Amy Newmark: Editor-in-Chief & Publisher of the Chicken Soup for the Soul

Episode 433

Thrilled to have Amy Newmark with us here today. Amy is the Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of the Chicken Soup for the Soul. 101 stories that are selected from thousands of submissions for a particular topic. Compelling, inspirational and aspirational true stories curated from ordinary people who have had extraordinary experiences. Amy is credited with revitalizing the Chicken Soup for the Soul brand over the past 15 years which has been a publishing industry phenomenon since the first book came out in 1993. With well over 100 million books sold to date in the U.S. and Canada, more than 300 titles, and translations into more than 40 languages, the phrase “chicken soup for the soul” is known worldwide and is regularly referenced in pop culture. Today, 30 years after it first began sharing happiness, inspiration and hope through its books, this socially conscious company continues to publish a new title a month. I am excited to share my interview with Amy about the mission of the company and the impact that the company is having 30 years later. This episode is awesome and filled with a ton of great ideas that will leave you excited and wanting to execute!. On this episode of #TheKaraGoldinShow.

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Kara Goldin 0:00
I am unwilling to give up that I will start over from scratch as many times as it takes to get where I want to be I want to be you just want to make sure you will get knocked down but just make sure you don’t get knocked down knocked out. So your only choice should be go focus on what you can control control control. Hi, everyone and welcome to the Kara Goldin show. Join me each week for inspiring conversations with some of the world’s greatest leaders. We’ll talk with founders, entrepreneurs, CEOs, and really some of the most interesting people of our time. Can’t wait to get started. Let’s go Let’s go. Hi, everyone. It’s Kara Goldin from the Kara Goldin show and I am so excited to have my next guest. Here we have Amy Newmark, who is the editor in chief and publisher of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. And you’re probably familiar with Chicken Soup for the Soul books. And for those who are not familiar with it, it was probably one of the first to crowdsource and curate before those were even buzzwords. Each new Chicken Soup for the Soul collection consists of 101 stories that are selected from 1000s of submissions. The books run the gamut from entertaining humorous collections about topics such as pets, or family or, or holidays to more serious subjects like angels and miracles, grieving cancer or Alzheimer’s. Amy is credited with revitalizing the Chicken Soup for the Soul brand. She’s not the founder, but was very familiar with the founders. And over the past 15 years, she has been really working to bring the next iteration of growth into the company. We’ll talk about how this company has grown overall what she has been doing, I guess she’s received over 30,000 submissions over the years that she’s been working on to edit, which is just incredible. Over 100 million books sold to date in the US, Canada more than 300 titles and translations 40 languages. Just absolutely incredible. What has been built. So really, really incredible to have you here, Amy and wow, what an opportunity for for you to be working on this. And, and really, really great to meet you.

Amy Newmark 2:32
Oh, well. Thanks. And you know, I’ve read probably 30,000 Chicken Soup for the Soul stories. But we’ve actually had hundreds of 1000s submitted because we get several 1000 for each book. And I’ve done almost 200 books myself since we took over the company in 2008.

Kara Goldin 2:51
That’s that is absolutely incredible. So what initially inspired you to come into the company and and into your role as publisher and editor in chief you had been working even on some of the titles, even before you came on full time, correct?

