The recovery of the U.S. economy is definitely underway. The International Monetary Fund is projecting 3% annual growth for the U.S. over the next four years. The real estate monitoring group Trulia announced recently that construction starts in September were the highest they’ve been since July 2008. Consumer confidence, as measured by the Conference Board, is also at its four-and-a-half-year peak. And U.S. unemployment dropped to 7.7% in November, the lowest it has been in four years, marking the third consecutive month that the rate has stayed below 8%—the best performance since the recession began in 2008.

Yet publishers of personal finance books remain cautious, judging on both the types of books being published and the number of new offerings in the field. Only a few years ago, the category was a bastion of happy capitalism. Books that promised wealth were mainstays; it seemed that everyone had a shot at socking away a fortune. These days, the titles and the promises are more subdued, and book jackets are as likely to feature smiley faces as they are dollar signs. Rather than assuring readers that wealth is theirs for the taking, publishers are offering titles such as All the Money in the World: What the Happiest People Know About Getting and Spending by Laura Vanderkam (a Mar. 2012 Portfolio title to be reprinted in paperback in May 2013).

Forthcoming from Simon & Schuster in May is Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton’s Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending. In a move indicative of how this category has moved away from get-rich-quick offerings—the authors are not personal finance experts or self-made real estate moguls but behavioral psychologists who research the correlation between money and happiness.

S&S senior editor Ben Loehnen says, “The authors have used their original research to unpack our often confusing and thorny relationship with money. There are ideas in this book for all of us as we reach for our wallets, but the book also delves into big ideas about the ways in which governments, charities, and companies might better accommodate the pleasures and discomforts of spending.” Dunn and Norton’s work has been featured on NPR, the Tonight Show, and the BBC, as well as in the Wall Street Journal and Forbes.

Big Names Take a Breather

The personal finance category has long relied on a select group of high-profile authors, old reliables who roll out books on a regular schedule. Case in point: Robert Kiyosaki, author of the Rich Dad Poor Dad series. The original title, Rich Dad Poor Dad: What the Rich Teach Their Kids About Money That the Poor and Middle Class Do Not!, was self-published in 1997 and became the flagship for a group of books that have sold more than 30 million copies worldwide. Kiyosaki’s most recent titles include Unfair Advantage: What Schools Will Never Teach You About Money (2011) and Midas Touch: Why Some Entrepreneurs Get Rich and Why Most Don’t (2011), coauthored with Donald Trump.

In April, Plata Publishing will publish Kiyosaki’s Why “A” Students Work for “C” Students—and “B” Students Work for the Government: Rich Dad’s Guide to Financial Education for Parents. The title posits that the current educational system is outmoded and does nothing to prepare young people for the Information Age. “This is the most important book I have ever written,” says Kiyosaki. “The world of the future belongs to creative, innovative thinkers, kids gifted with talents, and practical knowledge that can take them down an entrepreneurial path.”

But the pack of new titles from big-name authors and publishers is noticeably thinner this year. Asked why this is, publishers gave a variety of answers, most of which touched on the idea that there are no more sure things in the personal finance category.

Suze Orman’s straightforward style is familiar not only from her books but through CNBC’s The Suze Orman Show, her lectures, and her columns in O, The Oprah Magazine. But one thing Orman doesn’t have going this season is a new book. The paperback of her most recent title, The Money Class: How to Stand in Your Truth and Create the Future You Deserve, was published by Spiegel & Grau in January 2012. Publisher Julie Grau reports that for Orman, “Typically, we have at least two years between books. The Money Class is still selling, the program is still in rotation on PBS, Suze is still out there lecturing. She’s developing a course for the University of Phoenix that is a sort of ‘personal finance 101’ that draws heavily on the lessons of The Money Class. We’ve got another book under contract, but it always has to be the right next book from Suze—a message that she feels she needs to convey—not just another book from Suze.”

Grand Central’s Business Plus imprint doesn’t have any personal finance books on its list in the coming months. Publisher Rick Wolff says, “Personal finance has always been a very strong category, but it’s also a very crowded one. Unless my team here at Business Plus finds a new book on the topic that is very compelling or unusual, we’re most likely not going to pursue it.”

Rodale, too, is not offering anything new in personal finance this season. Editorial director Anne Egan says, “As a mission-based company, Rodale looks to publish books that help people live their best lives, and personal finance books can certainly fall under that umbrella. Last year we had published bestselling personal finance expert Jean Chatzky’s Money Rules, and we still see it having legs. Because finance isn’t that as big a category for us as, say, health or diet, we want to be careful about taking on additional books so soon after Jean’s. That said, we are certainly open to finding the next category killer in this space—if the author’s mission and platform align with ours.”

Proceed with Caution

That hesitancy to overload the category was expressed by almost every publisher interviewed for this article. Perigee publisher John Duff says, “We’ve been pretty selective in our range of books on personal finance. Being mindful of the category busters in the marketplace, we’ve focused on publishing very practical titles that provide readers with specific advice on investing and saving. Dan Solin has been our anchor for this category because he speaks the truth and cuts through a lot of the B.S. that one gets from so-called ‘investment gurus’ and the media. He provides the kind of detailed investment strategies that resonate with consumers who are struggling to make sense of their financial situations.” Solin’s The Smartest Money Book You’ll Ever Read: Everything You Need to Know About Growing, Spending, and Enjoying Your Money is coming from Perigee December 31; at the same time the publisher will release the author’s 7 Steps to Save Your Financial Life Now as a $2.99 e-book.

