What propels a book to the number 2 spot on Amazon—second only to the new Harry Potter—when there have been no major trade reviews, no advertising, no national media exposure and no placement on any regional or national bestsellers lists? What motivates 141 readers to post glowing reviews? In other words: What's the deal with Hay House's The Disappearance of the Universe?

Originally published in May 2003 by Fearless Books, Gary Renard's Disappearance—subtitled Straight Talk About Illusions, Past Lives, Religion, Sex, Politics, and the Miracles of Forgiveness—was picked up by Hay House, which published its edition in October.

The book sold 25,000 copies in the Fearless edition and more than 30,000 for Hay House before the author and Hay House decided to turn up the volume. Renard hired Peggy McColl, whose company, Dynamic Destinies, does online marketing for authors and publishers. Renard paid McColl's consulting fee; Hay House pitched in for the contact lists and other costs, and Fearless publisher D. Patrick Miller contributed his labor.

"I've been doing Amazon campaigns for about two and half years," said McColl. "I follow a formula: we pick a target date—in this case, it was February 22—and send an e-mail pitch out to selected lists of people we believe will be interested in a particular book. If they buy a copy on Amazon during that 24-hour period, they are directed to a Web page where they can access a bonus gift, an incentive that's related to the book they bought." In this case, the gift was a downloadable version of Wayne Dyer's Everyday Wisdom. The pitch for Disappearance went out to 2.3 million addresses, and the offer was extended beyond the first 24 hours. Between February 22 and February 28, nearly 10,900 copies were sold (500,000 of the e-mails directed buyers to B&N. com when Amazon ran out of stock). "Essentially, it's good old-fashioned direct mail, just done on the Internet," McColl said. (See the pitch at www.garyrenard.com/specialoffer.htm.)

Much of Disappearance grows out of Renard's study of A Course in Miracles,the 1976 three-volume set of books that became a spiritual curriculum for many individuals and study groups. Course remains a cult favorite, retaining a spot above 500 in the Amazon rankings and selling an estimated 1.5 million copies. Renard said Disappearance (his first book) took him nine years to write, "and it's all true." It describes Renard's conversations with a pair of "ascended masters" (spiritual guides) who began visiting him in 1992 (they recommended he study the Course). He added, "Yes, it was a great campaign, but it also took a strong book to make it as successful as it was. The book was already an underground hit—it had great reviews and a strong Web site presentation, as well as excellent word of mouth in the spiritual community and an author who has flown 100,000 miles in the last year to promote it."