Books or Blogs: My Perspective

A short while ago, I came across this article (I believe it was in a tweet posted by co-worker and fellow blogger Colin McNamara). In the article, the author asks this question: For technical folks interested in writing, what’s the best approach—books or blogs?

To me, this is akin asking the question, “What’s the best kind of fruit: apples or oranges?” Both are types of fruit, like writing a blog and writing a book are types of writing. But there are many more types of fruit, and there are many more types of writing. Just as apples and oranges each have their unique flavor and unique properties, writing a blog and writing a book have their unique qualities and unique requirements. One isn’t really a substitute for the other; each has its own place and purpose.

I think I am qualified to speak on this topic because I have not only recently completed my first book (Mastering VMware vSphere 4, Sybex, 2009; available on Amazon) but I am also close to wrapping up my second book (VMware vSphere 4 Administration Instant Reference, Sybex, 2009; also available on Amazon). And, as many of you probably already know, I’ve been writing here on this site for almost four years now. So I’ve been on both sides. This is not to say that Jeremy Filliben, the author of the original article, or any of the commenters on his article, are not qualified; rather, it is to point out that I have seen and experienced several types of writing, including books, blogs, and periodicals.

Jeremy seems to imply in his post that writing a blog is an acceptable substitute for writing a book, and he cites the “drawbacks” of writing a book as reasons to support the claim. After all, why work under onerous deadlines to produce a work that will not generate significant amounts of income? By all indications, Mastering VMware vSphere 4 has been tremendously successful thus far (and I hope it continues to be successful!), but it’s not going to make me rich. Why not just publish the content on your own site, at your own pace? Wouldn’t that be better? Sure, you give up a little bit of income (you will make some money writing a book if you do it right), but as Jeremy points out some of that lost income can be regained through smart monetization of the site. So why write a book?

In my opinion, the answer is this: difficulty of entry. What do I mean? Look at it this way: just about anyone can purchase a hosting package, set up a site, and start writing. That doesn’t make immediately make their content reputable. That doesn’t immediately make their writing easy to read, or simple to understand. There are tons of technology-centric blogs out there. The bar for entry is ridiculously low.

With a book, on the other hand, the bar for entry is much higher. Authors have to show that their work is going to make money for the publisher, and the publisher isn’t going to sink money into publishing something that isn’t worth the investment. Not every book idea gets published, and not every author who wants to write a book gets the opportunity. I wanted to write a book for years, but only this year got the opportunity. How many other authors are out there who haven’t gotten that opportunity yet? I’d say there are many. Because the bar for entry is higher, more difficult, this generally (yes, there are exceptions!) means that the resulting products are higher quality. Self-publishing eliminates some of these barriers to make publishing a book easier for just about anyone, but self-published books also generally don’t get the broad support and broad distribution like titles from publishers such as Wiley, Addison-Wesley, or others.

These fundamental differences between books and blogs—in addition to some of the differences that Jeremy points out in his article—make me believe that the question “Books or blogs?” isn’t a valid question. These are fundamentally different, with different audiences, different entry points, and different results. Neither is better than the other; they are just different. The same could be said of writing for online magazines or print periodicals—they each have their own audiences, entry points, and results.

It’s like choosing a technology. You would choose a technology based on how well that technology satisfies a need. The same goes for writing. Depending upon what you are trying to achieve, you should use the writing outlet (books, blogs, or periodicals) that best meets your needs and helps you achieve your desired outcome. All of them are good—but they are not all equal.

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  1. Brent Ozar’s avatar

    As another writer & blogger, I’d add two things.

    First, blogging doesn’t involve the benefits of editors. Writing a book is a huge experience that forces you to write more accurately, more concisely, and more understandably. Every sentence you write is examined by multiple people, and that really kicks it up a notch.

    Second, blogging doesn’t involve the drawbacks of editors. Just got yet another email from my publisher saying, “DROP EVERYTHING AND REVIEW THIS IN THE NEXT 24 HOURS.” Awww, man, c’mon… If this publisher were one of my clients, I’d have had a heart-to-heart talk with ‘em by now.

  2. Jeremy Filliben’s avatar

    Scott,

    I appreciate your feedback. You touched on a number of the points I’ve been considering, especially the quality aspect of published books. That is likely biggest value-add provided by a publishing house. Well, that, and marketing/distribution.

    Looking at the expected market penetration of ebooks (Kindle, etc) should resolve the distribution side of this. I suppose this is how my original thought came about. The audience for technical books is likely to be the early adopters of ebooks, and they are more willing to look past the fancy covers and marketing to the actual content to make a reading decision. If I can easily get my content in front of the proper audience, that’s half of the publishing house’s value add. And at an end user price of $free, there’s definitely a pricing advantage to blog content.

    Your closing paragraph hits the nail on the head. The proper writing outlet is highly dependent on the author’s goals.

    Congratulations on the success of your book. I hope (and expect!) your second effort will be as well-received as the first.

    Jeremy

  3. Elcorin’s avatar

    blog.scottlowe.org – da best. Keep it going!

  4. kirk’s avatar

    Hi, Scott, just a quick question about your first book, Mastering VMware vSphere 4. Does the print edition include a CD with the book in PDF or other ebook format?

  5. slowe’s avatar

    Unfortunately, it does not. A Kindle version is in the works.