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So What Do You Do, Mark Victor Hansen, Co-Creator of Chicken Soup for the Soul?

This bestselling author, speaker and entrepreneur talks launching a trusted brand and forming successful partnerships

- February 23, 2011
Together with his co-author, Dr. Jack Canfield, Dr. Mark Victor Hansen has launched the most popular nonfiction book series of all time, Chicken Soup for the Soul. (Ever heard of it?) To date, the self-help titles filled with relatable anecdotes and wisdom have sold over 167 million copies worldwide and launched a brand that includes more than 100 licensed products.

Although, many authors would have retired at this point, Hansen continues to speak and to write. He describes his latest book, U R the Solution, as his way of giving back in order to make a "significant impact on the world." Hansen spoke with about the creation of his empire and the costly business decisions that could have initially derailed his career.

Name: Mark Victor Hansen
Twitter handle: @markvhansen
Position: Author, speaker and entrepreneur
Resume: Lost over $2 million virtually overnight in a faulty business decision, had to do labor work for $2.14/hour in order to make ends meet. Bounced back as a speaker for the business market. Collaborated with friend and fellow speaker Dr. Jack Canfield on what would become Chicken Soup for the Soul. After being rejected by 144 publishers, Hansen and Canfield were published by a small publisher Health Communications, Inc. and the book series went on to sell over 167 million copies.
Birthdate: January 8, 1948
Hometown: Waukegan, Illinois
Education: Honorary doctorate from Southern Illinois University and a Ph.D. from Golden State University
Marital status: Engaged
Favorite TV show: Boston Legal
Guilty pleasure: "Eating delicious desserts"
Media Idol: Peter Guber, "because he's a mensch."

Where did the idea for Chicken Soup for the Soul come from?
Jack and I have been friends for now almost 30 years, but for five years we were helping each other with [speaking engagements]. He did the educational market; I did the business market. One morning, he was [speaking] at the Beverly Hilton and I went up there to talk. I said, "What are you doing?" and he said, "Well, I am writing this book about happy little stories." I said, "Well, that title sucks and since I gave you all these heart-touching stories, let's do it together." So we did.

There are a lot of self-help books around, but it seems like one of the reasons for the success of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series is because of its name. How was having a great name really important?
Don't even write a book unless you've got a great title, because no one's going to open the book unless you've got a great title. We had a crummy title. We both studied the work of Erik Erikson, a hypnotherapist and psychiatrist, and he said, "You know, before you go to sleep, repeat in your respective beds, in your respective homes 400 times a day "make a bestselling title," "make a bestselling title." And Jack called me at 4:30 in the morning and said, "Chicken Soup!" and I said, "for the Soul!" and I said, "holy crap! That fits!" I had goose bumps. Our respective wives said, "That is the stupidest idea ever," and then 144 publishers said, "Hit the road, Jack."

What is the process like when collaborating with Dr. Canfield? And what would you say are the keys to a great co-authoring partnership?
Jack and I are still close and see each other all the time. When we were writing the book, we basically lived together for three years. If we weren't talking and traveling with our own families on trips, we were together. We exercised together, we talked together. I don't want to write with an enemy. I want to write with somebody I really enjoy working with, laughing and joking with. You have got to be a great friend, first. In other words, Jack and I had a deep friendship. We were like-minded; we both wanted a book that would change lives.

You were rejected by over 140 publishers when pitching Chicken Soup for the Soul. How did you keep going when it looked like you should just give up?
We were inspired by so many other authors, some of the greatest that were rejected. We interviewed so many bestselling authors before writing the book. John Grisham had A Time to Kill in the trunk of his car for six years and went from bookstore to bookstore, giving it to them and signing them. The same with Stephen King, he was rejected too. Nora Roberts, they all were rejected. The thing is, Jack and I had a platform. In fact, we had 20,000 copies of little coupons that we had people fill out saying that they would buy the book once it came out and still we were rejected.

"Don't even write a book unless you've got a great title."

What is your new book, U R the Solution about and how is it different than the Chicken Soup for the Soul series?
My co-author in this new series is Bill Froehlich. Froehlich has done 10 major television series, including MacGyver which he wrote, produced and directed. We talked about inspiring people as to what they could do right now in the world. We really wanted to use our imagination because of the deep problems that face our nation [that were] largely created by unscrupulous people from Wall Street. So, it's a fable that encompasses that idea. Our thought was to do a whole series, not unlike the Chicken Soup for the Soul. I had read in George Lucas' book where he said, "Don't do anything you can't prequel and sequel," so I thought we would do a series.

What would you say were some of the things you did initially to set the foundation for your success?
Well, it took us three years to write this book, because it took us awhile to create a formula that worked. We developed seven things that each story needed in order for it to be included in the book. First of all, it's got to cause instantaneous behavioural change. It's got to be something the readers connect with instantly. It's got to cause happy tears. It's got to cause your stomach to flip flop in a positive way. It's got to cause goose bumps, God-bumps, chilli bumps, those seven things. And so we read a thousand stories to find one, and we re-edited it until it had all those elements. Every one of those stories got read and edited seven times or so.

If authors are interested in building a brand or an empire as you have done, what should they do first, before writing a single page?
They're going to need to decide to create a brand that commands. A brand that commands has three things going for it: first of all, repetition is important. Authors have to keep the customers' mind. The customer is going to need to see that brand over and over again and eventually you build up a rapport and a trust with them. For example, with our Chicken Soup brand, it's everywhere so the customer thinks to themselves, "Oh, yes. I trust Mark and Jack. These guys have honesty and integrity, and I see them on TV and I have seen it in commercials." Secondly, you need to create a brand that the customer identifies with. People identify with Chicken Soup. People can relate to the topics that are in the books. And finally, you need conformity. Apple is a perfect example of that.

What did you do to market the book that didn't work?
What didn't work was hiring a lot of the consultants especially about social media, who say they know stuff and for the most part, they do not and they charge a lot. In my experience, all of them are making money selling their experience, but they are not turning it into dollars. I had to figure it out by myself which is probably the best way. Go to the seminars, listen to what they have got to say, and then figure it out for yourself.

NEXT >> AvantGuildSo What Do You Do, Seth Godin, Author and Marketing Guru?

Jeff Rivera is the author of Forever My Lady (Grand Central) and and the Founder of

© WebMediaBrands Inc. 2011. All Rights Reserved.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. The foregoing is the sole property of WebMediaBrands Inc. The opinions and views expressed in the interviews and/or commentaries are solely those of the participants and are not necessarily the views of WebMediaBrands Inc., its affiliates or subsidiary companies.

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