The amazing story behind the ‘Cold Reading’ book

Here’s the story in Ian Rowland’s own words.

"The story begins back in 1997. At the time, I was working as a freelance technical writer in the IT (Information Technology) industry. It was an interesting time. The internet had arrived but it was still in a fairly primitive state, growing in an uncertain way towards the wonderful utility and commercial platform that it has become today. Because I worked in the IT industry, I had what amounted to a front-row seat during this process.

At the same time I was also working on a semi-professional basis as a magician and mind-reader, and cold reading happened to be one of my interests. There were a few small booklets on cold reading available from magic shops and suchlike. Some of them were quite good but most were rather cheap and tatty. None of them offered what I thought was a comprehensive overview of this subject.

Just for my own interest, I began compiling my own notes on cold reading. My notes were based on what I’d read, what I’d been told by other performers and entertainers, and my own experience. I even consulted academic sources such as social psychology textbooks.

Over a period of time, these ‘notes’ I was making grew into quite a sizeable ‘Word’ file on my computer. There was so much information that I had to find a way to organise and structure it all in a manageable way. It’s a task to which I was at least moderately well-suited, given that I was working as a technical writer and a documentation specialist.

Although many people were still using the internet for its original purpose of simply displaying information, many others were focused on how to use it to sell things. The beauty of the idea was that a website could be ‘open’ 24 hours a day, and sell to everyone in the world. I found this rather fascinating, and I decided to learn more. The best way of learning is by doing, so I decided to create a product and see if I could sell it online.

What to sell? The easiest option for me was to turn my cold reading notes into a book, so that’s what I did. The first edition was a very simple affair indeed. I simply printed out my ‘Word’ document, took the pages to a high street copy shop, and asked them to print and bind 50 copies for me.

My first website was equally primitive. For the impressive sum of five pounds I bought a simple ‘beginner’ book on ‘HTML’ (the mark-up language used to write websites). I sat down and wrote my entire website by hand in less than a day. There wasn’t much to it: I simply told people about my book, and then invited them to phone or email me if they wanted to buy a copy. I could only sell to people in the UK, and they had to pay me by cheque.

It wasn’t much, but it was a start. To begin with, my only customers were friends in the world of magic, mind-reading and entertainment. But then the picture began to change. A few nice reviews surfaced. It was clear that lots of people were hearing about the book via ‘word of mouth’ recommendation. As any advertising exec will tell you, this is the very best form of advertising and promotion, the only one you really need and the only one that really works in the long run.

My ‘first edition’ soon sold out. I put together a revised second edition. This time I laid it out properly using a desk-top publishing package, and sent it off to be printed by a professional printer, with a full-colour cover that I designed in about an hour. I also made improvements to my ‘online presence’. I got a friend with relevant expertise to revamp my website and make it look a little better. I found out how to take online credit card payments, and completed all the necessary paperwork. Another friend took care of all the ‘advanced’ coding involved, and so I was at last able to take credit card orders.

From then on, the story is just one of small step-by-step improvements to everything: the content of the book, the quality of the printing, and the quality of the website. Eventually I got an ISBN number, converted it to a barcode and added this to the front cover… a necessary step in order to supply the book to Amazon.

The first people to buy the book had been those with an interest in magic and mind-reading. After the first two or three years sales to the magic fraternity tailed off, which was to be expected (after all, it’s a fairly small community). But then I noticed other people were buying it. People from all walks of life, and from all over the world. I sold copies to people in Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, Croatia, Czech Republic, Cyprus, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Holland, Hong Kong, Iceland, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Norway, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Scotland, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, the United Arab Emirates, USA and Wales.

Among those who bought the book were salesmen, doctors, lawyers, therapists, academics, police officers, housewives and home-makers, people in the media, trainers, teachers, political advisors, traders, entrepreneurs, managers, psychologists, interviewers, writers, entertainers, artists and countless others besides… all of whom were finding some relevance to their own working lives.

Word of mouth recommendation continued to grow, helped by incidents such as Malcolm Gladwell mentioning the book in a ‘New Yorker’ essay on criminal profiling (which is just another form of cold reading plus wishful thinking).

In 2008 I was encouraged to offer training in cold reading techniques. I didn’t want to teach people how to pretend to be psychic or ‘read fortunes’. I wanted to explain how some cold reading strategies could be used in other contexts, such as the world of business, trade, selling and negotiation. I took about four weeks to write the course, give it the shape and emphasis that I wanted, and prepare the student documentation for it. The first ‘Cold Reading Masterclass’ took place in July 2007, and all 16 places sold out within two hours of going on sale. I have continued to run these classes on an almost monthly basis, although now it is called the ACR Masterclass (Applied Cold Reading).

So that’s the story!"

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