Is a Food Blog enough?
The Julie and Julia phenomenon sparked off a lot of commentary suggesting every food blogger out there is racing manically between stove and computer, hoping to achieve similar fame and fortune. Or, if not a blockbuster bestseller and mega-bucks Hollywood movie deal, maybe just a book … one measly book even … please?
For any of you who haven’t been Julia’ed, here’s a trailer of the movie. Amazingly (or not) you can still read the original blog too.
But does every food blogger want a cookbook deal? I wouldn’t think so but there are many who do. Inspired not just by Julie but a string of blog to book success stories that followed hers, aspiring cookbook authors are apparently setting up blogs with the specific aim of hooking a publisher. Writing a book of course is an entirely different story (no pun intended) from bashing out a blog post every few days or weeks. True, it’s probably more lucrative and it could bring you five minutes of fame, or more if it becomes a hit.
What are your chances of a book deal?
But how realistic is this goal? Everything I’ve read and heard about publishing today indicates that unless you’ve already made a name for yourself in some way or have a solid publishing history behind you, it’s hard.
An article by Yasmin Fahr published in The Daily Meal in December 2011 says that 2010 was “the blockbuster year for the blogger to book transformation, but goes on to say it’s since slowed down. What it’s done since 2011 is anyone’s guess, but mine is that it’s still in low gear. However, it hasn’t stalled. There are blogger books in the pipeline or fresh off the press as I write. Three I know of are:
- Jane Paech, who blogs at Knife and Fork in the Road, has a book coming out soon called “Delicious Days in Paris”, which is a follow up to her earlier book “A Family in Paris”
- Cara Nicoletti, who blogs at Yummy Books has scored a book deal for her first book “Voracious” (which is still in progress)
- Sney Roy, who blogs at Cook Republic has a first book, “Tasty Express” due for release in April this year.
I’m sure there are more, and if you’re aware of any, especially Australian ones, I’d love to know about them.
How to attract a publisher
An article on the blog Delicious Days (also dated 2011) not only lists bloggers who’ve had books published but sets out a few criteria for success, as follows:
- Maintain a substantial and consistent blog readership over some years (so if you’re starting out you’ll need to be patient)
- Make sure your recipes work (i.e. test, test and re-test)
- Be a good story teller as well as recipe writer
- Be able to identify and capitalise on upcoming trends
- Be in the right place at the right time (i.e. connect with an existing target group for your book)
There’s probably a couple more things you could keep in mind. To attract the attention of a publisher, your blog needs to really stand out. To do that, make sure it demonstrates passion, originality and a sense of purpose. If you can inspire readers as well as engage them, you’re on the right track.
In an article titled “In the Belly of the Blog“, food and wine columnist Pete Wells also notes the importance of passion, originality and a sense of purpose. Things have come a long way from what he terms the “cheese sandwich” blog, where bloggers said stuff like “today I had a cheese sandwich”. Not so far perhaps on Facebook, but that’s another story.
One of the best resources I’ve found for aspiring food writers is Dianne Jacob’s book “Will Write for Food: the Complete Guide to Writing Cookbooks, Blogs, Reviews, Memoir and More“. First published in 2005 and revised in 2010, there’s a chapter devoted to food blogs that contains invaluable information. In it she says book editors and literary agents have their fingers on the pulse, blog-wise, and if they come across something they think will be marketable (read profitable) as a book, they may well make contact. Again, that was the scene back in 2010, and I suspect the outlook may be somewhat less rosy now. But what Dianne Jacob calls “working on your reputation” will always be relevant and a great blog is a solid way to do just that.
The importance of voice
If there’s a consensus at all in the advice proffered, it’s that bloggers need to cultivate the right voice. Which basically means a writing style that is light, conversational, spontaneous and easy to relate to. Funny and self-deprecating go down well too, if you can pull it off. As easy as it is for the reader to toss a book aside when their interest wanes, when the blog reader’s eyes glaze over, it’s even easier for them to click away, maybe never to return.
For another list (albeit dated) of successful blog to book transformations, see this article at the Huffington Post. Someone should really do an up to date list of these. Maybe I’ll give it a go, so if you of any I’ve overlooked, please let me know.
Blogs to Books – helpful hints
Mashable published an interesting article in 2009 on how six writers turned their blogs into books (not specific to cookbooks) which states that since 2005 publishers have been scouring the internet for material to print. Whether they’re giving it much more than a passing glance in 2014 I’m not sure, but I’d love to be corrected on this if I’m being too cynical).
Nina Amir has a whole website devoted to helping you turn your blog into a book and if you follow her advice, she says “you can blog your way to a book deal”.
Writer’s Digest also provides a helpful list of seven tips if you want to go down the blog to book road.
Don’t give up
Clearly, if you aspire to getting a book published, it’s going to be hard work. As Kelly Senyei notes in Food Blogging for Dummies, blogging is hard enough. She compares it to owning and running a restaurant, except you have to fill all the roles. But success stories abound and some are inspirational. For example, Ree Drummond, who blogs at The Pioneer Woman not only has a string of books to her name, but also has her own TV show on the Food Network. As well, she’s listed as No. 22 on Forbes’ Top 25 Web Celebrities.
But if book deals and celebrity-dom don’t materialise, you shouldn’t despair. There are other compensations, such as getting your website traffic above the single digits, climbing the Google page rankings, or even one of your posts going “viral”, which can happen for the weirdest reasons. Take Adam Roberts, the Amateur Gourmet, who was catapulted to notoriety after he posted a recipe for Janet Jackson Breast Cupcakes (taking his cue from her well publicised “wardrobe malfunction”*). Once CNN got hold of the story, there was no way Adam was slipping back into obscurity any time soon.
Whatever your goals for your food blog, getting and keeping engaged readers is a worthy achievement in itself, so keep at it. And speaking of engaged readers, if you know of any blog to book success stories I’ve overlooked, I’d love to hear about them.
*The term “wardrobe malfunction” of course thenceforth became part of the vernacular, used to describe everything from a cleavage eruption to a faulty zipper.
by Anne Green