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?
First, before I tell you how I decide if a writer or blogger is ready to for a book deal, let’s get a few important things out of the way. Don’t skip over this, because this context is what gives everything else meaning!
1. This is my personal method as a literary agent for analyzing whether a blog can get a book deal, not hard-and-fast publishing industry rules.
Every agent and editor I know has their own theories about what matters in an author platform or blog and what doesn’t.
That’s because we all work in different categories and genres; we all have different data points on how blog metrics translate into book sales; and we all know there are hundreds of factors, unrelated to an blogger’s audience, that can influence how much a book sells.
(Like, if everyone has been secretly writing fantasy novels about Ents, and they all publish their novels at the same time. Suddenly the market is entirely Ent books, and yours won’t stand out.)
Yet as literary agents and editors, we also have to make decisions about which authors and bloggers to sign up. This is simply how I make those decisions—how I try to understand potential bloggers and make predictions about which bloggers are ready to support a successful book and which are not there yet.
(By the way, it’s not about if, but when. If you create something, share it, iterate + improve, and repeat ad infinitum, you WILL be successful. There’s a physics law in there somewhere, but you better believe I can’t name it. Words > numbers, right?)
2. Understanding an author platform is an art, not a science.
Which is a good thing, because as demonstrated above, I can’t do science.
If we want to truly understand an author platform, we need to break it down. Here’s how it works:
Author Platform = Relationships.
I guess I didn’t really need an equation for that, huh? I’m 0 for 2 on this.
The fanbase numbers that literary agents and editors look for are simply quantifications of relationships. A number like “10,000 Facebook fans” is the easiest way to quickly establish a data point about whether an blogger’s work is resonating with readers, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.
It’s easy to forget that statistics are just numbers that quantify the interactions between one human and another, but that it’s impossible to fully quantify something as fluid and emotional as human relationships.
So we make do with the data we have; we try to learn more; we evolve and refine our methods; and we never forget that the numbers aren’t the whole story. You shouldn’t, either.
3. Getting a book deal is not just about author platform or your blog analytics.
Okay, I’m going to redeem myself right now. Here’s my equation for a successful book:
platform + concept + storytelling = a successful book.
That one makes sense, right?
If you haven’t read my post on how to get a book deal, where I illustrate this equation with 3 case studies of real-life book deals I’ve done, then get thee over there! It’s one of my most popular pieces of all time.
The important thing to remember is that a fantastic concept can outweigh a lack of author platform. (In fact, I sold a book a few weeks ago with no author, just a great concept. It can happen!) Along with a strong concept, incredible storytelling can also outweigh a small or nonexistent author platform.
Each of these three elements is weighted differently depending on your genre or category.
In nonfiction, you almost always need public visibility and an author platform (usually in the form of a blog or website) to get a book deal. There are exceptions (see author-less book mentioned above), but they are less than 5% of deals made.
In fiction or memoir, concept and storytelling are weighted more heavily, and many first-time novelists don’t have a blog or platform. (But make no mistake: you will eventually need a platform to promote your book and make it successful, even if you’re hitting it out of the park with your concept and storytelling. I write more on why fiction writers need platforms and marketing skills here.)
Yet, the stronger each of the three elements is, the more you increase your odds of getting a book deal. Each day that you sit down and invest time into building your mastery of storytelling, platform-building, or concept development, you’re slightly inching up your chance of success.
One day, that percentage will hit the tipping point, and success will become inevitable. But until then:
invest your time in increasing your odds, and each day do something to move yourself one tiny percentage point closer to a book deal.
So, now that we’ve got those things out of the way, here’s what I look for in bloggers who want to get a book deal with a publisher.
The 3 things I look for in bloggers to go from blog to book deal
1. How broad is your reach?
I measure this most frequently through these blog 5 analytics, but I’m also looking for a well-rounded platform. Yes, it’s important to have a presence and a following online, but a book is an opportunity to reach a whole new audience and to step out of your silo. So it helps to also have other platform elements like:
- Speaking engagements
- TV appearances
- Influencer connections
- Brand partnerships
These are the core elements that make up the Marketing & Publicity section of a book proposal, and they’re the very things that light up editors with excitement and lead to big book deals.
Nobody has all of platform elements—don’t worry if you’re not checking this list off! But if you can show you’re working toward them and you understand their importance, you’re on the right track to get a book deal.
2. How deep is your reach?
Yes, hard stats are hard to argue with. But there have been plenty of blog to books with insanely well-trafficked blogs behind them that have flopped. That’s because blog traffic is only one signifier of the relationship between writer and reader.