Amy Newmark 3:09
Well, what happened was a friend of mine was dating a guy who knew the founders of Chicken Soup for the Soul, Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen. And he knew in 2007, that they wanted to sell the company. And they had their own independent careers. You know, they were motivational speakers and authors on their own. And then they just had this one thing that they did together, but they wanted to hand off Chicken Soup for the Soul their joint activity to somebody new and then go off and do their own things. So we did something really dumb. We did an LBO in 2008 and bought Chicken Soup for the Soul. It was one of the only lblv LBOs done in America in 2008. I don’t know if you can really summon up the feelings again that you probably had in 2008. But that was when Lehman Brothers had failed. And all these brokerage firms and banks were failing. And it was a terrible time to buy a company and an even worse time to buy a book business. Borders was in the process of going bankrupt. independent bookstores were shutting down stores were reducing the amount of shelf space that they gave to books, you know, at big box stores like Walmart. And there we were buying a book business, but we did it. And we survived which is amazing, because I know some of our investors said that they didn’t really have any private investments that they made in 2008 Survive except for ours. So we managed to stumble our way through and survive. And then in around 2012 We really started to like find traction and and start to grow the business. And it was it was good though because I did start working on in 2007 and I never imagined I was going debate, the publisher and editor in chief, I didn’t really even know what those titles met in the book industry. What happened was the three of us, my husband, this guy who knew them, and then me, we were all doing the due diligence on the deal. And I did the due diligence of reading about 100 of the old Chicken Soup for the Soul books to understand what we would be buying, and then all of a sudden start coming up with title ideas. It’s like, oh, my gosh, I think I know how to make more Chicken Soup for the Soul books. I know the title, the the topics I want to cover. And so eventually, we somebody said to us, you pointing at me, you’re the publisher. I said, okay, then I guess I am. So so. So that’s my went from like the worlds of finance and telecommunications and technology, which had been my area, I’d been on lots of public company, boards of technology companies. That’s how I went from all of that, to being the publisher and editor in chief of a book series. So it was, it was definitely something different. And it’s the hardest I’ve ever worked in my life. And now I’ve been doing it for about 16 years, which is crazy. I’ve never had one job this long before. But it’s very fulfilling, because I know that these books are really helping people. And that makes it easy to put all of this effort into it.

Kara Goldin 6:30
So for people who aren’t familiar with Chicken Soup for the Soul, maybe they’ve seen it on a shelf somewhere, you’ve definitely unless you’re, you’ve been hiding under a rock, everyone has heard of it. But how would you describe the brand, to date and, and kind of what what is a reader going to get in general out of reading a book from the series.

Amy Newmark 6:52
So okay, for example, we’re putting out a few books this summer, most recent one is Chicken Soup for the Soul get out of your comfort zone. So that’s something a lot of people think about that they’re kind of stuck, they only do the stuff they’re comfortable with. They only go to the same places eat the same foods, there by accident, letting their lives get narrower and narrower. And this is one of my pet topics, getting out of your comfort zone, this is going to be the third book we’ve done on this topic. So we’re, you know, really big proponents of broadening your life again. So when you pick up Chicken Soup for the Soul, get out of your comfort zone, you get to read 101 stories from people who could be role models for you. And they share how they stepped outside their comfort zones. And undoubtedly, there will be at least 10 stories that really resonate with you. And I would be shocked if somebody could read that book. And not all of a sudden be very excited and energized, about going and stepping outside their own comfort zone and trying new things. And it could be something really little like trying a new food that they thought they would hate. And it could be something really big like traveling to another country and learning a foreign language in order to do that. So what our books really are like is 101 people sitting there and telling you over coffee, their best story about that topic. So if it’s something like we have a book called grieving and recovery, which would be really helpful for somebody going through the grieving process. And that book gives you 101 People who talk about their own grieving journeys, and will undoubtedly help somebody who’s going through the same thing themselves. And so I tell people, when they’re writing the stories for us, pretend you’re sitting there and having coffee with a friend, and you’re leaning in, and you’re being really open and vulnerable and honest and saying okay, this is what happened to me. And this is what I learned from it. And this is what you could do. That’s what our stories are like so it’s like a portable support group you can hold in your hand. And that’s the case for you know, the more serious topics like grieving or navigating the world of dementia with an elderly parent. And then we do super just fun entertaining books like books about dogs and cats and books about wacky family members. We do a lot of humor books, we’re very big in humor our our books always ended up being the number one humor books on the bookscan you know bestseller list and actually our dog and cat books always ended up being number one and number two and the bookscan pets bestseller list. So it’s a variety of things really helpful topics and also really entertaining topics.

