Before Buddhist Boot Camp was a best-seller, it was a series of personal emails on life lessons from Timber Hawkeye to his friends. When they started sharing his emails with their friends, Timber posted them all on a blog. The author then self-published the content in paperback. That’s when it caught the eye of HarperCollins Publishers, who published what is now a best-selling, compact hardcover book on mindfulness and inspiration.
“The response has been unbelievable,” says Timber. “People were relating to what I had to say, and wanted to hear more. We instinctually have this reluctance to be honest. But when I shared my story about what I went through, people started to share their own stories.”
The book is being used in a few public school as part of the curriculum, book clubs, correctional facilities that teach inmates yoga and meditation, counseling, yoga studios, and more. A hairdresser in Southern California sells more copies of the book to ladies who read it while their hair color is setting than some bookstores do, and a flower shop in Chicago embraced the book as tightly as the independent bookstore at Terminal 2 in the San Francisco International Airport.
It all started with a series of emails to friends. In 2006, Timber quit his full-time job as a paralegal and moved to Hawaii to live a simple and uncomplicated life, which afforded him plenty of time to further his studies of religion and psychology simultaneously. During this time, he corresponded with friends from around the world via email, sharing his journey and lessons learned along the way. Friends widely shared his emails with others. And when he later entered a monastery off the grid, he received handwritten requests from his friends to keep sharing his stories.
“A friend recommended that I take my message beyond my immediate group of friends,” says Timber. “The list of people who wanted to hear the message got longer and longer. It felt strange to receive letters from people I didn’t even know.”
“I woke up one night knowing I was going to start a blog and call it Buddhist Boot Camp, because every time I watched Fight Club, I thought to myself ‘THIS is Buddhist Boot Camp!’ It took a lot of the Buddhist principals and literally slapped you across the face with them, and I appreciated the rigid, in-your-face approach. I started going through eight years’ worth of emails, and edited them to take myself out of the stories, focusing only on what I had learned. And then I started sharing it online.”
Timber initially wanted to remain anonymous on his blog. “One of the important messages in the book is to focus on the message, not the messenger,” he says. “We get too fixated on the messenger and forget the message.”
From here, Buddhist Boot Camp grew organically. Thousands started following the site, and when someone asked a question, the answer often became another blog entry.
The next step was to self-publish the content. “People kept wanting to see all the quotes in one place, so I created a tiny paperback and put it for sale online. Amazon made $5 per book, and I made 49 cents, and that was perfectly fine by me! My intention has always been (and still is) to awaken, enlighten, enrich and inspire.” Timber used his earning to order hundreds of copies of his own book, which he sent to bookstores for free, hoping they would fall in love with the message and decide to carry the book. Barnes & Noble initially rejected the paperback, telling Timber he must first develop a relationship with their distributor, so he did exactly that! Thirty days later Barnes & Noble put copies of the book in all their stores and sent a couple of copies to publishers who might be interested in picking it up.
The book sales, Timber’s TED Talk on the importance of gratitude at TEDxCity2.0, and Buddhist Boot Camp’s online presence attracted the attention of HarperOne (the spiritual branch of HarperCollins Publishers), who approached Timber to re-publish the book in hardcover. This was the opportunity to bring the book to an even wider audience. “I am not a teacher,” he insists, “I am simply sharing my personal stories with the world. Some may find them inspirational, some may not.”
It was crucial to Timber that the book be affordable and accessible to everyone. After a protracted discussion, HarperCollins agreed to publish it for only $12.99, an extremely low price for a hardcover book.
The next step was a cross-country book tour to meet some of the readers in person. HarperCollins planned to send the author to a handful of bookstores, put him up in hotels, give him spending money for food, etc., but Timber knew that if he used that money to travel by car and sleep on people’s couches along the way, living off of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, he could meet a lot more readers. “The entire trip was funded by fans of the book, who happily donated gas money, food, and a place to sleep. It was a very humbling experience.” Timber ended up visiting more than 30 cities.
The book continues its journey with translations into Chinese, Dutch, German, and hopefully more. The book is also gaining traction in Europe—a couch-surfing book tour is scheduled for the United Kingdom in the fall (maybe even Canada and Australia).
What’s exceptional about this book is that Timber was able to transcend mediums to convey a message that he believes can reverse the entitlement epidemic. Better yet, it was his enthusiastic audience who helped elevate the book from individual emails to friends into the best-seller it has become. But the challenge remains to take the message even further.
“The biggest challenge is finding ways to spread the message without trying to sound like I’m selling a product,” says Timber. “I’m not promoting the product… there’s obviously very little monetary profit to be made—and even that is being used to enrich the lives of others. I’m promoting the message.”