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?
Look, I completely understand the craving for a benchmark number. But my answer is always this: you’re looking at the wrong metrics. The follower-counting mindset is empty and insanity-producing. But if you focus instead on building engagement, you’ll remember that blogging is about reader relationships.
That’s why I am really quite a nag about authors keeping things personal on their blogs. A blog is nothing but a new way to stay in touch with folks, just like mail has always been. When I open the mailbox, I don’t feel a flutter when someone’s trying to sell me things, or post faceless content. But when I get a letter from a friend, sharing what she’s been up to and a few things she’s been cooking, and I hear her voice in her writing and know the details of her life, I’m eager to engage in return.
We’ve all become content machines and fallen down the rabbit-hole of metrics. So before I talk about those metrics, I’m going to get down on my knees and beg that you not lose your voice. Don’t become just a brand. People can find recipes anywhere. But it’s you, your voice, and your story that will make them return. And trust me, the only way you’ll have a long career as an author is if you build reader relatonships. That is the root of all engagement.
Now, let me brush off my knees, and let’s talk metrics. The metrics literary agents pay most attention to are engagement metrics. We want you to have deep, plentiful relationships with your online friends. (For more on how engagement affects your conversion rate, read this.)
Here’s what I look for in reader relationships, when signing a client:
- Traffic: How many page views does your blog or website receive per month? How many unique visitors? How many of these are returning visitors, and how long do they stay on your site?
- Social media reach: How many followers do you have on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, or other platforms? How many of those followers are frequently interacting with you, through comments, likes or shares? And most important to me: How many email subscribers do you have? What are your open and click-through rates?
- Press: How many places have you or your recipes been featured across the digital and print media world? Have you been on TV or done radio? Can you demonstrate that the traditional media is already taking an interest in what you’re doing? Do you have relationships with magazine editors, TV producers, web editors, brands, PR companies, and other media?
- Speaking engagements: Are you considered an important voice in your field? Have you been invited by colleagues to speak at a conference, panel, workshop, or other live event?
- Awards: Have you won or been a finalist for any awards? Even awards within the blog community matter, as it shows you’ve earned the respect and friendship of other bloggers.
- Connections: Are big names in the food world (including other bloggers) willing to vouch for you? This is similar to lining up references for a job. If you can show that other highly respected people are willing to stake their reputation on your work, then why wouldn’t a publisher want to do the same?
- Sales of other products or books: Can you demonstrate that you know how to sell to your audience (and that they love you enough to buy from you)? Are you comfortable with marketing, and do you have the track record to prove it?
Here’s the thing: No one has all of these things. Yet a proposal’s ultimate value is determined by a complex interplay of platform, concept, and voice.
The goal, instead, is to have a healthy mix of channels where you can get word out about your book and build strong and lasting relationships with readers and other influencers. For me, if an author has 50,000 true fans—not Facebook friends or Instagram followers but truly engaged followers who would pay (or have already paid) for your work—then I feel confident that you’re ready to launch a book.
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Maria Ribas is a literary agent at Stonesong, specializing in cookbooks, personal development, creativity, spirituality, and lifestyle. She began her publishing career on the editorial side, working at Simon & Schuster, Harlequin Nonfiction, and Adams Media. She blogs at cooks & books, where she shares everything she knows about publishing, plenty of book recommendations, and even a recipe now and then. Sign up for her weekly emails here.