The Couch Surfer: 'The effort required to create a book-worthy blog is in steep decline'

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The Independent Online

If I were in search of a book deal (not that I am or anything ... well, I might be – it depends who's asking), I could spend years slaving over the first draft of a shambolic, 700-page novel about angsty twentysomethings. I could spend six months somewhere with mosquitoes and no internet access and compose an earnest travelogue. Or I could dream up a silly, super-specific idea for a blog over breakfast – one that requires no more exertion than a few Google searches, or a spot of simple crowdsourcing – and then just sit back and wait for the publishers to call.

In the last month, at least two such blogs have acquired book deals. Texts From Last Night (textsfromlastnight.com) collects texts submitted by people who've woken to find regrettable messages sent to or from their phone (example: "We couldn't find her phone in the morning so I called it and found it under the bed. My name came up as 'regret'").

Despite being all of six months old, TFLN recently signed a publishing contract with Penguin subsidiary Gotham Books. Meanwhile, Look at this Fucking Hipster (latfh.com) – comedian Joe Mande's collection of hipster photo portraits, accompanied by affectionately snarky captions – has only been online since April, yet is already due to be printed by St Martin's Press, part of Macmillan.

I can well understand what excites a literary agent about these potential publishing sensations. Their appeal is proven in advance by their viral popularity – TFLN supposedly averages about 3.5 million hits per day – and the book itself is complete before the ink dries on the deal. They're instant, ready-made loo reading, doubtless due out in time to fill Christmas stockings across the US.

The effort required to produce a book-worthy blog has declined exponentially in a few short years. When the publishing industry's love affair with the blogosphere began, a blogger was at least required to actually write something. The first "Blooker Prize", for books based on blogs or other online content, went in 2006 to the Julie /Julia Project, the New Yorker Julie Powell's account of her attempt to prepare all 524 recipes in Julia Child's classic cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Julie and Julia is now a film starring Meryl Streep.

Then there's Stuff White People Like, an exhaustive list of things enjoyed by liberal urbanites ("#119: sea salt"). The blog was created in January 2008 and soon boasted up to 300,000 hits per day, earning its author Christian Lander a reported advance of $300,000. The book was published last July and stayed on The New York Times bestseller list for weeks.

Lander's blog required some intellectual effort, if not the culinary endurance of Powell. And there's certainly some artistic/literary merit to subsequent blog-to-book hits such as ICanHasCheezburger.com (pictures of cats with loony captions) or GarfieldMinusGarfield.net (Garfield cartoons with the titular cat removed, revealing "the existential angst of Jon Arbuckle").

But how hard does the latest generation of bloggers with print dreams really have to work? All they need to do is find a funny subject to collect pictures of, then make pithy comments about them. Hence my browser bookmarks include the likes of This Is Why You're Fat (pictures of particularly unhealthy foodstuffs); Kemp Folds (pictures of Ross Kemp's face, folded); Awkward Family Photos, Sad Guys On Trading Floors, and Why the Fuck Do You Have a Kid? I can't quite see Meryl Streep in that last one.

That's not to say that these blogs and the books they spawn aren't enjoyable – what bathroom would not be enhanced by a book full of Ross Kemp's folded face? Come up with a decent idea for a picture blog tomorrow, and you too could have a hefty book advance by October.

You wouldn't even have to be the one doing all the work. Two crowdsourced Twitter books are racing each other to the shelves this autumn, courtesy of authors Nick Douglas and David Pogue, whose job is merely to collect 140-character examples of wit and wisdom from other Twitter microbloggers.

For aspiring Blooker-winners, this is the pot of gold at the end of the interweb rainbow: the book that other people write for you. And, incidentally, if anyone has a novel kicking around that they fancy donating – one that's not too shambolic, ideally a little less than 700 pages long, and not, if you can help it, solely about angsty twentysomethings – let me know. I'd be delighted to take it off your hands.

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