Amy Newmark is publisher, editor-in-chief, and co-author of the Chicken Soup for the Soul book series. She has been credited for revitalizing the brand after she and her husband, Bill Rouhana, along with an investor group, bought the company in 2008.
Amy graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University where she majored in Portuguese and minored in French. During her junior and senior years, she researched and wrote a thesis about popular, spoken-word poetry in Brazil. She lived in Brazil for several months, meeting with poets and writers to collect their stories. She has now come full circle in her writing career—from collecting poetry “from the people” to collecting stories and poems “from the people” for Chicken Soup for the Soul.
What sparked your personal writing journey?
I have always loved to write. Even as a little kid, when other girls were playing with dolls I would write for fun. I never saw writing a story as a homework assignment—it was just fun!
God sometimes sends us down an unexpected path in life—one that ultimately blesses us more than our original plan. Have you ever experienced such a “Divine Detour”?
I spent most of my career in business, beginning in college as a telecommunications expert, moving on to Wall Street as an analyst and investor, joining the management team of a telecommunications start-up, and then becoming a director for half a dozen publicly-traded small technology companies that needed some seasoned businesspeople on their boards.
All of those jobs always involved writing, because even in business you need to write clearly and in great volume in order to explain to consumers, investors, and employees what companies do.
But I never imagined I would become an author of anything other than a couple of books on telecommunications that I wrote early in my career. My husband and I definitely took a divine detour when we bought Chicken Soup for the Soul from its founders Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen, and it has been a wonderful journey the last seven years. I love what I’m doing now—we’re a socially conscious company and we love the fact that we can make these great books and other products (including food) for people, and do good at the same time with all the charitable giving that we do with the proceeds from our sales.
You’re credited with revitalizing the Chicken Soup for the Soul brand. What about the books captured your interest?
I absolutely loved the format of the books. They have to be one of the first implementations of “crowd sourcing” along with that very popular word—“curating”—since we curate like crazy. We get thousands of submissions for each book and we only publish 101 stories, so we can use the cream of the crop.
The books are a powerful tool to share happiness, inspiration and wellness with our readers, and at this stage in my life (I’m 57) I am really excited about doing something that makes people happy, that is a great value for consumers, and that also allows us to make significant charitable contributions to non-profit causes in a variety of areas.
Let’s talk about one of your latest books, Living with Alzheimer’s & Other Dementias: 100 Stories of Caregiving, Coping, and Compassion (Chicken Soup for the Soul, April 2014). Please tell us about it.
The Alzheimer’s book came about when I was a keynoter at a book industry conference that benefited the Alzheimer’s Association Connecticut Chapter and I thought about the hundreds of stories I was seeing every year from our contributors about Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. I realized there was a tremendous need for a book that would help caregivers and people in the early stages of dementia. And I was committed to using the royalties from the book to help support the Alzheimer’s community so I made a partnership with the Alzheimer’s Association. They helped us solicit, select, and edit the stories for the book and we are giving them the royalties from the sales. We are also allowing all the Alzheimer’s Association chapters to sell the book themselves and keep the profits. Between the royalties and the sales of the book, I think we have already helped the Alzheimer’s Association raise more than $60,000 and it’s only been half a year so far!
How do you go about deciding on book topics, and what’s your process for selecting the best stories?
Almost all of our book topic ideas originate with me. Some books are designed to fill a niche where I think we can be helpful, for example our books about raising kids on the autism spectrum, about living with Alzheimer’s and other dementias, or about traumatic brain injuries. Some are designed to comfort and inspire, such as our books about miracles or angels, or our books about positive thinking and pursuing your passion and making your dreams a reality. And some are designed to be just plain entertaining, like our books about dogs and cats. But even books like those have an agenda—they entertain, but they also carry forward the Chicken Soup for the Soul mission to do good, to make a difference, and to give back. You may have noticed that our cat and dog books have a lot of stories about people adopting wonderful animals from shelters, and we go even deeper, and make sure we include a lot of stories about adopting senior dogs and pit bulls and black cats, all categories that tend to get left behind at the shelters.
Our process for selecting the stories is that we read every single story that is submitted. Everyone has a chance to get in and we are always looking for new talent! We have a team of editors who work with me to read all the stories and discuss the kinds of stories we are looking for as they make their (way) through the thousands of submissions.
What’s coming up next for Chicken Soup for the Soul?
We are working very hard right now to support animal shelters. I just got back from a trip to LA to help the SPCA of LA. We donated 6,000 pounds of dog and cat food to the shelter and also gave them a copy of our latest bestsellers on dogs and cats to give to every adoptive family that took him a dog or cat in the last couple of weeks. We had a similar program in Las Vegas in July and August and it was a big success.
Another exciting thing for us is the roll out of our new line of soups and pasta sauces and other food items, all designed to make it fun and easy to get dinner on the table quickly. We want people to get their families and friends back together around the dinner table again, without getting stressed out about it. You’ll start seeing these food items all over the country and also on Amazon.
We’re also expanding our line of food and treats for dogs and cats. We’ve updated the packaging and added more protein and veggies to the food. It’s a super premium food for those pets that we all love.
A few fun questions…
When the words aren’t flowing—or when you want to celebrate if they are—what is your favorite comfort food and why?
I love our Chicken Soup for the Soul tomato basil soup. I am a real tomato soup aficionado and I keep boxes and boxes of it in our garage so that I can have it several times a week.
In the story that is your life, are you the strong, female lead; the girl next door; the mysterious woman behind dark glasses; the super heroine; or the little girl trying to walk in high heels?
I am all of the above, and I really mean it. And not to use the word literally too much, since so many people use it incorrectly, but I really do have trouble walking in high heels!
Several of your books have featured stories about family pets (most recently The Cat Did What? and The Dog Did What?). Please tell us about your pets, if any, or your favorite pet as a child.
I grew up with dogs as well as other pets. We always had at least one dog and sometimes two and my parents, who are in their mid-eighties, still have a dog. My husband and I do not have a dog right now as we travel so much, but two of our four children have dogs and we are blessed that we get to dog-sit a lot, especially for my daughter’s incredible rescue Pug, Riley, who looks like an alien and acts like the best behaved dog in the whole world.
Thank you, Amy! It’s an honor to have you as a guest at DivineDetour.
Thank you. It’s an honor to meet your audience and be part of what you do!
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For more information about Amy Newmark and Chicken Soup for the Soul, visit the Chicken Soup for the Soul website.
To purchase Chicken Soup for the Soul: Living with Alzheimer’s & Other Dementias and other Chicken Soup for the Soul books, log on to: