Monday, November 21, 2011

Book Review: Making It in the Political Blogosphere

From time to time people send me info on new books they've written or are promoting and would like me to read and blog about.  If they fall into my general blog wheelhouse, are easily findable, and look interesting I try to oblige.

Findable is tricky.  As a general rule I don't accept freebies, and accepting a physical book means giving out an address, which I'm wary of doing.  This week, however, an author sent me information about a book and also a digital copy, so I didn't have to buy or borrow it.  It's in my wheelhouse and looked interesting, so, here goes.

Making It In the Political Blogophere by Dr. Tanni Haas.  (Cambridge:  Lutterworth Press, 2011)

The subtitle of this book, "The World's Top Political Bloggers Share the Secrets to Success," tells you the general gist of it.  The use of the word "world" is a little misleading.   Much like the baseball teams in the World Series, the bloggers in this book all write in America.  Success is defined in terms of readership and overall influence.  Thus, the bloggers interviewed all tend to cover national topics, which does kind of broaden your readership.  Haas is to be credited for including four women in his list of 20 bloggers.

Haas writes a general introduction and then provides interviews with the bloggers, followed by a final chapter in which Haas summarizes the pathway to success as he views it.  The questions are standardized although there are also questions specific to blogs / bloggers, and follow up questions.  I don't know if these are full transcripts or if Haas edited the interviews.  If he discussed that in the introduction I missed it. 

It's interesting from a readers' standpoint to see what these folks have to say.  There are some themes, as Haas picks up on in his conclusions.  Many of the bloggers recommended that beginners start by commenting on existing blogs or by posting at group blogs.  If these posts and comments are well-received then the write can move on to their own blog.  Another suggestion is to find a niche that isn't being covered and start a blog on that subject, provided the writer knows something about it or is willing to learn. 

From my perspective as a blogger for a limited geographic region there were a few topics that were not discussed.  Take, for example, the title of the conclusion, "How to Plan, Produce, and Promote a Successful Political Blog."  One of the recommendations is to write a local blog, yet by Haas's definition, readership and influence, it is very difficult, if not impossible, for a local blog to be successful.  Two examples or suggestions are covering a neighborhood in New York or the city of Detroit.  The New York blog is referenced as bringing in about $1,500 a month in ads.  That really isn't enough to live on so whoever writes that blog must either reside in a cardboard box or have a second job. 

That leads to another topic that was barely covered in the book, the amount of time needed to keep a blog going.  Some of the bloggers write about the time needed to manage a blog -- answering emails, etc.,  but few talk about the time to put together good meaty posts, though they do reference the need to be credible and accurate.  Only one discusses the hardship of balancing a blog and a day job.  None talk about the balancing a job and a blog and a family, especially children.  All but the one of those interviewed seem to make a living from their writing, however none talk about the administrative aspects of managing advertising.  They do talk about the issues surrounding the management of comments and contributors but not the business issues.  Most have writing or government backgrounds, although a few discuss previous jobs in more mundane areas. 

Broadening out the definition of success or discussing the challenges of writing a local or regional blog, or the challenge of blogging with a day job, would have added more to the conversation, but there's no doubt I'm prejudiced in this regard.

The bloggers interviewed cover a full spectrum of political beliefs and a few who cover issues from a nonpartisan view or a broad range of political viewpoints.  Their advice to potential bloggers tends to be similar regardless of political bent.

Those interested in the background of many of the better known national political bloggers will enjoy this book.  At 179 pages, it is a quick read, and it is possible to dip in and read one or more of the interviews at a time and then set it aside for a few days before picking it up again.  It would certainly be a good holiday gift for the politico on your list. 

The book is available via Amazon in paperback and as an ebook.

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