Another equally important signal is blog and social media engagement. Here’s how I define engagement as a literary agent, and here’s how to measure engagement on your blog or social media.
It’s not just about getting eyeballs—it’s about proving you can get the real, live humans behind those eyeballs to support your work. This means they have to care about you and know you well, and you have to care about them and know them well. That’s not rocket science; that’s called building relationships.
(Tangential pep talk: If you ever feel weird or anxious about sharing your blog with strangers, stop thinking about them as strangers. Friendships can be built online, too, and as any introvert knows, it’s much easier to say “Hi, I love your work!” online than it is in real life. Need more pep talks? Download these free pep talk greeting cards for writers!)
Proving that a blogger has both a large audience and an engaged audience has become extremely important for getting a nonfiction book deal. We need to feel confident that the blogger has carefully nurtured those relationships and converted passersby on the internet highway into true fans, ones who will part with their hard-earned money for a copy of your book.
But a small but mighty blog can be just as powerful.
The concept of engagement is good news for anyone who has a small but mighty audience but feels discouraged by the big follower stats other bloggers might have. If another blogger has 10,000 followers, but only 5% of those followers care enough to buy their book, they’ll sell 500 books. If you have 5,000 followers, but 10% of your followers love you and buy your book, you’ve also just sold 500 books. It all comes out even in the end, see?
I’ve written a detailed post about how to measure engagement on your blog, email list, social media, and more here.
3. How prepared are you?
Preparation is extremely important. As I wrote about here, preparation is the unsexy word for talent.
All of the work you put into your blog will be for naught if you’re not prepared to use your blog and other connections to promote your book. You have to get comfortable with marketing. This means you have to methodically develop the strengths and character traits of bestselling authors, who keep learning, keep trying, and keep owning their path.
This might mean you’re going against your nature and doing things that are out of your comfort zone. But without methodically developing the 3 traits of bestselling authors, just like you methodically develop your writing or photos, you can only go so far.
(If you need a reminder to keep practicing the hard stuff, download this free printable art print and hang it by your desk!)
How I Synthesize Blog Analytics, Engagement, and Preparedness
The 3 elements above (breadth + depth + preparedness) only make up the author platform part of the book deal equation. So from there, I layer in my guesses about the strength of an author’s book concept and their storytelling. And the last thing I add to my assessment? My personal feelings.
My job isn’t just to spot the authors who I think have the highest chance of success—it’s to spot the authors who have the highest chance of success with me. That means I need to feel a personal connection to the subject and be a good personality match for the author. I’ve let go of potential projects that I thought would be very successful, but which I felt I couldn’t personally and genuinely advocate for.
Because what a successful book also needs is magic. The magic of enthusiasm. Of finding a literary agent and a book editor editor and a publisher who not only want your book but also believe in it.
I’ve seen many times how an editor’s deep excitement for a book has spread like wildfire to a publishing team, and how that magic trickles to every other person involved in the book, from the publicist to the sales director to the buyer at the bookstore.
After all, we have to believe in a little bit of magic if we believe in books, right?
So, if I had to give a number of when a platform or blog is “ready” (insert one million caveats here about how every author, book, publisher, and category is different), then a great goal would be for a blogger to have 50,000 true fans.
True fans doesn’t mean 50,000 unique visitors per month, or 50,000 Facebook fans, or 50,000 email subscribers, or any of those easily identifiable analytics. 50,000 true fans means 50,000 people who know your work well, love it, and who you feel certain would buy your book within 6-12 months of launch (or even pre-order it before it releases!).
Can you get a book deal with 25,000 true fans? Yes. Can you get a book deal with 5,000 true fans? Yes. Can you get a book deal with 0 true fans? Also, yes. Because again, the equation is this:
platform + concept + storytelling = a successful book.
If you have a 0 in the platform category, your incredible concept and strong storytelling can still win the heart of an agent or editor.
50,000 is a top target, and I mention that number for one simple reason: if you can prove you have a good chance of selling 50,000 books in the first year, editors can run a strong P&L. If they can run a strong P&L, they might be able to offer you a six-figure book deal, even as a first-time author. If they offer you a strong book deal, they also invest more in the back-end with marketing and publicity.
This creates snowballing momentum, where starting strong continues to pay you dividends in resources and attention for your book. And the more you have going for you, the better your chances are of being the author who breaks out from the pack.
