While Jack Canfield himself may not necessarily be a household name, it's very likely that you have heard of his famed Chicken Soup for the Soul series and nearly as likely that you have at least one of them sitting on your very own bookshelf! Having got his start as an inspirational speaker, Canfield's own story is nothing less than inspirational.
Jack Canfield had been traveling around delivering key note speeches and organizing workshops to help audiences build their self-esteem and maximize their potential when he had an in-flight brainstorm that changed his life. While flying home from a gig, Canfield realized that the very same advice he had been delivering during his in-person addresses could potentially form the basis of a book. Canfield used inspirational stories he'd gleaned over the years as the basis of his speeches, and he thought it would be a terrific idea to gather together 101 inspirational stories and anthologize them in a single volume. Upon returning home, Canfield approached friend and author Mark Victor Hansen about his concept. Hansen agreed it was a great idea, and the two men set about finding a publisher. Believe it or not, the mega-selling series was not an easy sell to publishers. "We were rejected by 123 publishers all told," Canfield told Shareguide.com. "The first time we went to New York, we visited with about a dozen publishers in a two day period with our agent, and nobody wanted it. They all said it was a stupid title, that nobody bought collections of short stories, that there was no edge -- no sex, no violence. Why would anyone read it?"
Canfield wisely practiced what he preached -- and persisted. Ultimately, he and Hansen sold the first Chicken Soup for the Soul book to a small press based in Deerfield Beach, Florida, called Health Communications. The rest, as they say, is history. There are currently 80 million copies of the Chicken Soup books in print, with subjects as varied as Chicken Soup For the Horse Lover's Soul and Chicken Soup For the Prisoner's Soul. Canfield and Hansen ranked as the top-selling authors of 1997 and are multiple New York Times bestsellers. Most important of all, the inspirational stories they have gathered in their many volumes have improved the lives of countless readers.
This year, expect to see Canfield's name gracing the covers of such titles as Chicken Soup For the Scrapbooker's Soul, Chicken Soup For the Mother and Son Soul, and Chicken Soup For the African American Woman's Soul. He and Hansen have also launched the all-new "Healthy Living" series and 8 titles in that series have already been released this year. There is also the fascinating You've GOT to Read This Book!, in which Canfield compiles personal accounts by 55 people each discussing a book that has changed his or her life. The most compelling of these may be the story of young entrepreneur Farrah Gray, who read Deepak Chopra's The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success at the age of 11 and made his first million dollars at the age of 14!
With no sign of slowing down, Canfield continues to be an inspiration to millions, who fortunately refused to give up when it seemed as though he would never even get his first book published. "Mark and I are big believers in perseverance," he said. "If you have a vision and a life purpose, and you believe in it, then you do not let external events tell you what is so. You follow your internal guidance and follow your bliss, as Joseph Campbell used to say."
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Canfield is the founder of two California based self-esteem programs, "Self-Esteem Seminars" in Santa Barbara and "The Foundation For Self Esteem" in Culver City.
Writing the first Chicken Soup book was a lot more daunting than Canfield expected. After the first three years of research, he and Mark Victor Hansen had only compiled 68 stories -- 33 tales shy of their goal of 101 stories.
Along with co-writing dozens of full-length books, Canfield also publishes a free biweekly newsletter called Success Strategies.
Some fun and fascinating outtakes from our interview with Canfield:
"My inspiration for writing comes from my passion for teaching others how to live more effective lives. I started out as a history teacher in an all-black inner city high school in Chicago, graduated to a teacher trainer, then psychotherapist, then trainer of therapists, then large group transformational trainer and then a writer and keynote speaker. All along the way, my desire was to make a difference, to help people live more fulfilling lives. That is what I still do today.
Most people don't know this but I was not a good writer in college. I got a C in composition. Nobody would have ever believed I would grow up to be a bestselling author."
"I play guitar, and I am learning to play the piano. I love movies and some TV shows. My favorites are Six Feet Under, Grey's Anatomy, House and Lost. I love to play Scrabble, poker and backgammon with my in-laws, nieces and nephews. We really get into it. I love to travel. I have been to 25 countries and try to add two or three new ones every year."
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In the fall of 2006, Jack Canfield took some time out to talk with us about some of his favorite books, authors, and interests:
What was the book that most influenced your life or your career as a writer?
Life After Life by Dr. Raymond Moody. I have a whole chapter on how this book changed my life in my book You've Got to Read This Book! that I co-authored with Gay Hendricks. The book changed my life by introducing me to the phenomenon of clinical near death experiences, in which people have been clinically dead for several minutes but have recall of their experiences while dead. The most impactful part was that almost all people reporting these experiences were asked two questions by the spiritual being they met (Jesus, Buddha, etc.). These two questions were "How have you expanded your capacity to love?" and "What wisdom have you gained from your experience?" When I first read this book while in graduate school back in 1971, I decided to devote my life to studying these two areas and teaching others what I learned in regard to how to be more loving and how to gain wisdom from our lives and the lives of others. This is what has led to the Chicken Soup for the Soul books and my books on how to live more successful lives.
