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Thursday, May 28, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Book Du Jour ‘Chicken Soup For The Soul’ Serves Heartwarming Helpings To Millions

By Valerie Takahama Orange County Register

How’s this for an inspirational story: A motivational speaker from Costa Mesa, Calif., and his friend get an idea for a book of heartwarming stories. The friend meditates an hour a day until a catchy title pops into his head. They get an agent and begin shopping the idea around to New York publishing houses.

More than 30 publishers turn them down - “too Pollyanna,” they are told - but a small Florida firm agrees to take a chance. And, voila, the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” phenomenon is born.

At last count, “Chicken Soup” has sold more than 2 million copies and has been on The New York Times paperback best-sellers list for an astounding 40 weeks - much of that time as the No. 1 seller.

A sequel, “A Second Helping,” has sold more than 750,000 copies in less than three months. It’s No. 2 on The New York Times list - right behind the original “Chicken Soup.”

It’s a success story that astonishes even authors Mark Victor Hansen and Jack Canfield, both of whom are optimistic by nature and by profession.

“We’re amazed,” says Hansen, at his home in Costa Mesa. “Understand, we had publishers turn us down and say, ‘Nah, that book is not going to work,’ and all of them said, ‘Nah, the title’s no good.”’

“It’s never fun to be rejected, but when someone says ‘No,’ we say, ‘What next?”’ says Canfield, on the phone from Seattle.

But their story gets even better: The first collection recently won the coveted ABBY Award for 1995 from the American Booksellers Association as the book members most enjoyed selling. It beat out E. Annie Proulx’s Pulitzer Prizewinning novel, “The Shipping News,” and other critically acclaimed books.

And readers can’t seem to get enough of the books’ feel-good, motivational stories.

The upbeat message has struck a chord with Kay Walburger of Costa Mesa, a former board member of the Costa Mesa Chamber of Commerce, who is unemployed.

“Our world seems so callous and distant and full of problems, it’s so enriching to read about real humans who love and care and try and succeed. It’s like a book of encouragement,” she says.

“When you look at the news at night you think, oh no, I can’t believe it, another drive-by shooting, another child-abuse case. Is anybody doing anything good? This book says yes.”

Like any publishing phenomenon, the success of “Chicken Soup” is due to a complex combination of factors, including good word-of-mouth advertising, enthusiastic readers who bought several copies to give as gifts, and booksellers who “hand-sold” it to customers.

There’s also the book itself, a hodgepodge of short, easy-to-read stories, such as a tear-jerker about a woman who hopes for a message from her late father but is visited instead by a vision of her departed mother, or the success story of the girl who generated $80,000 in sales of Girl Scout cookies.

But the “Chicken Soup” recipe also had a secret ingredient: the hustle and vision of Hansen and Canfield, regulars on the motivational speakers’ circuit who each log scores of speaking engagements a year.

“Jack and Mark are such excellent speakers, they’re road warriors, and their energy helped get the book into the marketplace,” says Gary Seidler, co-publisher of Health Communications, the Deerfield Beach, Fla., company that brought out “Chicken Soup” in 1993.

The pair also came up with a unique “bypass marketing” strategy that got the book sold at unconventional locations, such as teachers’ lounges in schools, Shell gas-station minimarkets, mortuaries and chiropractors’ offices, and through firms such as SkillPath, which conducts seminars on business skills. It must have worked, because Health Communications spent virtually no money on marketing.

“It just became outrageously popular,” said Bill Cowles, product manager with SkillPath in Mission, Kan. “People would get home and decide they wanted one for their aunt, but bookstores had never heard of it.”

They soon got the word. “Chicken Soup” sold 85,000 copies in its first six months and 240,000 in the next six months. It’s currently selling at a rate of 100,000 copies a week.

But not everyone would prescribe “Chicken Soup.”

“I personally can’t find much solace in a book like this because it’s upbeat beyond the realm of my world of experience. I don’t find it very inspirational,” says Tom Rider, coowner of Goerings’ Book Center in Gainesville, Fla., and an ABA board member.

