To understand the current market for personal finance books, think of mid-life second marriages. The late '90s were the days of thrilling first loves, when nothing could go wrong. Then the bubble burst into a baffling puddle of disappointment. It was too painful to even think about past mistakes, let alone buy a book that would serve as a reminder. Disillusioned romantics hunkered down and refused to go out on a Saturday night. In their disappointed funk, they let mutual fund statements pile up unopened on the kitchen counter.
Now it's time to trust again. Or is it? As we go to press, the scandal in money market fund management has just broken, a story that will continue to unfold. Still, if the recent Wall Street rally and strong corporate earnings continue, individuals might just have that much more reason to flock to personal finance books for advice, giving some pep to a market that has been sluggish for the past two years. Or so publishers hope.
Book buyers no doubt will once again approach the financial advice arena with a sense of caution, if not skepticism. In the words of Crown publisher Steve Ross, "I don't anticipate seeing any kind of boom in the book marketplace that reflects the tech-market-—infused boom in the '90s, when pretty much any personal finance book, no matter how kooky the underlying theory, found a fast foothold and sold in gratifying numbers."
The new and the radical have lost their attraction. Now it's all about earning readers' trust. That means well-established names, strategies that meet the commonsense test and avoiding unrealistic promises. And if it's all a little less sexy than it used to be, at least today's investors—like our wised-up, middle-aged newlyweds—may stand a much better chance of finding something that will work in the long run.
Whom Do You Trust?
Talk to any publisher of personal finance books and the conversation is likely to get around to the importance of brands. That's true in several book categories, but nowhere more than with this one and never more than now. "It's people's money that we're talking about parting with and you don't want to take advice from someone in whom you don't have trust," says Ross. "They have to have a track record and an impeccable authority."
For Crown, that trusted someone is Charles Schwab. Next month the publisher's Three Rivers Press imprint is releasing It Pays to Talk: How to Have the Essential Conversations with Your Family About Money and Investing, co-authored by Schwab and his daughter Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz. That will be followed in June by Charles Schwab's New Guide to Financial Independence Completely Revised and Updated: Practical Solutions for Busy People. This updated version of the financial guru's previous bestseller reflects the queasy ride investors have been on and, in a nod to the reticence many still feel about getting back into the market, warns that the biggest risk is not doing anything.
Philip Ruppel, group publisher of McGraw-Hill, agrees that the category is coming back, but not with anything close to the zeal of the 1990s. He says brands will dominate more than ever as publishers compete for a cut of a perhaps permanently shrunken market. McGraw-Hill is positioning William O'Neil, founder and chairman of Investor's Business Daily, as one of its biggest brands. O'Neil's previous books include How to Make Money in Stocks and 24 Essential Lessons for Investment Success. Ruppel tells PW that the author's latest title, last month's The Successful Investor: What 80 Million People Need to Know to Invest Profitably and Avoid Big Losses, is the response to those 80 million who lost more than half their wealth during the stock market bust.
Though "brand" generally refers to an author, there are in rare cases institutions with enough cachet to carry the same authority. Such is the case, says Ruppel, with financial research and ratings company Standard & Poor's—which also happens to be part of the McGraw-Hill Companies family. This month McGraw-Hill Trade is publishing three S&P guides: The Standard & Poor's Guide to Saving and Investing for College, The Standard & Poor's Guide to Long-Term Investing and The Standard & Poor's Guide for the New Investor.
Warner Books continues to exploit one of the most powerful brands in personal finance, the series that started in 1997 with Robert Kiyosaki's Rich Dad Poor Dad. Last month saw the publication of Rich Dad's Success Stories: Real Life Stories from Real Life People Who Followed the Rich Dad Lessons by Kiyosaki with Sharon Lechter; due in May from that duo are Rich Dad Poor Dad for Teens (what's a brand these days without a teen title?) and Rich Dad's Who Took My Money: Why Slow Investors Lose and How Fast Money Wins. The latter title tells readers how to stop depending on an employer and support themselves through investing, becoming self-employed or starting their own business—something that has particular resonance during the current "jobless" economic recovery. "More than just going out and making money, people want to be their own boss," says Warner executive editor Rick Wolff. "He's giving people the hope and promise of being financially independent."
