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Platform, platform, platform: for years now, it's been the number one concept behind the acquisition and promotion of personal finance and investing books. Reading over the numerous articles on the topic, one could easily believe that platform alone unlocks the door to bestsellerdom. But for publishers looking to create bankable stars—the kind of mega-authors who stand at the helm of not just one, but a series of bestselling books—it's time to recognize that platform isn't enough.

Rick Wolff, vice-president and executive editor at Warner Books and the founder of Warner Business Books, learned this lesson the hard way: by watching the sales of favorite titles fall short of what was hoped. "I have published people in the past," he says, "who have huge profiles but the books always sort of say the same thing—cut up your credit cards, pay yourself first, sock money away into a 401K—and none of these books have performed up to our expectations."

Looking over the company's successes, particularly Robert Kiyosaki's phenomenally popular Rich Dad, Poor Dad series, Wolff realized that his strongest titles promoted ideas that were out of the ordinary, even contrarian. "It suddenly began to dawn on me," he says, "that the ones that do work are the ones that have this alternative pathway to success."

Getting Past the Obstacles

Breaking into the bestseller club is especially hard in personal finance and investing because television coverage of the topic is limited. There's no equivalent of the Food Network for personal finance authors, and Oprah, the fairy godmother of fiction and self-help books, isn't likely to showcase one of Suze Orman's competitors as long as Orman pens a regular column for O magazine.

"Bookings for personal finance seem to be primarily on radio," says Wiley publicist Janet Zihlmann. "With the loss of CNNfn and the restructuring of CNBC, there are fewer TV outlets for these authors."

Portfolio's publisher Adrian Zackheim agrees. Asked what the most important outlets are for promoting books in the genre, he replies, "Now it's print," though he also believes that the Internet is increasingly becoming a good place to publicize investment books.

Rick Wolff is not alone is realizing that the sameness of personal finance strategies is a challenge. As St. Martin's editor and ex-Wall Street Journal bureau chief Phil Revzin explains, "Basically there are 20 to 30 pieces of good business advice that get dressed up in different ways. Things are always changing and there is a need to add to those pieces."

Yet authors who want to add to, or argue with, the genre's truths need a record of financial success, else readers won't bite. After all, it's one thing to try the latest miracle diet (what have you got to lose but love handles?); it's another to risk your retirement savings on someone else's unproven theory.

Then there's the fact that financial news is often scary or complicated or both. "You have to have an author who can articulate [financial advice] and make it accessible to the average person and make it something that is not frightening," says Crown's director of marketing, Philip Patrick.

Add it all up, and you realize that any author who wants to compete in the financial big leagues needs a great, fresh idea; a proven track record; and a big, charismatic personality. Oh yeah, and one of those things called a platform.

Two Contenders

Despite the tough requirements, the next few months promise not one, but two serious contenders for the title of Next Big Thing: Loral Langemeier and Phil Town. Both of them avoid the psych-heavy approach to personal finance.

"Most people talk about psychology," says Langemeier, "and what's working/what's not working in their business. But [my team and I] really go tactical. We're truly planning through what we call a gap analysis: where people are, where do they need to go."

A go-getter from a young age, Langemeier started her first business while she was still in college. By 35, she was a multimillionaire. Her book, The Millionaire Maker (McGraw-Hill, Jan.), showcases the concepts she honed with her coaching-consulting company, Live Out Loud, which emphasizes aggressive, multilateral investing.

"What we noticed," she says, "was that the millionaires who got created faster, it was how they sequenced. They got their assets invested; they learned to make more money; they were running their personal finances like a business—for profitability. They were incorporated; they had diverse assets. But they do it all pretty simultaneously. Whereas a lot of plans would say get out of debt then we'll work on it. We would never say that. It's too slow. It's not what millionaires do. Millionaires don't worry about a latte a day, you know."

Langemeier turns people into entrepreneurs, getting them to quit their jobs, start up small businesses and use their savings to buy rental properties that bring in passive income. If that sounds risky, Langemeier argues that "it's only risky because most people don't know." Her company sets up people with teams of experts. So far, she says, Live Out Loud has made over 200 millionaires, and not one of her 10,000 clients has filed for bankruptcy.

Langemeier has already gained television exposure for her ideas through San Francisco's local CBS news, which aired four segments of her financial makeovers. Her busy speaking schedule includes appearances with T. Harv Eker (Secrets of the Millionaire Mind), Marc Victor Hansen (Chicken Soup for the Soul) and Robert Kiyosaki, with whom she worked from 1997 to 2002. Even speaking to PW through the static of a cell phone line, Langemeier comes in big and authoritative. It's clear that she's used to winning over skeptics and commanding the attention of an entire room.

