There’s a familiar pattern to most book launches. The book signings, the radio shows, the racing for people’s attention in the first 30 days after publication, before the world moves on to one of the other 2 million books published every year.
It’s all good. It’s just not me.
So when I read about a different kind of book launch, I thought “Maybe I could do this instead.”
In the preface to Eckhart Tolle’s first book, The Power of Now, he tells the story of how it launched. The book was published by Namaste Publishing, a start-up imprint in Vancouver, and they printed 3,000 copies. There was no marketing budget or much attention at all, so Tolle hand-delivered books to local Vancouver bookstores. He said he found this “enormously satisfying, knowing that every book I handed over had the potential of changing someone’s life.”
His other distribution channels included friends placing copies in spiritual bookstores in other cities along the west coast of the US and Canada. Some copies even made it to a shop London. During the first year, “the book found its readers almost exclusively through word of mouth.”
The original blurbs in the front of the book are evidence of these humble beginnings. Instead of celebrities or noted spiritualists, the quotes are from the bookstore managers who first got the book.
“The Power of Now was introduced to me by a customer. I read only one page and agreed that it rang true. It is a jewel of clarity and insight. The book has become a word-of-mouth bestseller here at East West.” – Norman Snitkin, comanager, East West Bookshop, Seattle
“I have no hesitation in recommending Eckhart Tolle’s wonderful book. Everyone who has picked up a copy has ended up taking it home. The Power of Now sells on its own merit and by word of mouth.” – Stephen Gawtry, Manager, Watkins Books Ltd., London
Over the first two years, the book got favorable reviews in some small magazines and was picked up by a larger publisher. By that time, one reviewer called it “an underground best-seller.”
A year later, actress Meg Ryan mentioned the book to Oprah in an interview. That led to an article in one of the early editions of Oprah magazine, then more mentions and ultimately interviews. After three years, the book was translated in multiple languages and was on its way to becoming a NY Times bestseller. After eight years, Tolle wrote another book and the two books have sold a combined total of over eight million copies in North America alone. A series of webinars with Oprah in 2008 attracted more than 35 million viewers.
My talk with Oprah
While I enjoyed Tolle’s books and the rags-to-riches nature of the story, what I liked most was how he originally published his book to help other people. He had no hope of making much money with it, yet he did it anyway. And word spread.
That’s my approach with Working Out Loud. It’s meant as a gift. If people find it useful, they’ll tell a friend or pick it for their book club. Some will form a working out loud circle and put the ideas into practice. Maybe a few thousand people might buy a copy in the first year. Maybe word will spread. Maybe not.
Once in a while though, I think of what happened to The Power of Now and imagine if something similar happened to Working Out Loud. What if more people find my gift useful? It might take years but what if millions of people wind up building a better career and life? And since the royalties go to education causes around the world, what kinds of positive impact could we make with that money?
My talk with Oprah wouldn’t be about me at all. When I allow myself to daydream about it, I imagine our conversation would be like this interview with Pharrell Williams. In the middle of it, Oprah shows a video of how other people leveraged Pharrell’s work to make themselves and others happier.
As they both cry, she says, “It’s being used for something that’s greater than yourself.”