Kara Goldin 9:48
I I love it. It’s it’s stories are really where we I believe we see how we can write when we hear other people’s stories and we do don’t actually need to know those people. Right, which I think, you know, if you just read about people, you feel like you know them. And maybe it’s even more comfortable for you to maybe read about somebody who’s going through their own or have been through their own situation with a parent with Alzheimer’s, for example. I know that you’ve done some stories on that too. And and I think it’s, it’s really powerful.

Amy Newmark 10:25
Yeah, you know, what’s interesting about that is I did a book called living with Alzheimer’s and other dementias, than I did a book called family caregivers with John London who has a specialty in this area. And then I did another book about dementia and more recently, but the first two books that I did, I had no idea I was going to need that information for myself. And then when my mother died, and we realized that my father’s dementia was much worse than we had thought, which is what often happens, one parent dies, and then you realize that the other parent was being, you know, supported by the first parent. It really helped me to understand what to do with my father, oh, my gosh, it was so helpful. So that was a great example of me benefiting from these books that were supposed to benefit other people, I ended up being a huge beneficiary of the work that I had already done on Alzheimer’s and other dementias. And by the way, I forgot to mention, you know, when we get those 1000s of stories for each book, we do read all of the submissions, I don’t read all of them, I read, like a few 100 semi finalists for each book, but but we have a team that reads the 1000s of submissions. So what ends up in the book is really the cream of the crop. And we get, you know, a very wide variety of stories so that you’re not reading the same thing over and over again, when you read the 101 stories.

Kara Goldin 11:46
That’s so interesting. I had Daniel Pink on a few months ago. And one of the things that he talked about, he did a survey on regrets. And he found that the world is actually not as different as one might think your series is in 40 different languages or maybe more across the world. Do you see a similar situation or different situation in terms of what people want to read? About? Do you find that there’s certain countries that want to read about aging parents than other countries? Or do you see those kinds of differences? I’m so curious,

Amy Newmark 12:29
I, I see more of an emphasis on self help books in Asia. So the self help books will sell better there, you know, more of them will go into translation in those countries or just be sold to those into those countries in English. So I see that, trying to think about where else, we’ve sold different topics, not so much dogs and cats because other than Canada and the UK, there’s doesn’t seem to be as much emphasis on dogs and cats being part of the family. In most of the countries of the world. We’re not all as crazy about our pets, as we are here. Or in Canada or the UK, you know. So I guess the one thing I’ve seen is a bigger emphasis on self help and business success and entrepreneurship and stuff like that, throughout Asia, you know, all the way from like India, through all of Southeast Asia, you know, to Japan, just every part of Asia seems to be more into the self help. And, and here, we do some self help books, and most people think of us as a self help brand. But really, each year, we might only do two self help books out of maybe 10 titles.

Kara Goldin 13:43
So interesting. And you were still launching a book a month.

Amy Newmark 13:48
It’s about a book a month, it’s a little slower right now, because we started to do coloring books also. So that’s kind of filling in the gaps, because Adult Coloring is a big deal. So our first coloring book is going to come out this fall. It’s going to be unique because there’s there are going to be coloring pages plus Chicken Soup for the Soul stories. So that’s what will make it different. I was interested in what you said about regrets. That’s a huge part of what we talk about Chicken Soup for the Soul. We talk about forgiveness and lack of forgiveness, because it’s something that everybody has to work on. Uh huh.

Kara Goldin 14:24
Yeah, and not holding on to it. I was gonna ask you that question. I heard another interview that you did, where you were talking about kind of the pillars I guess you didn’t really call it pillars. But there were five pillars and what I was hearing you talk about that were really kind of the emphasis of not only the books, but things that were consistent across what you were hearing from people, what can you share a little bit more about that?

