Why Would a Blogger Write a Personal Finance Book?

tsd bookOver the past few years, several personal finance bloggers have written books, myself included. J.D. from Get Rich Slowly put out Your Money: The Missing Manual. Ramit from I Will Teach You to Be Rich put out a self-titled book. Just last Sunday, I reviewed a book by Rachel Singer Gordon (a.k.a. Mashup Mom). I haven’t even really scratched the surface, either, with multiple books out there by writers with strong online followings like Liz Pulliam Weston and Bob Sullivan.

Why?

Why Would a Blogger Write a Personal Finance Book?

What’s the reason for a blogger to write a personal finance book? After all, the second we put content to paper, someone’s going to be out there yelling “Why buy this book when you can get this stuff for free on their website?

This is an issue I’ve actually talked about many times behind the scenes with various bloggers (yes, including ones mentioned above). All I can do is mention my own reasons for writing personal finance books when I also have a blog out there.

Different People Roam the Shelves

The biggest reason I write books is simply to reach a new audience. There is some overlap between the people browsing the personal finance section in a bookstore or a library and the readership of The Simple Dollar, but that overlap is fairly small. Many of the people out there in the bookstores or the libraries have never heard of The Simple Dollar or a word of what I’ve written.

I know from the (literally) tens of thousands of emails I’ve received over the last couple of years that the things I’ve written on The Simple Dollar have really resonated with people and helped change their lives in a positive fashion, even for people who have already read piles of personal finance stuff. Writing a book gives me the opportunity to reach people who don’t surf the internet very much – or at least have never searched for personal finance stuff – and have a similar positive impact.

So what about those one star reviewers who say “just go read his website”? From a book sale perspective, that’s not the best thing in the world. However, from a personal perspective, I’m really completely fine with that. A reader on the website is just as worthwhile and important to me as a reader of any book I would write would be.

Those one star reviewers are, in some ways, providing a promotional assistance for me, if not for my book. If someone reads that “just go read the website” review and goes to the website, perhaps I’ve picked up a new reader. Sometimes those readers read the website and also choose to go pick up the book after seeing The Simple Dollar website as a “preview” of it. That’s also just fine by me.

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Expanding on topics

Many of the chapters in my book (and in the books of others who write personal finance blogs) are far longer and more well-researched than could ever be reproduced in a blog posting. Quite often, the chapters in our books take a bunch of individual ideas that we’ve fleshed out and discussed on our blogs, ties them together with research, and offers something of a different angle on them.

Here’s the catch: that type of writing is very difficult to do online. The longer a blog post is, the less likely it is that a reader will read it all the way through. They’ll scan for the bolded parts, but many readers simply don’t bother to read a lot of the details. A big part of the reason for that is the nature of the internet – there’s something else interesting just a click away. Here’s an excellent article from Slate about how people read online.

Reading a book is a much different experience. We usually find ourselves in a place with much fewer distractions. We can curl up with a book, read much longer segments at a time, and absorb more complex ideas. It’s simply a different experience than reading online.

Because of that difference, someone who writes a book can approach things differently than a blog post. You don’t have to bold your key points all the time. You can incorporate more research and other details. You don’t have to worry as much about the “get your attention shock value” of every other paragraph in order to keep someone’s attention. In short, you can really dig into a topic and write at length in a way that websites really don’t afford.

For me (and for most writers), that’s a very powerful way to explore ideas and come up with new ones. So many times during the writing of my books, I’ll flesh out a chapter, come up with some great conclusions, and then riff on them in short postings on The Simple Dollar website because they’re on my mind and I want to share them with you. The drawback is that when someone reads the full piece from the book, they get a sense that they’ve already read at least some of it – and that’s true, to some extent. But it’s not the full extent of it.

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I don’t write for direct income

Unless you’re Stephen King or Nora Roberts or you’re a celebrity writing a nonfiction book or you luck out with a big celebrity endorsement (Hey, Oprah, how about using my book in your book club?), writing books is not a great way to become wealthy.

In terms of my income per hour invested in writing my most recent book, I will have to sell an awful lot of copies to earn minimum wage on the direct income from the time spent on the book. I’ll bet that I’ll never get there, either, when I start including the promotional work I’ve done for that book.

I knew this going in. I did the math and I knew I’d have to sell fifteen truckloads of copies to do well. Direct income was absolutely not my motivator in writing this book.

