The economy may be rousing from its slumber, but it’s not yet fully awake. Job numbers are improving slowly: the U.S. Department of Labor reported that an anemic 115,000 nonfarm payroll jobs were added in April 2012. Unemployment hovers stubbornly around 8%, refusing to budge much. Logic would dictate that business is a buyer’s—that is, an employer’s—market these days.

Yet judging from the titles of forthcoming books, warm-and-fuzzy topics such as creativity and employee satisfaction are on many minds. Bryan Mattimore, president of the Growth Engine Co., an innovation agency in Norwalk, Conn., and author of Idea Stormers: How to Lead and Inspire Creative Breakthroughs (Jossey-Bass, Sept.), says, “With the success of Steve Jobs and Apple, there are a lot of companies that recognize the need to be innovative. And they recognize they need people to be creative in all aspects: strategy, promotion, social media, joint ventures.” Of course, as Mattimore notes, there is an ulterior profit motive underlying the attention paid to the “soft” subjects of the happy, harmonious, creative workplace—CEOs and business owners are seeking the biggest bang for their buck with smaller staffs working longer hours. Says Mattimore, “They’ve downsized, and they’re looking for the Holy Grail.”

Mary Glenn, associate publisher of business and finance at McGraw-Hill, agrees that creativity is a hot topic due to “continued fascination with Steve Jobs” in the business world, as seen in the success of The Apple Experience: Secrets to Building Insanely Great Customer Loyalty by Carmine Gallo, out in March from McGraw-Hill. More broadly, says Glenn, “Business readers are more in the know,” so publishers need to stay ahead while offering fresh but practical information, like that found in Jeffrey J. Fox’s The Transformative CEO: Impact Lessons from Industry and Game Changers (June) and Robert Vanourek’s Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations (July).

Amacom executive editor Christina Parisi observes, “When the economy shifts and people are able to leave, the talent war will be on again and companies will have to refocus on retention. Perhaps an even greater challenge for managers and businesses is the increasing demand for individualism. People expect more choices and that is true for everything from the products they choose to the work life they expect. Customization of products and flexibility in work arrangements are going to continue to be hot topics in both business and management.” In the near future, Amacom will attempt to meet those needs with Peter Jensen’s The Winning Factor: Inspire Gold-Medal Performance in Your Employees (May); a second edition of Leigh Branham’s The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave: How to Recognize the Subtle Signs and Act Before It’s Too Late (Aug.); and John Mattone’s Talent Leadership: A Proven Method for Identifying and Developing High-Potential Employees (Oct.)

The Big Picture

The casual bookstore browser might be forgiven these days for mistaking the business management section for the self-help section on spotting such titles as Clayton M. Christensen, James Allworth, and Karen Dillon’s How Will You Measure Your Life? (Harper Business, May). “Readers now look to business books not just for advice about how to succeed but also for advice about how to live well—happily and in accordance with one’s personal values,” says Harper Business publisher Hollis Heimbouch. “The category remains sensitive to the ups and downs of the business cycle. Many people are still anxious about their futures and their careers and skeptical about government and other institutions.”

Coming in August from Thomas Nelson is another title that sounds as much like a self-help work as it does a guide to workplace practices: Wisdom Meets Passion: When Generations Collide and Collaborate by Dan Miller (author of 48 Days to the Work You Love) and his entrepreneurial son, Jared Angaza. Says Thomas Nelson publisher Matt Baugher, “One of the challenges as a publisher is that so much in leadership books has already been said. When you combine that with the number of books in that genre being released, the clouds increase all the more over shining the light on the truly unique and helpful manuscripts.”

Square One, too, lists a title that looks at the intersection of business and life: the trade paperback original How to Start a Business and Ignite Your Life: A Simple Guide to Combining Business Wisdom with Passion by Ernesto Sirolli (Aug.). Also in the love-what-you-do category is Grow Your Handmade Business (Storey, Aug.), author Kari Chapin’s follow-up to The Handmade Marketplace.

According to Berrett-Koehler editorial director Neal Maillet, “The not-so-hidden subtext of many of our books this year is the question, ‘How do we stop screwing up our companies, our economy, and our quality of life?’ I’d say the tone of new books is hopeful and urgent, but maybe not so unabashedly positive about the present.” Coming in September from B-K is Kevin Cashman’s The Pause Principle: Step Back to Lead Forward.