Amy Newmark 14:49
Sure. If I were your happiness coach, I would definitely be giving you these five pillars. So one of them is to use the power of forgiveness. And so here’s how Something interesting and I’m supposed to be a word person. But I didn’t really understand this. I thought forgiveness, I thought the word forgiveness meant that you were telling somebody, oh, don’t worry about it, it wasn’t so bad. It’s okay. But that isn’t what forgiveness means forgiveness. And I even saw this definition from the Mayo Clinic. Forgiveness means that you have made an internal decision, the other person who wronged you doesn’t even have to know about this, you have decided that you are not going to relive the negative emotions associated with that wrong that was done to you. And so we get these amazing stories that have had such an impact on me like one story was from a woman named for Rita. Oh, no, wait for Rita was the smiling lady, I’m going to tell you that one later. This was a different person. And Lynn and Lynn story was about how she got divorced. And she just held on to this resentment. And she would tell everybody about her ex husband, even strangers. And finally, her best friend said to her after years of this, Lynn, you might as well still be married to the guy, you take him with you wherever you go. And that’s what lack of forgiveness is it’s carrying that that person or that incident around inside your head, letting it take up valuable space in your head. And I like to think of a lack of forgiveness as if you’re wearing a heavy cloak. And you’ve sewn onto this heavy cloak like a piece of metal, for each insult, resentment, disappointment thing that was done to you. And now you’re walking along. And this heavy cloak is so weighed down. And then you just kind of shrug your shoulders, and you let that cloak drop behind you. Because it should be behind you. Because those things happened in your past, and they should remain in your past. And then you could walk forward free, you just have to say to yourself, I’m going to intellectually know that that thing happened, not going to forget it happened, but I’m going to intellectually know that it happened. But I refuse to continue reacting to it. It’s very liberating. And you just have to decide to do it. And you can actually try doing it on a small hurt first, you can practice and develop your skill. So try it on the person who cut you off while you were driving to work, you know, and then work your way up to the in law who really robbed you, you know, so so that’s one of my pillars for happiness. Another one would be to use the power of gratitude. Because if you don’t focus on what’s good in your life, you’re just going to focus on what you lack. And we all have way more good things that we can focus on the bad things. And I have not had to do this because I feel like I’m naturally kind of grateful anyway. And I always find the silver linings. And if something bad happens, I’d say, Oh, I wonder what the silver lining will do. But half of us are wired that way and half of us are not. And the cool thing about gratitude is it’s, it’s actually a character trait you can add on, even though most of us are kind of fully baked. And there aren’t that many things you can change, you can change this and you can practice gratitude in a minute a day. And you will actually start to be able to use the power of gratitude to make yourself happier. And all you have to do is write down three things every night, that happened during the day that were good. And it could be something big, like, my spouse is so supportive, or could be something small, like I chose the right line at the bank. You know, whatever it is, and you have to write down three different things each day. And it changes your whole attitude because you go through each day thinking, Oh, what am I going to write on my list tonight? And it literally takes one minute to write it down. So that’s another one of our pillars out of the five pillars.

Kara Goldin 19:01
I love it. Do you mind jumping into the other ones?

Amy Newmark 19:03
I would love to do the other ones? Absolutely. So another pillar. And you already know this is one of my favorite topics is to step outside your comfort zone. You just feel so good, so empowered and enjoy and energized when you do something that you were a little bit frightened of or uncomfortable with. Or it could be something minor, like everybody said that you should go to this new store, but you didn’t really know where the parking was for the store. And then you say that’s silly. I’m just gonna go and then you go and you find the parking and you go to the store and you love it. Or it could be something really major like I test myself like, I went with a friend to Universal Studios in California and we the park was going to close in one hour and we ran the fact we did it so fast that we couldn’t think about how scared we were we went on every single scary roller coaster ride that they had. In one hour we went into the singles line and we just ran from one to the next We got them all done in one hour. And then we were so proud of ourselves. And then I also went paragliding in Oman and jumped off 1000 foot cliff, and paraglider down to the beach. You’re, you’re strapped onto a person. But it’s still terrifying because they say to you, when you’re when you’re at the top of the cliff, they say it only works if you run off the cliff. But it turns out, it’s a parachute that’s lying on the ground behind you. And it won’t fill with air until you jump off the cliff, right? But you jump off the cliff before it’s filled with air. Oh, and then to make it worse, they put a helmet on your head, like that’s gonna help you that’s gonna save you when you plummet to your death. Maybe that will just help them identify you.

Kara Goldin 20:46
I know who I’m gonna call when I need my next adventure calling me right, I

Amy Newmark 20:50
have a lot of adventures. And I even you know, did minor things like I was sure I hated avocados. And then I forced myself to try it because I had an avocado for breakfast this morning. I like avocados, it turns out. All right, here’s the another pillar is to use your positive thinking. I know that sounds kind of like, like, obvious and banal. But but but there are, I’m a very practical person, there are practical ways to use your your positive thinking. For example, no matter what’s happening in your day, even if you’re in a bad mood. Life is terrible. If you smile at people, they will smile back at you and it will just change how they interact with you. And that’s the woman for Rita I was going to talk about, she would have she was in a really bad mood one day and she was in the post office and stomping her way through the line. And then she stomped her way through the parking lot when she got out of this very long line at the post office. And then she saw this woman looking really sours stomping towards her. And then for Rita thought, oh my gosh, is that what I look like. And so she smiled at this woman who was her carbon copy. And then that woman kind of stopped and visibly relaxed, at her face relaxed, and that she smiled back at for Rita. And it was a real lesson too for Rita. And it’s something that I do, no matter what’s going on, I will smile at whoever I’m interacting with. And they will treat me better, and my day will go better. And then my fifth pillar, and this became very obvious during COVID to all of us, I think, is to get outside in nature. And it could be you’re going for a really strenuous hike, or it could be you’re just sitting on your porch, in a rocking chair. But when you get outside in nature, you get a you get perspective, and you realize that you’re just one little living creature and you’re surrounded by all these other living creatures. And they’re all very busy with their lives and your problems become so much less important. Plus, it’s just really good for your, your mental health and your physical well being to get out in nature. It’s that Oh, go ahead. Go ahead.

Kara Goldin 23:04
No, I was gonna say I couldn’t agree more I start my day every day. In, in, in nature. So I live in a place which is a whole other story that I often say to people that you know, where you live, actually does make a difference, especially if you have a hard time getting into nature, right, where you’re living in a concrete jungle and which I’ve also done, but it really does change your perspective, if you’re able to get out in nature and see things that you might not be able to in other parts of their environments.

Amy Newmark 23:41
There have been studies about the value of exposing yourself to trees. And it’s, there’s something about trees, they’re around for so long. And they were there before we were born, they’re gonna be there after we die. And they just are they’re the steadfast, gigantic, you know, pieces of nature. And then they provide communities for all these different animals. They’re amazing. And in in Japan, you know, they have this concept Shinrin Yoku, which means forest bathing. And they really are onto something because these, these scientific studies have shown even having a tree outside your office window. If you can look at a tree, even though you’re stuck inside a box, just looking at the tree improves your physical and mental well being.

Kara Goldin 24:26
I think that is so so true. I have not seen that study, but I believe it and it’s it’s incredible what you know, all of the things that you’re talking about. So the stories are great. This is your 30th anniversary.

Amy Newmark 24:43
Can you believe it? I don’t know. 30 years.

Kara Goldin 24:48
So what are you guys doing for the 30th anniversary? Do you want to share with everybody?

Amy Newmark 24:52
Sure we put out a book we took the original Chicken Soup for the Soul book, which you know needed some modernizing And, and we removed from it the stories that were no longer relevant or topical or even politically correct, you know, and, and so we slimmed it down a little. And then we added 30 new stories from today’s thought leaders. And so it’s really an updated version of the original Chicken Soup for the Soul. So that’s what we did for our 30th anniversary. And, and we’re just doing a lot of podcasts. And you know, we’re having fun talking about the 30 years because people just can’t believe it’s been 30 years, but then they say, oh, yeah, actually, yeah, I do believe it’s 30 years, because I remember reading Chicken Soup for the teenage soul. And that was almost 30 years ago. You know,

Kara Goldin 25:46
I love it. You know, the other thing is, I was doing research on on you and, and obviously, what your role is, I think it’s really, it’s, it’s incredible what you’re doing. But it’s also It must be very motivating what you’re doing, because you’re reading these stories, and you’re bringing people stories, not only to others, but also you’re helping people to feel better get motivated. So it I feel like you’ve got your helper to lots of different angles, which must make you personally feel really great.

