Amy Newmark, publisher and editor-in-chief of Chicken Soup for the Soul, joins Zibby to discuss the Chicken Soup series and the thirtieth-anniversary edition that Zibby wrote a bonus essay for! Amy describes how some of her favorite Chicken Soup stories–those on forgiveness, gratitude, and grief–have helped her navigate challenges in her own life, including her journey with cancer. She also talks about fear, letting go of toxic friends, and what it really means to forgive.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Amy. Thank you so much for coming back on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss your baby, Chicken Soup for the Soul. Congratulations on the thirtieth anniversary. This is so exciting.

Amy Newmark: I know. Thirty years, can you believe it? What I can’t believe is I’ve been part of it for more than fifteen years. It was almost sixteen years ago that I started working on my Chicken Soup for the Soul project. I think I’ve put out 195 new books in the last fifteen years. I know, it’s insane. It’s really insane. It’s been one book a month for all those years. I never thought I would still be doing it. I’m sixty-six years old, and I’m still doing it. It’s crazy. The books are so helpful to me personally. Our whole staff feels that way. First, I just wanted to thank you, actually, for your story for the thirtieth anniversary edition. We did put out that revised original Chicken Soup for the Soul with thirty new stories for the next thirty years. Your story was really great. That book is really more about success and how you achieve success and how you build a business and stuff like that. Your story about how your business came about was a really important part of that book. What I wanted to do with the book with the thirty new stories is put in thirty thought leaders from today since the original book came out in 1993. Thank you for being a part of that.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, I loved it. Having followed Chicken Soup for the Souls forever — I’ve been getting them, reading them. Just to be in one, it’s so exciting. It’s another one of these things where as a kid, I would’ve been like, no way, you’ll never be in one of those. Now here it is. Thank you for the opportunity. It was just so exciting to see it in there.

Amy: This series is so close to my heart. That’s why I’ve been doing it for almost sixteen years now. It has changed me so much. It’s given me so many tools for my life toolkit, if you want to call it that. It hasn’t really felt like a job that much over these sixteen years.

Zibby: That’s amazing. One book a month, that’s what I’m trying to do with our publishing company. The thought that one day it would be 140 books, I’m like, oh, my gosh. How do you do it? I want to talk about the toolkit and your own personal relationship to it. How do you make sure that all 140 books get their moment in the sun and enough attention and love and all of that?

Amy: Oh, my gosh. First of all, I choose the stories for each book. I have a team of readers who read the thousands of submissions for each book because the stories come in from the public. Then they narrow it down to about a thousand single-spaced pages of stories that I have to read. It’s incredible. Then I pick the 101 stories from those hundreds of stories. Then I have what I call my pre-editor. She goes through and makes the dialogue work and does all the normal grammar and stuff like that. Then I go through and do my work as editor. Some stories need very light editing. Some stories need massive editing. I go in there, and I give everybody the Chicken Soup for the Soul treatment. Then we publish the book. When we first started doing it, I was so excited. We would get a sample of the cover beforehand. I would take the cover, which was flat, and I would fold it. I would stick it up on the bookshelf like a fake book because I was so excited. Now I’m so ho-hum about it. Oh, another case of books just arrived.

I have to say that as I’m working on each book, it’s my favorite. It’s my baby. Then how do you promote them? You know what it’s like. You can get a book written. You can get it on store shelves, but you have to get it to leave the store shelves. That’s the really hard part. I guess I take kind of a venture capital approach. I give every book a big try. Then if it just isn’t clicking, it’s the wrong time of year or there was too much competition that week, whatever — it’s kind of like a movie. It could be great, but it might still not get traction. If a book doesn’t get traction, I just move on. If a book does get traction, then I really keep going and keep promoting it. We have some books that have sold fifteen thousand copies of books and then others that have sold a hundred or two hundred thousand copies. Who can predict, really, which ones will be the winners?

Zibby: I would say fifteen thousand is also a winner.

Amy: It is a winner in the world of novels. Remember, we have very high costs for our books because we pay — it used to be $200. Now it’s $250 for each story. We’re starting out with a $25,000 cost for a book. That’s really, really high. You know that as a publisher.