He points out that books with cando themes are “staples in a declining economy. They say if you really try hard enough, things will work out.”

Marjorie H. Charlop-Christy, a professor of psychology at Claremont McKenna College, likens the books’ simplistic, sentimental message to a “happy face” button.

“These are the ‘90s, and a lot of us are facing financial and medical problems. So when you see a happy face, it warms up your heart. And when your life isn’t going so well, that’s helpful,” she says.

But, she cautions, “What may be harmful is if it prevents someone from seeking help if they need it. I would compare these stories with little pep talks that can temporarily pep you up. It may end up reinforcing a pattern of behavior we call denial.”

Still, there’s no denying that the books’ feel-good message resonates strongly with its audience, which is 85 percent female, according to the publisher. The authors receive 50 to 100 letters every day from readers telling their own heartwarming or inspirational stories.

And some of those stories will undoubtedly find their way into the half-dozen “Chicken Soup” books on the boards, including “Chicken Soup for the Soul Cookbook,” due out this fall, with stories related to food and family, along with recipes.

Also planned are “A Third Helping,” “A Fourth Helping,” “Chicken Soup for the Grieving Soul,” “Chicken Soup for the Funny Bone” and “Chicken Soup for the Teen-ager.”

“Everybody’s got a story,” Hansen says. “All we’ve done is put a frame around it called ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul.’ Chicken soup made you feel glad when you felt sad, and our book hopefully does that.”

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: SOME WARM HELPINGS FROM THE BOOK Here are excerpts from “Chicken Soup for the Soul” and “A Second Helping of Chicken Soup for the Soul,” both written and compiled by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen (Health Communications; $12.95): “A little boy was overheard talking to himself as he strode through his back yard, baseball cap in place and toting ball and bat. ‘I’m the greatest baseball player in the world,’ he said proudly. Then he tossed the ball in the air, swung and missed. Undaunted, he picked up the ball, threw it into the air and said to himself, ‘I’m the greatest player ever!’ He swung at the ball again, and again he missed. He paused a moment to examine bat and ball carefully. Then once again he threw the ball into the air and said, ‘I’m the greatest baseball player who ever lived.’ He swung the bat hard and again missed the ball. “‘Wow!’ he exclaimed. ‘What a pitcher!”’ -Source unknown

“A man risked his life by swimming through the treacherous riptide to save a youngster being swept out to sea. After the child recovered from the harrowing experience, he said to the man, ‘Thank you for saving my life.’ “The man looked into the boy’s eyes and said, ‘That’s OK, kid. Just make sure your life was worth saving.”’ - Author unknown from “More Sower’s Seeds” by Brian Cavanaugh

This sidebar appeared with the story: SOME WARM HELPINGS FROM THE BOOK Here are excerpts from “Chicken Soup for the Soul” and “A Second Helping of Chicken Soup for the Soul,” both written and compiled by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen (Health Communications; $12.95): “A little boy was overheard talking to himself as he strode through his back yard, baseball cap in place and toting ball and bat. ‘I’m the greatest baseball player in the world,’ he said proudly. Then he tossed the ball in the air, swung and missed. Undaunted, he picked up the ball, threw it into the air and said to himself, ‘I’m the greatest player ever!’ He swung at the ball again, and again he missed. He paused a moment to examine bat and ball carefully. Then once again he threw the ball into the air and said, ‘I’m the greatest baseball player who ever lived.’ He swung the bat hard and again missed the ball. “‘Wow!’ he exclaimed. ‘What a pitcher!”’ -Source unknown

“A man risked his life by swimming through the treacherous riptide to save a youngster being swept out to sea. After the child recovered from the harrowing experience, he said to the man, ‘Thank you for saving my life.’ “The man looked into the boy’s eyes and said, ‘That’s OK, kid. Just make sure your life was worth saving.”’ - Author unknown from “More Sower’s Seeds” by Brian Cavanaugh

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