Millennials, the first generation to come of age with the Internet, have a wealth of advice available to them at the touch of a mouse. But when it comes to seeking basic pregnancy and child-rearing guidance from books, they often turn to the same titles that parents of an earlier generation sought out.
“It’s a stable category, with a great base of evergreen titles,” says Abby Brady, buyer for the family category at Books-A-Million. She calls What to Expect When You’re Expecting, by Heidi Murkoff and Sharon Mazel (fourth ed., Workman, 2008), as well as other titles in the What to Expect series, “required reading.” Alisa Schnaars, a buyer for Barnes & Noble, says her customers “love the direct simplicity” of How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk, by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish (HarperCollins, 1980; most recent edition, Avon, 2012).
With periodic updates that help them stay current, both books endure as top sellers decades after they were first published. In 2014 alone, What to Expect When You’re Expecting sold 249K copies in paperback, according to outlets reporting to Nielsen BookScan; the most recent edition of How to Talk sold 55K paperback units, and 150K to date.
So what does it take for a new parenting title to break through? Barbara Jones, executive editor at Holt, says that it helps if the book has a big central idea. “For general how-to type service, we parents can go to the Internet,” she explains. “Personally, I’ve Googled ‘Why is my teenaged daughter being snarky all of a sudden?’ and ‘How big are my 14-year-old boy’s feet going to get?!’ And I’ve gotten pretty good answers. But when it comes to a concept—the French parents are doing it better than Americans, and here’s why; or grit and character, not IQ, are the key to a child’s success—then we go to the book.”
For that reason, Jones, whose typical list comprises fiction and literary nonfiction, felt she “couldn’t not acquire” How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success, by Julie Lythcott-Haims (June).
Diane Debrovner, deputy editor of Parents magazine, counts Lythcott-Haims’s book among several forthcoming titles that, she says, demonstrate a pendulum swing away from helicopter parenting and the intense parenting style described in Amy Chua’s much-discussed memoir Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (Penguin Press, 2011). Vicki Hoefle’s The Straight Talk on Parenting: A No-Nonsense Approach for How to Grow a Grownup (Bibliomotion, Apr.), she says, is another book that espouses a moderate style.
Debrovner explains the appeal of such titles: the Tiger Mother method, she says, is “really stressing kids out. Parents are looking to be loving and encouraging and empathetic, while having firm limits and setting reasonable expectations for their children, allowing them to be more independent and self-reliant.” Straight Talk’s Hoefle is also the author of what Bibliomotion founder and publisher Erika Heilman calls the company’s most successful title to date, Duct Tape Parenting: A Less Is More Approach to Raising Respectful, Responsible, and Resilient Kids (2012).
Another title on Debrovner’s radar is All In: How Our Work-First Culture Fails Dads, Families and Businesses—and How We Can Fix It Together, by Josh Levs (HarperOne, May). In it, Levs, a CNN reporter and the “dad columnist” for the channel’s website, describes his successful challenge against Time Warner’s paternity-leave policy; the suit garnered considerable media attention, including a front-page story in the business section of the New York Times.
As in other categories, this sort of public platform can only help an author. Brady identifies as a potential buzz book A Disease Called Childhood: Why ADHD Became an American Epidemic, by family therapist Marilyn Wedge (Avery, Mar.). In it, Wedge expands on her much-read 2012 article in Psychology Today called “Why French Kids Don’t Have ADHD,” proposing that different approaches to therapy, parenting, diet, and education may explain why rates of ADHD are so much lower in other countries.
Wedge’s article has more than 1.2 million Facebook “likes”; such massive digital exposure not only gets an author noticed by publishers, but it also helps publishers get the word out to readers. Brianna Yamashita, executive director of publicity and marketing for Penguin’s Tarcher and Perigee imprints, notes that even though booking a parenting author on a TV show such as Today used to bring a significant uptick in sales, these days, the program’s online parenting presence, TodayMoms.com, can have a greater impact. She also cites the Huffington Post and the New York Times’ Motherlode blog as influential.
