When you've published a blockbuster bestseller, what do you offer next? It's the kind of problem any publisher would love to have. In 2003, Rodale released a 50,000-copy first printing of Arthur Agatson's low-carb diet wonder book, The South Beach Diet. The book has gone on to sell more than eight million copies and helped launch a series of spinoffs for Rodale.
But now what? Rodale might point to Marc Ian Barasch's Field Notes on the Compassionate Life: A Search for the Soul of Kindness, brought to you by the same agent, Richard Pine, and the same editor, Tami Booth, who hit the jackpot with South Beach.
Scheduled for publication this week, Field Notes is an unusual examination of the nature of human compassion and its expression in the world.
It's completely different from South Beach—nutrition for the soul rather than for the body—and Booth is quick to point out that "you can't plan for a book like The South Beach Diet —but you can try."
And Barasch, she emphasized, has all the credentials to deliver a popular manifesto on, well, being kind. He is a former editor of Psychology Today, New Age Journal and Natural Health, and he's written two critically acclaimed books on natural health and New Age spirituality. In Field Notes, he claims that it is compassion—a deep strain of kindness hardwired into our basic makeup—that drives human accomplishment—not the survival of the fittest or greed, but simple empathetic decency. Barasch takes off on a bit of a quest, traveling around the country in search of evidence to support his claims. Barasch even asserts that acts of compassion lead directly to better physical health.
"Marc is an amazing guy, a renaissance man," said Booth, who joined Rodale about five years ago. "I was brought in to grow our core list and to expand into literary titles," Booth said. "Marc fit what we wanted to do, science and philosophy as well as first-person accounts."
Much like the initial plans for South Beach, Rodale's plans for Field Notes are modest. Booth said Rodale is planning a 35,000-copy first printing and 10-city tour. Borders spokesperson Beth Bingham told PW that while the chain will keep an eye on the title, "there are a lot of self-help books in the marketplace, and these books usually depend on getting media attention. We'll just wait and see."
"It's a word-of-mouth book, a unique mix of narrative and thoughtful inspiration," said Booth. "There's a big market out there for books like it, but not like the market for a weight-loss book. South Beach was mass market; Field Notes will need handselling. Marc will be out there touring, speaking at political venues and spiritual gatherings."
Pine said he sold the book to Booth before she bought South Beach Diet. "No one knew anything about Agatson and South Beach," said Pine, "and now the book is history. Marc has had a lot of success before this book—he's never gotten a bad review—so who knows."