'Callanetics': The Little Book That Could
The Wall Street Journal – January 28th 1986, Joanne Kaufman
Barbara Biffinger Pfeiffer Pinckney's students view her as a healer and miracle worker. "But I don't go along with that," says Ms, Pinckney, who on the advice of a numerologist changed her first name to Callan. To people in the publishing world she is the 5-foot-l, 108-pound author of "Callanetics," a best-selling book of "deep" muscle exercise that gives you a perfect figure."
The freckled, 46 year-old Ms. Pinckney based her book on 13 years' experience reshaping the bad bodies that happen to good people. But her most calisthenic achievement was to lift her book onto the best-seller list a year after publication, just when It was about to fall onto remainder tables. Currently, William Morrow & Co. has 200,000 copies of "Callanetics" in print and selling briskly at $17.95 each.
"Fourteen months after a book is published to a great lack of Interest, for it to become a best seller is extraordinary; it's unprecedented," says Pat Golbitz, Ms. Pinckney's editor at Morrow.
"Most books catch fire in the first two or three months of their life," says Stuart Appelbaum, Vice president and director of publicity at Bantam Publishers. "I can't think of another example of a book that made the best-seller list a year after its publication almost entirely because the author didn't give up working the pipeline to make It happen."
"She has shown the publishing houses how to do things," adds a Bantam editor who requested anonymity.
Callan Pinckney hardly set out to show the publishing houses a thing or two. In fact, she didn't set out to write a book at all; she was far too busy living one. A ninth- generation Savannah, Ga., debutante who was suspended from every school she attended, Ms. Pinckney quit college after two disgusted years, and, making a large blot on the Pinckney escutcheon, took a job in a department store to finance a carefully plotted "getaway."
Late one night she threw her suitcase from a second-story window and climbed out after it. Friends drove her to the depot, where she caught a bus for Wilmington, N.C., then a freighter bound for Germany. The next 11 years she spent shoveling snow in London, waiting tables in Capetown, tracking animal migration in central Africa and modeling miniskirts in Japan. Then an overloaded rucksack threw her back out and sent her home. At the airport, she looked so bad that her mother fainted.
"I was getting to the point where I couldn't lift my neck," recalls Ms. Pinckney. To avoid surgery and possible confinement to a wheelchair, she started creating exercises she hoped would stop the pain. "Then one day I looked in the mirror and saw what the exercises had done for me."
And so Callanetics - "exercises that melt fat off buttocks and hips, flatten the tummy, slim the thighs," etc. etc. -was born. The word spread and drew diplomats, businesspeople and celebrities such as Barbra Streisand and Ellen Burstyn to Ms. Pinckney's East Side aerie.
"I never thought about writing a book," she says. "I thought you had to have 35 years' experience before voicing your opinion on the body. But I saw those Hollywood movie-star fluff-puff books coming out and they were a giggle. So I said, 'How do you write a book?'"
Her 207-page album of exercises and unretouched photos of pre- and post- Callanetic body parts came out in September 1984, With a 10,000-copy first printing. Morrow sent Ms. Pinckney on a tour to Cincinnati, Cleveland and a few other cities. The first printing sold out within three weeks, followed by a second press run of 5,000 and, according to the author, "the books just sat there in the warehouse. I don't understand why."
Part of the "why" had to do with a prevailing attitude that can be summed up as "No aerobics, no celebrity, no good." Twelve cities turned Morrow's director of publicity down when she tried to arrange a tour for "Callanetics."
"The reaction of the chains and book- stores was. 'She's not Jane Fonda. Who's Callan Pinckney,''' recalls Ms. Golbitz. ''We acquired the book because it was an extraordinary regimen. I knew that the exercises worked. Morrow was so sure of them that the book carries a money-back guarantee. We packaged it beautifully but no one was very interested."
Morrow couldn't book Miss Pinckney? Fine, she'd book herself, concentrating on the South because of family connections. She'd nag book chains into restocking, and she'd nag Morrow to supply books to stores on her self-arranged route. Her monthly phone bills were $1,000 and her ties with Morrow were strained. "Callan can be a real pain in the ass," noted one editor.
Ms. Pinckney was a blazing success at every stop- in Hilton Head, Charleston and Greenville, S.C. -but these blazing successes amounted to little more than brush fires.
"I started stuttering," she recalls. "I had a twitch. I couldn't eat, and all my friends said 'Callan, give it up. The book is dead.' “ But Ms. Pinckney had reason to believe otherwise, since she had a thick folder of fan mall from people who'd bought the book in its first printing and wanted to know when she'd be coming to their city, when she'd be coming out with a video, when she'd be franchising her operation. Still, she almost quit. "I was going to give myself one week more and then I was going to give it up."
That week, a Chicago fan who had seen improvement after only two hours of Callanetics but wasn't sure whether she was doing the exercises just right called Ms. Pinckney to ask when she'd be in town. The desperate Ms. Pinckney said, "Get me on a TV show and I'll be there." The desperate fan pleaded her case to an "A.M. Chicago" producer who arranged a booking.
"We had 400 orders within the first hour of when she was on the show," says William Richman, vice president and trade-book buyer for Kroch's & Brentano's, a major retailer that had initially carried "CaIlanetics" but then returned it to Morrow after tepid sales. "It's the largest single response we've ever had. It's almost unheard of; so we were forced to reorder again, and it was several months before we could catch up on demand. Then she appeared again and it took off again. She has an inordinate ability to sell the book."
Noting her success in Chicago, Morrow sent Ms. Pinckney to St. Louis for an appearance on "The Sally Jessy Raphael Show." "Since we're syndicated and appear at different times in different markets, every time the phones began to ring crazy we would look at each other and say 'Callanetics,' and there would be viewers from New York, Los Angeles or Philadelphia saying 'Where do we get the book?'” says the program's executive producer, Burt Dubrow. He remembers one book-store that had a "Callanetics" waiting list of 400 names.
The response was equally vigorous on "The Regis Philbin Show" and "The Joe Franklin Show," which logged more than 100 calls the day after Ms. Pinckney's appearance. The author herself received 300 calls and a flood of letters from people wanting to know where to find the book. Those two shows gave "Callanetics" its final push onto the best-seller list.
"This is a very strong argument for doing the smaller shows that aren't national and keeping at it," says Tom Consolino, director of sales at Morrow.
"It's one of those mysteries that make publishing so wonderful," says Morrow's president, Sherry Arden.
Ms. Pinckney also thinks what's happened is wonderful, but she isn't mystified. "I was reading about my ancestors' taking on King George and I felt that I could take on the publishing world." Still flexing, she plans to put out a Callanetics video and then write a book about her world travels.