Zibby: You would have to pay an advance to an author if it was just one person.

Amy: That’s true. For an unknown, you might not pay that much. I don’t know. I don’t know your business because I’ve never published a novel.

Zibby: Regardless of what format, whatever book there is, you’re starting out with an expense to the author and expense to produce and then the challenge of finding the audience for it. You have such an amazing brand that anybody looking at any of your books feels that sense of trust. That’s because of all the work you’ve done to make sure that the quality is up to snuff and that people get what they came for.

Amy: I really try to pursue topics that are meaningful to me. For example, we’ve done two books on forgiveness. We’ve done a bunch of books about gratitude. We’ve done books about grieving. All these things that are so important in our lives, these things that we need to be good at in order to really be happy, I keep putting out books on those topics. I’m trying to share this toolkit that I have inside me from working on Chicken Soup for the Soul. I’m trying to share it through these various topics with the public. I think we’ve made a real difference to people. We hear that all the time in our fan mail.

Zibby: Totally. I know you’ve gone through your own health challenges as you’ve been running this giant business, which also has a TV/film component to it. It’s a multimedia thing that you’ve created here, which is amazing. Tell me a little bit more about that and how you’re using the tools and how you’re feeling and all of that.

Amy: I was diagnosed with fallopian tube cancer. It’s almost five years ago now. I can’t believe I’ve been doing this already for almost five years. I went through surgery. Then I went through chemo. I have to say, when I was diagnosed, my first thought wasn’t to feel sorry for myself. It was just to think, okay, it’s my turn now to go through it. When you are exposed to tens of thousands of stories from people who are sharing all of their personal traumas, their milestone moments, the ups and downs of their lives, it really puts things in perspective. When my mother died, I thought, oh, it’s just my turn. When I got cancer, it’s just my turn. I think I approached it with a better attitude. I went through the surgery. Then I went through chemo. Then I finished chemo. This was four years ago. I said to the doctor, “I’m having trouble with fear.” The type of cancer that I have has an eighty percent chance of recurrence. After you’ve gone through the surgery and the first months of chemo, there’s an eighty percent chance it’s going to come back. If it does come back, it can’t be cured. It can just be managed. She sent me to a psychiatrist at Sloan Kettering. I went to the psychiatrist. She said, “Why are you here? Do you want drugs?” I said, “No, I don’t want drugs. I didn’t even take painkillers after the surgery. I took Tylenol. No drugs. I’m just here because of the fear.”

Then she started talking to me. She said, “Do you have unresolved issues with the people in your life?” I said, “No. In fact, my mother died two years ago, and I didn’t really have any unresolved issues with her. Even though she had her ups and downs in terms of how she dealt with her children, I totally forgave her and understood what was behind her actions.” I talked a lot about forgiveness because I’ve learned so much about forgiveness from Chicken Soup for the Soul stories. She said, “I don’t normally see people who are in such good shape in that regard.” I said, “That’s because of the job that I do.” Then she said, “What about gratitude? Do you feel that you are thankful for anything?” Then I went on for twenty minutes. I was talking about all the things I was thankful for, my supportive husband, my amazing kids, the fact that my daughter was an OBGYN resident at that time doing a lot of work in oncology. She had operated on patients with my kind of surgery. She knew everything about what I had. How lucky was that, that I had her to help guide me? I talked about my job and how my job was still there for me even though I was incapacitated for a while. I talked about my very good health insurance and how I didn’t have any financial worries that would be layered on top of worrying about cancer.

I just talked about all of these things for twenty minutes because we’ve put out several books about gratitude and how powerful it is. It’s something I use all the time. I use it in my daily life. Anyway, we got to the end of our fifty-minute hour, the psychiatrist fifty-minute hour, and she said, “You don’t have to ever come back. You’re done. You’re good to go.” Oh, my gosh, I passed the test. One and done. It’s really true that I learn so much from these Chicken Soup for the Soul stories. I think the most important thing is forgiveness. I think that’s the hardest thing for people to handle, and so we focus on that a lot. We have two books specifically about forgiveness, The Power of Forgiveness and then The Forgiveness Fix. Then forgiveness appears in a lot of our other books too in stories even though those books are ostensibly about other topics. Can we talk about forgiveness a little bit? I think this is the best tool that I could give to your listeners.

