“Get a day job.”
“We don’t know the central character well enough.”
“Anthologies don’t sell.”
If the authors who received the above feedback from publishers had quit on their dreams, we wouldn’t have the iconic characters Harry Potter or Holden Caulfield, and Chicken Soup would be nothing more than a hearty dish best eaten when feeling sick. Instead, authors JK Rowling, JD Salinger and Jack Canfield & Mark Victor Hansen persevered and went on to create literary giants that have become household names for generations.
Chicken Soup for the Soul was rejected so many times that co-creator Jack Canfield says he likely wouldn’t be where he is today if he’d given up after the first 100 rejections. Jack was told his idea — to publish a collection of inspiring stories — would never work — a soul-crushing 144 times. When he finally did land a publisher, he was told he’d be lucky to sell 20,000 books. But, Jack and his co-author had much bigger dreams.
“Our goal was to sell a million-and-a-half in the first 18 months,” Jack says.
The publisher thought they were nuts. Yet, the Chicken Soup for the Soul series became an international sensation, with over 123 million copies sold in North America and more than 500 million copies in print worldwide.
Imagine if Jack had quit after 100 rejections?
LAYING THE GROUNDWORK FOR SUCCESS
Jack, the oldest of four children was born in Fort Worth, Texas and spent his teen years in Wheeling, West Virginia. His father worked hard making about $8,000 a year, there was never much money to go around according to Jack.
He remembers one Christmas his father worked late one night selling Christmas trees only to barely break even. From that childhood experience, Canfield was left with the idea that no matter how hard you work, you never really get ahead. Yet, despite that belief, he threw himself into his education and focused on taking 100% responsibility for his life.
After having a high school teacher recognize his potential and encourage him to apply, Jack attended Harvard University. It was at Harvard that he took a psychology class that would have a major influence in the direction he would take in life. The class inspired him to become a teacher, so after graduating with a Degree in Chinese History, he accepted his first position teaching inner city kids in Chicago.
During his time in Chicago, Jack developed what would become a lifelong commitment to learning. He went on to get his Master’s Degree in Education from UMass, Amherst. He took seminars or workshops nearly every weekend and he read for at least an hour a day. Jack also became interested in public speaking and began giving self-esteem seminars to schools and businesses. That niche soon expanded into general success training, which set the stage for what would become one of his greatest accomplishments.
Jack’s speeches always included true stories to inspire and motivate his students and his audiences. People would often ask him if the stories were written down anywhere so they could share them with family and friends. That’s when the idea for Chicken Soup for the Soul took root. Jack realized that all these inspiring anecdotes and stories could be made into a book that would be truly unique.
A great idea, but one that proved difficult to see to fruition.
THE ROAD TO SUCCESS IS PEPPERED WITH REJECTION
Jack and Mark worked together to create a compilation of true stories for their book, spending hours and days deciding which stories should be included. Once they finalized their selection, they meditated on a title. After three nights of going to bed repeating the phrase ‘mega-bestselling title’ a vision came to Jack during his morning meditation of a hand writing the words ‘chicken soup’ on a blackboard.
But what did chicken soup have to do with their collection of inspiring stories?
Jack then says he heard a voice say, “Chicken soup is what your grandmother gave you when you were sick.” This led him to the realization that peoples’ spirits were sick and this book could uplift them. The title eventually evolved to Chicken Soup for the Soul: 101 Stories to Open the Heart and Rekindle the Spirit. The team had goosebumps when they heard it.
Now that they had a book, and the perfect title, both Jack and Mark were sure their book could inspire millions of readers — if only they could find a publisher. The pair pitched their book to 22 publishers in New York City and were soundly rejected by each one. Publishers didn’t think an anthology would sell, they didn’t like the title, and they didn’t think the stories had enough edge.
Undeterred, Jack and Mark mailed the book out to more publishers, only to receive the same feedback. Even their literary agent returned the book and said he couldn’t sell it. In a final effort, they attended a book conference in Anaheim, California the following spring. They spent the weekend going booth to booth pitching Chicken Soup for the Soul. They were rejected again and again — but then, on the final day of the conference they met Gary Seidler and Peter Vegso, President and CEO of Health Communications Inc., which published mainly addiction and recovery books.
They both loved it. After 144 rejections, they at last had a publisher.
The book took one year to make it to the top of the New York Times bestsellers list, but once it was there, it stayed. The original book eventually sold over 11 million copies worldwide and the Chicken Soup brand is one of the most recognizable in the world.
WHAT HE WAS PUT ON THIS EARTH TO DO
Jack and his team published 230 different iterations of Chicken Soup books over the next 15 years and launched product lines from pet food to greeting cards expanding the brand as well. But eventually, like many mature businesses, the fun and passion started to wane. Knowing the brand deserved a new home they collectively decided it was time to sell the company.
Jack says he rediscovered his life’s purpose after Chicken Soup. He decided to go full circle and get back into teaching, something that had always brought him joy. He wanted to take everything he’d learned from his enormous success and share it with others.
In 2005 he published, The Success Principles, How to Get From Where You Are to Where You Want to Be. Using the same timeless principles he used, he would then set out to share them with the world. The principles were designed as a roadmap to help guide people to achieve their goals. Jack’s latest offering to his readers, spells it all out and has been praised as the new self-improvement classic of the decade.
Aside from writing the book, Jack began teaching the success principles around the world, and he and his team noticed that people from all different backgrounds were represented — doctors, artists and entrepreneurs. It made Jack wonder, “What if each of these people, with their own unique backgrounds, could be trained to teach the principles in their individual fields?” The impact of the success principles could multiply exponentially!
That’s how the Train the Trainer Program came to be. Jack teaches his success principles to participants and then trains them to lead their own seminars, workshops and speeches all around the world. Jack and his team are creating the next generation of self-development experts, and their goal is to have one million people around the world teaching The Success Principles by 2030.
In addition to his Train the Trainer Program Live or Online, Jack is spreading his message in true 21st century fashion. He is active on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and has over 1 million fans on Facebook. He writes regular blog posts on his website and he has a YouTube channel. He posts videos weekly on topics like ‘How to Use Your Tax Return to Invest in Yourself’ and ‘The One Word that Will Boost Your Creativity.’
Jack says he views success as fulfilling your soul’s purpose, or doing exactly what you were put on this earth to do. He discovered his purpose in life a long time ago, and sharing his gifts with the world brings him joy. It also brings others joy, as part of Jack’s purpose is helping other people find their passion. Jack takes his past and his tremendous success and boils it all down into something relatable that has helped thousands of people find their own success and happiness.
From his blog to his Train the Trainer Program, Jack Canfield, the man known as “America’s #1 Success Coach,” shows no signs of slowing down.