Speaking of hope and promise, a number of publishers seem to think that they're about to release the next Suze Orman. But Orman—who, with more than three million books in print is the ultimate personal finance brand—isn't inclined to step aside just yet. Next month Riverhead will publish The Road to Wealth: A Comprehensive Guide to Your Money, the first softcover version of Orman's 2001 bestseller (more than 750,000 shipped), which has been updated to include 2003 tax law changes.
Who Took My Money is a good example of what writers in this category must do to keep selling—constantly tweak their message in response to changing times. The same is true of You Don't Have to Be Rich by Jean Chatzky (Portfolio, Oct.). The author's advice, dispensed on Today and in Money magazine, has always been aimed at middle-income families with typical American-dream goals, such as sending the kids to college or buying a bigger house. But in her latest book Chatzky maintains that all a family needs to be happy is $50,000 a year, as long as they follow some basic advice—balancing their checkbook, making a will and saving at least 5% of their income. The message is tailor-made for a time when many people feel powerless to increase their income and have been brutally reminded that they can't afford to stake their happiness on big gains from their investments.
"Most people," notes Portfolio publisher Adrian Zackheim, "have had a tough time and there are certainly plenty who are not even opening their bank statements or thinking of buying stocks. They're thinking about whether their stocks have recovered enough to sell their stocks for the tax benefits."
But more than the message, it's the messenger who counts, says Zackheim, who sees great potential in Chatzky's accessible, friend-to-friend demeanor. "I think that there is an opportunity now for a new voice to emerge and I feel hopeful and confident that that new voice may very well be Jean's."
At HarperBusiness, editorial director Marion Maneker maintains that the source of the information is what really distinguishes one personal finance book from another. "The information that people give can't be radically different. The overall ideas are fairly consistent," Maneker says. "We know what makes you do well financially—save, don't get into debt, all the things your grandfather told you."
That's the kind of bread-and-butter advice served up in the third edition of The Truth About Money, a January release from the publisher's personal finance brand, Ric Edelman. The bestselling author of five books in the category, Edelman is best known for The Truth About Money, which—with more than 325,000 copies in print—preaches such strategies as accumulating savings by putting change in a jar instead of spending it, diversifying investments and avoiding debt by buying a less expensive home. (We warned you it wasn't sexy.)
Hooked on Classics
Edelman's title, first published in 1998, is one among several older personal finance guides that have been polished up and thrust back onto the frontlist. In light of the new economy's shattered promises, phrases like "time-tested" and even "old-fashioned" have become slogans to sell by.
Houghton Mifflin is building a "new" brand out of long-time financial adviser David Scott, whose Wall Street Words, originally published in 1988, has racked up sales of 350,000 copies and is now in its third edition. He also published titles in the early '90s with Globe Pequot Press under the Money Smarts series. Houghton is updating, revising and repackaging those books as a new series, David Scott's Guides; the first, due in May, are David Scott's Guide to Investing in Bonds and David Scott's Guide to Investing in Mutual Funds. "David has been giving advice for a long time to the individual investor," says editorial project director David Pritchard. "He's taught finance, written more than two dozen books and currently conducts workshops on personal finance and investing."
Another title getting a new life is Jason Kelly's The Neatest Little Guide to Stock Market Investing (Plume, Jan.). Published five years ago, when the stock market was booming, the book is just as relevant now as it was back then, says Plume editor-in-chief Trena Keating, who sees it as a guide for the investor cautiously re-entering the market. The book has been updated to reflect changes resulting from the dot-com crash and the bear market.
Bloomberg Press is reaching back to 1972 for one of its spring titles, Inside the Yield Book: The Classic That Created the Science of Bond Analysis by Sidney Homer and Martin Leibowitz (May). The book has been through 25 printings and, according to the publisher, "is to bond valuation what Benjamin Graham's The Intelligent Investor is to value investing— 'the classic.' " HarperBusiness, by the way, released an updated version of The Intelligent Investor, which was first published in 1949, in August.
Get Real (Estate)
The renewed appeal of traditional strategies, combined with rising property values and historically low mortgage interest rates, has also heated up demand for one of the oldest forms of investments—real estate.
"I'm seeing more and more real estate titles," says Ruppel, speaking not just of his own lists but of those from other publishers as well. Despite the recent gains in the stock market, investors who've lived through the volatility of the past few years are looking for something solid and tangible to put their money into. Dearborn Trade Publishing is among the houses offering titles touting profits from property. In Buy Low, Rent Smart, Sell High: Real Estate Investing for the Long Run (June) experienced investment property owners Scott Frank and Andy Heller preach the virtues of holding and renting property instead of trying to flip it for a higher price right away.
