (as well as dollar signs) in the realms of social media. The publisher launched a contest titled “the Great Tumblr Book Search” earlier this year, encouraging their readers and followers to pitch a funny book idea through their Tumblr feeds. The winner, announced early last month, was blogger Paul Laudiero, a young creative writing major whose Tumblr, “Sh*t Rough Drafts,” imagines the works of famous authors and screenwriters in their early and misguided pre-editing stages. The posts are brief and simple, each including just one photographic snippet of Laudiero’s imagined “rough draft,” but in the time of 140-character tweets, internet memes, and quick Facebook posts, it’s not difficult to imagine a book-length collection of such gags finding its audience. And to be fair, Laudiero is an adept comedian as well, satirizing major literary phenomena (Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey both get lambasted), inserting distinctly non-poetic bits into classic poetry (Robert Frost getting lost in the woods for 45 minutes after taking the road less traveled), or poking fun at someone like Ben Affleck for finally stepping out of his comfort zone (Laudiero’s rough draft of Argo changes the historical setting of the film from Iraq to Affleck’s native Boston and re-casts the entire film as a clone of Good Will Hunting).
Laudiero took home the grand prize, which included $300 worth of Chronicle Books merchandise and consideration for a book deal. According to a recent press release, Chronicle did decide to go ahead with a publication contract, and Laudiero told his followers they could expect the book version of Sh*t Rought Drafts to hit stores next spring.
So are blogs, Twitter feeds, and Tumblr accounts a new breeding ground for successful book ideas? And are publishers going to start flocking to such outlets in their never-ending search for the “next big thing”? That’s hard to say. There’s a certain level of comfort for publishers in recruiting successful bloggers to turn their ideas into books, because by the time they get there, the following is already in place and the concept has achieved mass popularity. But while Sh*t My Dad Says was able to score the number one spot on the New York Times bestseller list, such an accomplishment cannot be guaranteed for every internet sensation signed to a major book deal. After all, a big part of the appeal to these blogs or social media pages is that they are free and easily accessible. They’re the kinds of pages that friends text to one another for a quick laugh, or share on Facebook in lecture classes when they should be paying attention. But are those same web consumers going to lay down their hard-earned cash for a book full of what they already saw online? And can these concepts, so funny when viewed in snippets on the web, translate effectively to an exhaustive 200-page manuscript? These questions are compelling ones for the publishing industry, and only time will tell whether the answers are “yes” or “no.” In the meantime though, expect to see stacks of these meme-inspired books saturating your local bookshelves.
Click here to learn more about Chronicle Books and their contest, as well as to read an interview with Laudiero.
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Craig Manning is currently studying English and Music at Western Michigan University. In edition to writing for Independent Publisher, he maintains a pair of entertainment blogs, interns at the Traverse City Business News, and writes for Rockfreaks.net and his college newspaper. He welcomes comments or questions concerning his articles via email, at firstname.lastname@example.org.