Over 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? 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.
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.
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.