And for those would-be real estate tycoons who think they can't afford to get started, investment property expert James Misko offers How to Finance Any Real Estate, Any Place, Any Time (Square One Publishers, Jan.). The book—with chapters such as "Champagne House on a Beer Income" and "How to Option Property Without Money"—charts 53 nontraditional ways to buy property. It may be just the thing for investors who gambled too heavily on tech stocks and don't have much of a stake left to get back into the game.
Cleaning Up the Mess
While a few years ago finance writers were preaching the importance of risk-taking, the defensive mood of this post-bust era has spawned a trend in books for which the underlying theme seems to be "don't mess up."
"The main message is that they can take control of their financial destinies, primarily by avoiding or fixing mistakes," says Lynnette Khalfani, author of Investing Success: How to Conquer 30 Costly Mistakes and Multiply Your Wealth! (Advantage World Press, Jan.). Khalfani, a syndicated financial columnist, contends that most experts neglect to tell people what not to do. "A lot of books will tell you that this is what you should do. But they don't tell you the mistakes to avoid," she says. "I wanted to minimize the extent to which people shoot themselves in the foot." Khalfani breaks financial planning into five phases, including "strategizing to meet your personal goals" and "buying the right investments."
The subtext for some of these cautionary books is the recognition that many people lack even basic skills for handling money. That's the case with two forthcoming titles from Career Press. One, Get Rich Slow by Tama McAleese, explains why "retirement plans like 401(k)s may not be your best bet, why your home could be your worst investment, why no-load funds can cost you more." This February release "doesn't pretend to be anything more than a primer for anyone who's not very sophisticated about handling money," says Career Press president and publisher Ron Fry, who asserts that the industry underestimates the number of people who need such fundamental advice. Another Career Press book, Make Your Paycheck Last, by the aptly named Jason Rich, advises readers on the rudimentary steps to sticking with a budget and setting financial goals. Says Fry: "The majority of people are not worried about getting rich, they're worried about getting from paycheck to paycheck."
But even those who are more sophisticated about money can inadvertently shoot themselves in the portfolio, says Tim Moore, editor-in-chief of Financial Times Prentice Hall and editor of Investment Fables: Exposing the Myths of Can't Miss Investment Strategies by Aswath Damodaran. According to Moore, "This book is kind of a fun look at the commonly touted investment 'can't miss' strategies that have been famous for about 100 years—whole books have been written around these strategies—and his approach is to look at these particular fables and analyze them and at the end of the chapter say, 'these are the very limited circumstances in which they work.' "
Already made a big money mess? Kimberly Lankford, the "Ask Kim" columnist for Kiplinger's Personal Finance and Kiplinger.com, provides a series of helpful tips—"Squeeze Money from Your House," "Lower Your Tax Bill," etc.—in Rescue Your Financial Life: 11 Things You Can Do Now to Get Back on Track (McGraw-Hill, Oct.). "I think there's definitely a shell-shock factor in today's marketplace," Ruppel says. "The kinds of titles you're seeing from McGraw-Hill and others reflect that." Last month the publisher released Money Mistakes You Can't Afford to Make, in which U.S. News and World Report financial columnist Paul Lim promises to help readers avoid common financial missteps.
For readers willing to go deeper to discover the reasons for their financial screw-ups, Thomson Texere is releasing a revised paperback version of Fooled by Randomness Revision: The Hidden Role of Chance in the Markets and Life by Nassim Taleb (Apr.). The book's premise is that people make decisions—including investment decisions—based on correlations that don't exist. "In many ways you and I ascribe cause and effect when there is none," says publisher Myles Thompson. "We think 'because of this, that.' When really it's random." Investors are particularly vulnerable to drawing these connections in this era of all-day financial news channels and real-time Internet stock quotes, says Thompson. He explains that those investors who tune in to the randomness of the markets can tune out the distraction of the chattering pundits and make more rational choices.
