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Books That Sell Best

In this era of instant, atomized information, it can be especially important to focus on carefully contextualized words with staying power—the kind you find in books that attract readers year after year and sometimes decade after decade.

This series celebrates books from independent publishers that have sold thousands of copies, tens of thousands of copies, and more than a million copies over time, and that are still selling right now.

For the stories behind some of these books, see “A Better Kind of Bestseller?” (May); read on, and watch for the next installment in the July Independent.—Judith Appelbaum

What a Diet Book Does

Nourishing Traditions, which I co-authored with Mary G. Enig, has sold about 420,000 copies, and I’m now printing another 40,000. It came out originally in 1996; a second edition came out in 1999, and sales are now reliably 3,000–5,000 per month.

The book puts the work of nutrition pioneer Weston A. Price into a popular format, corrects pervasive misinformation about fats and oils, and explains why butter, saturated fat, and cholesterol are vital factors in one’s diet. Since no publisher would take it, I set up my own publishing company. I now have seven other titles plus a DVD series that amplify the message in Nourishing Traditions.

Basically, the book sells by word of mouth, spurred partly by one or two talks and seminars I give every month and frequent radio interviews. More important, the book’s message has hit a resonant chord with a public that is fed up with government dietary dictates and desperately looking for a healthy, gimmick-free diet for themselves and their families.

Sally Fallon Morell

NewTrends Publishing


Three Success Stories

To Train Up a Child by Michael and Debi Pearl has sales so far of over 650,000 copies in English and Spanish, plus sales via licensing. First published in 1994, it has been reprinted 18 times, is now available as an audiobook, in MP3, and for Kindle, and sells 1,500 print copies a month, on the average.

The authors, who have five grown children and twenty grandchildren, have testimony from tens of thousands of parents about the life-changing experiences that came with applying what they read. Training is fun; it is productive, and it works.

Debi Pearl’s Created to Be His Help Meet, first published in December 2004, has sales to date of more than 350,000 copies (similarly including several versions and sales via licensing agreements), and it sells, on the average, 1,800 copies a month. Created is for women who have lost their way in our changing culture. It offers guidance on having a marriage so good and so fulfilling that it only can be explained as a miracle.

Michael Pearl’s Good and Evil, published in black-and-white in 2006 and in color in 2008, has sales of 400,000 copies in English, Spanish, Russian, and Chinese editions in color, plus sales via licensing and sales of the Good and Evil Comic Book Series and Coloring Book Series. Good and Evil is the story of God working with humankind. Just the Good and Evil color 336-page edition has average monthly sales of 2,700 copies. All the print Good and Evil material sells about 6,900 books per month.

Sales of all three books increased dramatically when we expanded distribution from the homeschool marketplace to major wholesalers, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble, and created a special distributorship program for our existing customer base .

Mel Cohen, General Manager

No Greater Joy


For Coping with Contractors

Re “bestsellers” and the techniques used to keep sales chugging along: I’m thinking “the tortoise and the hare scenario.”

I am a licensed contractor, and my book, Avoiding the Con in Construction, teaches homeowners how to find and do business with building contractors for home repairs, renovations, and new construction. The book has won two national book awards and been endorsed by organizations such as the National Association of Contractor Licensing and the Building Officials Association of Florida.

Library Journal called it an “extremely useful book,” “highly recommended.”

I have sold about 2,500 copies since May 2010, using PR Web press releases tailored to spring renovation and hurricane season, with saving money as the message. Also, I speak at seminars, trade shows, and continuing education programs, and I write articles for national publications to brand myself as an expert. Although I still submit to general-interest publications like Better Homes and Gardens, I have had more success with professional periodicals.

After a while, I saw that professionals were more willing to spend money on education than homeowners are, so I changed my marketing efforts to address their needs; and I learned that markets affiliated with my industry are also responsive. These include real estate investors, restaurant owners, and more.

Kia Ricchi (a.k.a. The Contractress)

Centerline Production, Inc.


