How John Green won millions of fans (and 4 ways you can build a fanbase, too)

I was scrolling through my daily Publisher’s Weekly a few weeks ago when I spotted the news: John Green is writing a new book called Turtles All the Way Down, and it will be published by Dutton, an imprint of Penguin Random House, on October 10th.

Cue the fan fare! 🎉🎉🎉

Within days of the announcement, Turtles All the Way Down shot up the Amazon bestseller list, and it’s now keeping it’s spot as the #5 bestseller out of all books. John Green is beloved by millions of readers, and he’s the kind of novelist every literary agent and publisher would dream of having on their list. But I’ve always been curious about what makes John Green so successful, other than his writing (because having a great book is always Step 1, but it’s no guarantee your book will breakout.) So how did John Green get to have a fan club of millions of readers, a whole world of fan fiction surrounding his books, and such impressive accolades for his writing?

john green fandom nerdfighters short

If you want to excel at anything, watch the people who are already excelling. But if you want to really get deep and understand what separates the bestselling authors from the struggling authors, you need to talk to their readers.

So today I’m thrilled to have Lydia DuBois on the blog to talk about the 4 things writers can do to build a massive and loyal fan base and readership like John Green. Lydia is a sophomore at the University of Richmond (my alma mater!) and a summer intern at Stonesong, and she’s been working behind-the-scenes to spot great manuscripts in the submissions inbox, scout potential new authors, and learn everything she can about what makes books work. She’s smart as a whip, an avid reader, and a close watcher of the John Green craze of the past few years.

So enough from me–here’s Lydia on what younger readers really think of John Green:

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The only program I’ll recommend for writers + bloggers

It’s Friday, and it’s summer, and probably the last thing on your mind is next week’s to-dos. Pepper is definitely checked out already:

literary agent book blog

(Job update: our local post office is hiring, and we’re helping Pepper work on her resume and cover letter so she can apply. Progress is slow. Hope is dwindling.)

Anyway, if you give me your ear for just 2 minutes on this pretty summer Friday, I want to tell you about one of my favorite things ever: Food Blogger Pro, which is closing for enrollment this coming Tuesday, the 27th.

If you don’t know Lindsay and Bjork of Pinch of Yum, they’re behind FBP, and they run one of the best blogs out there. Let’s pause on that thought: they run one of the best blogs out there. Not best food blogs, but best blogs, period. (And yes, FBP is great for all kinds of bloggers!)

I’ve worked with hundreds of bloggers, all who were already at the peak of their games, since by the time they get to me, we’re talking about publishing a book. I’ve read and scouted and sorted through thousands of blogs over the years, and there are only (and forgive me for saying it, but literally) 5 blogs I follow regularly, religiously, excitedly. Pinch of Yum is one of them.

And you know why? It’s not about the food. (But you should definitely eat this, because WEEKEND.

It’s because Lindsay and Bjork have what every blogger and writer wants:

an authentic voice + a big-time platform + integrity.

Lindsay and Bjork can teach you how to grow a blog and make a fantastic income from your writing, without having to be one of those shout-y, pushy marketing types who make the internet just plain annoying.

As you all know, I almost never recommend courses in this space. (Because the truth is: most “experts” out there aren’t experts. They’re just trying to brand themselves as experts. And part of my job is weeding out the true experts from the hyped-up, big-talkers.)

But I have the utmost respect for Food Blogger Pro because I’ve seen it produce dozens of top-tier bloggers who went on to get big book deals. Everybody who comes out of FBP, whether they’re a food blogger or blog about anything else under the sun, has that special mix of voice + platform + integrity. And I won’t name names, but probably some of your favorite authors have gone through FBP in the many years it’s been running.

And because I could shout about FBP from the rooftops all day, but I promised I’d only take up a few minutes of your precious Friday, here are just 2 more things I especially love about it:

  • Learn From The Best: Every writer and blogger I know dreams of making a full-time income from their words, but they don’t know how to get traffic or monetize their creative work. Every month, Pinch of Yum makes between $40,000 to $60,000 in income and receives over 4,000,000 page views. Why learn from someone else when you can learn from the best?
  • It’s a Surprisingly Great Deal: You get 300+ videos, access to a forum where you can ask more experienced bloggers anything (!), and discounts to tools you really need, like ConvertKit, Tailwind, SwankyPrints, and others. Also, because they’re overachievers, this year Lindsay and Bjork are also including their Edit Academy course (which teaches you how to make food videos and usually sells for $129) and Nutrifox (which is their nutrition labeling tool and costs $89/year) in FBP membership. Which by the way, costs only $29 per month. Which by the way, is less than I spend on treats for Pepper each month. Which by the way, results in no return whatsoever in my investment.

