How to go from blog to book–the 3 things publishers and literary agents look for in bloggers!
“Can you give me a number I should aim for?”
I could hear the hopefulness in her voice, the resolution to get started. I shifted in my desk chair and moved the phone to my other ear. I hate this question.
Now, don’t get me wrong: I loved this blogger and her writing. I’d admired her work for a long time, and it had been so much fun to finally talk to her and hear the behind-the-scenes of her blog.
But there was just one tiny problem.
Her author platform wasn’t big enough yet for a book deal.
She was doing all the right things—writing consistently, sharing her work, getting to know her readers and other influencers in her space. But I knew publishers would want her stats to be higher for a book deal, and I knew she would need to have a bigger readership to make a book successful.
I squirmed and gently suggested that she wait a little longer to pursue a book deal.
I knew she had a book in her, and I could just see how beautiful and inspiring it would be. But I also know I’m not doing anyone a service if we put a book out too early in an author’s career, before they have thousands of loyal fans who are clamoring to buy it. It’s worth doing a book at the right time in your career.
But how do you know if your blog can get you a book deal? How can you gauge whether you have enough readers to support a book? What are the blog traffic and social media numbers to aim for?
But first, the publishing stories worth reading this week:
Amazon is Quietly Eliminating List Prices (David Streitfeld for The New York Times): A fascinating look at the deterioration of the list price/discount marketing tactic and how it’s influencing online commerce, including the massive online book business. I thought this was a must-read this week, and it’s definitely a trend worth watching for anyone involved in online commerce.
Training to Be a Good Writer (Leo Babuata of Zen Habits): “You get good by doing it a lot, and caring. You’ll never be perfect at it—goodness knows I’m far from perfect — but the only way to get better is to practice. And to care about what you’re doing. Do that every day, and every step of the struggle will be an amazing one.”
My Top 5 Favorite Marketing Books (Chad Cannon): “They say that reading is a key habit for success–that our society’s leading thinkers, investors, and decision-makers must be readers. I fully believe it’s true, and I love this quote from Warren Buffet. Once, when asked what his key to success is, he pointed to a stack of books and said: ‘Read 500 pages like this every day. That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will do it.'”
Do You Lock Your Best Ideas in a Vault? (Benjamin Percy for JaneFriedman.com/Glimmer Train): “For every story or essay or poem you write, you withdraw one image, two characters, maybe three of the metaphors you have stockpiled—and then slam shut the vault and lock it with a key shaped like a skeleton’s finger. I used to be the same way, nervously rationing out my ideas.”
7 Things You Can Start Doing Today to Become a Bestselling Author Tomorrow
I hope everyone had a delicious and fun Fourth of July weekend! The fireworks in DC were a bust with all the rain, but Jarrett and I spent the first half of the long weekend exploring Louisville and Lexington. We ate:
Brisket and smoked sausage at the Blue Door Smokehouse (picked by Ashlea Halpern of Condé Nast Traveler as one of her two favorite BBQ joints in the country!)
The most glorious country ham on an Eggs Benedict at Proof on Main inside the 21C Museum
A 4-course tasting menu of delight at Edward Lee’s fantastic 610 Magnolia
Really very naughty sandwiches at Ouita Michel’s Wallace Station (that Hot Country Ham and Pimento Cheese sandwich…oh my.)
And because we couldn’t help ourselves: more of Ouita’s food at Smithtown Seafood. They’re participating in the James Beard Foundation’s Blended Burger Project that challenges chefs to create more sustainable burgers by adding mushrooms to their patties. This makes the burger better. In fact, it was the best burger of my life. Yes, I said it. Go try it and tell me if I’m not right.
I think we did some other stuff in between there, but mostly we ate, and a lot.
Which brings me to the question: what productive things can you do as a writer or blogger when you are, say, too gut-bombed on Southern food to concentrate on your manuscript? Not every moment needs to be write-or-die, and there are so many things that can contribute to your skill-set that have nothing to do with typing away.
Here are 7 of them, which I first covered for Bustle Books, and which I hope make for some easily digestible reading no matter how gluttonous your holiday was!
7 Things You Can Start Doing Today to Become a Bestselling Author Tomorrow
The Truth About The New York Times and Wall Street Journal Bestseller Lists (Tim Grahl on The Observer): “If you’re a nonfiction author, and particularly if you write business books, bestseller lists mean more speaking gigs, higher consulting rates, higher visibility, and an enhanced reputation. They also mean more sales.”
How to Format a Book Proposal (Chad R. Allen): “So what’s your concept? Is it unique somehow? Does it meet an actual need people have? What’s your ability to help us move books when it’s published? What’s your promotion plan? Are you a good writer? Do your words grab us? Would a reader rather read your book than go to a movie?”
