Self-help books were once easy to recognize. They contained instructions, often provided by a therapist or psychologist, for living one's best life. These days, the boundaries are blurred, with many self-help tomes combining advice with memoir-style chronicles of the author's experience. One recent example is Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project, a January HarperCollins title that spent 11 weeks on PW's nonfiction bestseller list. The book resembles a mashup of Julie & Julia with I'm OK, You're OK, as Rubin follows through on small resolutions along the lines of making the bed every day.

Another author who combines personal experience with advice is gospel recording artist Kirk Franklin. In The Blueprint: A Plan for Living Above Life's Storms (Gotham, May), the seven-time Grammy winner who has sold more than 12 million records, recollects rough times and how he made it through. Says editorial director Lauren Marino, “Franklin is the first to say that he was given a bad blueprint for his life—and it wasn't through blind faith or platitudes that he was able to become a successful man, father, husband, and musician.”

“The principles of self-help and recovery are so much a part of the national vocabulary that we no longer think of traditional change-your-life books as the only inhabitants of the category,” says Workman editor-in-chief Susan Bolotin. She points to a Workman June title Cow in the Parking Lot: A Zen Approach to Overcoming Anger as a traditional title, but also includes Convince Them in 90 Seconds or Less, a May reprint under a new title, as a book that could cross over from business. Another potential crossover is this month's Da Capo title, The Winner's Brain: 8 Strategies Great Minds Use to Achieve Success by Jeff Brown and Mark Fenske.

Wiley executive editor Thomas W. Miller agrees that the category is now overlapping other genres. “One trend in self-help right now is books that straddle the categories of self-improvement, psychology, and brain science. Books that cross the lines between self-improvement and spirituality, such as those by Deepak Chopra, Wayne Dyer, and Mitch Albom, are selling very strongly, as are those that combine narrative and personal stories with self-help advice. And self-help books by media personalities can become big bestsellers.” In the last group is Wiley's Retool Your Relationship: Fix the One You're With by Trina Dolenz, resident therapist on VH1's Tool Academy, due in September.

According to Sourcebooks editorial manager Peter Lynch, Uncommon H.O.P.E.: A Powerful Guide to Creating an Extraordinary Life (Mar.) “bridges the gap between the wisdom of leaders and the lives of everyday people. It's a movement to bring the wisdom of conquering stress to the everyday lives of men and women.”

Tarcher executive editor Sara Carder notes that with the category expanding, it's increasingly difficult for a book to stand out. She says, “These days, with the sheer volume of self-help books out there, we know that we have to look for almost hidden undercurrents in terms of what people are thinking about and experiencing in their lives so that when they walk into a bookstore and spot the book, they think, 'Wow, this actually has been on my mind,' or 'This has been troubling me and I want to figure out why and what I can do about it.' ” In this vein, Tarcher has high hopes for The Art of Comforting: What to Say and Do for People in Distress by grief counselor Val Walker, due out in October.

In February Hyperion published MOJO: How to Get It, How to Keep It, How to Get It Back When You Need It! by Marshall Goldsmith with Mark Reiter, which hit PW's bestseller list. Associate publisher Kristin Kiser explains, “MOJO has become hugely successful because it speaks to what you can do personally to improve your life at work and at home. Marshall, a Buddhist himself, heeds his advice and truly believes that we are in control of our own identity and reputation, which is why MOJO is both relatable and relevant.”

The challenge in this field, says Skyhorse associate publisher Bill Wolfsthal, is “finding something that really stands out as different.” One such book is The Try: If You've Got It, Anything Is Possible (Sept.) by James P. Owen, author of Cowboy Ethics and Cowboy Values. Says Wolfsthal, “James has a unique point of view as a successful business person and a cowboy.”

“The trend in self-help seems to be to face facts but find new ways to move on that don't require expensive therapy,” says New World Library editorial director Georgia Hughes. The press is tapping that trend with this month's Ten Things to Do When Your Life Falls Apart by Daphne Rose Kingma.

One example of a more classic self-help work is The Undervalued Self: Restore Your Love/Power Balance, Transform the Inner Voice That Holds You Back, and Find Your True Self-Worth (Little, Brown, Mar.) by Elaine N. Aron, author of The Highly Sensitive Person and other books. Executive editor Tracy Behar explains that the new book is “based on a new discipline in psychology and presents a whole new way of looking at self-esteem issues, the result not of past traumas or bad parenting, but instead of an overfocus on how we rank against others and how we connect with others. There's nothing like it in the marketplace.”

No matter what type of book an author has written, it never hurts to have a well-known name. Gail Sheehy's Passages: Predictable Crises of Adult Life sat on the New York Times bestseller list for more than three years and has been translated into 28 languages. Her Passages in Caregiving: Turning Chaos into Confidence will be published next month by Morrow. Says executive editor Mary O'Neill, “Sheehy's story of her husband's illness is moving, conveys great empathy, and reassures the reader of the wide spectrum of a 'normal' experience.” {See Sheehy's essay, “Why I Write,” on p. 31.]

Another case in point: Peter Buffett, author of Life Is What You Make It: Find Your Own Path to Fulfillment (Harmony, Apr.), is the son of billionaire investor Warren Buffett. Harmony executive editor John Glusman says it's Buffett's voice, not his name, that makes the book special, as well as his personal story of walking away from the family business to do what he truly loved—making music—without financial support from his famous father. Glusman adds, “I don't think there's been a book by a Buffett that hasn't been a bestseller.” Harmony plans a 50,000-copy first printing and will sell books at the Berkshire Hathaway shareholders' meeting on May 1.