Ashgate Publishing is also invested in the happy workplace/happy employees trend with Elizabeth A. Hoffman’s Co-operative Workplace Dispute Resolution: Organizational Structure, Ownership and Ideology (Aug.). And lessons learned through team-building are brought to bear in How Winning Works: 8 Essential Leadership Lessons from the Toughest Teams on Earth (Harlequin Nonfiction, June) by Robyn Benincasa, founder of the adventure-based team-building company World Class Teams. Just out from Hyperion with a 50,000-copy print run is The Only Way to Win: How Building Character Drives Higher Achievement and Greater Fulfillment in Business and Life, in which performance psychologist Jim Loehr looks at what it really takes to feel successful. (Hint: It’s not money and fame.)

Michael Pye, senior acquisitions editor at Career Press/New Page Books, says, “Right now the collaborative work environment is on the rise. So we’re looking for titles that don’t just push the old follow-me-or-you’re-out rule. Managers acknowledge some of the best ideas come from people below them.” That principle, says Pye, is the reason for publishing a third edition of Steve Chandler and Scott Richardson’s 100 Ways to Motivate Others: How Great Leaders Can Produce Insane Results Without Driving People Crazy, one of Career Press’s bestselling titles of the past decade. New titles include The Titleless Leader: How to Get Things Done When You’re Not in Charge by Nan S. Russell (May) and The Manager’s Phrase Book: 3000+ Powerful Phrases That Put You in Command in Any Situation (Jan.).

Employee gratification is also the focus of 1501 Ways to Reward Employees by Bob Nelson (Workman, Mar.). Editor-in-chief Susan Bolotin says, “Managers are hungry, dare I say starving, for guidance when it comes to keeping their best employees happy. Recruitment, training, dealing with loss of productivity—nobody can afford to waste time doing the same things over and over again, no matter how essential they are.” Author Bob Nelson has booked dozens of appearances and will be touring through mid-December for the title, an updated version of his 1001 Ways to Reward Employees, which has more than one million copies in print.

Rick Wolff, publisher of Grand Central’s Business Plus imprint, points to It’s Your Ship: Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy by Capt. Mike Abrashoff, to be re-released in a revised version in hardcover in November. The original has sold more than 600,000 hardcover copies since it was first published 10 years ago. Wolff says, “I find that even with all of the new developments in social media, the basics of good, solid fundamental management techniques still are very much in vogue, and employees everywhere still respond to bosses who respect their work effort, pay them a fair salary, and who go out of their way to acknowledge a job well done.”

And at least some publishers think a change was long overdue. According to Select Books marketing director Kenichi Sugihara, “Some day we may look back at 2012 as the year business management titles got shook up. These books have shown us a lot of variations on not too many themes, so it’s high time this category got less conservative in its approach and tried to break some new ground. Seeing that voices like Deepak Chopra and Wayne Dyer can resonate with this audience indicates a trend in which a holistic sensibility may be entering the field. One where we find that being in touch with our spiritual self can have an impact on the bottom line.” That house’s SQ21: The Twenty-One Skills of Spiritual Intelligence by Cindy Wigglesworth, a self-described Zen Christian and former human resources manager at Exxon Corporation, is being targeted squarely to the business management audience.

Social Media Titles, or Facebook Books

Social media platforms continue to tantalize, offering fertile ground for marketing and promotion while simultaneously confounding many in the business field. Though it may seem counterintuitive to read a book about how to use the Internet, publishers are offering several titles on the subject, such as Mark Schaefer’s The Tao of Twitter (McGraw-Hill, Aug.) and Likeable Social Media: How to Delight Your Customers, Create an Irresistible Brand and Be Generally Amazing on Facebook (And Other Social Networks) by Dave Kerpen (June 2011).

Twitter, Facebook, and the like continue to be used by publishers to sell books as well. But there is a bit of a backlash brewing. At Ballantine, executive editor Marnie Cochran notes, “The best social media messaging does relate to others as people, not as data points. When an author tweets about a problem others may be having, or introduces a line of thought on Facebook for others to comment on, they are leading would-be readers to answers found in the book in the same way that a radio call-in show or a television interview might do. Which leads to water-cooler chatter or departure lounge discussions. So, yes, social media plays a very big role in helping to sell business and leadership books, but only in the sense that it starts real-time conversations.”

