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If the 1967 self-help classic I’m OK, You’re OK were being published today, the title might have a third phrase added to it: I’m OK, You’re OK, but the Economy Is Not. The recession is having a strong impact on the self-help category these days, say publishers, but not necessarily in the ways one might assume.

The economy has forced changes everywhere,” says Nancy Fish, marketing and publicity manager of Cleis Press and Viva Editions. “Whereas people used to look inward for self-improvement, they’re now forced by circumstances to focus more on how to stay positive and make do with much less.” This shift is providing support for titles such as Billee Sharp’s Lemons and Lavender: The Eco Guide to Better Homekeeping (Viva, Mar.) The author was laid off from a corporate job and began to work toward self-sufficiency for economic reasons. “Self-help readers now prefer specific tools and take-aways from books,” Fish adds.

Yet the economic downturn is not stopping consumers from buying self-help books, reports Tarcher editor-in-chief Mitch Horowitz. The press has printed more than 50,000 copies of Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich deluxe edition, a boxed set of book, workbook, and journal, out this month.

Books on dealing with the recession can be real money-makers. William Shinker, president and publisher of Gotham and Avery, reports that Avery had its first New York Times #1 bestseller with Clark Howard’s Living Large in Lean Times: 250+ Ways to Buy Smarter, Spend Smarter, and Save Money (Aug.). Reader’s Digest editor-in-chief Peggy Northrop and the magazine’s staff give practical self-help advice for the downturn in Easy Ways to Live Well and Still Save (Reader’s Digest, Mar.), and Skyhorse will have Vicky Oliver’s The Millionaire’s Handbook: How to Look and Act Like a Millionaire, Even If You’re Not (Nov.).

Defying Definition

The self-help category is tough to pin down, encompassing everything from decluttering and organizing (The Hoarder in You [Rodale, Nov.] by Robin Zasio, a doctor who frequently appears on the A&E show Hoarders, and The 8-Minute Organizer [Da Capo, May]by Regina Leeds) to dealing with anxiety (Freeing Yourself from Anxiety [Da Capo, Jan.] by cognitive behavior therapy expert Tamar Chansky and Saved By Hope: Thirty True Things About Fear and Courage [Da Capo, May] by psychiatrist Gordon Livingston) and choosing a course for therapy, Your Emotional Type: Key to the Therapies That Will Work for You (Inner Traditions, Nov.) by Michael A. Jawer and Marc S. Micozzi.

According to Wiley’s executive editor of general interest books, Thomas W. Miller, “There is no such thing as pure self-help anymore. Self-help is merging with other categories, including humor, health, psychology, spirituality, recovery, and business.” He points to such titles as the advice book Whateverland: Learning to Live Here (Nov.) by Alexis Stewart (daughter of Martha Stewart) and Jennifer Hutt, blending humor with self-help, and 10 Conversations You Need to Have with Yourself: A Powerful Plan for Spiritual Growth and Self-Improvement (Oct.) by well-known rabbi Shmuley Boteach as examples.

The broad range of forthcoming titles includes Jessica Cassity’s Better Each Day: 365 Expert Tips for a Healthier, Happier You (Chronicle, Aug.); Bloom: Finding Beauty in the Unexpected (William Morrow, Apr. 2012) by Kelle Hampton, author of the popular Enjoying the Small Things blog (www.kellehampton.com); and Situations Matter: Understanding How Context Transforms Your World by Sam Sommers (Riverhead, Jan.). Free Press will publish in December Finding Your Way in a Wild New World: Reclaiming Your True Nature to Create the Life You Want by Martha Beck, author of Finding Your Own North Star: Claiming the Life You Were Meant to Live (Crown, 2001). In March, St. Martin’s will publish The Rules of Influence: Winning When You’re in the Minority by William Crano on the science of persuasion.

With the range so wide, Bill Wolfsthal, associate publisher of Skyhorse, finds that keeping the books themselves narrowly focused is important. Two forthcoming Skyhorse titles fit that bill: Unhooked: How to Quit Anything by psychologist Frederick Woolverton and sassy memoirist Susan Shapiro (Jan.) and in October Above All Else: A World Champion Skydiver’s Story of Survival and What It Taught Him About Fear, Adversity, and Success by Dan Brodsky-Chenfeld, who survived a plane crash.

Georgia Hughes, editorial director of New World Library, agrees that simplicity and focus are in vogue. “Readers want things to be less complicated, simpler,” she says. Thomas M. Sterner’s The Practicing Mind: Developing Focus and Discipline, due from New World in April, was initially self-published in 2006 and sold 15,000 copies through Amazon and the author’s workshops. It leads readers through the 10,000 hours of practice that are said to be required in order to become proficient at any skill. More tips for achieving focus are provided in Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World by Mark Williams and Danny Penman (Rodale, Oct.)

Growing Old Gracefully

The range of subjects may be wide and sometimes ephemeral, but there are self-help subjects that are perennially popular. One such perennial comprises books on fighting the effects of aging. Workman editor-in-chief Susan Bolotin says, “To stand out in the self-help pack, a book has to be about something readers are desperate to know more about. What baby boomer doesn’t worry that today’s memory lapse is tomorrow’s dementia?” That interest in Alzheimer’s has drawn bookseller and media attention to Workman’s The Alzheimer’s Prevention Program by Gary Small and Gigi Vorgan (Jan.).

“The aging paradigm has shifted: ‘Cresting the hill’ no longer means being ‘over the hill,’ ” says Bethany House publicity director Brett Benson. In March, Bethany House will publish What’s Next?: Navigating Transitions to Make the Rest of Your Life Count by Christian counselor H. Norman Wright.

In February, Crown Archetype will publish Use Your Brain to Change Your Age: Secrets to Look, Feel, and Think Younger Every Day by Daniel G. Amen. Author of 26 books, Amen is currently partnering with Rick Warren to improve brain health at Warren’s Saddleback Church. In a similar vein, January will see from New World Library Brain Power: Improve Your Mind as You Age by Michael J. Gelb and Kelly Howell, a paperback with a 25,000-copy first printing and $25,000 marketing campaign. Senior editor Jason Gardner says the title “distills the latest scientific research on the brain and its neuroplasticity into an easy-to-understand guide to making simple lifestyle changes.”

As proof that with age comes wisdom, this week Atria publishes Dear Me: A Letter to My Sixteen-Year-Old Self by Joseph Galliano. The $20 hardcover collects letters from such celebrities as J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, and Hugh Jackman.

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