Reaching Kids Partly with Partners

My first printing for The ABCs of Yoga for Kids was 3,000 copies in September 2009. In June 2010 I printed 5,000 more copies. I sell the book through my Web site as well as to yoga studios and through my distributor. Although I make more money on direct sales, it’s nice to have a distributor that keeps track of accounting and paperwork and sends me a check each month.

The story behind my book is that I taught yoga to kids for more than eight years and tried to get a traditional publisher interested in my yoga alphabet for younger kids. Eventually, I decided to self-publish so I could reach children across the nation and around the world and introduce them to the health and mind/body benefits of yoga.

I marketed my book actively from the start, utilizing many of the programs IBPA offers. It has now won several awards. When I displayed it through IBPA at BEA, I had the opportunity to volunteer at the IBPA booth and meet both Terry and Lisa. I am very excited that my book is reaching such a wide market—people from Africa, Spain, Italy, Australia, Canada, and across the United States are buying it and writing to me about it. One of my favorite comments is: “Absolutely amazing! My daughter thought it was the coolest thing ever! She begged me to take it to school. . . . And now their teacher uses it with the kids daily in class.”

Last fall Scholastic contacted me about a licensing agreement for five years to sell my book in the book fair market; I still retain ownership of the rights and can sell my hardcover book so long as it doesn’t compete in that market. I expect it to continue to sell for many years to come since yoga has been around for more than 1,000 years and is more and more popular.

Teresa Anne Power

Stafford House 


A Worldwide Lifeline for Abandoned Wives

Runaway Husbands: The Abandoned Wife’s Guide to Recovery and Renewal (February 2010; POD) is based on a study of more than 400 women worldwide who believed they were in happy marriages until their husbands left them out of the blue. The book is designed to help them understand what I call Wife Abandonment Syndrome, and to give them concrete strategies for healing and encouragement for recovery.

The book has sold more than 2,300 copies in the past year, through conventional bookstores, online bookstores, and my Web site, RunawayHusbands.com, which people find when they Google “wife abandonment.” When this syndrome occurs in a woman’s life, she is shattered and needs help fast. This is the only book on the subject.

It has sold in more than 100 countries. A typical reader’s response is, “Your book was a lifeline to me in the deepest, darkest waters.” I’m not kidding! This is the kind of email I receive regularly. My readers are reaching out to me, and I’m glad that the book is a balm to their suffering.

Vikki Stark 

Green Light Press


Fiction with Bookseller Fans

Waiting for White Horses, my first novel, came out in December 2003 and won PMA’s 2004 Benjamin Franklin Award for Best New Voice in Fiction. Since then, as one bookstore owner said, it has become a word-of-mouth bestseller. We have reprinted 10 times and have sold approximately 25,000 books (about half of them visible to BookScan).

I started the book as a story to read to my father while he was in a nursing home. After he passed away I continued writing it as a way to deal with the loss. Some 500 pages later, Waiting for White Horses took shape.

It sells very well in small independent bookstores, where there are people who love it and tell anyone they can about it. And each time I release a new novel the sales spike again, which is still always a pleasant surprise.

My second novel, The Mulligan (October 2007), became a finalist in several book award contests and has sold approximately 12,000 copies so far, with sales steady. Recently, I got a call from someone at the William Morris Agency inquiring about movie rights, but nothing has happened on that front, yet.

A Crooked Number, my third novel, is to be released this month. All three books have themes common to us all (finding meaning in life and young love, for example). Word of mouth generates most sales, and it stems partly from my public speaking. I do a lot of that and really enjoy the contact with readers.

Nathan Jorgenson

Flat Rock Publishing


For Boomers Taking Long Road Trips

My husband and I published Live Your Road Trip Dream in June 2004; reprinted in May 2005 and November 2007; issued a second edition in March 2008; switched to POD (via Lightning Source) in July 2010; and added e-book formats last fall.

