Wednesday, July 06, 2005

I read Julie & Julia and absolutely loved it - can't wait for the September pub date!

Anatomy of a Buzz: Julie & Julia
June 29, 2005
By Anna Weinberg

Julie Powell’s cooking memoir, Julie & Julia, could easily have gone the way of so many other blogger memoirs. (Anyone remember Save Karyn?)

Instead, Powell’s account of her year-long cooking project, in which she prepared every recipe in Julia Childs’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking while blogging about it, is one of the most highly buzzed books of the fall season. For those unfamiliar with the story, in 2003, Powell was a secretary living in Queens. Nearing 30 and hating her job, with little (she thought) to show for her life, she embarked on her epic cooking project in order to, as she wrote, “save myself from giving up entirely to dreariness and mediocrity.” With her profanity-laced blog detailing the daily struggles of cooking like Julia, Powell soon won the hearts of thousands of readers, and, by the end of the project, was fielding interview requests from NPR, CNN, the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune. With that kind of built-in media attention, a book deal was inevitable.

Little, Brown and Co. acquired the memoir in September 2003, just after the completion of Powell’s project on Aug. 26, 2003. “Everything kind of came together at the same time,” recalls senior editor Judy Clain. “I’d been reading Julie’s blog, then I read the Amanda Hesser piece in the New York Times on Julie’s project, and then I found out she had signed with Sarah Chalfant at the Wiley Agency—twelve hours later we were making an offer on the proposal.”

Following a bidding war involving several publishers, on Sept. 22, Powell announced triumphantly on her blog, “I have landed a book deal. A really obscene book deal. I am, in fact, officially What's Wrong With Publishing Today.” And they were ready to go. The only problem: How could they keep Powell’s story from spoiling during the two years from project end to book publication?

One way was to keep Powell blogging, albeit less frequently than she had been at the height of the Julie/Julia project. On her website, Powell continued to post for her loyal “bleaders” (blog readers) right up until Aug. 13, 2004, when she posted a moving tribute to Julia Child, who had died the day before. That post alone drew 113 comments from readers—nine months after Powell had announced she would be posting no longer.

The next step was to “put the galley in as many people’s hands as possible,” says the imprint’s associate publisher, Sophie Cottrell. “At BookExpo in early June, we gave out 3,000 galleys to booksellers and publishing industry folks, and the response was phenomenal.” (A Little, Brown luncheon in Powell’s honor was one of the higher-profile midday dining events of the convention.) Originally slated for February 2005, Julie and Julia was positioned instead as a Big Fall Book “because of all of the amazing in-house reaction and reaction from our sales force,” says Clain. “We decided to push it to September and have it open the catalog with a double-page spread.”

A Nexis search shows that Julie & Julia has been featured in the media at least eight times since May 9 (five months before its publication date), and the Internet is atwitter with talk of Powell (who—by the way—finally quit her secretary job) and her book. As Cottrell says, Julie & Julia has “such wide appeal that we’re expecting it to cross all types of reader demographics, but we have been getting a lot of early interest from women’s magazines, the hipper/edgier media outlets, and, of course, food-related media.”

Powell, who’s re-launching the blog this summer to reconnect with her readers, will also be going on a “sizeable” author tour in early October. Though Little, Brown hasn’t confirmed cities or stores yet, “response from booksellers has been extraordinary,” says Cottrell. “In as many places as possible, we plan on having bookstores collaborate with a local restaurant. The restaurant may even serve a Julia Child meal featured in Julie & Julia. Booksellers are embracing the idea of very special, unique events for Julie, which we love to hear.”

Even with ample and fulsome early praise, Cottrell and the publicity team at Little, Brown continue to hustle for the book. “The fact that Julie’s book had a platform and an awareness that most first time authors don’t have is extremely helpful,” says Cottrell. “We’re expecting to get major media coverage for the book, but we take nothing for granted—it still involves a lot of hard work.”

Anatomy of a Buzz: Julie & Julia

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