Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, self-published in 1991 and rereleased by Jeffrey P. Tarcher the following year, is widely seen as the seminal creativity-focused self-help book; it’s sold more than 760,000 print copies since Nielsen BookScan began keeping records in 2001. On October 25, TarcherPerigee is publishing a 25th-anniversary edition, with a new preface by the author.
This milestone occurs just as creativity is having a moment; perhaps you’ve heard of the adult coloring book trend. Millions of people who’d long ago put down their crayons are rediscovering their inner child—and inner artist—and publishers are actively seeking new ways to tap into that creative vein.
Bridget Watson Payne, senior editor at Chronicle, says the boom in adult coloring books, as well as the continued success of the publisher’s 642 Things to Draw (96,000 print copies sold since 2010, per BookScan), spurred her interest in titles about creativity. Your Inner Critic Is a Big Jerk by Danielle Krysa, illustrated by Martha Rich (Oct.), had the angle she was seeking, plus a solid author platform: 102,000 people follow Krysa—a designer who blogs as the Jealous Curator—on Instagram.
Payne says the book aims to help readers overcome the anxiety associated with creativity. “People worry that they don’t have the time to undertake creative projects—that they’re not talented enough, that this isn’t something they should be making a priority.” Rich’s lighthearted paintings (a pair of pants filled with flowers, a mouth with speech bubbles full of excuses we tell ourselves) illustrate Krysa’s 10 truths about being creative—things like “labels are for canned peaches, not people” and “creating in a vacuum sucks.”
Bad Feminist author Roxane Gay tackles the subject of finding one’s voice in How to Be Heard (TED, Apr. 2017). “Learning how and when to use your voice is such a crucial aspect of not just the creative life, but any pursuit,” says Michelle Quint, who acquired the book after Gay’s 2015 TED Talk about feminism caught her attention. In the new book, the author shares anecdotes from her writing life and looks at three keys to success: creativity, ambition, and perseverance.
Those attributes may have helped Grant Snider succeed as an illustrator while maintaining his day job as an orthodontist. His Incidental Comics site has 516,000 Facebook likes, and his work has appeared in the New Yorker, the New York Times Book Review, and elsewhere. In April 2017, Abrams ComicArts is publishing Snider’s The Shape of Ideas, a self-help, inspiration, and comics title rolled into one; his work will also feature in a wall calendar and other paper products from Abrams Noterie. “It’s rare to find work that fits easily across multiple imprints, but we all wanted to see how we could publish Grant on our respective lists,” says Charles Kochman, editorial director.
The artist’s single-page cartoons address issues including writer’s block, jealousy, ambition, and procrastination; Snider also understands a demographic targeted by many publishers of creativity titles—the part-time artist—because art isn’t his primary career.
Another such title is Treat Ideas like Cats (How, Nov.), by Zachary Petit, the editor-in-chief of Print magazine. “It’s aimed at the kind of creative types who have a nine-to-five job and need inspiration after work,” says Brendan O’Neill, the book’s editor. The title, with a minimalist black, yellow, and white color scheme, collects thoughts on creativity from familiar names including Ray Bradbury, Jack Kerouac, Doris Lessing, and John Steinbeck.
O’Neill cites the importance of specialty outlets in extending the reach of books like Petit’s beyond traditional bookstores, naming Urban Outfitters as one example, and FedEx—where F+W placed 2015’s The Creativity Challenge by Tanner Christensen—as another.
Similarly, Chronicle is targeting art-supply stores and museum shops for Creative Pep Talk by Andy J. Miller (Apr. 2017); PaperSource has already expressed interest, says Kim Romero, the book’s editor.
Miller, an illustrator whose The Indie Rock Coloring Book (2009) has sold 12,000 print copies, hosts the Creative Pep Talk podcast, an iTunes Editor’s Choice that has been featured on Buzzfeed and Design Sponge. His book includes inspirational text and artwork from 50 professional artists, among them Oliver Jeffers and Lisa Congdon.
In a bid to reach a wider audience, some publishers are promoting creativity beyond purely artistic pursuits. Marian Lizzi, editorial director at TarcherPerigee, and Stephanie Knapp, editor at Seal Press, both mention the overlap among the creativity, business, and science markets.
What’s Your Creative Type? by Meta Wagner (Seal, May 2017) looks at how personality affects creative style, helping readers use that knowledge to be more innovative in any pursuit, Knapp says. Each chapter identifies a different creative type using a personality quiz: for example, an affirmative answer to “Do you hope people will be talking about you and your work decades or even centuries from now?” signifies what Wagner calls an A-lister.
The book also profiles well-known figures who fit each type. “We’re starting to see a broader audience for creativity books—business readers and hobbyists, not just what we would think of as ‘traditional artists,’ ” Knapp says.
Scott Barry Kaufman, a researcher in the field of positive psychology, cowrote Wired to Create (TarcherPerigee, Dec.) with science writer Carolyn Gregoire. The book grew out of Gregoire’s Huffington Post article “18 Things Highly Creative People Do Differently,” which has been shared more than 725,000 times on Facebook.
Each of the book’s 10 chapters examines a practice or attribute that promotes creative thinking—e.g. daydreaming, sensitivity, and solitude—using historical figures (Proust, Picasso) and modern artists such as Radiohead’s Thom Yorke as examples.
New Harbinger, which acquisitions editor Ryan Buresh says has a tradition of publishing “evidence-based treatments for psychological problems,” is releasing Writing to Awaken by memoirist and writing instructor Mark Matousek in July 2017. The book offers 52 writing exercises designed to help readers examine their inner lives, with the aim of transformation and self-discovery.
Matousek encourages expressive writing—essentially, pouring one’s heart out on the page—for 15 minutes a day, an activity that Buresh says has been demonstrated to improve psychological health. As recently as August, U.S. News & World Report examined the phenomenon, citing several university studies. “Many of history’s greatest theological texts—think the confessions of Augustine—are based on the kind of self-reflections that this book insists on,” Buresh says.
At Conari, senior acquisitions editor Christine LeBlond says that there’s a strong market for writing-focused books, based on the hundreds of thousands of people who participate in National Novel Writing Month each year, as well as the skyrocketing interest in self-publishing. Like Buresh, she believes that writing “can help us process events, give meaning to the world around us, and help us live a better life off the page.”
The Hero Is You by Kendra Levin (Nov.) and Rewrite Your Life by Jessica Lourey (May 2017), LeBlond says, are both practical guides for writers with a self-help angle. Levin, using Joseph Campbell’s archetypal hero’s journey, encourages writers to imagine themselves as the hero in their own creative process. In addition to 30 practical exercises, the book includes anecdotes and advice drawn from the author’s career as a life coach and her job as a senior editor for Viking Children’s Books, where she has worked since 2005.
In Rewrite Your Life, Lourey, a creative writing professor and thriller writer (most recently Salem’s Cipher, Midnight Ink, 2016), leads readers through the process of writing a novel, instructing how to identify and fictionalize key moments of one’s life, and to adapt them to any genre. She outlines how to use the writing process to work through emotional trauma, a skill Lourey says she learned in the wake of her husband’s death.
In November (which is National Novel Writing Month), Clarkson Potter adds to its Q&A a Day line with Q&A a Day for Writers, a collection of 365 prompts. The book kicks off with exercises including summoning one’s earliest memory and ends with a look forward at creative goals for the next year.
As the public appetite for coloring books remains strong—over a dozen titles have logged six-figure unit sales so far this year—some publishers are seeking to stand out in a crowded field with activity titles that make explicit their goal of fostering creativity.
Here’s a Brilliant Idea (Plume, Oct.), by BAFTA- and Webby-award-winning animators Greg McLeod and Myles McLeod, includes 104 writing and illustration prompts to stimulate creativity: list five things you would like to try if it weren’t a crime; make up insulting nicknames for an ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend; tell a story in six speech bubbles.
Becky Cole, executive editor at Penguin’s Plume imprint, says Penguin has had success with similar titles, including Wreck This Journal by Keri Smith (TarcherPerigee, 2012; more than 1.8 million print copies) and 1 Page at a Time by Adam J. Kurtz (TarcherPerigee, 2014; 20,000 print copies), both of which, like Here’s a Brilliant Idea, “encourage readers to interact with the book itself,” she says.
Artist Trey Speegle’s large-scale canvas works reinterpret vintage paint-by-numbers art, often incorporating text. His forthcoming Yes (Regan Arts, Nov.) features color-by-number images of flowers or street scenes, overlaid with inspirational words and phrases including “Joy,” “What Kind of World Do You Want?,” and the “Yes” of the title. Readers fill in the color-by-number art following a key that matches a 24-color set of Prismacolor pencils (sold separately).
Another interactive title, Find Your Awesome by artist and illustrator Judy Clement Wall (HCI, May 2017), challenges readers to discover their creative selves in 30 days. The book prompts readers to carve out time each day to complete a creative project in the book—writing oneself a love letter, for example—with blank spaces for them, as well as for additional writing, drawing, and doodling.
“I don’t think creative self-help books should or will replace therapy,” says Allison Janse, editor at HCI. “But they allow for self-expression in a fun, immediate, and nonthreatening way.”
Jennifer McCartney is the author of The Joy of Leaving Your Sh*t All Over the Place (Countryman, 2016).
Below, more on the subject of self-help books.
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Advice on finding self-reinvention, resilience, and more, from familiar names including Anne Lamott and J.J. Virgin.