I recently had the opportunity to speak at the first ever Food Bloggers of Canada conference, a truly enlightening experience. Held from April 12-14, 2013 at Hockley Valley Resort, Ontario, the conference allowed the Canadian food blogging community to connect and learn from one another in a venue that was simply buzzing with excitement and new ideas.
I spoke to the crowd about the ever-changing landscape of food blogging and a topic that many budding food bloggers probably wonder about: how to parlay a blogging career into a successful book deal. For your reading pleasure, I've included it below.
How many of you have professional training? How many of you read cookbooks, not just ones from today but the classics from the 20th century? What about The Science of Food, Keys to the Kitchen, Harold McGee or Shirley Corriher?
Writing for magazines and newspaper is a whole different ball game from writing a blog, so the question becomes, how do you get noticed?
Let’s start with blogs.
Many understand the community that blogging upholds. It’s a creative outlet, provides bloggers with the joy of communicating and the opportunity for nature and nurture through food. Blogging highlights the joy of family dining and the pleasure and love that good food gives to both cook and eater.
But not all blogs are like that. There is a well-known axiom that food blogging is killing the joy of cooking. There is a theory that food blogs–because of the writer’s lack of professional training and the desire to please advertisers or people who give you swag– are dumbing down the desire to learn to cook properly.
So these people create or copy recipes but really don’t understand the joy and science of cooking. Peeping at people’s private lives does not enhance food unless it makes you feel like you are a friend. I don’t think I need to mention sponsored posts or being up front about where something comes from.
What you need from a blog is a connection, credibility, and good writing and photography. You need to feel the love that happens when someone is a great writer. Anyone can write, but the real strength of the blog is how well that happens.
Writing for magazines and newspapers, because of a growing lack of space, there is little room for real food writing or for references to how you developed your recipes. To do the other kind of food writing–real food writing –there are virtually no outlets anymore. So you have to be a recipe hound.
How does a blog become a book? You get many hits, win prizes and then the publishers notice you. But not all blogs have transferred successfully to books. For example, Smitten Kitchen.
You earn readers, not get readers, and you do it by being true to yourself.
First, make sure you’re writing about a topic that you’re really and truly passionate about. You’ll be spending countless hours on this project. Books take time, sometimes years to complete. While you might write about a more general topic, think about something special, possibly a topic within your blog, that you have to offer. There are thousands of cook books available to readers, so you need to write about a niche that will set your book apart from the others.
That being said, you should also spend some time focusing on your weaknesses, using your blog as an outlet for improvement. A blog is a great place to experiment and strengthen your writing skills. You might even consider taking a class. What’s probably most important, though, is strengthening your voice. It’s easy to tell when an author has a strong, recognizable voice. That personality translates from blogs to cookbooks and gains you repeat customers.
On that note, spend some time brainstorming what your audience is. Do you appeal to working moms? Vegans? Trendy singles? Once you decide your audience, who you speak to, you can make a more focused effort to appeal to the crowd that will eventually be purchasing your book.
Although it’s not always necessary, practically speaking, you should get an agent. The great feature about agents is that they know what’s going to sell in today’s market, and if they’re willing to represent you, it means that you have another person in your corner that believes in your idea. They also have good relationships with editors and publishers, and can provide useful connections while steering you into a direction that you’ll excel in. Impartial judgement is invaluable.
Regardless of how long you’ve been blogging, a well-planned book proposal is absolutely essential. Take the time to make sure it’s perfect before sending it out, because it’s the first impression that editors and publishers will have in terms of your insight, ability and work ethic. Within this proposal, it might also be helpful (while not completely necessary) to include your social media statistics. Giving publishers an idea of your followers also gives them an idea of your popularity, and how well your book might sell. If you don’t have many followers, you might want to take the time to amp up your social media campaign.