Amy Newmark 26:23
It makes me and my whole team feel great, because we’re all aware of it. And we all see the fan mail that we get and the email, the emails and the written letters that we get from people talking about how the books have helped them, or how our particular story changed everything for them, we, we actually do get letters from people saying they were contemplating suicide, and then they read something in one of our books that turned things around for them. And so now rebuilding their lives. So that happens and and we all feel that we are so improved ourselves as a result of working on these books. I mean, I know I’m less judgmental, definitely more forgiving, more positive. I’ve definitely stepped up outside my comfort zone more than I would have if I weren’t working on these stories. It’s just made me an improved version, like version 2.0 of myself.

Kara Goldin 27:16
So if you knowing all the stories that you read, and and you’re obviously editing and publishing these books, what would you say are the non negotiables in life that are you touched on on forgiveness, but if you had to kind of name things that are that are just so key that you think we all need reminders of?

Amy Newmark 27:36
Well, here’s something that I think we need to be reminded of. And that is that we have every right to remove toxicity from our lives, we all have the right to remove toxic people or toxic situations from our lives. And that’s really important, you know, if you’re saying, Oh, I have this friend, and I have to go to lunch with her, but don’t really enjoy it. Because all she does is complain, you actually don’t have to do that, you’re allowed to reduce the amount of time you spent with that friend, you don’t have to drop her altogether. But you can reduce that toxic element of your life and try to spend more time with people you value who add value to your life. Or you can clear your calendar of things that you don’t want to do that people talk to you into doing and you don’t want to do them, you can clear them off your calendar to do the things that you do want to do. And so I think one of the things that I’ve learned is that it’s okay to be self protective. You can be an unselfish giving person who is always helping other people, and you could still be engaged in active self protection. You really can’t.

Kara Goldin 28:49
No, I love that. Well, we will have all of the info available in the show notes. But Amy knew mark, you are so inspiring. I love that we were able to have this discussion, everyone definitely needs to pick up a copy of the 30th anniversary. But all of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series is just absolutely incredible. And I’ve found that I’ve gone back to a few of them over the years to especially when I’ve gone through different situations where I needed reminders or needed to be able to think about things. It’s really, really incredible. So thank you again for sharing your time with us and, and thank you everybody for listening.

Amy Newmark 29:33
Thanks for having me.

Kara Goldin 29:34
Thanks again for listening to the Kara Goldin show. If you would please give us a review and feel free to share this podcast with others who would benefit and of course, feel free to subscribe so you don’t miss a single episode of our podcast. Just a reminder that I can be found on all platforms at Kara Goldin and if you want to hear more about my journey, I hope you will have a listen or Pick up a copy of my book on daunted which I share my journey, including founding and building hint. We are here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. And thanks everyone for listening. Have a great rest of the week, and 2023 and good bye for now. Before we sign off, I want to talk to you about fear. People like to talk about fearless leaders. But achieving big goals isn’t about fearlessness. Successful leaders recognize their fears and decide to deal with them head on in order to move forward. This is where my new book undaunted comes in. This book is designed for anyone who wants to succeed in the face of fear, overcome doubts and live a little undaunted. Order your copy today at undaunted, the and learn how to look your doubts and doubters in the eye and achieve your dreams. For a limited time. You’ll also receive a free case of hint water. Do you have a question for me or want to nominate an innovator to spotlight send me a tweet at Kara Goldin and let me know. And if you liked what you heard, please leave me a review on Apple podcasts. You can also follow along with me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn at Kara Goldin. Thanks for listening