But enough from me–if you’re interested in learning more, you can read all about Food Blogger Pro here. If you decide it’s for you, you can use my link to get 10% off membership. I get a tiny percentage if you use my link; you get a great discount off the retail price; Pepper gets an allowance to buy treats. That’s a win-win-woof. (I couldn’t stop myself! Please forgive me.)

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How many followers do you need to get a book deal?

When you work in an industry like publishing, you tend to get the same questions over and over.

Where do I start with publishing my book?
How long will it take for my book to come out?
How much creative control will I have in the process?
How many followers do I need to get a book deal?

I hate to see authors feeling in the dark about these things, which is why I aim to build an archive right here to help shine a light into the sometimes mysterious workings of the publishing world.

So today, I’m answering that last question–how many followers do I need to get a book deal–over on Dianne Jacob’s blog!

how many followers to get a book deal

Here’s a little snippet, but head on over to her site to read the full piece. And while you’re there, take a poke around her archives. Dianne has an incredible wealth of information on cookbook writing and publishing!

So, how many followers do you need to get a book deal?

When I was an editor, my publishing house did one of the first blog-to-book cookbooks. We were only allowed to do one, because obviously, we had to wait and see if this “blog” thing was going to blow over.

Now, every one of my authors is a blogger or vlogger (except the chefs). It still amazes me how blogging can build deep and lasting relationships. Yet, too often, I get that inescapable question: How many blog followers is enough? How much traffic do you need to get a book deal?

Click here to read the rest of this piece on Dianne’s blog!

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What I’m Reading This Week

How to Stay Positive on Your Path to Getting a Book Published (Adrienne Proctor on The Write Life): This is a great, great post, because it’s a reminder that nothing worthwhile happens overnight. I think cultivating the skills of patience and persistence is just as important to success as a writer or blogger as plotting or character development skills. I believe in this so much I created a cute art print to remind me and others of it! Click here to download this free art print:

you can't rush something you want to last forever quote printable

This is Why You Should Still Buy Cookbooks in 2017 (Julie R. Thompson for The Huffington Post): This is a must-read for any author writing (or thinking about writing) a cookbook. As I always tell my authors: you need to give the reader something they simply can’t find on Google.

Book Promotion: Do This, Not That – February 2017 (Amy Collins on The Book Designer): If you’re not already following these “Do This, Not That” posts, you should! Why make your own mistakes if you can learn from the mistakes of others?

Authors: Think Twice Before Paying to Exhibit at Book Expo (BEA) (Jane Friedman): In summary: “BEA is a quality industry event, and it is a legitimate marketing and promotion opportunity. But for the majority of indie authors, it does not make sense to invest what are likely your limited resources in BEA.”

3 Keys to Finishing Your Book Once and For All (Chad Allen on Goins, Writer): Chad always has great posts with practical, compassionate advice for authors–here’s another great one on setting up a 3-step process that will help you finally get your book done.


What We’re Eating This Week

Home, sweet home. Let’s cook!

Monday: Very unfussy, no-recipe stuffed peppers, which I did not even cover in cheese. That was my Willpower Accomplishment of the week. And it gave me full permission to spend the entire meal telling Jarrett how much better the stuffed peppers would have been with cheese.

Tuesday: Pork ramen with stock made from our giant Virginia country ham. As Dorothy Parker said, “Eternity is a ham and two people.” Welcome to eternity.

Wednesday: Italian chopped salad, with extra salami. Life motto: It’s not a salad without salami.

Thursday: Root vegetable and sausage pie from Victuals. Mmm.

Friday: This cacio e pepe recipe, because my deep adoration of cacio e pepe was rekindled when we ate at The Shack in Staunton, VA. (Jarrett and I split a plate of the cacio e pepe during our main course, then I ordered another plate for myself as dessert. YOLO?)

Cheers!

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A day in the life of a literary agent

what do literary agents do

It’s been a wild week around here. We were moving over the weekend, then had some bad news on Monday followed by more bad news on Tuesday (why must they come in twos?). But today, things are looking up a bit, and I’m getting excited about all the happy little joys that Thanksgiving brings.

I was recently inspired by an article from Emily Timberlake, a Ten Speed Press editor, in Life & Thyme, who shared a look into a typical day as an editor at a major publisher. And so I thought it might be fun to give you all a peek into one of my days, too!

It’s funny because, before I did this, I thought my days would be a little too diverse to fully encapsulate. There are a million tiny things that pop up throughout the day that have to be dealt with, and sometimes I feel like I’m just fluttering around from task to task, making only glacial-pace progress on bigger projects. But, when I sat down to think about the usual rhythm of my days, I realized that they’re not nearly as unpredictable as I’d thought. It turns out, every one of those little to-dos fit into one of two categories!