Just out from Free Press is The Face-to-Face Book: Why Real Relationships Rule in a Digital Marketplace by Ed Keller and Brad Fay, which argues that in-person networking is more important than online marketing. Says editor-in-chief Dominick Anfuso, “The book will help businesses and marketing professionals to more fully understand how to use social media in a fully integrated marketed plan. How much do we spend on social marketing? What is its effect?”

In October, Jossey-Bass will publish Renegades Write the Rules: How the Digital Royalty Are Using Social Media to Redefine Innovation by Amy Martin. Executive editor Susan Williams says Martin “was on the tweet scene in 2007 and responsible for the Twitter rise of Shaquille O’Neal and others.” She adds, “People are going deeper into topics like innovation, social media—and starting to cross-reference them more practically. They understand that doing things in new ways, say, with social media, makes them think in different ways and then innovate in different ways. Social networking continues to chip away at the more closed aspects of companies in terms of culture and power, and favors those who are willing to use its influence.”

Jossey-Bass itself is climbing on the social media bandwagon with Williams explains emphatically, “This is not a bookselling site, but rather a community site—of authors, us, and like-minded people who want to explore the critical topics in management.”

Money Talks

With all the talk of social media, employee happiness, and a self-actualized workplace, there’s still no denying that the economy weighs heavily on this category, and the economy is not in tip-top shape. As Skyhorse associate publisher Bill Wolfsthal puts it, “In this economy, everyone is looking for help. We’re trying to publish good books at a good price that will inspire people to succeed and give them the practical information they need to succeed.” Coming along these lines from the publisher is Donald J. Palmisano’s Little Red Book of Leadership Lessons (Oct.).

Economic recovery not only influences the books published but is also a recurring theme in this season’s business books. Published earlier this month by Ballantine Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setbacks to Success is by Rick Newman, chief business correspondent for US News & World Report. Cochran says, “Rebounders shows us that we’re only at the mercy of our own learned ability to do something with failure. Further, it explains the mechanics of the rebounding process. The lessons hold regardless of the state of the economy. It’s timeless, since failure and setbacks don’t respect economic up or downturns—we will always have them, even in the best of economic times.” Along similar lines is Andrew Zolli and Ann Marie Healy’s Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back (Free Press, July), and in January 2013 Business Plus offers a tale of hope in American Turnaround: Reinventing AT&T and GM and the Way We Do Business in the USA by Ed Whitacre with Leslie Cauley. Whitacre was the longtime CEO of AT&T tapped by President Obama to turn around General Motors.

Women Take the Field

As women inch toward equality in the workplace and equal pay (in the U.S., a woman on average earns 77.8 cents for every dollar a man earns), business books specifically targeted to them are perennial. This season is no exception, as two titles take a sassy approach to helping women navigate the workplace.

According to Harper Business publisher Hollis Heimbouch, Cosmo editor-in-chief Kate White uses her “signature style and irreverent wit” in I Shouldn’t Be Telling You This: Success Secrets Every Gutsy Girl Should Know (Sept.), a guide designed to help women navigate the often tricky terrain of their careers. The book is rife with lists, quizzes, and catchphrases; tips include not being chummy or informal during an interview (particularly important for members of Gen Y) and when to listen to your inner paranoia. Heimbouch adds, “The book is priced at $24.99, which makes it accessible to women at all levels—about the price of lipstick!”

In 2007, Harvard Business School grads Alexis Maybank and Alexandra Wilkis Wilson, who had worked at eBay and Merrill Lynch, respectively, launched, a members-only site selling luxury goods. Fast forward to April 2012, when their book (published by Portfolio), By Invitation Only: How We Built Gilt and Changed the Way Millions Shop, landed on PW’s bestseller list. Associate publisher Will Weisser says the title isn’t just for women, but “straddles several audiences—readers who are interested in the fashion business, Internet startups, and women’s leadership.” Indeed, while the two women are depicted on the cover in swanky togs, much of their business advice is solidly down-to-earth and applies to both women and men: how to choose a partner and maintain a long-term business relationship; how to know whether your idea is a good one; obtaining venture capital; and assembling a startup team.