Four characters with distinct personalities—two mice and two diminutive humans—search out cheese (representing what is important in their lives) in a maze and each reacts very differently when they find that that their cheese has been moved. Such is the thrust of the parable at the heart of Who Moved My Cheese? An A-Mazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life by Spencer Johnson, M.D. Emphasizing the need to anticipate and adapt to change, this hardcover has been on bestseller lists continuously since its 1998 release by Putnam and has sold more than 12 million copies in 37 countries—more than six million of those copies in the U.S. alone.
Aiming to offer his counsel to a younger audience, the author will next month publish Who Moved My Cheese? for Teens: An A-Mazing Way to Change and Win! with G.P. Putnam's Sons. Understandably holding high hopes for the success of this spinoff, the house has ordered a first printing of more than 200,000 hardcover copies.
Johnson, whose The One Minute Manager (written with Kenneth Blanchard) boasts sales of more than 11 million copies, notes that feedback from teenagers who had read the adult version of Cheese provided the inspiration for his new book. "There was extensive teenage traffic on the book's Web site, and many who had read their parents' copies said that the book had made a big difference in their lives," he explained. "But they also said that they wished that the story could be told to relate to issues that concern kids their age, so that they and their friends could better understand the fable. As I thought about this, it occurred to me that teenagers deal with more change at a faster pace than any other segment of the population, and that they in their adult lives will face more changes than prior generations. I realized how valuable it would be if I had known when I was younger how to better deal with change. So I became motivated to position the story so that it would make more sense to teenagers."
Since the author had never written for this audience and has no teenagers in his own home (his sons are younger), he was initially reticent about tackling the project. But Johnson said Nancy Paulsen, president and publisher of Putnam, "came up with a great idea. She asked Cylin Busby, a writer for Teen magazine, to draft some ideas about issues that today's kids are dealing with. This was very helpful, and I took that material and added my own philosophy and words."
The author then turned to members of his targeted audience for feedback, a practice he customarily follows while editing his manuscripts. "I passed the new book by many teenagers," he said, "and as I received feedback I tweaked and added nuances to the teenage conversation that takes place in the book. I was constantly changing the dialogue—I guess you could say that this book is already in its umpteenth version. I have edited the adult book [now in its 11th printing] 10 times since 1998, and I expect over time I will do the same with this one."
Navigating the Marketing Maze
Unlike the sometimes labyrinthine course that the characters of Who Moved My Cheese? for Teens follow, the book's path into the retail and institutional marketplaces should be a direct one. Gina Maolucci, v-p of marketing for Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers, noted that the book is advancing very well in both markets, and she expects that the popularity of the adult version will help give the new release a successful sendoff. In fact, the publisher is positioning its marketing campaign to effect just that. The company has produced an in-store display that holds copies of both versions of the book and plans a promotional mailing to executives of Fortune 500 companies, many of whom sponsored programs to expose their employees to the original book. "The business sector enthusiastically embraced it," said Maolucci, "and we are certainly going to promote the teenage book in the corporate world also, since we believe that people who were touched by the adult book will want to share the new one with teens in their lives."
According to Maolucci, teachers are also likely to be receptive to the teen-targeted title, with its school setting and focus on issues of greater relevance to students. Calling the school market an "already ripe audience," she reported that Putnam is partnering with Prentice Hall (part of Penguin Putnam's Pearson Education Group) to promote the title to Prentice Hall's school customers.
Johnson will make appearances to promote Who Moved My Cheese? for Teens and will be featured on a radio "advertorial" that Maolucci estimates will air in 10 markets. In addition, the publisher plans to advertise and promote the book in teen-oriented print media and will launch the book with a special introductory price of $16.99 through the end of 2002, after which the cover price will be $19.99.
Johnson returns to more familiar writing turf with his next Cheese offering, Who Moved My Cheese? for Kids, a picture book with art by Steve Pileggi, due from Putnam next summer. The author teamed up with Pileggi more than 20 years ago, when the two collaborated on a series of picture books called ValueTales, which, Johnson reported, sold more than 16 million copies through direct mail but were never available in bookstores. (He hopes to republish these books for the trade in the future.)
"I was really excited about writing for a picture-book audience again," commented the author about the forthcoming title. "It is such a great concept to get this message to readers who are really young. When my wife and I moved our children from Hawaii to New Hampshire, which was a dramatic change in their lives, they adapted beautifully, having lived with this story and philosophy for so long. If we knew how to change and win early in life, we would all be better off." Much to the delight of his publisher, booksellers and consumers, Johnson is obviously doing his part to make that happen.