Total sales: 12,316 print books plus 128 e-books in the last year—not spectacular, but not bad for a niche product

Back when we retired, we took a year-long trip around the United States. People all along the way would say, “Oh, we would love to do that, but what did you do about . . . ” and the list would begin. Once we returned home, we did some research and found no book that discussed the “how” of doing a long trip in any organized way. Everyone can figure out the “where” for themselves but the “how” seemed to stop people from living their dream.

With 78 million boomers getting ready to retire and wanting to travel, we knew we had a good market without much competition—two ingredients for a successful project. We queried publishers and worked with a large travel publisher for nearly a year. Then they decided against the project. I didn’t want to repeat that experience, so we learned about self-publishing through books, discussion groups, and, later, IBPA (then PMA). We found a local book shepherd who produced a beautiful bookstore-quality book for us. We developed a good multipronged marketing plan, did pricing research, identified distribution targets both in the trade and in travel markets, and off we went.

Along the way, we won the Ben Franklin for Marketing Excellence and Innovation, became national spokespeople for the RV Association, had national distribution through Midpoint, and spoke to many national conventions, including AARP and The Good Sam Club.

Although our book is not nearly as successful as some travel books, we feel that we help people who want to do a long road trip, and we’ve had the time of our lives, occasionally feeling like rock stars. If you Google the title, you will find over 21,000 references to it on the Web—a result of years of effort using print, broadcast, Internet, and live presentations. The more boomers who retire, the more books we sell. Some months of the year, you will find our book consistently in the top spot in several travel categories on Amazon, right alongside books by the largest publishers.

We love getting email from readers, and we’ve had at least a dozen people stop and visit us when they’ve been out on the road.

Carol White

Live Your Road Trip Dream


Helping People Who Help People

I self-publish and distribute three books, with a fourth just coming out—Team-Building Activities for Every Group (1999, 69,050 copies sold); More Team-Building Activities for Every Group (2002, 16,087 copies sold); and 104 Activities That Build: Self-Esteem, Teamwork, Communication, Anger Management, Self-Discovery, and Coping Skills (1998, 102,026 copies sold).

Here’s the backstory, condensed. When I was working as a recreational therapist with young people in a psychiatric hospital, I had to be creative when running groups, since the only available resources were boring pen/pencil worksheets and outdoor-adventure therapy books that required a large budget and a large facility (two things I didn’t have). I wrote down what I did for my own records, and eventually it turned into a book that filled a hole. I decided to publish it myself because I’d had a book published by a publishing company, and I didn’t enjoy that experience.

My books are for counselors, teachers, and therapists who work with troubled youth, and I reach them through more than 30 catalogs that cater to them, plus my Web site, and Amazon.com, which generated more than half my sales last year.

Alanna Jones

Rec Room Publishing LLC


Comfort When Cancer Strikes

Fine Black Lines: Reflections on Facing Cancer, Fear and Loneliness sold out of seven printings, 19,000 copies in all. It’s now available via Lightning Source, Inc., so it will not go out of print.

The night before my first mastectomy, in 1990, I wrote a poem called “Goodbye, Beloved Breast.” When I had written 20 poems, my oncologist said, “You must do something with these.” I added additional poetry, photos, reflections, and journal entries to tell the story of my breast cancer experience. Originally, I meant it for me and my healing, but it became validation and comfort for thousands of breast cancer survivors and those who care for them.

I have spoken more than 575 times to survivors, patients, healthcare professionals, women’s groups, college classes, and book clubs in all 50 states, Canada, and England. Now that I have passed my 80th birthday, one of the things I most appreciate about self-publishing is that I control the process and that I can keep marketing forever at whatever level suits me.

Letters from breast cancer survivors and/or their loved ones affirm that Fine Black Lines helped them resume “new normal” lives, get through their treatment, and understand what their spouse was going through.

Lois Hjelmstad

Mulberry Hill Press


This Way to Paradise

My wife and I live in Hawaii, and for years we’d been fielding questions from friends, relatives, and our vacation-rental guests about how we’re able to afford living here. Then one day my wife said to me, “Hey, you’re a writer; why don’t you write a book with the answers to all these questions?” Enter the first edition of Affordable Paradise: The Secrets of an Affordable Life in Hawaii—no “bestseller” in conventional terms, but a self-published book that has sold almost 15,000 copies.

