Zhang has sold about 100 copies of his self-published book. Others have done better. Publishers are reluctant to "fess up their sales figures," Knapp says, but Warren Buffett Speaks: Wit and Wisdom from the World's Greatest Investor by Janet Lowe has sold about 200,000 copies, as has Roger Lowenstein's 1995 Buffett: The Making of an American Capitalist, which was long considered to be the best Buffett biography written. Schroeder says Lowenstein's was the only book she relied on when writing Snowball because he interviewed people who have since died.
"Buffett's a star in a very arcane area of disciplined investing that average people don't understand," Lowenstein says. "He articulates it in a way that they do understand. He's the Ann Landers of investing."
The No. 1 Buffett book that Snowball aims to beat is Hagstrom's The Warren Buffett Way, which is at 1 million copies and still selling. Mary Buffett estimates total sales of her books at more than 1.5 million worldwide, including 1 million total for her two Buffettology books.
Bantam Dell Publishing, never confirms book advances, but they paid more than $7 million to publish Snowball, according to The Wall Street Journal. Bantam is calling Schroeder's book the first one written with Buffett's cooperation.
"I don't think you will find any other authors who have interviewed him," says Schroeder, who has 300 hours of recorded interviews and spent many other hours observing him working.
Buffett says it's a "good book," but he tires of people referring to Snowball as "your book," and he often has to explain that Schroeder was responsible for the content. "I cooperated with Alice, but I was not a collaborator," Buffett says.
Other authors say that their books were not written in a vacuum. Mary Buffett says that she had access for 12 years as a member of the family spending summer vacations in Omaha and at family Thanksgiving and Christmas reunions in California. She describes her relationship with Warren Buffett as "friendly," although he has never included any of her books to be sold at Berkshire Hathaway annual meetings.
" I couldn't tell you exactly why or why not," says Philip Black, owner of The Bookworm in Omaha, who each year gives Buffett a list of books available. Buffett approves about 25 to be offered to 25,000 shareholders at the convention center in Omaha.
Buffett has been known to drop authors a line
Authors say that Buffett seems tickled when he receives manuscripts and writes gracious notes of encouragement and suggestions. Cepuch says Buffett saved him from embarrassment when he corrected a corporate homonym from Coke to Koch.
"I talk to Buffett on a regular basis," says Lowe. "He's been very kind and generous and willingly signs copies of my book for those who ask."
Lowe says she once got a note from Susan Buffett, Warren Buffett's first wife, who died in 2004. "She said my book most accurately reflected the Warren that she knew," Lowe says.
Kilpatrick self-publishes and sells about 2,000 copies a year, about 200 to 300 of those at the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting. He says he has read every word of other Buffett books, many of them two or three times. He often gets calls from publishers, but conversations are short because he refuses to trim his 1,874-page "labor of love."
Once a publisher wanted Warren Buffett as the first two words in the book title. Kilpatrick insisted on Of Permanent Value, a deal breaker, he says.
"From a sales standpoint, that's probably a mistake," but Kilpatrick says he gets intrinsic value each time he revises Of Permanent Value: The Story of Warren Buffett and sends a fresh copy off to Buffett in Omaha.
Kilpatrick gets a short note back from Buffett, usually saying something like: "Too skimpy."