It was a publisher's worst nightmare—the author who ups and disappears during the final editorial preparations for his book. And this was not just some ordinary book, but an expensive-to-produce cookbook, Famie's Adventures in Cooking (Sleeping Bear Press) by well-known Detroit chef Keith Famie. "His agent came in in September," recalled Sleeping Bear publisher Brian Lewis, "and said, 'Keith has to go to Europe and do promotional appearances for General Motors. He still loves the book, but won't be back until after Christmas.' " Stunned and baffled, Lewis, who had already invested heavily in expensive design work and photography for the oversized $29.95 book, was forced to pull it from the printer. "It was literally one day before we were supposed to print 20,000 copies," Lewis said.
But unlike most publishing disaster stories, there's a happy ending to this one. "Just after Christmas," said Lewis from his office in Chelsea, Mich., "Keith called and said, 'I am back, and you won't believe this, but I am on Survivor.' " Stunned once again, Lewis remembers uttering something like "All is forgiven!"
Taking full advantage of the top-rated CBS show, Lewis had his creative director, Jennifer Lundahl, reshoot the cover and it went back to the press for its initial printing of 20,000 copies. The books were shipped to stores last month, just as the show went on the air. Sleeping Bear has gone back for a second printing of 20,000 copies.
Famie was a finalist to be on the first season of Survivor, but a scheduling conflict forced him to back out. On his second set of interviews, he took his TV cooking show down under, to Australia, the setting for Survivor II, and won over the show's staff by roasting a kangaroo. In a preview article that touted the participants, Us Weekly magazine gave Famie 4-to-1 odds on coming out the winner.
But win or lose, Sleeping Bear expects the connection with Survivor will boost promotions. Famie already has a show, Famie's Adventures in Cooking, which airs on WDIV-TV, the NBC affiliate in Detroit, and in syndication. In addition to that, you can be sure he'll be carrying copies of his book with him as he promotes Survivor. "Famie did signings in the Great Lakes area through March," Lewis told PW. "When Survivor is over, he goes on a national tour for CBS, doing everything from The Early Show to Rosie to Letterman. He has a super personality, and no doubt whatever CBS has in store for him after Survivor, it will be big. He's also going over very big with the chains." Sleeping Bear is working on a win-an-author-appearance contest with Borders and Walden stores.
The book includes more than 60 recipes, ranging from White Asparagus with Vinaigrette to Pizza to Escargot with Prosciutto to Buffalo Burgers. "The book contains all the top dishes from his various restaurants," said Lewis. "It's great food, but very makeable and fun."
Even for those who are not fans of Survivor, Famie's Adventures in Cooking is a unique publishing adventure story that was rescued by a wildly popular television "reality" show and a sautéed kangaroo.