Platform is a plus in any category—what publisher wouldn't want authors to arrive with launching pads? But when it comes to diet and fitness titles, to paraphrase football coach Vince Lombardi, platform isn't everything—it's the only thing.
This need for an author to establish a presence before being published is somewhat counterintuitive, given the scope of the diet and fitness audience. According to a recent Gallup poll, 30% of Americans say they are trying to lose weight (38% of women)—and the NIH classifies two-thirds of us as overweight—while market research firm Marketdata reports that Americans spent an estimated $58.6 billion on weight loss last year. Yet the market for diet and fitness books still manages to be a crowded one, especially in the New Year's resolution month of January, when the vast majority of such books are published. Not a single book submitted in response to a PW call for information in this category was the work of an untested, uncredentialed entity.
Perhaps the prime example of the kind of pre-existing visibility publishers seek for authors in this category is the one-woman brand of Jillian Michaels. Michaels is a fitness instructor on the weight-loss competition show The Biggest Loser, now in its eighth season on NBC. She's got DVDs, meal plans, even her own Wii game. Her whey protein is sold at Wal-Mart and on her Web site (www.jillianmichaels.com), which also offers T-shirts with slogans such as I'm a Bully, branded yoga mats and water bottles, and USB flash drives emblazoned with the trainer's image. Michaels hosts a weekly two-hour radio show about health and fitness and has her own company, Empowered Media, that develops “lifestyle solutions.”
In April, Crown will publish Michaels's latest, The Master Your Metabolism Cookbook, while Three Rivers Press will publish The Master Your Metabolism Calorie Counter. When the original Master Your Metabolism: The Three Diet Secrets to Naturally Balancing Your Hormones for a Hot and Healthy Body! was published by Crown in April of this year, it sat on PW's bestseller list for 22 weeks. Yet even Michaels has to keep on her toes in what Crown publisher Tina Constable terms “this overpublished category.”
If few authors can match Michaels's ubiquity, that's likely due to her TV presence. In terms of platform, the tube rules. Three reality stars from the Bravo network alone have books due next year: The Skinnygirl Dish: Easy Recipes for Your Naturally Thin Life by Bethenny Frankel of The Real Housewives of New York City (a follow-up to Naturally Thin, a New York Times bestseller); Skinny Italian: Eat It and Enjoy It—Live La Bella Vita and Look Great Too! by Teresa Giudice, the brassy table-flipper from The Real Housewives of New Jersey; and This Is Why You're Fat (and How to Get Thin Forever) by Jackie Warner, who starred in the cable channel's Work Out and is developing a new Bravo program Thintervention.
Television chef Rocco DiSpirito (whose own reality show, The Restaurant, ran on NBC for two years) spun an appearance on The Biggest Loser—teaching participants to cook more healthful food—into the March hardcover Now Eat This: Fried Chicken, Macaroni 'n' Cheese, Brownies, and 147 Other Favorite Dishes You Thought You Could Never Eat—All Under 400 Calories. Editor-at-large Pamela Cannon says, “Rocco reached out directly to his fans via Twitter and Facebook and asked them for their all-time favorite recipes that he could reinterpret with less fat and calories. Additionally, Rocco himself not only tested and developed these recipes—he also ate them in order to help shed 30 pounds as he trained for the Ironman Triathlon. The proof is in the pudding, so to speak.”
The Lifetime program Cook Yourself Thin also shows viewers how to create lower calorie versions of foods they enjoy. The book Cook Yourself Thin, published in April by Hyperion/Voice, became a PW bestseller with more than 400,000 copies in print. It will be joined in January by Cook Yourself Thin Faster, which has a 250,000-copy announced first print. Hyperion's Ellen Archer says, “Diet books that are working for us have two main traits: first, they have simple-to-follow recipes that you can cook every day, and second, they have a platform on which we can build.”
“Branded diet books like those in the Eat This, Not That! and Biggest Loser franchises are selling well, as are diet books by celebrities like Jillian Michaels,” agrees Wiley executive editor Thomas W. Miller. Next month Wiley will publish The Real You Diet by Madelyn Fernstrom, a diet and nutrition expert who appears frequently on Today and has a blog about health and nutrition on iVillage.com.
Also due next month is Denise Austin's Denise's Daily Dozen: The Easy, Every Day Program to Lose 12 Pounds in 2 Weeks from Hachette's Center Street imprint. Denise Austin's Daily Workout is TV's longest running fitness program—23 years and counting. She has filmed more than 80 exercise videos and DVDs that have sold more than 20 million copies. Center Street editor Christina Boys says platform and author are inseparable: “The same qualities readers are looking for in an author are the exact reasons Denise Austin has such a great platform. She knows how to connect and communicate effectively with people, and she's an expert in her field.”
More academic platforms can work as well. Zachary Schisgal, senior editor at Touchstone Fireside and the editor of The Skinnygirl Dish, says, “Platform is as important as ever, if you look at Jillian Michaels or Bethenny Frankel, but you have to deliver the goods—this is a knowledgeable and vocal audience. Well-credentialed M.D.s can also break through, if they can come to the category with a good program and a hook.”
One medical powerhouse coming out with a diet book is the Mayo Clinic. Good Books, which previously worked on cookbooks with the American Diabetes Association, will release The Mayo Clinic Diet in January. Publisher Merle Good reports that the book and its accompanying journal (sold separately) will be stocked at big box stores including Costco, Sam's, BJ's, Target, and Wal-Mart, and confirmed media include USA Today Weekend, Family Circle, and The Martha Stewart Show. “Buyers are telling us this will be one of the biggest diet books of the year,” says Good, while assistant publisher Kate Good notes, “The Mayo Clinic name is sterling.”
