Back in the early 2000s, a twenty-something New Yorker with a soul-crushing secretarial job suddenly started living every blogger’s dream: she scored a publishing deal to turn her popular food blog, The Julie/Julia Project, into a book. The result, 2005’s Julie & Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen, was met with huge critical and commercial success. As if that wasn’t enough to make bloggers everywhere weep tears of jealous anguish into their keyboards, Powell’s book was subsequently made into a shmaltzy film, Julie & Julia, which made millions at the box office and severely tested my long-term adoration of Meryl Streep.
Powell’s rags-to-riches story was big news at the time, but these days, we’re so used to seeing blogs turned into books that we no longer seem that fussed or surprised when yet another one hits the shelf. Inevitably, some readers are cynical about the quality of projects that began life on WordPress, and it doesn’t help that a lot of blogs-as-books are humour titles (Stuff White People Like, Waiter Rant, The Oatmeal) that you’re likely to look at once and then never pick up again. Surely it’s cheaper and easier to just read it online like you did in the first place? And if the publishing industry is continuing to struggle thanks to the growing popularity of ebooks and online sales, does it even make sense for bloggers to want their words on a page versus a screen?
Literary credibility (or lack thereof) is another issue causing some readers to question the point of blogs that become books, and it’s an understandable attitude: if I had a dollar for every internet cat book that has graced the counter of the bookshop where I work, from I Can Has Cheezburger to Lil Bub, I’d be writing this post from my bed of money. Understandably, not everyone considers these sorts of books especially worthy – a 2009 New York Times piece about the boom in ‘quickie humor books’ describes the process of creating them as ‘the lazy, Tom Sawyer approach to authorship’ that emphasises publicity and sales rather than original content.
But while these are valid points, it can be easy to forget, while caught in the tidal wave of books about cats and shit some guy’s dad says, that not all blogs and tumblrs are mindless entertainment; and if those that are can bring some much-needed profits to the publishing industry (thus increasing publishers’ willingness and ability to take risks on unknown writers’ work), can we really justify being cynical about the continued prevalence of blogs-to-books? Some blogs make a seamless transition from screen to page, and publishers aren’t just offering contracts to those who create novelty laugh-a-minute sites full of LOLZ. Three of the biggest current sellers at my bookshop began life as blogs: Smitten Kitchen is a cookbook that immortalises the finest food porn on the internet, Dog Shaming is a collection of sorrowful-looking canines caught on camera in compromising positions and Humans of New York is a beautiful and thoughtful ‘photographic census’ of New York City.
While these three titles couldn’t be more different from one another, what they have in common is that they’re selling. Since it’s such a visual medium, the internet offers all kinds of exciting publishing opportunities: Humans of New York, for example, or 2013’s Green Kitchen (another food-blog-turned-cookbook), make beautiful physical objects as well as fascinating and informative websites, and I think it’s this that can partly help the book survive in printed form. While there’s still an appetite for blogs as books, whether they’re full of adorably malformed cats or carefully curated close-ups of cheesecake, publishers should continue feeding it; and, so long as there are no more Meryl Streep movie deals, consumers can continue to enjoy the results.