It's no small feat for a self-published book to garner five-figure sales and major media attention, but when two such books break out during the busiest retail season, it's especially noteworthy. After becoming a surprise #1 bestseller on Amazon.com in late October, the self-help guide Happiness Is Free: And It's Easier Than You Think by Hale Dwoskin and Lester Levenson has sold more than 20,000 copies online. Meanwhile, a manual on wills and estates, The Family Fight: Planning to Avoid It by Canadian lawyers Barry Fish and Les Kotzer, has sold nearly 15,000 copies in the U.S. and Canada since April, largely via mail order, following coverage in numerous publications—including the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.
Dwoskin's book is the first of five that convey the teachings of the late physicist Levenson, who found peace by "releasing" his negative thoughts and emotions. When Levenson died in 1994, his protégé, Dwoskin, founded Sedona Training Associates, in Arizona, which offers workshops and sells audiotapes of its programs. To promote the 2002 release of Happiness, Dwoskin e-mailed thousands of his former students, whose response propelled the book to the top of Amazon's list. As books begin to hit stores in January, Dwoskin will be featured in the self-help segment of Showtime's series American Pop Culture, scheduled to air in mid-January.
Though Dwoskin initially decided to self-publish so that he could control the book's content and timing, he isn't about to turn away interested parties. "I'm keeping my options open," he said. "If it's an offer I can't refuse, I won't."
Success hasn't come quite as hard and fast for Kotzer and Fish, but their book has clearly hit a nerve. According to Kotzer, his phone has been ringing off the hook, and the authors' Web site (www.familyfight.com) registered 150,000 hits in November alone. "Before our eyes, trillions of dollars are being inherited by the baby boomers," Kotzer explained. "Inevitably, conflicts arise when money changes hands."
Despite respectable sales, Fish and Kotzer are troubled by the fact that they don't have a U.S. distributor. "People cannot find our book in stores," Kotzer said. Nevertheless, he's done a thorough job of spreading the word via radio and print publications.