Monday, February 1, 2010

The Hazards of Writing a Cross Over Book

In the late 1980s, my sister, Suzy Prudden, was very famous as a Fitness Expert. She had 8 national tours behind her, had appeared on all major morning shows and on a thousand radio and television shows. What neither she nor I realized at the time was that she was totally burned out. She had discovered metaphysics, she was fascinated by the body-mind connection and she wanted out of Fitness. Shortly after Suzy and I became writing partners Suzy became friends with Louise L Hay of Hay House fame. Suzy had been talking for some time about combining her love of metaphysics with her fame in fitness. The result was MetaFitness: Your Thoughts Taking Shape. Suzy and I wrote it in the late summer in her marvelous little guesthouse in Topanga. I had flown in from New York for a two week writing intensive and the book just flowed out of us.

It came out in a variety of formats a year later. Suzy and Louise had created an exercise video with Suzy doing the exercises and Louise reading affirmations. They had created tapes with the same thing. They had combined metaphysics, physical exercises and body-life information in the book. Oprah plugged it on her program and it took off and became an overnight best seller. Then it died.

Oprah may have liked it, but the rest of the press didn’t, and the market wasn’t happy with it at all. People who liked fitness hated the metaphysics. Metaphysics people didn’t like the exercises. In Tampa one radio host screamed at Suzy, “There’s a serious problem with fitness in America, have you ever heard of hypokinetic disease?” My response was, “Yes. The term was coined by Dr. Hans Kraus and Bonnie Prudden, our mother, in our living room in 1956 shortly before the two of them presented their work to the AMA which led to their presenting their work to President Eisenhower at the White House and the founding of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports.” Of course we knew about the trouble with fitness in America, but we felt that combining the body and the mind in sports activities was part of a solution. I think our presentation was a little light on that connection.

We followed MetaFitness with Change Your Mind Change Your Body a Harper SanFrancisco publication which, once again, didn’t satisfy either market.

As I moved on in my writing career and started teaching, I came to understand the hazards of the crossover. We had not prepared the market – either market – for these books. We were a good ten years ahead of where the market eventually went. Being avant garde is all well and good, but then you have to take the fact that you are well ahead of your time into consideration and focus on links that the different markets can relate to. I think if we had focused on the fact that using affirmations during exercise protects against injury and enhances performance might have helped with the Fitness market. I think focusing on the fact that your body is the house your spiritual being lives in and must be nurtured and cared for might have helped in the metaphysics area, but those are two different books.

My students see cross-eyed when I bring up marketing and selling, but publishing is all about selling books. It’s not just about writing them. You must identify a market, a place in the bookstores, people to talk to questions they have, things that might help them relate to your books and then write your book. The problem starts with the bookstore. Where does your book fit on the shelf? Look at the problem for the MetaFitness book in the bookstore. MetaFitness had Suzy in a pink leotard on the cover. Hay House always had their books in the Self-Help section of the bookstore. In the late 1980s, when the book came out, Self-Help people wouldn’t look at, let alone buy, a book with someone in a leotard on the cover. Fitness people, who would, didn’t go into Self-Help. The bookstore wouldn’t double the books exposure by putting it into two sections, that’s a waste of valuable space. And, we had written the book more for the spiritual people than for the fitness people. When we got around to Change Your Mind Change Your Body, I argued for a more spiritual cover – no leotard. Harper SanFrancisco compounded the problem by putting ten pictures of Suzy in a leotard on the cover. So, where did this one go in the bookstore and who did it satisfy? It went into Self-Help and it didn’t sell.

We had by now identified the problem but we still had a problem. Suzy was still recognized as a fitness expert and our agents would go to publishers and talk to them about Suzy the Fitness Expert. Publishers would come back that yes they wanted a fitness book and we would talk about spirituality. It was a complete mismatch.

So what do you do when you are prematurely in a mixed field? I would suggest focus groups. Who can you reach best in your two groups and how can you reach them? If they won’t buy what you want to write, what will they buy? Which part of the bookstore will you be in and how will your market find you there? How do you prepare your market to receive your information?

Constant focus on the market may seem very boring to the creative mind, but it’s the path to publication and success.