All my work as a literary agent boils down to two goals:

  • To guide new authors to the best possible publisher and the best possible deal
  • To guide existing authors through an enjoyable and successful publication process

Then repeat, repeat, repeat.

Of course, those two things break down into dozens of specific tasks: things like editor lunches and marketing calls and concept brainstorming and market research and emails about what the heck is that thing on your book cover.

So if you’ve ever wondered what literary agents actually do (and no, we don’t read all day!), then come on in, and I’ll tell you all about my day!

A day in the life of a literary agent

10:00 a.m.:

I always start the day by catching up on publishing news and my authors’ newsletters. I love this part of the day—I get to sit down with a big cup of coffee and ease into the day with some light reading. My must-reads every day are Shelf Awareness, the Publisher’s Marketplace deal report, Publisher’s Weekly Daily, and The Digital Reader, but I also try to supplement with some reading about marketing and business (Seth Godin, Michael Hyatt, CoSchedule, and Buffer).

After that, I love checking in and seeing what my authors are up to through their email lists—it’s always fun to see what they’re writing, what they’re cooking, what’s going on in their lives that week, and what new launches or other initiatives they have in the works. I could easily spend all day reading all of these newsletters, so obviously, skimming is sometimes in order!

10:30 a.m.:

I’ve been experimenting for a few years now with doing my most important task first thing in the day. I’ve found that it’s easy to get sucked into the flurry of emails throughout the day, and then suddenly it’s 5 p.m., and I haven’t made progress on my big-picture goals. Usually, my most important task is one of three things: proposal editing, author scouting, or post writing. These are the things that require the most brain power and caffeine for me to hammer out, so I try (try!) not to procrastinate on them.

Today, I’m editing a cookbook proposal and brainstorming the best way to position it (which also means researching some of the competitive books in the category and figuring out how to make my author’s project stand-out in this crowded world).

12:30 p.m.:

I have an editor lunch today, which is always a lot of fun. Today I’m lunching with a former colleague from the days when I was on the editorial side at a publisher, and I can’t wait to catch up with her. These editor lunches are also so valuable for getting a read on what’s working and what isn’t.

It’s a lesser-known fact, but publishers and editors can vary so widely in their assessment of the marketplace. For instance, you could easily hear from one editor that they are still going strong on acquiring vegetarian books, while another editor just had a vegetarian book flop and now can’t get enthusiasm for that topic from her team. That’s why so much of our job as agents is about match-making and keeping a finger on the pulse of different imprints—if we submit a proposal to an editor who doesn’t have a taste for a topic, it’ll never work out. If we submit a proposal to an editor who has a strong track record for that kind of book, then suddenly we have the cards stacked in our favor.

Plus, as I always tell my authors, personality matters! I want my authors to work with editors who completely and totally get them. Trust me, when an editor is genuinely excited about a book, it shines through to her whole team, and it’s infectious. It’s the magic that makes a book stand-out at a publisher.

2:30 p.m.:

It’s time to face down that inbox. Usually at this point I’ve tried to do triage throughout the morning on emails, but I still have a hefty stack of them that need more in-depth replies from me. I also always have a few things on my Follow-Up list: following-up on submissions with editors, on proposal with authors, on publicity and marketing plans with publishing teams, on other miscellany that springs up just as soon as you’ve cleared out your inbox.

Do you ever feel like emails run the world? I do. For a while I was looking back on my days and feeling like I’d gotten little done other than stemming the tide of emails. But in the past few weeks, I’ve tried to include “Emails” right there on my to-do list. The reality is, email is an important part of my job, and it feels good to give it a place on my daily list and have the satisfaction of crossing it off at the end of the day.

I’ve also tried to limit how much I check my inbox throughout the day, especially when I’m working on something that involves deep concentration, like editing proposals. That way, I can batch-process my emails without the constant interruption of checking and responding to each email as it comes in. Of course, I keep my phone nearby and check my phone inbox frequently in case something urgent comes up. But even that extra little step really helps quiet the impulse to immediately tap out a response to something that might need more thought from me (or might not even need an instant reply).

4:30 p.m.:

Time for calls! I usually try to schedule any calls for the late afternoon, when my energy is lagging and chatting on the phone is a great pick-me-up. It also helps me preserve the morning for more concentrated work. Today, I’m on a conference call with an author and her publishing team (editor, publicity manager, and marketing manager), and we’re catching up on how the galley submission to long-lead magazines is going.

Long-lead magazines are the big national magazines (Time, People, Bon Appetit, etc.) that plan their coverage 5-6 months in advance. That outreach is a big part of why the traditional publishing process takes so long—if you want to get your summer beach read included in a June issue, the editor at the magazine needs to have the final manuscript around January.

