Self-help skeptics often dismiss the genre for leaving readers feeling good, rather than helping them solve personal issues. It’s just this reputation that psychologist Michael Bennett and his daughter, comedy writer Sarah Bennett, seek to rebut with the recently published F*ck Feelings (Simon & Schuster), which has sold nearly 11,000 print units since its September release, according to Nielsen BookScan.
In both style and substance, F*ck Feelings aims to get away from anything touchy-feely and instead offers such nuggets as “closure is an emotional unicorn” and “God created hard times so we can find out who the assholes are.”
“The title signals right away that this book isn’t for everyone,” says the book’s editor, Trish Todd, v-p and executive editor at Simon & Schuster, who adds that while the tone may put off self-help traditionalists, it also may attract new readers to the genre. “Here in the office, people who don’t read self-help are asking for copies.”
Todd is not alone in seeing the market potential of tough-talking, occasionally foul-mouthed self-improvement books. A slew of new titles embrace an unsentimental approach to advice. For example, John Parkin’s F**k It: Do What You Love (Hay House, Jan. 2016) asks readers to be honest about what they want from their lives, rather than focus on what they think they are supposed to want.
This is the fourth F**k It book Parkin has done with Hay House, where U.K. managing director and publisher Michelle Pilley sees an audience beyond typical self-help readers.
“Given the desperation that people feel when they are so stuck, they do seem to appreciate such straight-talking and practical advice,” Pilley says. “The F**k It books have gone well beyond the traditional readership for self-help books.”
According to Nielsen BookScan, 2010’s F**k It: The Ultimate Spiritual Way has sold almost 11,000 print units. And the NSFW-title trend seems poised to continue: in fall 2016, HarperOne will release The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck by personal development consultant Mark Manson.
This give-it-to-them straight attitude extends beyond authors with bleep-worthy book jackets. Super You (Seal Press, Oct.) by Emily V. Gordon—a comedian, podcaster, social media player (60,000 Twitter followers, 24,000 Instagram followers), and former therapist—encourages readers to “release your inner superhero,” in chapters with titles such as “Making Emotions Your Bitch.”
“I think people are tired of dry, academic-sounding books written by Ph.D.s,” says Jordana Tusman, senior editor at Running Press, who edited another sharp-tongued title for the Perseus imprint: Leave a Cheater, Gain a Life (Apr. 2016) by Tracy Schorn, who since 2012 has been blogging and tweeting about coping with infidelity as “The Chump Lady.” As her moniker implies, Schorn is more interested in acknowledging and learning from mistakes, and urging readers to do the same, than in offering feel-good messages about coping with heartbreak.
Journalist Wendy Paris brings similarly clear-eyed talk to the topic of divorce with Splitopia (Atria, Mar. 2016). Paris challenges the feelings of guilt and grief felt by those who end their marriage, drawing on research, interviews, and her own experiences to question the moral assumptions surrounding divorce.
“Splitopia shows how to face reality,” says the book’s editor, Leslie Meredith, v-p and senior editor at Atria. “Divorce is such an emotional issue that it needs real people’s stories. A study or straight advice can fail to connect with someone in the throes of real confusion and chaos.”
This personal touch is a consistent trait across many of these books. In Mastering Your Inner Mean Girl (Tarcher, Mar. 2016), Australian motivational speaker Melissa Ambrosini (51,000 Instagram followers, 32,000 Facebook “likes”) urges readers to look to those closest to them for honest opinions, even when their views might be tough to swallow.
Allison Janse, who edited Get Your Head out of Your App (HCI, Jan. 2016) by Deborah Graham, a self-described psychic relationship coach, has seen this tendency with her author’s readership. “We all have that one brutally honest friend,” Janse says, “the only one that will tell you what you need to hear.”
Tarcher Perigee’s editorial director, Sara Carder, agrees that many readers crave “tough-love advice,” citing the tone of forthcoming Your Kid’s a Brat and It’s All Your Fault by Elaine Rose Glickman (Apr. 2016).
“We all have blind spots,” Carder says. “We need people who love and care about us to tell us in straight and no uncertain terms that we need to get back on track.”
Alex Palmer is a freelance writer and the author of the recently released The Santa Claus Man: The Rise and Fall of a Jazz Age Con Man and the Invention of Christmas in New York (Globe Pequot/Lyons).