Then why write it? I wrote it so I could expand on topics that interested me. I wrote it so the conversation would continue with new readers who might never get online. I wrote it to challenge myself in a new way.

And you know what? I’m really happy with that.

I’ll say something else, too. I’ve talked to a lot of other online writers who have written books and their experience has been similar. The time invested in the book, compared to the direct income earned, was not the best investment in terms of earning potential for their time. They all wrote the book for the secondary reasons: reaching new people, being able to introduce themselves as an author, stretching themselves to actually complete a book, digging into new topics or old topics at a new depth, having a book out there that helps people find their website, and so on.

That’s why I wrote my book (and, in part, why other bloggers have written books). It’s why I’ll probably (eventually) write another one. I do have two ideas floating around that go pretty far astray from the usual main focus of The Simple Dollar, which means I may have to work to find a publisher for these. This book – and those potential future ones – are new challenges for me – and for the people who read them.

If all else fails, someone will pick up a copy of the book in thirty years, long after the website has gone offline, read it, and find something in it that changes their life. Nothing I write on this website will ever, ever do that.

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  1. Ken says:

    It’s funny to hear comments like, “just read the website.”

    There is a vast difference between the way a book is written vs a blog.

    The blog is more for snapshots of thoughts whereas I consider a book, a far more continuous thought where the author can really bring everything together.

    There is something about a blog that is disjointed for large thoughts. A book is great because it gives the reader the continuity of thought that a blog is really hard to do with.

    Keep up the good work. Those in the know will always come back.

  2. Moneymonk says:

    I also have a book coming out this Fall 2010. There are certaing things you can express better in a book format than blogging about it. Most authors do not write for the money instead we would to educate our audience

  3. Gal @ Equally Happy says:

    Trent, do you think you would have been able to write a book before creating The Simple Dollar? Did this blog teach you how to be a writer?

  4. Crystal says:

    If I ever write a book, it will be to try to help people and to see my name on the cover of a book (that I didn’t write there with permanent marker…). If money is the only motivating factor (or just wanting to see your name, etc), I think quality suffers.

  5. “If all else fails, someone will pick up a copy of the book in thirty years, long after the website has gone offline, read it, and find something in it that changes their life.”

    Now there you go! If nothing else THAT is the perfect reason.

    I agree with Moneymonk, as well; some things can be taught/shared much better in a longer form.

    Cheers,
    the Dad, Climbing Out

  6. J.D. says:

    Hey, Trent. I liked this post, and I started writing a response. But then my comment got way too long, so I’m going to post it over at Get Rich Slowly. It should be up at 1pm Pacific today. (Well, I need to edit tomorrow morning’s Motley Fool post — if I don’t think it can carry the day, I’ll post my response to you tomorrow instead. But it’ll probably be today.)

  7. Sri says:

    Trent,
    You talked about trying to find a publisher for one of your future books. Wouldn’t self publishing through Amazon or one of the online book publishing sites be a channel to pursue? Or it is not cost effective?
    Interested in knowing this.
    Thanks
    Sri

  8. I was excited to see this post today, Trent!

    I agree with all your reasons, and also wanted to add one of my own: to present ideas in a consolidated, organized format. My blog is a collection of random thoughts on minimalist living, but my book is a comprehensive how-to manual.

    I think we also write for the love of our topics, and the desire to effect some positive change in the world (whether it makes us any money or not). As you said, a book can reach an entirely different set of people — and the more ways we can get our ideas out there, the better!

  9. Julia says:

    Thanks for writing this post…I was wondering about that. Your answer makes perfect sense.

  10. Patrick says:

    You make the bold statement that your website “will never change anyone’s life 30 years from now” the way that a book could.

    Strongly disagree. In fact, I could try to argue that this medium (the internet) will change more lives 30 years down the road then books will at that time.

    All speculation of course. Seth Godin says there will always be a market for physical books, because they are real, tangible, you can hand it to someone and now they feel obligated to read it (whereas you can just delete electronic media without any hesitation).

    It’s a point worthy of discussion all on its own, I think…..

  11. Corey says:

    I use the internet for just about everything, but I still believe that purchasing a book with useful information is the way to go. I’m the person that uses the highlight pen and then goes back to review.

  12. Systemizer says:

    “I did the math and I knew I’d have to sell fifteen truckloads of copies to do well.”