"She's a major personality for us," says McGraw-Hill publicity director Lydia Rinaldi. The company is planning a first print run of 100,000 copies, and they've already sent Langemeier on a prepub tour to meet their major accounts. Though Rinaldi was a little cagey about their online plans—"we don't want to give everything away," she says—she describes their Web campaign as "aggressive" and says it includes Book Look streaming video and the contracting of an outside firm that targets e-zines and high traffic Web sites. That's in addition to a 25-city TV satellite tour and Langemeier's regular speaking schedule.

From Rafts to Riches

Like The Millionaire Maker, Phil Town's book Rule #1 (Crown, Mar.) doesn't dwell too much on the emotional aspects of money. It's a deeply practical book that lays out a plan for Warren Buffett/Benjamin Graham—style value investing. But the story Town tells of his own path to riches is full of psychological highs and lows. At the time he met the man who taught him how to make his first million, Town was a rafting guide in the Grand Canyon, making $4,000 in season and living off unemployment the rest of the year.

"I was long-haired, goateed, Harley-driving, violent," Town admits. "I wasn't really into the money thing. I just was bad, you know."

Coming back from the Vietnam War in 1972, Town found that he didn't fit in anywhere. "A lot of people in my age group, mid-20s, really hated the fact that I'd been a Green Beret," he says. He was also contending with some serious post-war ticks, like the fact that he couldn't sleep without having the rifle he'd carried in Vietnam beside him.

It was his mother's side job with the American River Touring Association (ARTA) that led to rafting. She was making some extra money for Christmas by stuffing envelopes for ARTA when she noticed that that they were looking for river guides. Town, who'd been spending about four hours a day flipping knives into her garage wall, jumped at the chance to leave home and do something outdoorsy.

He met his mentor, "Wolf," years later on the water, when Town saved the Latin American immigrant from a near-fatal rafting accident. In return, Wolf determined to teach the 30-year-old Harley fan how to invest. He began by hammering away at Town's attitude. "I thought people with money were just bad in general," Town says.

Talking to the author on the phone, it's hard to imagine him ever being so cynical. He exudes a cheerful, self-deprecating confidence. A regular speaker at Peter Lowe's day-long "Get Motivated" extravaganzas—where figures like Bill Clinton, Rudy Giuliani, Tommy Franks and Goldie Hawn address stadium-size audiences—Town has told his story to some 700,000 people this year. Over the past last four or five years, he estimates, he's stood in front of a couple million.

The ideas Town promotes in Rule #1 are not new. The rule ("don't lose money") was first articulated by Benjamin Graham, then elaborated by Warren Buffet. "It's really simple," Town says. "You just buy a wonderful company, and you buy it at an attractive price." The result is a return of at least 15%.

Town, however, brings two new things to this well-tried advice. The first is a populist twist. Unlike Graham or Buffett, Town never studied business and his style is emphatically down to earth. The second is an emphasis on the Internet. "When I show people what you can do online now to gather data," he says, "it's almost like I'm showing farmers who have never farmed with anything except a stick. And I'm showing them a big Massey Ferguson tractor. They're all going, 'Ooohhh. It just takes seconds now instead of days.' "

"This book has been a very high priority since the time of acquisition," says Crown publisher Steve Ross. "We knew that we were launching sort of a mother ship. It's very reminiscent to me of when we were selling Suze Orman's The 9 Steps to Financial Freedom."

The house's publicity campaign began some 12 months before publication date, when they had Town set up a blog on the Internet. They also brought the author to BEA for dinners with major clients, and flew a national buyer to see him speak at a stadium in Philadelphia. They've sent DVDs of Town speaking to sales reps and arranged a brown-bag lunch for him with managers at Borders. Postcards advertising Rule #1 have been distributed at Town's speaking events for months now, and Crown is committed to advertising on Google.

The idea, says Ross, is to "pre-heat" the market so that when Crown releases its announced first printing of 250,000 copies, the buzz will already be hot. So far, it's looking good. Blurbs have come in from business gurus like Mad Money TV host James Cramer and former chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission Arthur Levitt. According to Town's editor, Rick Horgan, the publishing response is equally strong. He says, "I've never received so many requests for bound galleys from the people I have lunch with."

Time will tell if readers in Kansas will want them, too.

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