What are your all-time favorite books?The Power of Now by Ekert Tolle
What You Think of Me Is None of My Business by Terry Cole-Whittaker
The Sedona Method by Hale Dwoskin
Life After Life by Dr. Raymond Moody
Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda
Ask and It Is Given by Jerry and Esther Hicks
Gestalt Therapy Verbatim by Fritz Perls
The Field by Lynn Taggert
Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz
I have read over 3000 books in the last 46 years. There are so many that I love. Here are a few of my favorites:
What are some of your favorite films, and what makes them unforgettable to you?One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch is a little known film that shows one day in the life of a prisoner in a Siberian prison camp. It makes you realize and appreciate how wonderful it is to be free, something we all take too much for granted.
Shakespeare in Love is a brilliant film in the way it weaves back and forth between the play and the writer. As a writer I loved it.
The first Rocky movie for its sheer inspiration that anything is possible.
Castaway, because it shows how strong and resilient people can be.
Norma Rae for its tale of how one woman can make such a huge difference. I was fortunate enough to meet the real Norma Rae in a Chicago radio station green room when I was promoting the second Chicken Soup for the Soul book.
Moulin Rouge because it is such a wonderfully out of the box musical and such a powerful love story, and because I think Nicole Kidman is such a great actress. The chemistry between Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor is so powerful and moving.
Million Dollar Baby because of the moving story of someone going for it against all odds when she is obsessed with a dream. Would that we were all so committed to our dreams. I guess that's why I like Chicken Soup for the Soul stories so much.
The Secret which is about the power of the Law of Attraction. It is only available on DVD right now at www.whatisthesecret.tv. I highly recommend it. It is destined to be an underground mega-hit.
What types of music do you like? Is there any particular kind you like to listen to when you're writing?
I love all kinds of music. I grew up in West Virginia listening to country music and I have over 1000 country CDs. I also have an extensive collection of jazz, rock, folk, international, classical and what might be called new age music. I listen to instrumental music when I write -- music from Daniel Kobialka, John Tesch, Peter Kater, Hilary Stagg, Jim Brickman, Kenny G, Michael Jones, and the like.
If you had a book club, what would it be reading?
Right now I'd have them reading You've Got to Read This Book!: 55 People Tell the Story of the Book that Changed Their Life. The reason is that it is a fascinating book and it opens so many doors to other great books to read. It gives people insight into so many people that they know and the books that shaped their lives.
What are your favorite kinds of books to give -- and get -- as gifts?
I love to give books that are inspirational in nature. I have given multiple copies of The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz, The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success by Deepak Chopra, Loving What Is by Byron Katie and The Hidden Messages in Water by Masaru Emoto. And of course, I have given away thousands of copies of Chicken Soup for the Soul books as gifts.
Do you have any special writing rituals? For example, what do you have on your desk when you're writing?
I don't have any writing rituals. I just sit down and write -- often for as many as 16 hours in a row. I turn the phone off and have a do not disturb sign on the door. I do my best writing at night. I have seen the sun come up way too many mornings after an all night writing session!
What are you working on now?
I am working on several Chicken Soup for the Soul books (always). Currently -- Chicken Soup for the Twenty-Something Soul, Chicken Soup for the Extraordinary Teen Soul, and Chicken Soup for the Laughing Soul, which will contain all funny stories. I am also writing a sequel to The Success Principles entitled Effortless Success. It will focus on how to apply the Law of Attraction to your life, so that success can be achieved much more easily.
Many writers are hardly "overnight success" stories. How long did it take for you to get where you are today? Any rejection-slip horror stories or inspirational anecdotes?
Most people don't know this, but Chicken Soup for the Soul was rejected by more than 140 publishers. It was so bad that our agent gave us the manuscript back and told us that the book was never going to be published. Mark and I took the book to the American Book Sellers Association convention where there were 4000 publishers with booths, and we walked from booth to booth for three days attempting to find a publisher. Finally on the third day, Health Communications Inc., a small publisher from Florida, agreed to take a look at it. When they agreed to publish it, we did not receive an advance. Nor did we get a lot of marketing support in the beginning. We did not hit a best seller list until 14 months after the book was published. Then it stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for almost 3 years. We later went on to win a Guinness Book of Records for having 7 books on the New York Times bestseller list on May 24th, 1998!
If you could choose one new writer to be "discovered," who would it be?
My son Oran Canfield is writing a book entitled Can I Have Some Bread with my Chicken Soup? It is about his years growing up as my son. His mother and I were divorced when he was only two years old and he then had a very bizarre but interesting life growing up on the west coast. He is an amazing writer -- very funny. Kind of in the Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs style. When his book is finished I am convinced it will be a bestseller.
What tips or advice do you have for writers still looking to be discovered?
Practice your craft of writing and get as much feedback from as many people as you can and keep honing your writing and finding your voice. Write what you know. Write from your heart. Don't chase the money. Chase the desire to be the best writer you can be. If you have the passion for writing, never give up!
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