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The Long Tail Applied to Writing

Apr 20, 2010 • creativity, general, writing

As I implemented the Organize Series plugin for my long essay about moving From Overlooked to Center Stage, an interesting idea dawned on me: The Long Tail applies to writing as well.

The Long Tail is an economic principle claiming that an abundance of little sales of niche products eventually outproduce the mega sales of mainstream products. For example, Amazon.com may not sell many 1970 Grateful Dead glass mugs, but if it sells 10,000 niche products like this for less than $10, over time the sales of those niche products will outperform the sales of the mainstream products (such as CDs of Brittney Spears).

Analysts apply The Long Tail to just about anything. I haven't seen it applied to writing yet, but here's an application. Sitting down to write a book is hard. It's so daunting that few even attempt to do it, despite the intentions so many of us have.

But instead of trying to write an entire book, writers would be more strategic to write a series of small posts. Over time, these small posts will accumulate into a book-length size. For example, I have more than 1,000 posts on my site. I probably have about a books' worth of material. I don't have the time to sit down and write a real book, but apparently if I had approached the book like a series of blog posts, I could have already written one.

The problem is that blog posts are so random, they often don't string together into a longer work. But if I were to approach the posts by subject, linking them together in a series like I did last weekend, the results might be more worthwhile. You might really be able to string them together into a longer work.

Given this model, I may be experimenting more with series posts, diving into a topic for a while, linking the posts together, and then perhaps sitting down on a weekend to cull and refine and reorganize the series into a single essay that flows from start to finish. (My personal reading preference is for essays rather than books anyway.)

Not only is this idea more practical, it also harnesses the blog platform for something that has more depth.


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About Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

I'm a technical writer based in the California San Francisco Bay area. Topics I write about on this blog include technical writing, authoring and publishing tools, API documentation, tech comm trends, visual communication, technical writing career advice, information architecture and findability, developer documentation, and more. If you're a professional or aspiring technical writer, be sure to subscribe to email updates using the form above. You can learn more about me here.