The book is part of a field of study called "behavioral finance," which explains how some beliefs and attitudes lead to counterproductive financial decisions. For example, employees investing in the companies they work for through their 401(k)s make themselves unnecessarily vulnerable to the company's misfortunes. "It feels good, it feels like I'm being loyal to my company, but in reality it would be smarter to invest my money in another company—I'm already investing my career in that company," Thompson says. He predicts that behavioral finance will be the next hot topic in personal finance and investing books, and is releasing a number of related titles, including Behavioral Trading: Methods for Measuring Investor Confidence and Expectations by Woody Dorsey (Nov).
Selling Sisterly Advice
Just as publishers adjust the sophistication of their financial books to the knowledge level of the readers they're pursuing, so also are they molding their messages to appeal to certain demographic groups.
"For personal finance, the more you can tailor the book to a specific market, the better it is; people tend to buy books that reflect their own experience," says Ann Campbell, editor of Girl, Make Your Money Grow!: A Sister's Guide to Protecting Your Future and Enriching Your Life by Glinda Bridgforth (Broadway, Dec.). The book picks up where Bridgforth's first title, Girl, Get Your Money Straight! left off. "This new book is more about investing, planning for the future," Campbell says. "The first book was more about paying off debts and getting your financial house in order." Since the assumed audience for personal finance books is still white and male, as an African-American woman Bridgforth is representative—and presumably appealing to—two key niche audiences.
Investing Success author Khalfani also happens to be a black woman. And while her immediately forthcoming book aims at a general audience, she's not unaware of the sales potential for more targeted titles. She's planning to turn Investing Success into a series, with books for women, African-Americans, couples, baby boomers and small-business owners.
Aiming at women of all races, the duo behind WIFE.org (Women's Institute of Financial Education), Candace Bahr and Ginita Wall, has written It's More Than Money, It's Your Life (Wiley, Jan.). The book offers a strategy based on a model called the "Money Club," a support group in which women get together to discuss money in the same way they might gather to talk about weight loss.
Got It and Want to Keep It?
A few publishers are catering to those rare and lucky families dealing with the problems of affluence. Due in April from Bloomberg Press is Family Wealth—Keeping It in the Family: How Family Members and Their Advisors Preserve Human, Intellectual and Financial Assets for Generations by attorney James Hughes. A long-time adviser to the wealthy, Hughes self-published the book in 1997 and has sold 11,000 copies through word-of-mouth. For well-heeled parents who don't want to spoil their children, help is coming from Simplon Press in the form of Choking on the Silver Spoon: Keeping Your Kids Healthy, Wealthy and Wise in a Land of Plenty by psychiatrist Gary Buffone.
In the just-published Dearborn title Wealth Protection Secrets of a Millionaire Real Estate Investor, attorney William Bronchik advises the rich to spend the good times preparing to protect themselves from such dire events as an IRS dispute, a lawsuit or a failed business. Those who aspire to millionaire status (a fairly inclusive group, one suspects) might want to check out Broadway's The Automatic Millionaire: A Powerful One-Step Plan to Live and Finish Rich (Dec.) by David Bach, author of national bestsellers Smart Women Finish Rich, Smart Couples Finish Rich and The Finish Rich Workbook.
It may be a stretch to pronounce it a trend, but a couple of publishers are taking what could be called a "guilty pleasure" approach to personal finance.
In August 2002, Mutuals.com v-p Dan Ahrens and his colleagues launched the Vice Fund, which invested solely in "sin stocks" such as tobacco, alcohol, adult entertainment, gambling and weapons production. The reasoning was that even in the worst economy people still spent money on their sins of choice. In February, St. Martin's is publishing Ahrens's Investing in Vice: The Recession-Proof Portfolio of Booze, Bets, Bombs and Butts (excessive alliteration apparently being one of the author's naughty habits).
"There has been a backlash against some of the 'socially responsible' investing," says St. Martin's editor-in-chief George Witte. "A lot of these socially responsible funds, (a), don't do very well; and, (b), aren't really socially responsible." Witte adds, "Dan's point is that if you want to be socially responsible, give to charity."
In case investing in cigarettes and dirty movies isn't politically incorrect enough, Plume is publishing a guide to prosperity through a tactic that has worked for centuries—gold digging. How to Marry Money by Kevin Doyle (May) is packed with nuggets of wisdom, such as the necessity of developing a realistic plan. If you want rich, for example, you may have to forget about good-looking. Plume's Keating calls this the book, "for the investor looking to make millions quickly, risk-free and with no money down." While she admits the book won't be for everyone, she points out that, "It's the one self-help book that, if used successfully, can render all others unnecessary."