But don’t obsess over any number—instead, obsess over getting better, getting braver, and getting kinder with your blog readers.
Great Class of The Week
I’m super excited about my friend Kelly Holmes’s free class she’s teaching this week: How to Get More Traffic with Fewer Posts. I love Kelly because she is not about the content-mill style of blogging, and she actually understands engagement in the same way publishers do. I’m extremely picky about online classes, but I paid full-price for her more in-depth Sticky Blogging class this year and learned a ton about writing for a blog–even though I write and edit marketing copy, proposals, and manuscripts every single day.
I especially love this class because I think it’s perfect for writers (including fiction writers) who don’t have a lot of time to blog but still want to build a loyal and dedicated readership. I hear ALL the time how hard it is to find time to work on a manuscript and to blog regularly, so using Kelly’s method will totally relieve all that blogging pressure!
Kelly only posts to her blog a few times a month, but she still makes a full-time income from it because the quality of her writing and posts is better. It’s a much more sane and fun way to build the kind of audience you need to launch a successful book. And because so much of her method is based on the science of how we read and engage with story, you’ll learn techniques that will also make your fiction or nonfiction writing stronger. That, to me, is a win-win!
I’m partnering with Kelly to spread the word about her class (it’s free, by the way!), and you can sign up here to join in. Registration will close tonight, Thursday, September 21st, so sign up now before you forget!
What I’m Reading This Week
Professional Romance Novelists Can Write 3,000 Words a Day. Here’s How They Do It. (Thu-Huong Ha for Quartz): “Thompson says she isn’t naturally disciplined, and her level of productivity is one she’s had to work at, especially given the fact that she’s dyslexic. She believes emphatically that even a person with no level of writing experience can create habits like hers.” Yes, yes, yes. Talent is a myth–it’s just good habits + the right beliefs + the compounding power of time. (H/T to Dianne Jacob for first sharing this link.)
You Can’t Write It All: How to Avoid Side Hustle Burnout (Lisa Rowan on The Write Life): Yes, you should work on your writing and author platform nearly every day, but this doesn’t mean you have to run yourself ragged and nix the self-care. As my very wise author, Jillian Pransky says: A little + Often = A lot. (And now I promise that is my last equation for the day!) Get her incredible book, Deep Listening, and learn to be kind to yourself even as you’re hustling.
Back to School Reading for Grown-Ups (Emily Wenstrom for Book Riot): Why do only kids get to pick up new books this time of year? I can whine until I get what I want, too.
I’ve adopted a ‘2-hour rule’ based on the habit that led Einstein, Darwin, and Nietzsche to brilliance — and it’s had the highest ROI of anything I’ve done (Zat Rana for Business Insider): Longest article title ever? Yes. Worth a read? Also, yes. This is a habit too many people overlook, but it’s where a lot of creative synthesis happens.
Here’s how a book really gets made, from before the initial idea to the bookstore shelves (Anne Bogel of What Should I Read Next?): Anne’s book, Reading People, launched this Tuesday, and it’s a must for anyone who loves books and loves self-discovery. (All hands raised?) On her podcast this week she also shares great behind-the-scenes stories of what publishing a book is really like.
What We’re Eating This Week
SMITTEN IS HERE! Stonesong client Deb Perelman’s long-awaited second cookbook is here, and guys, it is so good. Her first book won the Julia Child First Book award, and this one is just as incredible. It releases on October 24th, but you can preorder Smitten Kitchen Every Day here or here already. To celebrate, we’re cooking some triumphant recipes from the book every night this week!
Sunday: Brick Hens and Charred Lemon. As I mentioned on Instagram, Jarrett declared this chicken better than my go-to, always-won-his-heart citrus roast chicken, and now we are in a fight. Traitor.
Monday: Kale Caesar with Broken Eggs and Crushed Croutons. It is my long-held belief that salads should have either salami or mayo, and this one checks that craving for Duke’s.
Tuesday: Spaghetti Pangrattato. And I ate it all before Jarrett got home from a work event. Revenge is the best meal plan.
Wednesday: Out for Ethiopian food at a little spot up the block!
Thursday: Red Lentil Soup, Dal Style, but with green lentils, because Trader Joe’s has taken a clear stance on the green lentil vs. red lentil war.
Friday: Tomato and Gigante Bean Bake/Pizza Beans. I actually gasped a little when I saw this recipe because it is so genius. Pizza flavors but with a base of beans? Makes me feel like a little kid again! This is one I’ll be loudly whining for all the time.