Everybody knows The Secret now. The publishing phenomenon has sold close to five million copies in hardcover (according to BookScan) since its 2006 release and it has spawned a host of ancillary products, as well as three follow ups: The Magic (2010), The Power (2012), and Hero (Nov. 2013). The Secret was the result of a co-venture between Simon & Schuster’s Atria imprint and Beyond Words, a publisher of mind-body-spirit and self-help books that celebrates its 30th anniversary this year.
Beyond Words Publishing has its roots in Hawaii, where Cynthia Black and Richard Cohn met in the early ’80s. Cohn had stumbled into publishing when a National Geographic photographer enlisted his help to publish a book of photos of the island of Molokai. Within a Rainbowed Sea (1984) went on to win 30 international awards and launched Beyond Words. Cohn’s partner in the publisher’s first year was Bob Goodman, and Black became an investor.
But publishing the book created a sizable debt. “We didn’t know what we shouldn’t do,” says Cohn. He and Black married in 1984, and Black kept the company afloat by working as a stockbroker for its first several years. In 1986 they moved from Honolulu to Portland, Ore., and she began editing some of their books; they published more coffee-table books and some children’s titles. Beyond Words published its first self-help/personal health title, Seeing Without Glasses, in 1987, and that category became a major focus.
On the opposite coast, in 2001, Judith Curr, now president and publisher of the Atria Group, was establishing Atria for S&S. “I went around to bookstores asking them what they wanted and needed [in the category],” she says. “One bookseller told me about [Beyond Words title] When God Winks, how they had trouble keeping it in stock.” She bought the book from Beyond Words and published Atria’s edition in 2002. When Beyond Words published The Hidden Messages in Water (2004) she wanted it too, and published Atria’s edition in 2005. “But it occurred to me that instead of continuing to buy books from them, we should co-venture. That helped both of us; it didn’t take the books off their list, and they found and acquired books we couldn’t have as a big New York publisher.”
The Secret was the first book published under the new partnership. “Cindy called me and told me that she just had dinner with Marie Diamond, who told Cindy about a movie she was in,” says Curr. “I saw the movie, and, even though there was no manuscript, I knew there was a book for us there, and I green-lighted the project.” Black worked directly with Rhonda Byrne in editing the book. With the success of The Secret, Beyond Words was finally debt free.
Curr sees the mind-body-spirit category as “like a river. People are always questing, and Atria’s mission is to provide them with the books they need for their journeys.” She calls Beyond Words books “authentically brilliant and beautifully put together. Cindy had a highly developed sense of what the next thing was going to be.” She adds, “Beyond Words keeps us attuned—they are on the ground out in Oregon, where it’s happening.” Atria and Beyond Words renewed their agreement in 2012. “We do about 10–12 books per year with them and have a significant backlist,” says Curr. The newest is My Son and the Afterlife, which was released in October.
Although Cohn and Black divorced in 2008 they continued to work together. “We decided we made better business partners than marriage partners,” says Cohn. In September, however, Cynthia Black died; her ashes were spread in the waters off the windward coast of Oahu, where she grew up and where Beyond Words began.
Cohn will continue to acquire books with Atria and is moving into film production. He also produces Webinars featuring authors. “We have a unique ability to source information that can make a difference in people’s lives,” he says, “and we are looking at all ways of doing that.”