Should Writers Give Their Away Their Ideas?

Should writers give away their prize ideas, the very content that becomes their currency? Writers have been struggling with answering this question with the popularity of the internet, the pervasiveness of blogs, and the recent surge in ebooks.

I’ve thought about this a lot, but I think the solution is a both/and scenario rather than an either/or.

Revisit and Recycle Ideas in Various Mediums

Experienced writers learn that they can explore ideas and topics from a variety of angles with differing degrees of detail. If a writer can revisit or recycle an idea for two different magazines, then why not explore your idea on a blog and then later in a book or magazine article?

One author was quite resistant to the thought of charging readers for the ideas of his book, but a friend added some clarity by pointing out that most of his ideas in the book were available at no charge on his web site. However, the material in his book had a higher degree of refinement and clarity that some would be willing to pay for, which leads to my next thought.

Different Mediums Require Different Processes

The book publishing process involves numerous drafts, editorial development of ideas and a team of publishing professionals walking authors through each step of the process. There is a lot of revision and planning involved in writing a book. 

Blogs on the other hand are typically the work of a solitary writer or a small team of writers. I look at a blog post as a really good first draft. For a blog post I won’t write a draft, revise it, send it to an editor who suggests major changes, make my revisions, send it back to an editor for additional comments, make additional changes, and then send it off to a fact checker. Even uber-blogger Guy Kawasaki can’t afford to put that much time and involve that many people in a blog post.

That isn’t to say that blog posts are poorly written, only that the content found in books has gone through a different process. We can debate whether the book writing process is worthwhile, and in the case of some books it is not, but the final product often looks quite different from a blog post.

Some Content is Worth Paying For

Content that undergoes a rigorous editorial and design process in magazines and books may carry a price tag, but I still believe it is worthwhile to make some ideas available in these forms. They carry greater authority because they have passed through editorial boards and will tend to be of higher quality because multiple contributors were involved in the production process.

That is not a guarantee that books or magazines will always produce better content than blogs or self-published books and ebooks. There are some rather notable exceptions. However, I guarantee that almost every book produced by a major publisher will have certain advantages over a self-published book or an ebook given away for free. Whether it’s distribution, editorial development, or layout.

The Big Decision

Writers face the big decision of deciding which process works best for themselves and their ideas. If an idea is big enough to merit a long series of blog posts, then perhaps it’s worth working with those ideas for a future book project.

There are a lot of books out there with fairly simple ideas that are not capable of filling a full-length book. In those cases it’s worth it for writers to consider turning them into several solid magazine articles that may well reach more readers than a typical book.

Marketing expert Seth Godin tells writers to spend at least three years working on a blog and developing a ready audience of writers who will buy their books once released. That is a great guideline for writers and one that I have found to be true in my own experience. Blogs give writers great practice are writing regularly for the public and provide a chance to find a particular voice, angle, or, dare I say, brand.

2 thoughts on “Should Writers Give Their Away Their Ideas?

  1. Good ideas – I was a published writer for 12 years before I sold my first book – made all the difference in the world.

    Another comment I’d add is that an advantage of this recession is there’s a slowdown in the constant churning out of product. So there’s more time to let the piece age a bit like fine wine.

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