“It makes sense,” Yamashita says. “Parents watching a morning show aren’t really intensely watching it. They’re getting the kids ready for school, ushering them through breakfast, and if they glean a tip or two from the TV in the process, great. In contrast, parents who are on a site like Today Moms are generally looking for useful info—and they have the time to click the Buy button.”
Websites, blogs, and online communities also provide an interactive, personal element that many parents respond to, says Brady. “Mom blogs are incredibly important. Moms turn to their peers for advice, and their favorite bloggers have a voice they can trust.”
In May, Perigee will publish Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings: How to Stop the Fighting and Raise Friends for Life, by clinical psychologist Laura Markham (Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting, 2012). Markham’s website, Aha! Parenting, provides what Perigee editor-in-chief Marian Lizzi calls “a supportive community that allows readers to connect with the author and with each other”; 60K subscribers receive the website’s newsletter three times a week.
Another way overwhelmed parents can find connection is by reading memoirs written by those who’ve been there. “Parenthood can be stressful and isolating at times,” says Brady, “so I love a book that can both make you laugh and realize that you’re not in it alone.” Titles she’s anticipating include Child, Please: How Mama’s Old-School Lessons Helped Me Check Myself Before I Wrecked Myself (Tarcher, May), by parenting journalist Ylonda Gault Caviness, and Gummi Bears Should Not Be Organic: And Other Opinions I Can’t Back Up with Facts (S&S/Gallery, Apr.), by Stefanie Wilder-Taylor, who blogs at Baby on Bored. Wilder-Taylor is the author of a few parenting-focused books, including Sippy Cups Are Not for Chardonnay (Simon Spotlight, 2006), which sold more than 52K copies in paperback, according to BookScan.
A year ago, Motherlode editor and lead blogger K.J. Dell’Antonia wrote that “mindfulness is having a moment.” Though mindful parenting as a concept is not completely new—Debrovner calls out Harley Rothbart’s No Regrets Parenting (Andrews McMeel, 2012) as a leading-edge example from a few years back—a number of forthcoming books indicate that the trend isn’t slowing down just yet.
Family therapist and parenting coach Susan Stiffelman, author of Parenting Without Power Struggles: Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids While Staying Cool, Calm, and Connected (Atria, 2012), has written the inaugural title in New World Library’s Eckhart Tolle imprint. Parenting with Presence: Practices for Raising Conscious, Confident, Caring Kids (Apr.) aims to help parents avoid destructive triggers and stay in the moment.
At Shambhala, which has been publishing books on mindfulness for decades, the fall list includes Hold Them Close, but Not Too Tight: Mindfulness for Parents of Teenagers (Sept.), by Eline Snel, who, says editor Beth Frankl, takes a “direct but compassionate approach.” Snel is also the author of Sitting Still like a Frog: Mindfulness Exercises for Kids (and Their Parents)(2013), which did well for Shambhala, with more than 27K units sold according to BookScan. (For more on parenting from a spiritual as well as a religious perspective, including an interview with Susan Stiffelman, look for PW’s Religion Update in the March 2 issue.)
Hold Them Close points to another trend: books about older kids. “We’re seeing increasing demand for books about parenting teenagers, especially books that use neuroscience to help explain teen behavior,” says Barnes & Noble’s Schnaars. “The teen brain is still developing in many ways, and parents want to understand this process.” At press time, the newly released The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults, by pediatric neurologist Frances E. Jensen with science journalist Amy Ellis Nutt (Harper), is a top-selling book on teens for B&N.
Looking ahead, Schnaars cites New Harbinger’s Relationship Skills 101 for Teens, by psychotherapist Sheri Van Dijk (Mar.), part of the publisher’s line of teen self-help workbooks. Schnaars recommends these books not only for teenagers but for their parents, to help them better understand what their kids are thinking. “This series addresses common teen challenges like anxiety, bullying and body image,” she explains, “in a way that’s both smart and accessible.”
So what’s ahead for the parenting category? For Debrovner, it’s identifying the next major voices on the subject. “We speak chiefly to millennial moms, and I’m still waiting for the next generation of experts to pop up,” she says. “In general, a lot of the popular parenting experts are on the older end of the spectrum, and that’s been okay, as long as they’ve had authority. But I’m looking for who the next generation will talk to.”
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