cropped_jack-chicken-soupYou may not have heard of Jack Canfield. But you have no doubt heard of his “Chicken Soup for the Soul” books. Forty-seven of his books have landed on The New York Times bestseller list, he says. Canfield has sold over half a billion books. Besides earnings from speaking engagements, coaching, and teaching gigs, he enjoys the fruits of a continuing stream of royalties and licensing fees from his information empire.

Canfield started from humble beginnings. He grew up in a West Virginia coal mining and steel town. He graduated in the bottom half of his college class at Harvard. While teaching at an inner city high school on the southside of Chicago, he grew curious. Why weren’t his students motivated to learn? His discovery: Their self esteem was low.  That’s when he became interested in teaching them to believe in themselves.

Fast forward. At self esteem seminars he taught on the weekends, many asked him whether the stories he told were in a book somewhere. Lightbulb moment. He realized it was time to put the stories in a book. He teamed up with Mark Hansen, who brought sales and marketing savvy to the project. They finished the book and came up with a title.

The first Chicken Soup book got 144 rejections from publishers in about 18 months. The small publisher in Florida who signed them on laughed when he learned they expected to sell 150,000 books in six months and thought they could sell 1.5 million in a year and a half. “You guys are crazy,” he told them. “No, we’re entrepreneurial,” they said. They sold 1.3 million in that first year and a half.

“You don’t have to stay a poor starving artist,” Canfield told a group of would-be authors during a teleconference. “That’s a terrible myth.”

Canfield’s success is phenomenal, considering what usually happens. Some 340,000 books are published every year. Yet most authors sell fewer than 500 books.

Writers might think their work is done once the book is written. Canfield rejects that assumption. Writing a book and not promoting it is like having a baby and leaving it on someone else’s doorstep, skipping those 18 to 21 years of hard work raising the baby and truly bringing it into the world. Below the surface, the other 90 percent of the book work involves publicity, marketing, book tours, getting your book to face out in bookstores, and generating interest in the book.

A positive mindset is one key to making dreams come true. “Most authors set their goals too low,” says Canfield. He recommends you set what Harvard Business School calls a “big hairy audacious goal,” or BHAG. “You have to believe it’s possible for you,” he says.