McGraw-Hill has a healthy list of titles in the category between now and June, but associate publisher for business Mary Glenn, says, “We look for proven and successful financial advisers who have responsible and well-thought-out plans offering sensible financial advice, not quick-fix schemes. The time for risk is over. Everyone from baby boomers to students want to learn how to build wealth through smart money management and investing.” Glenn adds that consumers are still looking for brand names. Investors Business Daily founder William O’Neil is author of McGraw-Hill’s How to Make Money in Stocks: A Winning System in Good Times or Bad, first published in 1988, which has more than one million copies in print. Two new books in the series are coming in January and April, respectively: How to Make Money in Stocks Success Stories by Amy Smith, and How to Make Money in Stocks Getting Started by Matthew Galgani. Also due in January is Think, Act, and Invest Like Warren Buffett: The Winning Strategy to Help You Achieve Your Financial and Life Goals by Larry Swedroe.

There’s more Warren Buffett material in Portfolio’s Tap Dancing to Work: Warren Buffett on Practically Everything 1966–2012 by Carol J. Loomis, which went on sale in November and onto PW’s December 10 hardcover nonfiction bestseller list at #15, with year-to-date sales of 11,610 reported by Nielsen BookScan.

In February Crown Business will publish Street Smarts: Adventures on the Road and in the Markets by Jim Roberts, author of five other titles and a frequent guest on Bloomberg and CNBC.

Forthcoming Wiley titles include The Little Book of Market Myths: How to Profit by Avoiding the Investing Mistakes Everyone Else Makes (Feb.) by Forbes columnist Kenneth L. Fisher, and the AARP Roadmap for the Rest of Your Life: Smart Choices About Money, Health, Work, Lifestyle… and Pursuing Your Dreams (Apr.) by Bart Astor and Gail Sheehy, author of the 1976 megabestseller Passages. According to Wiley associate publisher Pamela Van Giessen, “The years since the financial crisis have not been overly kind to the personal finance category, as investors have fled the stock market. Our strategy has been to focus on trusted names with a track record and a supporting platform. Clearly, trusted sources are a major factor in readers’ decision to buy.”

At Harper Business, publisher Hollis Heimbouch notes, “Until recently we’ve noticed a lack of new ideas in this arena, so we’ve been highly selective in our acquisitions.” Coming in May is The Alternative Answer: How Savvy Investors Generate Superior Returns by Bloomberg contributor and investor Bob Rice, and in March it will offer Business Brilliant: Surprising Lessons from the Greatest Self-Made Business Icons by Lewis Schiff, co-author of The Middle-Class Millionaire: The Rise of the New Rich and How They Are Changing America (Crown Business, 2008) and The Armchair Millionaire.

Heimbouch posits that the category will continue to mirror market trends. “Readers remain eager for highly credible advice about how to manage their finances. Unfortunately, the markets haven’t cooperated with this goal, and average investors have suffered the consequences—and so has the category.”

Paying for College the Smart Way

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, between academic year 2000–2001 and academic year 2010–2011, the cost of undergraduate tuition and room-and-board at public institutions in the U.S. rose 42%, and 31% at private institutions. ABC News reported that there are now more than 70 U.S. colleges where tuition has topped $55,000 for one year. According to the Pew Research Center, one in every five American households is paying off at least one student loan. Last year, student loan debt in the U.S. passed the $1 trillion mark.

On January 1 (the day the financial aid application process opens), Sourcebooks will publish veteran Chicago high school guidance counselor Frank Palmasani’s Right College, Right Price: The New System for Discovering the Best College Fit at the Best Price. The $16.99 paperback is based on Palmasani’s Financial Fit method, which is also available (for a fee) through the Web site (The site also features material related to the publisher’s other books for the college-bound, which include the Fiske Guide to Colleges series and SAT and ACT test-prep books by Gary Gruber. Since 1985, Palmasani has been delivering seminars on the college financial aid process and estimates he has spoken to more than 200,000 people.

One of those people was Sourcebooks publisher Dominique Raccah. Sourcebooks v-p and editorial director Todd Stocke reports that a member of the Sourcebooks education advisory network suggested that Raccah attend one of Palmasani’s talks, and as a result she “found herself at Glenbard South High School on a Saturday morning, listening to Palmasani speak to some 200 parents. She was impressed by the way his message reached people searching for a way to understand and manage college costs. Guidance counselors tell us that money is their #1 pain point in working with families. They also note that they cannot act as financial advisers and have no good noncommercial resources to direct families to as they begin the college process. Palmasani has a solution that seems simple on the surface, but is actually in-depth and radical in the space.” Stocke reports that the Financial Fit program has been sold in more than 50 schools, where it will reach more than 30,000 students and their families.