11 books that started as articles, speeches, or podcasts

For several years, I’ve kept a running tab of articles, speeches, or podcasts that have turned into books. It’s time to start publicizing it.

This list is for you if you’ve ever considered—or longed!—to publish a book: start today, start small (by yourself!), and start with what you’ve got. A book is just a snapshot in a much longer, infinite, creative process.

In 2023, when I’m writing this, you’d probably start with a social platform, but you can also just as easily start with a list on paper. My book, Creative Doing, started with this article at Medium.

This list is an excerpt; I hope to turn this into a more well-designed (with covers and imagery!), organized, and considered list at some point in the future (with explanations, observations, patterns, etc.). 

1. Ignore Everybody by Hugh MacLeod

Original book outline: How to Be Creative (Book Outline)

Compilation: How To Be Creative

Book: Ignore Everybody: and 39 Other Keys to Creativity 

Insight, from the traditional published book: 

“It certainly worked for me. As I said in the preface, this book you’re now reading started life out as a 13,000-word essay on my blog, gapingvoid.com. It was downloaded and read about a million times, then the next thing you know publishers started approaching me. Happy Ending.”

2. Laziness Does Not Exist by Devon Price

Original article: Laziness Does Not Exist

Book: Laziness Does Not Exist

Insight, from a related article:

Laziness really [connects] with people. I still get emails about it. As of today, it has garnered over 3.1 million reads. It has been shared far and wide, translated into several languages, and its success directly led to me getting a literary agent and a book deal with Simon & Schuster. From this experience, I learned that I have the power to say things that matter — and that I should use my persuasive abilities and knack for reflection to bring some good into the world, rather than for drumming up clicks.

My life is a testament to the fact that virality can occasionally pay off. Yet for every essay I’ve written or meme I’ve created that made a big splash, I’ve had hundreds of flops. And hell, most of my viral successes haven’t actually brought any good into my life. Laziness Does Not Exist got me an agent and a book deal, but all my piece on Aziz Ansari got me was an endless deluge of triggering messages from survivors, and multiple rapists confessing their sins in my inbox.”

3. How to Be an Artist by Jerry Saltz

Original article: How to Be an Artist

Book: How to Be an Artist

4. Uncanny Valley by Anna Wiener

Original article: Uncanny Valley

Book: Uncanny Valley

5. Crush It! by Gary Vaynerchuk

Original speech: Do what you love (no excuses!) 

Book: Crush It!

Insight, from a related article:

In fact, here’s a fun anecdote: my first big speaking gig is ultimately what led to my first book, Crush It, becoming a reality. I did a talk at Web 2.0 in New York on building a personal brand through social media (you can watch it here), and it became the basis for the book. Speaking can lead to great opportunities, but you have to be willing to eat crow at first to watch those things happen.

6. The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande

Original article: The Checklist

Book: The Checklist Manifesto

7. The Million-Dollar, One-Person Business by Elaine Pofeldt

Original article: How Bold Entrepreneurs Are Breaking $1 Million In One-Person Businesses

Book: The Million-Dollar, One-Person Business

Revised: The Million-Dollar, One-Person Business, Revised

Insight, from my interview with Elaine Pofeldt:

[Facing] a looming deadline for her business column on Forbes on a day like any other in 2013, Pofeldt found a much needed story. It appeared in the form of a list of one-person companies that made $1–2.49 million USD and delved in. The list was organized by industry, so she covered the story within that framework. Readers loved the piece, which received over 200,000 pageviews at the time of writing. They wanted more. Encouraged by her editor, Pofeldt asked her readers to come forward if they ran one of these companies.

In 2015, her most popular piece, “How Bold Entrepreneurs Are Breaking $1 Million In One-Person Businesses” received over 300,000 views. One of these readers was Leila Campoli, an agent who saw in it the potential for a book. Campoli read some of the other articles, and reached out.

Herbert’s note: Elaine Pofeldt’s story is particularly inspiring, because she decided to cover the topic consistently rather than just try to write a one-off viral article; a few of the pieces just happened to go viral. It’s a great example of balancing between personal curiosity and external data. See also Medium CEO Tony Stubblebine’s piece, Book as organizing force for Medium authors.