That was in late 2001. I wrote the book, did the illustrations and the cover art, formatted it camera-ready, and sent it all to Sheridan Books, Inc., in Michigan to print our first run of 3,000 copies. It sold out in about a year.

The book covers every aspect of moving to and living in Hawaii, and doing it affordably; and it dispels the myths about how expensive it is to live here. Its second edition was published in 2002, its third in 2005, and its fourth in 2009, as previous editions sold out. The fifth edition will be ready to go soon.

Sales stem mostly from our Web site, which hits a niche market and comes up on the first page of any search for anything having to do with living in Hawaii, especially if the word affordable is in the search.

I’m now in the process of making the book available in all e-book formats, and I’m also just now delving into the use of social media marketing, a mysterious concept to me.

I cannot help wondering how well this title would do with some proper exposure.

Skip Thomsen

Oregon Wordworks


Communicating About Communication

I wrote Why Don’t We Listen Better? Communicating and Connecting in Relationships from a deep desire to share the tools, techniques, and philosophy about communicating that I developed and taught as a licensed professional counselor, workshop leader, business consultant, and Presbyterian pastor.

When I retired after 40 years in the ministry, I continued my counseling practice, and in January 2006 I printed 150 copies of a small spiral-bound volume to give clients with a proprietary Talker-Listener Card. Also, I created a Web site.

In August of that same year, I needed a 1,000-copy reprint, so I produced the book as a trade paperback and reprinted again each year after that. In February of this year, I made it available on the Kindle, and it will soon be available on other e-readers. Sales to date top 8,500 copies.

The book is used in an online master’s in counseling program for pastors across the country. They are my largest single purchaser.

We sell books through our Web site, in the back of the room at my workshops, through business consultations, and through counseling practices, including my own. Increasingly, sales result from word-of-mouth recommendations. As readers discover that they aren’t the good listeners they thought they were and use the resources that allow them to improve their skills and relationships, sales grow every year. So do contacts for Talker-Listener Cards and workshop leadership, who will, I expect, keep generating sales even when I stop conducting workshops myself.

One of my favorite comments from readers is: “Before studying the book, I thought my husband was the problem. Turns out I’m a lousy listener. This may have saved my marriage.”

James C. Petersen

Petersen Publications


Building the Business Backward

Lose Weight, Have More Energy and Be Happier in 10 Days has sold more than 110,000 copies since the first edition was published in 2004. It is sold in the major bookstore chains like Barnes & Noble as well as in hundreds of other book and health food stores; it has been translated into seven foreign languages; and it is in its 11th printing in a third edition. 

Since this was a self-published first book, I got an opportunity to learn the publishing business backward—from successful book to creating a publishing company. I had offers from Warner Books, Simon and Schuster, and Ulysses Press, but I figured that my profits as a self-publisher were several times what my profits would be from selling the publishing rights. 

The book came about after I handled a health challenge in 2003 by eating raw food for six months and then doing a natural juice fast called the Lemonade Diet or the Master Cleanse that I had learned about from some friends and on the Web. It consisted of just drinking lemonade for 10 days.

As a result of the raw food diet and the Master Cleanse, I lost 55 pounds, and my appearance inspired so many friends that I was spending an hour a night on the phone answering questions. That led me to set up an online bulletin board on my Web site, TheRawFoodSite.com.

When I realized that thousands of visitors were asking the same questions, I decided to publish a book to answer them. I had Words and Pictures Press design the cover and text, and I printed 1,000 copies. Then I started to get calls from people saying they loved it and wanted to buy four more—or ten more—to give to their friends!

I had the number one Web site for the Master Cleanse for the book’s first four years. The Times of London did a story mentioning my book in 2006, and when the New York Times wrote about it and mentioned my book in December of that year, sales really took off. 

Peter Glickman





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