From blog to book deal for two food writers
Shauna James and Clotilde Dusoulier are two women living on opposite sides of the world with much in common. Both are passionate about food...
Seattle Times home economist
Shauna James and Clotilde Dusoulier are two women living on opposite sides of the world with much in common.
Both are passionate about food, although that wasn't always the case.
Both have stories to tell and have chosen blogging as a way to open their lives and kitchens to others.
And both have landed book contracts with major publishers as a direct result of their successful blogs.
While it's tough to get a handle on the exact number of food blogs that are up and running — kiplog.com lists the count at 744 — it's certain that just a fraction of those have the stuff that book editors look for: a combination of good writing skills, a fresh voice and a passion for food that connects with readers.
James, who resides in Seattle, has the talent to pull it off. A high-school teacher and editor whose twin passion is writing, she was never a gourmet cook. But when diagnosed at age 38 with celiac disease, an allergy to glutinous grains such as wheat, rye, barley, spelt, kamut and triticale, her life turned on a dime.
Surprisingly, she became more open to food. "I wanted to taste everything," she said. "Cherishing the ingredients became a metaphor for life."
Her blog, glutenfreegirl.com, is a lively mix of recipes and life experiences. James is clearly a woman who loves the path she's on, and she writes with intelligence, passion and humor. At the center is her yearlong relationship with Impromptu Bistro's Daniel Ahern, aka "The Chef." Together they explore the peaks and valleys of living with celiac disease, although in these artists' hands it's an adventure worth sharing. After just two years, the blog receives 60,000 to 80,000 hits a month. Not only have readers responded, but publishers have, too.
Last August, James signed a book deal with Wiley & Sons to pen a food memoir about her transition from eating the prepackaged food she grew up with to becoming a gourmet when she went gluten-free. The book, "Gluten-Free Girl: How I Found the Food That Loves Me Back ... And How You Can Too" will headline Wiley's book list for the fall.
Like James, Clotilde Dusoulier wasn't too interested in cooking, although Paris, one of the great food cities in the world, was her home. Trained as a software engineer, it was a precipitous move to California's Silicon Valley that began her infatuation with food. After returning to Paris, Dusoulier discovered her hometown indeed had its own share of food experiences.
The need to share
"I had been cooking with growing passion for a few years," said Dusoulier in an e-mail interview, "and I felt the need to document my recipes and experimentations, and share my thoughts and discoveries with a wider audience than just my friends or family. The blog was the ideal format to do that."
Chocolateandzucchini.com is a charming recounting of Dusoulier's life in Paris and an international success. After just 3 ½ years, it receives an astonishing 4.9 million hits a month and was recently listed by The Wall Street Journal as one of the world's top-five food blogs.
With the publication this month of her first cookbook, "Chocolate & Zucchini: Daily Adventures in a Parisian Kitchen," and another due out in 2008,, Dusoulier's food cred seems secure.
Jennifer Josephy, the editor at Broadway Books who shepherded the young writer through the publishing process, was impressed by the curiosity and spirit that Dusoulier brought to her blog. "What made Clotilde so attractive to me as an editor is the same thing that has made her many thousands of readers fall in love with her blog," she said. "She brings a totally fresh, young voice to food writing, and what she says and how she says it is like nothing else out there either on the blogosphere or in bookstores."
But even with everything in place — the talent, the unique voice and the connection to readers — the difference between blogging and writing a cookbook is huge.
"The blog is very time-dependent," said Dusoulier. "I write about what I've cooked the weekend before, about a recent find, whereas a book has to have a beginning, a middle and an end."
It was a challenge for her to translate the elements that make her blog stand out — the writing style and stories, the photography and the special stamp she puts on contemporary French cooking — into a book form.
"What I've found is that the book format has allowed me to write in more detail about certain topics — my cooking philosophy, shopping strategies, entertaining advice — that aren't necessarily addressed as such on the blog," she said.
"Do not start a blog to get a book deal," advised James. The best food blogs, in her view, are written with passion for the subject and with a sense of community. Although blogging is a great place for young writers to hone their craft, it becomes difficult to write honestly when the primary motive is fame and money.
James' own editorial experience prepared her for the dance. But a four-month deadline for the book, almost unheard of in the publishing business, taught her to write fast and let it go. "There was no time to think," she said.
Recipes appearing on blogs are often rough cuts, kitchen experiments that aren't always fully formed. But with cookbooks, it's all in the details, and the details had better be correct. Both James and Dusoulier tested recipes in their own kitchens and then handed them out to readers and friends to retest. A lemon-olive-oil cookie that James wanted to include in her book, for example, was tested 23 times before she finally nailed down the technique and flavor.
Into the mix of deadlines and re-edits and expectations, of testing and then retesting recipes, there are the everyday details to pay attention to: the day job, the emergency trip to the dentist or the call from a friend in need.
There are also the unexpected pitfalls that threaten to unravel the entire project. On the day that James was to put the final edits of her manuscript in the mail, she was tweaking the copy one last time when her computer screen went black. "I closed it, took out the battery and started again," wrote Jameson her blog. "The little lines ran around in a circle for ten minutes, simulating a fresh start, before I started to worry. I went into the living room, tried it again. Nothing. I tried again, crossing my fingers this time and saying, 'Please?' That rarely does anything for computers, it turns out."
It took the geek squad at a local computer store five hours to save the cherished text.
On May 3, the day after the manuscript finally made it to the post office, James wrote the following: "Those of you who have started blogs because you want a book deal? Make sure you really want one. I revel in this, still grow teary-eyed when I see the cover of my book, and cannot wait until I hold the final copy in my hands. But seriously, writing a book? It's hard work. Make sure you truly do love what you do. Make sure you really want it."
CeCe Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org
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