From Food Blogs to Books: How and why publishers are making authors out of food bloggers.

International Blogging states that the blogosphere continues to grow globally at the rate of one blog per second with the internet search engine Technorati’s latest report listing more than 21,000 (active) food related blogs worldwide. Interest in food blogging grew significantly in 2005 following Julie Powell’s success after the publication of her book Julie & Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen and subsequent film starring Meryl Streep.

Julie Powell from blog to book to film

Julie Powell’s blog led to a successful book and film.

Commissioning editors suddenly understood the value of this new, digital publishing landscape, with the book Uses of Blogs recognising that ‘readers of traditional publishing moved towards blogs not only as a means of more active engagement with the content, but as a means of satisfying the desired experience of reading that books alone no longer fulfilled’. We now see food bloggers become published authors, such as Jack Monroe with her book A Girl Called Jack: 100 Delicious Budget Recipes (Penguin) and Deb Perelman whose blog, Smitten Kitchen, was immortalised in her book The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook (Random House). But what is it that makes food bloggers so appealing to publishers?

What attracts publishers to a particular food blog?

In an interview with Simon Davis, formerly Quadrille and now a freelance food editor, he explained how he has embraced this new phenomenon. He looks for an engaging and unique voice, creative and unusual recipes and great photography. However, many, such as Uses of Blogs, would argue that ‘food bloggers are amateurs with no real knowledge and authority on the subject of food; that their writing is less finished, less authoritative, and less considered than that which might be found in traditional works’, and this is true of many blogs given the thousands in existence.

Although Monroe and Perelman admit to no formal culinary training, they have developed a level of proficiency through careful research and practice. Food bloggers are well informed about new culinary trends, partly thanks to real time, regular updates from social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. They are also constantly honing their techniques, producing regular quality content, and as Uses of Blogs would put it: generating a perception of expertise in a field.

In traditional book publishing, where editors often receive commissioned manuscripts far below publishable standard, blogs allow editors to assess the quality of writing, thus providing a free risk assessment and a way of bypassing agents – who take a cut and create a ‘middleman’ role. These factors make food blogs highly desirable when publishers are in need of ‘quick books’ for peak selling seasons such as in January when facing gaps in the Christmas schedule.

Reaching a wide audience through marketing strategies is also a large part of a publishing house’s job as John Thompson discusses in Merchants of Culture where Phil, an online marketing manager for a large publishing corporation in the US, gets authors blogging in order to give them a platform to be out there and to start talking. Phil said: ‘We set everything up on the back end so people can find the blog, and then let them unleash and do their thing.’ This is a time consuming process, especially if the author is unfamiliar with using publishing and social media platforms, or is unenthusiastic about doing so. Food bloggers will have this work in place, minimising publishers’ time and costs, and successful blogs will have built up a large following – the primary target audience for a published product.

How do publishers discover ‘hot’ blogs?

Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr logos

Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr are useful social media platforms for discovering what’s trending in the blogosphere.

So how do publishers discover ‘hot’ blogs? Back to Davis, who says this is done ‘Primarily through seeing what everyone’s talking about on Twitter and whose pictures are being shared on Instagram’. As with Twitter, Tumblr – a microblogging platform somewhere between Twitter and WordPress – is also a place of interest for publishers. Regarding Tumblr, the Udemy Blog notes that ‘instead of writing complete posts, users are encouraged to share individual pictures, infographics, comics, videos and links,’ and can publish posts ‘on the fly’, making this an immediate and current source of outlet. Davis also indicates that the media are increasingly pointing out up-and-coming blogs, and that he ‘keeps an ear to the ground by talking to existing authors and others in the industry about who they’ve come across on their travels’.

What marks out bloggers who become authors is that through interacting with their readers via blogs and social networking sites they are able to generate goodwill and a shared sense of endeavour. In a market currently saturated by old hands and celebrity chefs who trade on their reputation as trustworthy experts this marks a new departure for book publishers – The Guardian.

Analytics and evidence

Analytics provided by social media and specialist websites such as Blogdex and memetracker are exceptionally useful in providing information to publishers looking for popular blogs. Uses of Blogs explains that Blogdex, a website analysing and charting the most discussed blog posts, ‘scours blogs for the sites to which bloggers link in the context of their posts, thus providing a useful guide to ‘what’s hot’ in the blogosphere’. Memetracker allows users to vote for links to posts they find of interest, while Online Marketing Essentials notes that Technorati can be used to ‘keep tabs on Internet buzz, both to monitor online reputation and to see what trends are emerging’.

Such statistics delivered by these analytical websites and devices allow publishers to assess possible book sales and justify working with bloggers. A New York Times article reported that ‘Google Analytics show that had 6 million unique views and nearly 10 million page views in November, a huge audience’ – excellent evidence to pitch a book on, but goes on to say that ‘editors say there is no magic formula for knowing which bloggers have audiences that are invested enough in them to purchase an expensive hardcover when much of the material is available free online’, and this is where web interaction plays a pivotal role.

Video of Deb Perelman for The New York Times

A New York Times video of Deb Perelman talking to Leslie Kaufman about how her food blog, Smitten Kitchen, led to a best-seller – The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook.

Food blogger and author of Breakfast for Dinner, Lindsay Landis, says ‘I feel so much more “connected” to a book by a blogger that I “know” and follow.’ Bloggers are communicating and building rapport with readers, and it is this interaction that generates a loyal readership invested enough to purchase a published product. And this is where publishers can be of vital assistance in taking the blog to the next level: the book.

What added value do publishers offer in the production of a book?

A successful blog has links to social media sites, provides regular quality content to or near the standard of a publishing house, and has accumulated a wide reaching, loyal audience likely to buy a subsequent book. With so much work already in place, what value do publishers offer in the production of the publication?

Books are an entirely different medium, and are a publishers’ area of expertise. They will advise on the book’s structure and content down to the book’s look through the use of design and photography, as well as the actual physical aspects of the book’s production. And this is before any of the rigorous copy-editing work takes place – Simon Davis.

Publishers are likely to turn established social media platforms into part of a larger marketing campaign. Not only are links to social media and other websites driving traffic back to the blog, increasing visibility and attracting readers, but once a book has been published, the blog and social media platforms can be used as a primary marketing tool; Uses of Blogs acknowledges that ‘blogs used as a marketing facility for published titles represent the most advanced and visible form of corporate blogging in traditional publishing.’

The importance of social media: Facebook and Twitter create the most referrals, shares and revenue for brands. From Technorati Media 2013 Digital Influence Report, p.23.

The importance of social media: Facebook and Twitter create the most referrals, shares and revenue for brands. From the Technorati Media 2013 Digital Influence Report.

Technorati’s State of the Blogosphere 2011 report notes:

77% of bloggers use Twitter to drive traffic to their blog.

While the Technorati Media 2013 Digital Influence Report mentions:

1) Facebook presence as 30.8% more likely to influence a purchase.

2) Blogs were found to be the third most influential digital resource (31%) when making overall purchases, only behind retail sites (56%) and brand sites (34%).

Since blogs are so vital in promoting a product, publishers will in part aim to sell the book through the blog and draw attention to it via social media.

Bloggers have gone on to become published authors and in demand speakers in their niche. Once you have an audience that appreciates what you do, they will often be chomping at the bit for more from you – Blogging: The Essential Guide.

What are the next key trends in food blogging and publishing? Back to Davis who predicts: ‘In terms of the food itself, I’d expect to see a further big push in terms of healthy foodie books and blogs, with people like Natasha Corrett leading the charge.’ On technical developments, Davis adds, ‘Video blogging seems to be really taking off, and I would expect this to become increasingly popular as large-scale video producers like Jamie Oliver with Food Tube and River Cottage scale up their content.’ It is safe to say that food blogging is not a flash in the pan: it is now a solid part of the publishing landscape, with editors, such as Davis, now making it the focus of their careers.

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