8. Growth Hacker Marketing by Ryan Holiday

Original article: Everything Is Marketing: How Growth Hackers Redefine The Game

Book: Growth Hacker Marketing

Insight, from a related article:

In 2012, I wrote an article for Fast Company called “Everything is Marketing: How Growth Hackers Redefine The Game.” It was just something I’d been thinking about and thought would be cool to publish. I had no idea that it would do well.

The article generated a lot of interest and I soon received this email from my editor at Penguin: would I like to sell it as an e-single?

In other words, what became Growth Hacker Marketing didn’t start as a book. It started as a “minimum viable product.” The article was my MVP.

As we neared publication, we faced some decisions that I felt were critical. How long should it be? How much should it cost? How should we market it? Ultimately, Growth Hacker Marketing was published on Amazon, BN.com and other eretailers at just over 10,000 words. We kept the price low at $2.99. Why? It needed to be low enough for people to take a chance. We titled it Growth Hacker Marketing: A Primer on the Future of PR, Marketing & Advertising for maximum SEO and discovery.

Herbert’s note: Ryan Holiday’s piece covering this topic was one of my first initiations into this pattern. See also David Perell, with a lot more examples in the replies:

9. Get Rich or Die Vlogging: The Sad Economics of Internet Fame by Gabe Dunn

Original article: Get Rich or Die Vlogging: The Sad Economics of Internet Fame

Podcast: Bad With Money With Gabe Dunn

Book (“expands on [the] podcast”): Bad with Money

Insight, from a related article:

The idea for the podcast came from the Fusion article I wrote called “Get Rich or Die Vlogging.” And that article came out of frustration with comments on my YouTube channel claiming I was a sell-out for doing sponsored videos when honestly, the brands were never really paying me that much and that was often my sole source of income. The misunderstanding that YouTube fame equaled millions of dollars and therefore meant I was deserving of public scorn was a sharp contrast to my real life of looking through my car for spare quarters.

So I was mad. And I wrote about it. And apparently, this was a topic that no YouTuber had ever covered before? Because the response was insane. People really appreciated it. So then a friend of mine named Andrea Silenzi, who worked in podcasting at Slate/Panoply, approached me about turning it into a podcast in November 2015. Andrea paired me with Sam Dingman, my producer, who has been a God among men in terms of putting this together.

10. The Crossroads of Should and Must: Find and Follow Your Passion by Elle Luna

Original article: The Crossroads of Should and Must

Book: The Crossroads of Should and Must

11. 10 Tricks to Appear Smart During Meetings by Sarah Cooper

Original article: 10 Tricks to Appear Smart During Meetings

Book: 100 Tricks to Appear Smart in Meetings

Insight, from my interview with Sarah Cooper:

During her years working at Google, Cooper did standup comedy and started a parody dating advice website, entitled, “Oolalove.” She was winding down that project, and experimenting with new ideas. As she was cleaning out her storage, she came across an old notebook from her days working at Yahoo!. She had written a simple sentence, “How to look smart in meetings.”

“When I created ‘10 Tricks to Appear Smart During Meetings,’ and I turned it into an illustrated post, I think I probably gained 3,000 newsletter subscribers in one month just because of that one post. And then the same thing happened with ‘9 Non-Threatening Leadership Strategies for Women,’ that took off and I gained thousands of followers again just from that. So, really, for me it’s just been about content. Almost everything else I’ve tried just hasn’t really done as much to grow my audience as that.”

Once you’ve put together a system, and method, for making content that resonates with readers and spreads, you’ll start gaining a bit of momentum and readers. From there, that’s when you find an agent. Cooper’s husband connected her with a friend who worked at Audible, who recommended she reach out to four agents who might be interested.

“I had no idea that there’d be a contact at Audible that would be able to put me in touch with literary agents. Since that happened, I’ve had a few authors or aspiring authors ask for me to put them in touch with my agent. I’m not really sure what other companies — I honestly didn’t even realize Audible might be one — but there’s so many people talking about writing books, or trying to write a book, or have just written a book. That’s another great way to go, if you’re not really sure, is to ask somebody who’s done [or] who’s in the process of doing it. Their agent might not be a great fit for you, but that agent knows many, many, agents.”

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