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Hardly a `Secret' anymore

March 07, 2007|Josh Getlin | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — When Judith Curr, head of Atria Books, recently asked for an additional 2 million copies of "The Secret" to be printed, she believed the runaway bestseller would continue to receive strong support from book buyers across the nation. Call it the power of positive publishing -- or just plain good timing.

Boosted by two days of exposure on Oprah Winfrey's show, Rhonda Byrne's hodgepodge of ancient inspiration, can-do empowerment and nifty pointers on how to attain happiness is on its way to becoming one of the fastest-selling self-help books in publishing history. And the 2-million-copy reprinting order -- the largest in Simon & Schuster's history for one book -- will bring the total number of U.S. copies in print to 3.75 million.

All of this has been good news for the publisher, which had an encouraging year financially in 2006 compared with others in the book business, who have been plagued by generally flat sales. Indeed, the company posted a 6% gain in total revenue last year, based on such bestsellers as "You: On a Diet," "Lisey's Story" and "Joy of Cooking." The success of "The Secret" has made 2007 look equally rosy.

The book has hit No. 1 on self-help bestseller lists and is vying with the forthcoming "Harry Potter" novel for the top spot on Amazon.com. "I thought when we first bought the book it would sell 1 million copies," said Curr, vice president of Atria, a division of Simon & Schuster. "But what's happening now is truly unprecedented. We can't keep up with demand."

Along with the Oprah imprimatur, the book has gained visibility through airtime on the Ellen DeGeneres, Anderson Cooper and Larry King shows. And Byrne, an Australian reality-TV producer, helped orchestrate a savvy marketing campaign: Her title was based on a 90-minute DVD that was released last year and has been promoted heavily on the internet. The book and DVD have been selling briskly in New Age bookshops and New Thought churches, along with more traditional outlets such as bookstore chains and large discount stores.

"The Secret," published in partnership with Beyond Words Publishing, a Portland, Ore.-based firm, claims to reveal the long-hidden secret of attaining a happy life. It suggests that the key to fulfillment is through understanding "the law of attraction." According to this concept, people can attain what they want through the power of positive thinking. Negative thoughts become a self-fulfilling prophecy and can dominate one's life. Readers are told to follow three steps for fulfillment: Ask. Believe. Receive.

Critics note, however, that some of these thoughts have appeared in earlier books and are in fact a long-standing theme in American self-help literature. "The Power of Positive Thinking" by Norman Vincent Peale, released in 1952, was a hugely influential book that offered a similar blueprint and sold more than 7 million copies, with copies translated in 15 languages.

Byrne's title offers insights from 24 modern-day "teachers," including Jack Canfield, who wrote the self-help book "Chicken Soup for the Soul." Asked if a sequel is in the works, Curr said: "There are no thoughts of doing that at this time. You don't want to weaken the message or make people feel like they're being exploited."

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