As a publisher, sometimes you come across projects that can
unexpectedly reshape the direction of your company and your life.
Take the subject of food and your health—Part One.
When I started out in the publishing business, I was lucky enough to land a job with a college textbook company, first as a salesperson and then as an associate editor. So when I started my first publishing company along with two partners, it was natural that we focused on what I knew: books and lab manuals designed for college courses. The problem was that our sales were seasonal, based solely on when semesters began. Having to wait months to get paid was hard on our cash flow, and after a time, I knew that we needed to do something different.
One of our printers told me about a book he had been printing for a customer. He said the interior of the book looked pretty bad, but based on the number of reprints, it must have been selling. He handed me a copy and told me to check it out. He wasn’t wrong about the way the book looked, but in spite of its unappealing appearance, it was selling. The question was why? It was essentially a cookbook that focused on raw fruits and vegetables and something called wheatgrass. Having been raised on meat and potatoes, I didn’t understand the attraction of a vegetarian-style cookbook, but it obviously had an audience. It made me think that this type of market might be worth checking out.
The author was a woman named Ann Wigmore, and she had founded a teaching center located in Boston called the Hippocrates Health Institute. I called the Institute to set up a meeting with Ms. Wigmore and was connected to Stephen Blauer, the Institute’s director. When I expressed my interest in Ms. Wigmore’s book, Stephen was kind enough to invite me to see the center and meet with Ms. Wigmore. A week later, I stood in front of a beautiful four-story turn-of-the century building in the heart of downtown Boston. When I walked inside, I was immediately stuck by the strong odor of grass, much like a freshly mowed lawn. I was met at the reception area by Stephen, who took me on a tour.
I learned that the Institute had become one of the most popular health centers in the country thanks to a number of articles that had appeared in some elite fashion magazines. And as we walked through the building, the crowded classrooms clearly showed just how popular the Institute had become. When I asked if this popularity was due to a growing interest in raw veggies, he said, “Not quite. People are sick and they want to be healthy.” He pointed out that the Standard American Diet was likely to kill more of us than any single illness—in fact, most illnesses could be linked to our poor eating habits. Although I heard what he was saying, I had no intention of changing the way I ate.
After our tour of the center, Stephen took me to meet Ann, who had a beautiful apartment on the top floor. She was plainly dressed, relatively thin, and spoke with a slight European accent. She offered me a drink—a glass of wheatgrass juice. It had a distinctive odor, similar to the one I first encountered downstairs but stronger. It tasted the way I imagined grass would taste, only it was sweeter and had a little kick.
We then sat down and had a very informative conversation. She told me how she had discovered the benefits of wheatgrass juice, why she believed raw fruits and vegetables made you healthier, and how the Institute came to be. I told her about my company and said that I was interested in publishing her recipe book. She said she appreciated my interest and that she would talk to Stephen about my offer. By the time we were done, I had finished my drink, and I have to admit that I was feeling pretty good.
Stephen met me downstairs. I told him that I enjoyed meeting Ann and felt that our conversation had gone well. I also told him I had tried the wheatgrass juice. At first, I didn’t think it tasted all that good—but by the time I had finished, it wasn’t all that bad. He had a big smile on his face. “Was it a little sweet?” he asked. When I nodded, he told me that Ann sometimes added a little honey and then aged it. Some of the sugar in the honey then turned into alcohol. I said to Stephen, “Well, I’ve only been here a few hours, and I’m feeling a lot healthier.” We both laughed. A few days later, Stephen called to inform me that Ann had given me the go-ahead to publish her book.
During the book’s editing process, Stephen and I spoke frequently about the book. But he also wanted me to understand the power of food, and he was very convincing—so much so that I decided to go on a raw vegetarian diet. I really didn’t think it was going to make a difference, but I promised Stephen I would give it a try. My daily meals consisted of fruits, salads, or both. On the third day of that diet, I woke up and knew something was different. For the first time since I was a kid, my nose wasn’t stuffed and I was able to breathe easily. Now, that may not sound like a big deal, but if you’ve suffered from sinusitis most of your life, waking up without feeling pressure in your head and being able to breathe normally is a blessing. I called Stephen that day and told him I felt the diet was working—and I thanked him for being so persistent. About three months later, I had lost about forty unwanted pounds and was feeling very good.
As fate would have it, the moment I woke up and was able to breathe freely was a turning point in both my life and the direction of my company. Over the years that followed, we published five additional Ann Wigmore titles, all of which became bestsellers. With the publication of her books, we were able to expand our sales into health food shops and trade bookstores, finally freeing us from the rigid college textbook market. My belief in the healing power of food has also guided my second publishing company, Square One. We have stayed on track, always looking to publish the best, most informative health-based vegetarian cookbooks and diet titles. And as you can you see from our titles below, our commitment to healthy eating is as strong as it ever was. However, as my next post will explain, this was my first step towards expanding both my company and my own view of what good health entails.
To see some of my previous posts, I invite you to visit our website at www.squareonepublishers.com, and click the “NOTES FROM” tab.
Rudy Shur, Publisher
Square One Publishers, Inc.