“At Workman we tend to focus on books that come with a lot of authority,” says editor-in-chief Susan Bolotin. “Susan Roberts, author of The “I” Diet, recently won the American Society for Nutrition's highest honor for innovative research in her lab at Tufts, and the chief of the endocrine clinic at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine just made much of the recognition that Dr. Daniela Jakubowicz's work is getting around the world—she's the author of our forthcoming The Big Breakfast Diet.”
Online initiatives can also supply a solid platform, as was the case for books from Lisa Lillien, aka Hungry Girl (see sidebar, p. 27), and Chris Downie's The Spark. The latter book grew out of the online community sparkpeople.com, a kind of Facebook for the calorie-conscious set, where members encourage each other and post their results, and it broke onto Amazon's list of bestselling diet and weight loss titles more than a month before its late December publication.
Olympic athlete Dara Torres also has a platform—in her case the literal platform where she stood as a 41-year-old mom to receive medals in swimming at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Her Gold Medal Fitness: A Revolutionary 5-Week Program publishes in May. Diane Salvatore, publisher of Broadway Books, says the new Torres fitness regime offers “inspiration for staying motivated and keeping your eye on the prize—even if your prize is just looking great in your jeans!”
Naturally, once an author has assembled a platform and a publisher has used it successfully, the spin-offs and sequels begin. Ann Louise Gittleman's The Fat Flush Plan, first published in 2002, has sold more than one million copies. She's following up with Fat Flush for Life: The Super Detox Plan to Boost Your Metabolism and Keep Weight Off for Good from Da Capo. Executive editor Katie McHugh says, “At minimum, sequel books have a proven audience that can be relied on, but they also have the potential to be bigger than the original. There are so many diet books out there, consumers and booksellers alike struggle to determine which ones to turn to. Consequently, they gravitate toward brands they recognize and authors they trust. For these reasons, publishing groundbreaking new books in a series can give you a running start in the marketplace.”
Morrow is rolling out two books from nutritionist Joy Bauer, a frequent Today guest. The first is the paperback Your Inner Skinny (first published in hardcover as Joy's Life Diet), and the second is a collection of her recipes, Slim and Scrumptious: 75 Delicious, Healthy Meals Your Family Will Love. Another sequel, You: On a Diet—in the now signature style of doctors Michael F. Roizen and Mehmet C. Oz—is still selling strongly and out in a revised edition.
In addition to sequels and revisions, this category sometimes gives new life to books that were initially self-published or debuted in other countries. The Big Breakfast Diet comes from Venezuela, where it has sold more than 300,000 copies. In January, Sterling will publish Fat to Skinny Fast and Easy!: Eat Great, Lose Weight, and Lower Blood Sugar Without Exercise by Doug Varrieur. Says editorial director Michael Fragnito, “Fat to Skinny Fast and Easy! was a self-published success, and we're going to publish it in the same down-home, very direct way it was done originally. We're struggling to keep our New York, latte-sipping, ivory tower dwelling mitts off of it so we don't lose the energy.”
Sometimes a spin-off is more of a flashback. Back in 1982, Thin Thighs in 30 Days was a sensation that sold 2.5 million copies. In April, a revised edition will be published by Tarcher as a $7.95 paperback. Tarcher executive editor Sara Carder says, “My publisher, Joel Fotinos, was a bookseller back when this book first came out and one day a year ago he came across a mention of it and remembered that this book flew out of the stores in the 1980s when it was first published. Women couldn't get enough of it.”
Perhaps part of the Thin Thighs appeal, then and now, was its relatively straightforward approach, a tactic that appears to be growing in popularity in the category.
“Readers in the diet book category have loads of places to get dieting information—magazines, online diets, simple diets that are passed around by e-mail, even celebrity magazines with stars' eating programs—and what they expect from books is something a little more thought through. Not harder or more difficult to follow, but factual,” says St. Martin's executive editor Elizabeth Beier. “Successful diet books right now seem to be all about getting down to business. They are much less gimmicky than many diet books in the past have been—even some that sound a little high-concept, such as The 4 Day Diet, are actually fairly serious and heavy-duty programs for people who don't want to do something once over lightly.”
Fitness-focused titles in particular lend themselves to this straightforward approach. McGraw-Hill has several such titles scheduled for the coming months, including Anatomy for Strength and Fitness Training for Speed: An Illustrated Guide to Your Muscles in Action by Leigh Brandon and Kettlebell Power Training for Athletes by Dave Bellomo. Editorial director Judith McCarthy says, “Both books are aimed at athletes—there will be crossover to general fitness, but the core audience for each is those who want to improve speed and strength for sports performance, as well as trainers and coaches.” (And for those unfamiliar with kettlebells, McCarthy explains that they look like small bowling balls with handles. “Kettlebell training is a full-body workout that originated in Russia and came to the West after the fall of the Soviet Union.”) Megan Newman, editorial director of Avery Books, says, “There are very few books aimed at the woman who is truly serious about getting in shape safely and sensibly, so a book like our forthcoming Core Performance for Women fills a gap in the market.”
Also with fewer bells and whistles is an inspirational May title from HCI Books: The Ultimate Runner: Stories and Advice to Keep You Moving. A collection of essays and photographs, it's intended to keep everyone, from the novice to the experienced marathoner, on the road, with stories about the emotional and spiritual side of running and the meaningful feeling of running for charity.
And yet, the dream never dies: in April Morrow will publish The New ME Diet: Eat More, Work Out Less, and Actually Lose the Weight While You Rest. Yes, the ME in the title stands for the scientifically based Metabolic Effect, and the authors have lots of initials after their names, but it's the subtitle that's likely to call out to all the couch potatoes out there.