Zibby: I would love to hear about forgiveness. I also want to just go back for two seconds to the fear. What did the doctor say about managing your fear? How did you end up dealing with that?

Amy: Oh, my goodness. The doctor is not great about dealing with fear. For example, when I was going through the chemo, she would always come in during the chemo appointment to talk to me. You’re sitting there in that chair for hours hooked up. She came in one time. I said something about fear of recurrence. She goes, “Twenty percent of patients don’t have a recurrence,” like that was a happy thing. She walked out, and I just burst into tears. All these nurses came in to help me. They said, “Did she upset you?” I said, “Yes, she did. She said in her happy voice, ‘Twenty percent of patients don’t have a recurrence.'” It turned out, by the way, that two years after I finished that first round of chemo, I did have a recurrence. I did go through chemo again in 2021. Now I’m waiting for the verdict. I’m pretty sure I’m going back on chemo in the next few months because there’s this number they measure in your blood, and the number in my blood is now up in the cancer zone instead of in the normal zone. Oh, and you know what? There’s a nation-wide shortage of the kind of chemo that works best on my cancer. They tell me they have it and I shouldn’t worry, so I’m trying not to worry about that.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh. I’m sorry it came back. I’m so sorry.

Amy: My aunt had it. She had ovarian cancer, which is related to fallopian tube cancer, so it’s possible there’s a genetic component even though they can’t find it using current knowledge of genes. She lived fourteen years from her diagnosis. That was when they didn’t have some of the drugs that they have available today. I’m hoping that I have something that they will be “managing” for a long time. I have five little grandchildren, so I want to be around for a long time to be with my children and my grandchildren and my husband.

Zibby: In a way — not to minimize this because, of course, the fear is in your face. You have to deal with it and make decisions and all of that. Fear of death is something that every single human being shares in some way, shape, or form. We all have a terminal diagnosis. We just don’t know when it’s coming. How do we deal with that fear? Does forgiveness help in managing it? Is there some sort of resolution we all feel before it becomes our turn? Not to be depressing about it, but I think acknowledging that death is just such a fact of life — you don’t know if it’s going to be your cancer or you’re going to walk out the door and get hit by a car. Me too. I could walk out the door here. None of us really know. What are we supposed to do with that fear? What does Chicken Soup for the Soul say about that?

Amy: You’re right. I’m five years older than I was when I was first diagnosed. Maybe I would be experiencing fear of death anyway. All around me, everybody is getting cancer. All kinds of tragic stories are happening. People are getting Parkinson’s and ALS and all these different diseases in my circle of friends and relatives. I guess I just have a little more specificity about the way in which I might die, but I am hoping it’s far, far off and that I’m just as likely to get hit by a truck as I am to die of this cancer. We’ll go with that. I think that one of the things that I’ve learned from all these Chicken Soup for the Soul stories is how to live in the moment. It’s so important to just try to relax and enjoy every day. I think I am enjoying all those everyday pleasures more than I used to because I’m really focused on them. Every day that I get to sit at breakfast and do The New York Times Spelling Bee and Wordle with my husband, every day is a victory. That’s one more day that we get to do that fun thing that we do over breakfast every morning. Those just keep adding up. Seeing my grandchildren, those experiences keep adding up. I do try to just relax and dive into those everyday pleasures. I think that’s what everybody has to do. That’s another thing I’ve learned from Chicken Soup for the Soul, is how to live in the present.

Zibby: I love that. Go back now to forgiveness. I hope, by the way — I was not, in any way, trying to say that we all have the same as you. It’s terrifying what you’re going through. I have a dear friend with breast cancer. It’s very different than the average person. I was not trying to say that. I hope that was clear.

Amy: Oh, no, it’s fine.

Zibby: I was just trying to extrapolate it so that everybody could get something out of it. Of course, when you’re coping with a disease that can be terminal, it’s a total different ball of wax.

