Podcast interview with LaChance Publishing President Victor Starsia (transcript)

This is a transcript of my recent podcast interview with LaChance Publishing’s Victor Starsia.

David Williams: This is David E. Williams, co-founder of MedPharma Partners and author of the Health Business blog.  I’m speaking today with Victor Starsia, president of LaChance Publishing.  Victor, thanks for being with me today.

Victor Starsia: Thanks for having me David.

Williams: Tell me about LaChance Publishing.  What’s the focus of your press?

Starsia: LaChance publishing was founded in about 2006.  We originally founded the company to produce what’s called the Voices Of book series but since that time we’ve expanded and we publish about 12 books a year these days.  These are generally health related books.

Williams: Voices Of –which is the one I’m familiar with– tell me a little bit about that series.

Starsia: Let me give you a little bit of a history about how that book series came about and how the company was created.  Debra LaChance, who is the founder of the company, was diagnosed in about 2005 with a serious but treatable form of breast cancer.  She underwent surgery and then chemotherapy treatment for the disease for almost two years while continuing to work at what is a rather demanding job as a senior vice president of a large real estate company in New York City.

Anyone who has gone through that kind of experience will tell you that it’s frightening not only because of the life threatening nature of the disease itself but also because of the way in which the diagnosis can take over one’s life.  I know from my own experience with her that she felt overwhelmed by the complexities of the doctors, hospitals and treatment regimens but while at the same time feeling as though she was virtually alone with the disease and the discomfort of treatment, all the while trying to continue to support herself financially.

Because of this experience, which is quite common among breast cancer victims, many doctors recommend that they join support groups to help deal with these issues.  Unfortunately in the real world, many patients don’t have time to attend these groups and I think Debra was one of them.  So as an alternative she tried to learn all she could through books that were available to her, but found that there really weren’t any that addressed how others in her position coped with the emotional side of the disease in a way that she found satisfying.

So because of this Debra decided to create for others the support that she couldn’t find during her own experience.  So shortly after finishing treatment she created what became the Healing Project, which is a not for profit organization dedicated to providing support and education to those who are suffering from not only breast cancer but other chronic and life threatening diseases.  As part of the project she created LaChance Publishing and the Voices Of book series as a way to gather the stories of people who wanted to share with others what they were going through and what they had learned. Creating the Voices Of book series also had the purpose of financially supporting the Healing Project’s activities. Profits from the sales of the book are used to support the activities of the Healing Project.

Williams: How are the books actually put together?  You mentioned stories of patients and other people that are affected.  Do patients write these stories themselves?

Starsia: Yes.  These are all true stories by people from all walks of life and from all around the world.  We originally began contacting various organizations such as the Alzheimer’s Association, the Lung Cancer Alliance and others for help in reaching out to the people who wanted to tell their stories.

We coupled that with online advertising to support groups and also made contact with people we knew who in some way were involved with the diseases.  We asked them to submit stories of their personal experiences to us online via our website and we took their stories and compiled them into books of stories that actually speak to the issues that most people face with these diseases everyday.  We’re on our eighth book now and have become so well known that we receive hundreds an hundreds of unsolicited stories to our website.

People really want to tell their stories so we’re lucky enough to get a tremendous number of submissions. We select the stories for the books that speak to the issues particular to the illness and that tell a story in an interesting way.

Williams: And do you go beyond the books?  With all your content you must have rich content for social media.  Do you tie that in as well or is the main focus on the books themselves?

Starsia: The books themselves have been a tremendous success for people interested in the topics. But as I mentioned we use the profits from those books to support some of the activities of the Healing Project. One of the projects we’ve created is called Voices Who Care which is an online social network that can be found on the Healing Project’s website.

It is a series of networks within the network for people who are affected by particular diseases and who can come online and find each other and discuss their own personal issues.  It’s been very successful.  Most of the people who have submitted stories to us –literally thousands of people– have also joined our online network and they seem to find it a very satisfying experience.

Williams: How have people been impacted by your work?  What are some highlights?

Starsia: We’ve had some surprises along the way.  At this point, over the last four years or so, we’ve sold tens of thousands of our books.  From our own experience from hearing from our readers, we seem to have made quite an impact on them.  People tell us that our books help them understand what the illness really is and what people who are dealing with the disease have to face everyday.  They seem to be quite grateful to have the resource available.

One of the big surprises of the results we’ve also found is it’s not simply the people who are directly affected by the particular illness that the book speaks to but rather it’s the people around those people.  It’s their family and friends and their other relatives who really can’t quite get a grip or understand that person’s experience.  There has been more of an impact with them than on the people who are actually suffering from the disease.  People that around these people with the illnesses seem to be quite grateful that they now can understand through the 30 or 40 stories that are contained in each book exactly what their spouse or their child or their friend or their family member is actually going through.  So they are very grateful and we are very grateful that we’ve been able to help them.

Williams: I read Voices of Bipolar Disorder and I’m wondering if there’s anything different about putting together a book about a mental health issue compared with one about a physical illness.

Starsia: The greatest surprise for us in developing the bipolar book –which interestingly enough may be the most popular book that we’ve put out– is how similar the stories are between mental illnesses and physical illnesses.  People go through the same experiences. Bipolar disease is very misunderstood.

A “popular disease” like breast cancer affects so many people and has so much information out there about it that it’s become familiar to many many people in the country.  Bipolar disorder affects many fewer people and as a result of that people truly do not understand a book like that.  I think that mental illness itself is the most misunderstood illness.

With bipolar disease there was a learning curve for us in so far as it’s a disease that causes –in many cases– extreme mood swings that include the highest of emotional highs and the deepest depressions for sometimes weeks at a time. When it’s not been treated the depressive episodes of bipolar can often make a person feel like there is simply nothing to live for.  These are very common experiences and the result is a large number of attempted suicides by those suffering from the disease.  So it is extremely serious. We think that putting this book out there has raised awareness of the disease. There seems to be quite an interest in the book and it’s actually doing very, very well.

Williams: How do you distribute the books?  Are they available in bookstores or online?

Starsia: Our books are distributed through a distributor who distributes the books worldwide to all English speaking countries.  That distributor will distribute it to all bookstores around the country.  The books are also available online as e-books; interestingly enough the greatest interest in our books is with the libraries.  Thousands of libraries have the entire series.  If you can’t find the book in your local bookstore, you can find it online.

Williams: What do you see going on in the future?  I know you started with the Voices Of series and have expanded into other kinds of titles.  What can we expect over the next two or three years from LaChance?

Starsia: As you just said we’ve expanded our titles to encompass health related books that appeal to a general audience.  We are also continuing with the Voices Of series.  In 2011 we’re going to be releasing a series of books on epilepsy.  We are currently completing a book on depression and preparing a second volume on Alzheimer’s Disease, which is increasing over time.  There is a tremendous interest in what we have to say about Alzheimer’s and it’s actually worth putting out another volume.

Williams: I’ve been speaking today with Victor Starsia.  He is President of LaChance Publishing, LLC.  Victor, thanks so much.

Starsia: You’re welcome David.  It was a pleasure.

June 1, 2010

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