The sharp rise (and quick fall) of the bloggers' books

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It's hard to guess from their casual, nickname-sounding titles: D-nasty, Instapundit, Wonkette, Poundy, that the writers behind those four popular blogs are now published authors. Yet once the least media-savvy of the masses finally latched-on to the idea of blogs a few years back, the publishing world took notice by swiftly snapping up the Internet's rising stars with highly lucrative book deals (and advances), one of the most famous being the $250,000 advance Wonkette's Ana Marie Cox received for her pseudo-memoir.

In the wake of that highly publicized wining and dining, the majority of said books have come and gone -- most with lackluster sales figures. Still, hardly a month goes by without some new announcement of another blogger book deal -- even though, for the most part, they're coming with lower paydays.

"I don't think it's that they're bloggers that makes them attractive." says Chuck Shelton, an editor for Kirkus Reviews and The Book Standard. "They're visible to agents and publishers, therefore their online popularity is easy to gauge, the quality of their writing is evident, and checking them out is easier than slogging through the slush pile."

The problem, publishers are starting to realize, is that online popularity doesn't t translate into sales. A blogger's cult following or built-in audience doesn't sell books, according to Shelton. "At least not in numbers publishers are interested in."

Freelance writer-turned-book-author-turned blogger Will Leitch says, "built-in" audience or not, it all comes down to content. "A good writer is a good writer," says Leitch. "Dana Vachon's book (Mergers & Acquisitions), which was based on his blog -- the key to that, it wasn't about a guy that blogged. He's a real writer. I don't think anyone picks up the book and is like, 'Hey, where are the links?'"

Shelton agrees. There are a handful of bloggers, like Elizabeth Spiers and Mark Sarvas, who have used their blogger visibility to land major book deals, says Shelton. But even they are relatively unknown beyond the limits of blogworld.

"Their particular novels (which don't come out until 2008) are said by the few who have seen them to be A-list quality fiction, possibly major publishing events. Does their sales potential have anything to do with the authors' blogger status? No."

Leitch, who has enjoyed an increased public profile and workload with the rising popularity of the blog, Deadspin, has a third book, "God Save the Fan," due out in January. And while it's the first to come out under his author/blogger profile, he and his publisher' aren't banking on those sales.

"If Deadspin helps get more people to the book, then that's awesome. But I don't think they're counting on it."

So, what's the outlook for bloggers hoping to cash-in? Not good.

"Publishing is now officially, for better or worse, about revenue," says Shelton. "The standard blogger book deals of 2003-2005 for the most part have been a bust. That doesn't, and won't fly on corporate spreadsheets."

THE TRACK RECORD Here's a look at some of those that did and didn't fly on the corporate spreadsheets:

Dana Vachon, Mergers & Acquisitions
Blog book derived from: Dnasty
Rumored advance: two-book deal, $650,000
Amazon sales rank: 176,228
Buzz: Good. Was in its second printing at the time of the book's launch and there was a reported bidding war over film rights.

Ana Marie Cox, Dog Days
Blog book derived from: Wonkette
Rumored advance: $275,000
Amazon sales rank: 594,033
Buzz: Not good. Shelton puts it bluntly: "it tanked and was a harbinger of disappointments to come."

Jessica Cutler, Washingtonienne
Blog book derived from: Washingtonienne
Rumored advance: $250,000
Amazon sales rank: 537,270
Buzz: Lackluster, though there were at one time rumors of a TV adaption with HBO

Julie Powell, Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen: How One Girl Risked Her Marriage, Her Job, & Her Sanity to Master the Art of Living
Blog book derived from: The Julie/Julia Project
Rumored advance: Six figures
Amazon sales rank: 146
Buzz: Great. Film version in the works, Meryl Streep slated to star

Slow sales be damned, upcoming blogger books:
Will Leitch: "God Save the Fan"
Elizabeth Spiers: "And they all die in the end"

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