Thanks to his popular PBS appearances, sales -- and trade house interest -- have juiced up for this controversial nutrition guru
New Age health guru Gary Null, 54, has been preaching his gospel since the 1970s. His rather sepulchral voice has mesmerized listeners for 22 years, thanks to his daily syndicated radio show on the Pacifica Network, Natural Living with Gary Null. His lean, almost gaunt presence -- the best or worst advertisement for his principles, depending on who you talk to-is a fixture on the lecture circuit. Incredibly prolific, Null also has more than 50 health books to his credit, published by a variety of publishers, both large and small, and encompassing everything from nutrition guides and cookbooks to books on self-help and alternative therapies. And the Null publishing program has gone second generation: St. Martin's will publish Healthy Cooking for Kids by Null's daughter, Shelly, in October.
But 1999 is shaping up to be a particularly stellar year for Gary Null's book sales. Thanks to two programs featuring Null that aired during national PBS pledge drives in December 1998 and again last month, his two most recent books, which were offered as premiums during those shows, Gary Null's Ultimate Anti-Aging Program (Kensington) and Get Healthy Now! (Seven Stories Press) have mushroomed in overall sales. Both books, with initial 25,000-copy first printings, have experienced a velocity that should propel both over the 150,000-copy mark. Seven Stories is currently churning out about 20,000 copies a week in an attempt to keep up with demand for Get Healthy Now!, a 1000-plus-page tome that hit #8 on the Advice/How To section of the New York Times's extended bestseller list on April 4.
Thanks to all the momentum, major trade houses lately have been focusing on Null. Gary Null's Ultimate Anti-Aging Program has just been snapped up for paperback reprint by Broadway in a rumored mid-six-figure deal, for December 1999 publication. At press time, Get Healthy Now! was in the midst of a book-club auction that is expected to reach high five figures. Null's agent, Mitchell Waters of the Curtis Brown Literary Agency, plans an April 7 auction for the book's paperback rights, as well as for a comprehensive new diet book. Waters said he expects more than a half dozen major trade houses to participate in the auction.
Null's extensive backlist is also benefiting from his increased exposure. Carroll &Graf publisher Kent Carroll told PW that Null's Choosing Joy and Healing with Magnets are experiencing greater reorders and sell-in. He expects the typical 25,000-copy-per year sales of these niche books to double, thanks to Null's heightened profile. Prentice Hall, which published Null's Native American healing guide, Secrets of the Sacred White Buffalo, in August also has seen at least a 50% increase in recent orders.
"PBS definitely changed the picture," said Kensington editor-in-chief Paul Dinas, who's put his own "Stephen King"-like profit-sharing bid for the new book on the table. "It gave Gary a national platform he didn't have before."
But Null's national exposure hasn't come without controversy. Author-focused shows during PBS pledge drives are nothing new -- they go back all the way to Leo Buscaglia, and authors Suze Orman, Andrew Weil and Deepak Chopra have recently done PBS programs. But Null's December appearances sparked particular concern about his credibility and content among PBS station managers. Unlike Weil or Chopra, Null is not a medical doctor, and Ted Krichels, station manager of KBDI-TV in Denver, for one, told PW he worried about some of Null's claims about reversal of aging and even baldness. Seattle station KCTS-TV aired Null's first show once and then pulled it. "Are the `gurus of the month' using our air to hawk snake oil, or are they cutting-edge, new-age thinkers leading the way into the next century?" asked Krichels in an e-mail discussion among station managers. "Do we care as long as we get our cut? Given the convoluted economic base of our system, do we have the luxury of caring?"
Seven Stories Press publisher Dan Simon said Null's second PBS show addressed these concerns. Null was featured alongside a panel of experts that affirmed his statements. This apparently appeased wary PBS stations; KCTS, for example, ran the second show during its March pledge drive. Some stations never had a problem with Null; indeed, some re-ran the first show during the March pledge drive as well, further increasing Null's exposure.
Contacted by PW, Null said the PBS debate is the kind of resistance to his message that he said he expects from "orthodox" channels. "PBS as an organization may claim to be nonpolitical, but it's not," said Null. He believes that in at least one instance, members of the medical establishment called in to pressure a PBS station to take the show off the air. (Null also noted that while he is not a medical doctor, he d s have one on his staff to assess all his material.)
Null also said that while he "respects the platform PBS gave me," he did the fund-raisers "only to help PBS," particularly at the station level. Unlike some authors who appear during pledge drives, Null said, he donated all royalties of the books sold as premiums during his shows back to PBS. He also estimates that in his two appearance cycles, he raised more than $6 million for PBS stations. (PBS would not confirm any fundraising numbers.)
As for an impending new trade house deal, Null remains bemused. "I've always done books with big houses [including Simon &Schuster, Doubleday and an eventually aborted imprint at Villard], but I alternate that with small presses. I could have received a half-million dollars for this book [Get Healthy Now]," he said. In his small-press deals, Null has profit-sharing arrangements, through which, he said, he has poured half of his royalties back into worthy projects "that may have not been published otherwise." His 1987 book, The Egg Project: Gary Null's Complete Guide to Good Eating, helped, he believes, publisher Four Walls Eight Windows finance some of its other work, such as the 25th-anniversary edition of Abbie Hoffman's Steal This Book.
Any new deal that results from the April 7 auction, Null told PW, "will have to be about the quality of commitment. I'm not a money whore." He said he isn't continuing with Seven Stories for the new book because the small house will be tied up with producing the approximately 1300-page The Practice and Promise of Women's Health, due early fall, which Null is writing with Barbara Seaman; it will be accompanied by a Null-produced, 10-part, 10-hour documentary he hopes to air on PBS. Seven Stories will also publish an as-yet-unscheduled book on AIDS by Null.
Null told PW he remains wary of trade houses, mostly because he believes they don't tap into special channels (such as health food stores and vitamin shops) he thinks are vital outlets for his audience. "I know some of them are saying, `Well, Gary's got two bestsellers, let's call for orders at B&N,' " he said. He almost broke off his relationship with Kensington, he said, after the house cut 400 pages from his text without telling him. The bigger houses may also be too "orthodox" to appreciate his books, he added. His favorite anecdote about trade house tussles: he delivered a manuscript to a "400-pound editor," who, he said, told him, "Gary, you don't believe in that shit, do you?"
Null d s believe and, at press time, at least one trade house had run up against his insistence on keeping the upcoming diet book what could be considered a cost-prohibitive length. Stay tuned.