Thursday, October 2, 2008

Have you ever sold a million of anything?

A few years ago I got to work with Chuck Norris on his autobiography, Against All Odds. (Click here to see a slideshow from the day we signed the contract.) He is a great guy and we had a lot of fun. Chuck donated all of his proceeds from the book to his KickStart program and we sold a lot of books. This was a few years before Chuck's cult-like status was elevated by the proliferation of hilarious Chuck Norris Facts on the Internet. It was a time when Walker, Texas Ranger was on the air every hour of the day somewhere around the world. I didn't realize before Chuck and I started working together that Walker has millions of salt-of-the-earth fans out there in middle America and beyond. At that time, Chuck was getting speaker's fees up to $50,000 per appearance, but neither Chuck nor KickStart had the staff to physically sell books at his appearances. It was around this time that my entrepreneurial streak really started itching. We struck up a deal for me to set up half a dozen or so speaking events at mega churches and other events around the country to sell books from the "back of the room."

The first event was at Joel Osteen's Lakewood Church in Houston. This was before they moved into the Compaq Center, but they still had 15,000+ regular attendees every Sunday. I coordinated and trained volunteers from the church to help set up tables and sell books at each entrance between services. We had 1200 books on hand and I was concerned that we might run out. People were literally throwing money at the book tables to get their books and get in line to get it signed. It was a smashing success. Or so I thought. When the smoke cleared, we sold about 700 copies. Just 700 copies--a little more than half of what I projected. I couldn't believe it. We had four book tables with two people taking cash and credit cards at each table. Lines were out the doors for two hours. It was a frenzied atmosphere. And we sold 700 copies.

That night Chuck was to throw out the first pitch at the Astros game. We coordinated it with the Make-A-Wish Foundation and it was one of the coolest experiences of my life. There were about ten kids whose dying wish was to meet Walker, Texas Ranger. Make-A-Wish arranged to fly the kids and their families to Houston and brought them to the game where we had dinner in the VIP season ticket holder's private dining room with the kids and their families and Chuck. I'm getting tearry-eyed just thinking of the utter delight and excitement of those kids when Chuck walked in the room. I've never seen anything like it.) After dinner we got to walk out on the field while the teams were taking batting practice. Several of the players, including Roger Clemens, came over to meet Chuck (and yes I got an autographed baseball, and no it tested negative for steroids). While all this was going on, I had a huge display of books and a life-sized cutout of Chuck placed outside the Astros gift shop Chuck threw out the first pitch. The announcer mentioned that the book was available for sale at the gift shop. Wanna guess how many we sold? 19. Management would not allow Chuck to sign books in the park, but still, there were probably 20,000 people on hand that night--19 books.

That was tough.

It was a real eye opener to me to see what it feels like to sell 700 books in a frenzy, and just how hard it would be to sell 1000 copies of anything at one event. We were in a meeting with a prospective author recently who is sure his book will sell millions of copies. He was serious. Ron Pitkin, our president and publisher, looked him square in the eye and very respectfully and slowly asked him, "Have you ever sold a million of anything? Do you have any idea what that is like?"

It made me think. I've been doing this for close to fifteen years. I get pretty cocky sometimes. I've worked with a number of "celebrity" authors and helped put my share of books of The New York Times bestseller list and I've never been part of a book that has sold a million copies. Not even close. I believe I will. Sometimes I act like I have. But I haven't.

Ron has done it six times.

Maybe it's time we start some Ron Pitkin facts.

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