He had never published before. But he was teaching small workshops about living in the present moment, and would write down his thoughts. Then, in late 1994, Eckhart Tolle says he felt called to leave England for the west coast of North America. "I didn't know why."
He visited Vancouver and California. "One day, I bought a notepad and a strong impulse came to write again," he says. He wrote, "What is enlightenment?" That idea became the opening of The Power of Now. First introduced on a grassroots level in Canada and later boosted by Oprah Winfrey and other celebrities, the book has sold close to a million copies in hardcover in North America—all without traditional marketing.
New World Library, which in 1999 bought world rights outside Canada, is only this September bringing the book out in paperback. Munro Magruder, associate publisher and marketing director, says Tolle's book "sort of defied everything I previously knew about how a hardcover book performed. We're still having really excellent sales in the fifth year in hardcover."
In interviews PW conducted about the success story of The Power of Now, Tolle and others spoke in terms of wonder. While this might be attributed partly to the metaphysical circles in which the book first found an audience, those consulted shared an understanding that they had seen a rare event in publishing. New World's Magruder says, "We consider this the type of book that comes out once in a decade at best, and, probably—given the way the book has performed—-once in a lifetime."
The book had inconspicuous beginnings. Tolle, then a relatively unknown spiritual teacher who had been a research scholar at Cambridge, spent three years writing it while living on his savings and staying with supporters. He says when he went home to England, the "empowered energy stream" he experienced while writing in Sausalito, Calif., and Vancouver would stop until he returned to the West Coast. He decided to move to Canada, where he now has permanent resident status. In 1996 in Vancouver, where he now lives, he met management consultant Connie Kellough and started leading meditation workshops in her downtown office, some attended by as few as four people.
"One day he asked me if I would be his publisher," recalls Kellough. "I had never published a book." She did have a business background and had majored in and taught English literature. And, Kellough says, "All of my particular spiritual growth had positioned me to recognize me what a powerful and profound spiritual teacher he was, especially for the West." She founded Namaste Publishing to bring out The Power of Now in late 1997. The first print run was 3,000 copies. Says Tolle, "We personally carried the boxes into Connie's basement." They took the books to independent bookstores, especially metaphysical shops. Kellough says it took some time to get a distributor but after Dempsey—Your Distributor, which handles New Age books, came into the picture, sales "went up and up."
In June 1999, shortly after BookExpo America, New World learned from Dempsey of the word-of-mouth sensation Tolle's book had become in Canada and Seattle. Magruder says, "I read enough of the book to know that our publisher and owner Marc Allen would resonate with the material, and indeed he did." Within a week, New World reached an agreement with Namaste to acquire world rights outside Canada. "We crashed the book onto our fall list because we felt that we were on the cusp of something that could potentially be big," Magruder says. Working with distributor Publishers Group West and with Namaste's "impeccably typeset" files, New World published The Power of Now that October. "Small publishers can do that. We're pretty nimble and flexible," Magruder notes. East West Bookshop in Seattle had already sold hundreds of copies of the book, as had Banyan Books in Vancouver, he says. "And the rankings were going up on Amazon.com." Tolle's workshops were requiring larger venues.
New World printed 7,500 copies, which sold out within three months. "Everything that we had been doing was pretty much merchandising, advertising and print-publicity driven, because Eckhart is the real deal. He is a true spiritual teacher and a reluctant promoter," Magruder says. "So it was review-driven in terms of what we were doing." In late November 1999, BookSense picked The Power of Now in its new Body and Mind category, which spread the word to some 1,300 independent bookstores.
In summer 2000, the celebrity appeal became apparent. Oprah Winfrey endorsed The Power of Now in the pages of O magazine, saying, "My friend Meg Ryan told me about this book." Magruder says New World "probably sold 60,000 to 65,000 additional copies as a result of that." According to Tolle, yoga teacher Steve Ross sold the Canadian edition at his Los Angeles studio, where Ryan and other actors bought it. Winfrey also promoted the book at Personal Growth Summits she was then conducting, which were attended by audiences of at least 5,000 people, says Magruder. The next year, US Weekly quoted Cher saying Tolle's book had "really changed my life." New World turned away paperback rights offers from major houses. In November 2002, Winfrey selected The Power of Now for her "My Favorite Things" segment on the Monday before Thanksgiving weekend. That month, Magruder says, New World received $2.3 million in orders for what was by then an entire family of The Power of Now products. By last year, when New World and Namaste released Tolle's Stillness Speaks, there were about a dozen offerings, including audiobooks of Tolle reading his works.
"Every so often there's a home run, right out of the park," says Gayle Seminara-Mandel, co-owner of Transitions Bookplace in Chicago. "I found that people were coming in from all walks of life asking about the book." Her store hosts a monthly Power of Now study group, and on October 7, in Chicago's Congress Theater—which can hold 2,000 people—Transitions will sponsor a ticketed event with Tolle leading a guided meditation and signing books. Ticketholders will receive a copy of the new paperback.
Today Tolle, who still composes in longhand and doesn't own a computer, is writing a book entitled A New Earth for Penguin's Dutton imprint, scheduled for fall 2005. (Kellough at Namaste continues to hold his publishing rights and sell them outside Canada.) Magruder says New World views its relationship with Tolle as "a great gift when it was happening, and we know we're not going to be able to compete on royalty advances. Our challenge is to go out and identify who's going to be the next Deepak Chopra or Eckhart Tolle for us."
In the meantime, all involved expect the book to be an enduring spiritual classic. "The beauty of The Power of Now is that it grew organically," Tolle tells PW. He says many books are made successes by huge publicity campaigns, but they disappear after a while. Readers of all religious traditions—or none—find his book meaningful. He says, "The text itself has transformative power. I don't know how it got in there. It's a miracle."