10 Bookish Feelings We Need English Words For ASAP (Sharanya Sharma for BookRiot): “…that got me thinking of other ‘untranslatable’ feelings and situations, some of which you can find words for in other languages. Words like tsundoku, a Japanese word that roughly means: ‘Leaving a book unread after buying it.’ (I am so very guilty of this. Sigh.)”
How to Find and Work With a Book Publicist—Successfully (Jane Friedman):”…even though you’re hiring a publicist, all authors have to be willing to learn how to market their book. Good marketing and publicity is a team effort, and the author is part of that team.”
Altered Tastes: Can the New Science of Neurogastronomy–and One Very Creative Chef–Convince Us That Healthy Food is Delicious? (Maria Konnikova for The New Republic): “Control flavor and you control what we eat—and perhaps, given time and more research, begin fighting the global nutrition problems that are a direct result of the industrialized production of food.”
What If I’m Too Introverted for Platform Building and Book Marketing?
Since these are two big topics, I’m going to tackle the first question today and leave the second one for next week. If you don’t want to miss next week’s post on platform-building for fiction writers, sign up to have posts come to you through the “subscribe” box on your right!
So, let’s talk about how introverted types can tackle platform-building and book marketing. What if the very thought of interacting with strangers (whether online or in real life) makes you queasy? What if it grates on your sense of identity to put yourself out there for anyone to see? What if you were always the kid with your nose in a book during lunchtime, not the one drawing a crowd of admirers with your stories?
Well, here’s a secret. Most bestselling authors are introverted, too. The majority of my authors would describe themselves as private, shy, or introverted. (Even Ree Drummond admits she’s a true homebody and would be happy never leaving her ranch!) In fact, most book people—agents, editors, booksellers—are introverts. That’s why we all came to books in the first place: we were the kids who would rather read a book than make conversation.
So we’ve all had to do battle with our introvert impulses. When I first started in publishing I was terrified—terrified—of presenting a book in front of the acquisitions committee. I loved the book so much, and the thought of laying that love bare in front of a big group of people so they could pick it apart and decide whether it was any good kept me up at night. But I did it, and I kept doing it and doing it, because I had to—it was just part of my job. Eventually, I started to see those meetings as fascinating and as a great opportunity for me to learn the skills I inevitably needed to advocate for the authors I loved.
My first agent lunch as an editor? Same thing: dread, nervousness, fear. My first editor lunch as an agent? Still scared. Even my first post on this blog: complete and utter fear that people would—gasp!—find it and read it. Putting ourselves out there makes us introverts absolutely loony tunes.
But what did I learn from all of this forced-because-it’s-my-job socialization? That those moments of talking to editors, writers, committees, and conference attendees are my most rewarding moments. I dread them going into it, but after I feel a deep, warm glow of happiness and excitement.
Because when it comes down to it, we as humans are hardwired for connection. We may not have the personality types to naturally enjoy speaking to large crowds, but when we focus on talking to one interesting person about one interesting topic, we light up.
I’ve had many authors share their struggles and fears about platform-building and marketing with me, and eventually I started to see the same patterns of thought that were holding them back. And I saw these patterns in my own life, too! But after seeing so many introverted writers and bloggers succeed, I realized there are certain ways we can help ourselves rethink what it means to build a platform and market a book. These tips have been helpful to both my authors and myself, and while everyone is different, I hope you find them useful!
5 Ways Introverts Can Rethink Platform Building and Book Marketing
I walked into my local Barnes & Noble a few weeks ago and took a big huff of that bookstore smell. Ahhhh. Instant destressor. Do you do that too? Feel that release of tension when you walk into a bookstore or library and smell that distinct book-y smell? It’s almost as if there’s a scent to the words and paper that can’t be explained by science. (But it actually can be!)
I still get that feeling every single time I walk in any bookstore or library. And then I feel a thrill of possibility. Of knowing that spread out before me is the knowledge of the world’s greatest thinkers throughout time, bound in a portable, shareable form. And it can be mine for $19.95.
That’s why I’m convinced that a bookstore visit is a cure for all of life’s ailments. Feeling uninspired? Browse the stacks of your favorite genre or category. Overwhelmed with how much you have to do? Breathe in that bookstore air and remember why it’s worth it. Tired? Have a coffee and a seat and escape into another world. And that’s not even getting into the nonfiction shelves, where you can find advice on how to handle nearly every one of life’s struggles.
A bookstore visit is also the very first thing I prescribe to anyone who’s thinking about writing a book. Go, get thee to the bookstore, and send word of what you uncover, I say! Usually in a less Shakespearean way. But sometimes in an even more Shakespearean way.
And what should you do once you’ve walked into that temple of tomes? Well, it just so happens that I have some suggestions for you: