Last week I attended one of the events at the Henley Literary Festival, titled Blog to Book. It was a session with two bloggers who have gone on to secure book deals, and one of them was Helen McGinn, a fellow wine blogger. I thought it would be interesting to hear Helen tell her story to this non-wine trade audience, which mostly consisted of the mummy blogging crowd.
Helen started blogging in 2008. She had been a wine buyer at Tesco for 10 years and then children came along. She found her friends were still asking for recommendations, so she put them in blog format every week: one red and one white, with a bit of chat. To this day, the format hasn’t changed.
Then, one night, when she was cooking tea for the kids, an e-mail arrived in her in box, from the editor of a publishing house. Would you like to write a book? Helen initially thought someone was having a laugh, but it was a genuine message, from Liz Gough of Pan Macmillan. Liz wanted Helen to turn the blog into a book. ‘I was very lucky,’ Helen comments.
Helen says that she had a lightbulb moment, when she was searching for some advice on the net. She found the help she was looking for from a blog called ‘modern mother.’ It made her realize that a blog is somewhere people can give advice in a digestible form, in a way that people can relate to.
‘Wine is a scary subject,’ says Helen, ‘but it needn’t be. It’s a perk of life, not an academic study.’
The book gave Helen a chance to go back to the beginning and tell the story of wine, ‘but just the bits people wanted to know.’ She says that the response to her blog posts showed her what people were actually interested in. It took her 6 months of Saturdays to produce the 45 000 word book: her supportive husband looked after the kids from 10 until 4 each week.
But it wasn’t to stop with the book deal. Helen had attended a Brit Mums Vlogging tutorial, and decide to create 2 video blog posts - on why she blogs, and how to taste wine. These were spotted by a producer on the Alan Titchmarsh Show, and a week later she found herself on the programme. With Sooty and Sweep.
As if the book deal and TV gig were not enough, she also landed a Daily Mail wine column, which appears in the femail section each Thursday.
What are the secrets to her success? First of all, she’s a talented communicator. But there are some talented communicators who never succeed like this.
Second, it’s a single subject blog: the theme is very clear. It is a wine recommendation blog. You come here to learn a bit about wine and to be steered to good bottles.
Thirdly, it is written for a clear target market: the mums’ community. There is a strong, lively, active online mums community in the UK, with sites like Mumsnet and Britmums. Helen’s writing is perfectly pitched for this audience. And her TV slot (daytime, with Titchmarsh) and newspaper column (the Daily Mail, a title pitched at women) meshes well with this target market. It’s a winning formula.
Helen has been able to do what few wine bloggers have achieved: to break outside the wine bubble.