Publishers plan for this by creating galleys (online or printed final versions of a book, usually in black-and-white), which they can send along with a pitch letter to their editor contacts at media outlets. Just like with literary agents, it makes a big difference if a publicist has strong relationships with the editors they’re pitching, since it can often mean the difference between ending up in the slush pile or being bumped up to top-priority.

Publicists are also amazingly relentless, and they’ll chase down any possible nibble if it could mean coverage for a book. At my first in-house editor job at a publisher, I sat next to our imprint’s publicity assistant, who rocked it out all day on the phones, following up on our books and sweet-talking editors for coverage. These publicists are amazing, I tell ya.

5:30 p.m.:

I also have a call today with a new author I signed last week. We’re talking about strategy for her platform and her proposal—I want to make sure her audience is as engaged as possible before we even submit a proposal to editors.

Every author has their strengths and weaknesses, so I try to share learnings from our entire author base with each author, so that they’re not trying to reinvent the wheel each time they take on a new marketing goal. Plus, it helps us get any growth initiatives in the works now, so that when their book comes out two  years from now, they’ll be in excellent shape to promote it proudly and productively.

After all, at the end of the day, my job isn’t just to sell books to editors—it’s to sell books that will actually sell-through to readers. There are no shortcuts here, and it’s the only way to ensure that the publishing doors will remain wide open to my authors for as long as they want to write books.

6:30-11:30 p.m.:

Time to call it a day. On days that I work from home, Jarrett usually walks in around this time, and we both unplug and relax for a few minutes. We love cooking together, so most of the time we talk about our days while prepping and cooking dinner. Usually we have a few household to-dos that can’t be ignored. (Why do three new to-dos pop-up for every one we get done? This is a phenomenon that must be studied.) After dinner, we either read or watch TV together—we are wild and crazy like that.

What about you? What do you do to keep your day on track and get important things done?


What We’re Eating This Week

Oh, you don’t even want to know. We spent all of last weekend moving, so it’s been takeout, eating out, and living off of popcorn around here. (Speaking of which, you must try this popcorn recipe from my author, Jenn Segal of Once Upon a Chef. It is awesome.) But I have really missed my time in the kitchen!

Monday: Chad Allen is in town to visit one of his authors, so we grab dinner together in historic Alexandria at Virtue Feed & Grain. If you don’t already follow Chad’s blog, it’s a can’t-miss!

Tuesday: I’m up to the NYC office today, so dinner at my grandma’s house is a happy must.

Wednesday: It’s a no-frills-rotisserie-chicken kinda night. Sometimes homey and basic feels good, though.

Thursday: Beg Jarrett to cook dinner so I have something to eat when I get back from NYC.

Friday: We’re off to Friendsgiving with a big group of friends this weekend, so tonight will probably be a quick 15-minute pasta. I’m thinking of this one-pot veggie pasta from Stonesong client Jeanine of Love & Lemons or Marcella Hazan’s Simple Tomato Sauce. Or, you know, throw what we’ve got in a pot with some pasta and hope for the best.


What I’m Reading This Week

5 Literary Agents Tell You Exactly How to Secure Representation for Your Book (Chad Allen): Over dinner on Monday night, Chad asked me what advice I’d give to aspiring authors who are on the hunt for an agent. Here’s my answer!

Is Your Plan For Success “I Just Want to Write My Books”? (Judith Briles for The Book Designer): “Authoring and book selling isn’t the lottery. You don’t buy a chance. The truth is that the creation of a book, even though it took years to do, is a mere fraction of the time, energy, commitment and money needed to teach it to walk.”

10 Delicious Books About Food (Amanda Nelson for Book Riot): Do you listen to audiobooks while you cook? I never have, but I’m so tempted to turn on one of these and see if my brain can keep up with the words and the chopping at the same time!

The Binge Breaker (Bianca Bosker for The Atlantic): “The attention economy, which showers profits on companies that seize our focus, has kicked off what Harris calls a ‘race to the bottom of the brain stem.’ ‘You could say that it’s my responsibility’ to exert self-control when it comes to digital usage, he explains, ‘but that’s not acknowledging that there’s a thousand people on the other side of the screen whose job is to break down whatever responsibility I can maintain.’ In short, we’ve lost control of our relationship with technology because technology has become better at controlling us.”

As The Web Goes to Video, What Happens to Writing? (Dianne Jacob): If you’re doing anything online today, you need to know about video and also make a few conscious decisions about it. Here are a few things to think about.

We Didn’t Know How to Promote a Podcast. So Here’s All We Learned (Kevan Lee for Buffer): Thinking about starting a podcast? Start here–no need to reinvent the wheel yourself!

Cheers!

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