Another son of fortune who walked away is John Robbins, heir to the Baskin- Robbins fortune, whose The New Good Life: Living Better than Ever in an Age of Less (Ballantine, May) offers advice on findingmeaning in life beyond money and status.

The Price of Happiness

As in all of publishing, the economy is having an effect on this category—sometimes in surprising ways. Rowman & Littlefield senior editor Suzanne Staszak-Silva says, “During tough economic times people want smart, solid information they can use to manage their lives in all areas. Why pay an expert for advice when you can buy an inexpensive book or check one out for free at the library? And yet, on the flip side of this, publishers have to consider that disposable income is more precious than ever. It's a tricky time for publishers in general, but I think most readers are still looking for appropriate, accessible, and smart self-help books that take the guesswork out of life's difficulties.”

Square One publisher Rudy Shur says the economy makes things rough for books that are simply “catch-all compendiums for any number of disorders or personal problems affecting people today.”

Broadway Books publisher Diane Salvatore says, “I believe this is a recession-proof category, as people always want to improve themselves and maximize their chances for success and happiness. As always, the books that break out will be those that are truly fresh, smart, and relevant, with authors who have the platform to catapult their message through all the noise and static.” One such author has been Laura L. Carstensen, director of the Stanford Center on Longevity, whose Your Future, Starting Now: Finding Happiness, Connection, Health and Wealth, Long Life will be reprinted in paperback in September by Broadway.

Victor Starsia, president of LaChance Publishing, says, “Uncertain economic times continue to force changes upon the circumstances of millions of Americans. Women Reinvented [July] is a collection of stories by women faced with economic, cultural, spiritual, and emotional change. Whether family breakups, upheavals in the workplace, career paths diverted—these women, from investment bankers to runway models to small business owners, explain how they coped, what they learned and how they managed to find new paths to happiness in uncertain times.”

Out this month from Sterling is The Comet and the Tornado by Don Marinelli, who was cited in the late Randy Pausch's The Last Lecture (Hyperion, 2008). Pam Horn, editorial director of Sterling Innovation, says, “This is a memoir that likely also appeals to the self-help community looking for inspiration and purpose during tough times. The economic climate prompts readers to seek out voices like Don Marinelli's—someone who took brave steps into unknown territory personally and professionally.” In October, Sterling will publish David Pollay's The Law of the Garbage Truck: Take Control of Your Life with One Decision, inspired by a New York City taxi ride 20 years ago.

The uncertain job market is also causing people to rethink their lives, and several self-help books are poised to assist them. According to Avery editorial director Megan Newman, “Tons of people in these uncertain times are being forced to reinvent themselves, even before retirement. In many cases, people are finding forgotten passions or are using down time between jobs to re-evaluate what it means to work or follow a dream. Bruce Frankel's What Should I Do with the Rest of My Life?: True Stories of Finding Success, Passion, and New Meaning in the Second Half of Life [Mar.] is a book for this market of mature adults in transition.”

At Grand Central, executive editor Karen Thomas says, “It's no accident that books like The Secret and Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man have been staples on the bestseller lists. Even though the economy has been terrible, we will never stop wanting to improve our lives, the lives of our children, spouses, and those whom we love. The self-help/recovery genre will continue to perform well because the message isn't based on economic indicators or the current political climate. Self-help/self-improvement is always a relevant topic.”

Rediscovering Recovery

Recovery has become a household word these days. “Even the mainstream media is reporting on the diseases of alcoholism and addiction with much greater frequency,” says HCI publisher Peter Vegso. “Not to mention the shows that focus solely on the subjects, i.e., A&E's Intervention, Celebrity Recovery, etc. Having published recovery titles for over 30 years and self-help for nearly as long, the most remarkable thing we've noticed is how the genre has 'come out of the closet.' ” Forthcoming HCI titles on recovery include The Law of Sobriety: Attracting Positive Energy for a Powerful Recovery (Sept.) and Soul Silence: A Unique Approach to Mastering the 11th Step (Nov.). In October, HCI/Hazelden will publish The Book That Started It All: The Original Working Manuscript of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Indeed, as awareness of recovery has grown, use of the terms “recovery” and “addiction” has expanded to describe much more than drug and alcohol abuse. One example is Spent: Memoirs of a Shopping Addict, coming next month from Little, Brown. Says executive editor Judy Clain, “Avis Cardella writes with compassion and precision about the way her life almost unraveled.” In Brave Girl Eating (Morrow, Aug.), journalist Harriet Brown discusses her daughter's recovery from anorexia, and in January Square One published End Your Addiction Now: The Proven Nutritional Supplement Program That Can Set You Free by Charles Gant, M.D., and Greg Lewis.

Even a desire to please others can be seen as an addiction, one to be treated with the January Rowman & Littlefield title Breaking the Addiction to Please: Goodbye to Guilt by Les Barbanell.

Steven Adler has written what may be the classic recovery tale for the modern age. The drummer for Guns N' Roses from 1985 to 1990, Adler nursed a serious drug addiction and survived two heart attacks, a suicide attempt, and a stroke. Reports Mauro DiPreta, associate publisher of Harper Perennial's It Books imprint, “After years of living like an animal, he recovered in an unusual and very public way—with Dr. Drew on Celebrity Rehab.” And, of course, with a book: coming in June is My Appetite for Destruction: Sex & Drugs & Guns N' Roses.

Whether it's sex, drugs, or myriad other plights, it's clear that the self-help category has come a long way in the cause of problem solving.