Amy: You know what? When you have cancer, you just blame everything on cancer. You’re right, I could definitely be fearing death even without cancer. Right now, I blame cancer for my white hair, my wrinkles, my extra ten pounds. It’s all cancer’s fault. Everything is cancer. I remember when my aunt had it. She was seventy-eight years old. She couldn’t really run up to the tennis ball anymore, and she blamed the cancer. I was thinking, you’re seventy-eight. It might be that. Talking about forgiveness, first of all, did you know — this, I did not know even though I’m supposed to be a word person. Did you know that forgiveness doesn’t mean that you are excusing someone’s behavior or saying, “Oh, don’t worry about it. It’s really okay”? That’s not what the word forgiveness means. I was looking up the definition of forgiveness the other day. I came across the Mayo Clinic’s definition. It was just that forgiveness means that you are not reliving the emotions associated with whatever that bad thing was that happened, that insult, that hurt, that disappointment. That’s what it means. It just means that you have decided to draw a line in the sand. You have decided that you are not going to let that person still live in your head and keep doing that thing to you over and over again. Yes, that thing happened, but it happened in the past. That’s where it belongs. You’re not supposed to bring it with you into the present or into your future. You just have to say, I intellectually know that that thing happened, but I refuse to reexperience it emotionally.

That’s what forgiveness is. That’s why you can do it all by yourself. You don’t even have to tell the other person. You’re just deciding, I will no longer experience the negative emotions that are associated with you or your actions, which is a very good way of looking at it. There were a few stories about forgiveness in various of our books that really made a big impact on me. One was this woman who got divorced and then for the next few years, kept talking about her ex-husband and everything he did wrong and all of her resentments about him. She would tell everybody, even strangers. Everybody would hear about her ex-husband. Finally, her best friend said to her, “You might as well still be married to the guy. You take him with you wherever you go.” That was such an epiphany for this woman. She was like, oh, my god, I can’t believe that. I’ve divorced him, and I kept him bugging him me all this time. It was all in my own head. He’s moved on with his life, and I was sitting here stuck. Instantly, she shed him. She got him out of her brain. She was finally able to move forward with her life. I thought that story was great. Another story we had about forgiveness, a woman was having trouble with her mother-in-law. Her mother-in-law just kept doing all of these passive-aggressive things. At a wedding, she didn’t include her daughter-in-law in the family photos, which is pretty unbelievable. It was her mother-in-law, and she was stuck with her. She needed to find a way to deal with it and not let this pile of resentments and hurts build and build and build.

She sat down at her computer one day, and she started a list. It took her a few days to type up the whole list. It was many pages. She wrote down everything that her mother-in-law had ever done to her on purpose or accidentally. Then once she had the list, she looked at each item. She highlighted it, thought about it, and then she deleted it. She went through and deleted every single item on the list. When she was done, she just felt so free. She was able to then renew her relationship with her mother-in-law without carrying all that baggage with her. She’s made a fresh start. Again, it was something she did all by herself. Her mother-in-law didn’t even know about it. That’s what these resentments and disappointments and hurts and everything are. I like to imagine you’re wearing a cloak. You’ve sown onto that cloak, little pieces of metal. Each one represents one of those disappointments or hurts. Now you’re walking along, but you’re dragging this heavy cloak behind you. It’s clanking. There’s all these pieces of metal sewed to it, each of which represent something you haven’t been able to let go. Imagine if you could just shrug that cloak off and leave it behind you. All those things are in your past. They’re behind you. Now you move forward liberated and free. That’s really what forgiveness does for you. That’s probably the most valuable thing I’ve learned from reading Chicken Soup for the Soul stories.

Zibby: Wow, those are great, actionable tips. Who did you need to do this mental cleansing forgiveness exercise on for yourself?

Amy: I would say I had two relatives, one friend, and one business associate who all required this treatment. I took care of all of them without, of course, them even knowing about it. That was one of the things I talked about with that psychiatrist. That was one of the things that impressed her so much about my ability to handle life. This is another thing that has come up in our Chicken Soup for the Soul stories. It’s a tip about how you deal with toxic people. That’s very much adjacent to forgiveness. The biggest lesson I’ve learned — I can’t believe I didn’t know this until I was in my fifties. I finally learned from reading one specific Chicken Soup for the Soul story that you’re allowed to basically weed the garden of your life. You’re actually allowed to remove people from your life. You can’t remove relatives. All you can do is use a strategy where you don’t let them bother you anymore. You can remove so-called friends. I have done that. You can remove toxic people from your life. Friends are optional. They’re not mandatory. If you have friends where you’re saying, “I have to go have lunch with this person. I really don’t want to. She’s so negative. She’s always passive-aggressive with me. She’s a narcissist,” whatever your complaint is about this person, you don’t have to go have lunch with that person. If you don’t want to just officially drop that person because it would be too obvious, you can just slowly, subtlety take that person off your A list or your B list and demote her to your C list or your D list. All of a sudden, you’re seeing her once a year, not four times a year. You can do that. You’re allowed to remove toxic people from your life. That was a very valuable lesson for me because I have enough going on in my life without letting toxic people into it as well.

Zibby: I love that. I feel like that’s one of those things that you have to get a little bit older to realize you have the option to do. I didn’t realize that fully until I was maybe forty. Maybe if I had heard it or maybe you have to live it yourself or come to some sort of realization. I hope that people listening will just take the advice and act on it no matter what their age is, I hope, I hope. For me, I had to come to this realization. I think it had to do with how people responded to me throughout my divorce and how some people were surprisingly nice or surprisingly not nice, different people than I might have predicted, and how I had to be like, I don’t necessarily need to consider them a friend. Maybe something has to happen, like you rethink your life. I don’t know. I do think that it clears up a lot of time. I was telling another friend who had a troublesome friend who I didn’t even really know, I’m like, you don’t have to spend an hour on the phone with her every day. Get that time back. Why are you doing that? That’s a choice you’re making.

Amy: I didn’t realize I could do it until I read a specific Chicken Soup for the Soul story where this woman who had cancer — cancer just gives you a lot of clarity. When she got cancer, she got this person out of her life. I think I was fifty years old when I read that story. It was like a light bulb went on.

Zibby: Living with cancer now and living with the fear and uncertainty not only of what might happen, but also of the intrusion of treatment constantly and the calendar — I remember when we were doing a podcast — this is in 2021, I feel like, when we were first getting to know each other, maybe. You were like, I might be doing chemo in October, so why don’t we do this in November? I was like, oh, my gosh. Even just the having to put it as a matter-of-fact item in the craziness of life, how do you deal with all of that?

Amy: I went online, and I found the interview I did with you in 2021. I was on chemo at the time because I was on chemo at the beginning — maybe I was just about to go chemo. Yeah, I might have been just about to go on chemo when we did that. Gee, what does that mean now? I’m worried about having to go on chemo too soon because we have a three-week trip to the Amalfi Coast planned. It’s one of those once-in-a-lifetime trips. I really want to go on this trip. The first week of it involves heavy-duty hiking. The Amalfi Coast is so hilly. I really want to do this hiking trip. I’ve been wanting to do this forever. I’m pretty worried about that. I’m just going to have to work my way through it. If I have to go on chemo and then go to Italy and be somewhat incapacitated, I’ll just have to do lighter hikes, I guess. You just have to work around it. said, “We can work around your trip. You could have a longer spacing between chemo treatments if necessary.” We will see what happens. On the other hand, I have to use my gratitude and think, how many people who have my cancer are also looking forward to a three-week trip to the Amalfi Coast? That’s pretty good. That’s good stuff. That’s the other thing that I’ve really learned a lot about from Chicken Soup for the Soul, is the power of gratitude and of deliberately looking at all the good things in your life and repeating them to yourself. Maybe you write down three things every day you’re grateful for. At the end of the month, you have ninety things you’ve written down. It really helps you to focus every day on what’s good in your life. When I read all of these tens of thousands of stories that people have sent to us — we would get stories from people who got flesh-eating disease and lost three of their four limbs. There’s people who have such hardship in their lives. My little problems don’t seem that important compared to theirs.

Zibby: Wow. Amy, thank you so much for coming on, for sharing your story, for being such a warrior and such an amazing businesswoman and creative and contributor and inspiration. Thank you.

Amy: Thank you for having me on. I really admire what you’ve been doing.

Zibby: Thank you.


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