    Either your definition of “doing well” is way out there or there’s an error in your book-to-truckload volume conversion.

  13. michael bash says:

    Here we go! Trent says he’s writing a book. The book is published to mixed reviews on Amazon, mainly re audience. How many times have I seen this before. Fortunately Trent is too young to remember Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.

  14. Annie says:

    I love the Simple dollar. I just wanted to make a comment about TV and CABLE. I know many out there think it’s useless wasteless time spent watching TV because it does nothing to improve your IQ, or make you a more well rounded person and to some it’s a waste of money when you can be doing other things. I personally agree to some extent but I also love to watch TV before bed and some times during the day when I am off or the weekends. They have Food Network where you can get wonderful recipies, healthy, cheap,fancy, etc. You have FIT tv for your exercise, dancing, yoga. I never liked history in college, they have the history channel where i learned so much and thought gosh why didn’t I like history in college… they have discovery channel I love astronomy, the universe. CNN, Money channel, the list goes on an on. They even have daily news about the senate and house of representatives where you can watch the hearings and day to day operations. To me this is cool! how can you get that in school? If your interested in politics and government that is a wonderful channel to have. Overall, what i am saying is i think there is more availabe out there than the crappy movies you see on hbo and cinimax which to me is a total waste of time.There are basic cable channels out there that will enhance your learning and make TV more enjoyable. My parents don’t speak english that well since they immigrated from India in their 40’s, after watching the news, TV over the years, their english has improved much more. Just thought i would share my thoughts on this.

  15. Geoff Hart says:

    I’m with you, Trent. I have friends who write like they’re cleaning toilets or digging ditches: they seem to get no pleasure doing it, and only do it because they get paid.

    I don’t get that attitude. I write for the pleasure of it, and for the dialogues I have with readers who enjoyed what I had to say. The money that flows in from this writing is just gravy; particularly for my fiction, I’ll never earn a living at it. But it remains enough of a pleasure that I can’t imagine stopping.

    One of the themes of the Simple Dollar is that you should find a way to do what you love and earn a decent living at it. I’ve been blessed that way, and hope some of you can get there too.

  16. Desmond Anderson says:

    I believe writing a book provides a bigger challenge in terms of organizing and putting the material in a logical and detailed manner. Also over the long haul the book will survive and thus leaves a greater impact on its audience.

  17. SweetJersey says:

    I have to respectfully disagree with the last paragraph written on today’s posting. I feel that this website has partly changed my life. I read it daily, and it keeps me focused and in check with my ultimate goal of eliminating all of my credit card debts. Since starting to read this website, I have become much closer to my goal and stricter with my spending habits. Yes, it is my actions that ultimately are changing my life, but the guidance and tips received daily from your website have been a big part of the changes I needed to make in my life. Don’t underestimate the impact that this blog has on many people’s lives. :)

  18. almost there says:

    Answer to title of post: To open up more revenue streams.

  19. Articles Personal Finance says:

    The reason that I like bloggers writing books on these topics is because nowadays people can relate to blogging. It is basically the new way to easily communicate. Just the same as twitter or social bookmarking sites. I would definitly read a book written by a blogger who knows what they are talking about.

  20. Todd says:

    Okay, maybe it’s not Oprah’s book club, but the article on you and your book in “USA Today” a few days ago will surely help sales at least a little. Congratulations on getting that level of publicity!

  21. Landon says:

    Congratulations on your book. Publishing a book is the perfect example of residual income that can be beneficial over the long run (especially when combined with other “money streams”). As I commented on JD’s blog, the success of your blog gave you the confidence to reach out to a new audience knowing that you have published so many posts that have benefited people. I hope I can reach your level one day! :)

  22. LMR says:

    LOL: “there’s something else interesting just a click away. Here’s an excellent article from Slate about how people read online.”

    I almost fell for it and clicked the link! But I caught myself and kept reading.

    I agree about books having longer staying power as long as your talking about dead tree books. That’s why I shy away from Kindle–too ephemeral. I doubt if I ever get a Kindle that my kids will pick it up in 30 years and read it. But I read books my parents owned all the time, like old cookbooks and frugal living classics like Carla Emery’s book country living (I don’t do 90% of what’s in that book, but I find it inspiring). I hope your book is around that long. Good luck!

    Okay, I’m gonna go read the Slate article now. Right after I click that banner ad with the survey about when I think Lindsey Lohan will get out of jail. ;D

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