In a world turned upside down—where Martha Stewart may soon be decorating a prison cell; where the seemingly immortal endless bull market lies gored and bleeding; and where America is preparing for war—the market for personal finance and investing books has, of necessity, changed. No longer do people dream of quitting their jobs to enter the exciting world of day trading or bet on the probability of the Dow hitting 36,000. Instead, most simply look forward to reducing their credit card debt and stanching the losses on their 401(k)s.

According to last month's report of the Business Cycle Dating Committee of the National Bureau of Economic Research in Cambridge, Mass., "the behavior of the economy in the first eight months of 2002 indicates that the decline in activity that began last year may have come to an end." Even with the possibility that the recession is over, business books have yet to catch up. As Mark Gompertz, publisher of Touchstone and Fireside, remarks, "It's very soft right now all around the business category. However, we remain bullish. We're in the business of anticipating needs. It doesn't mean a year from now, or two years, that business books won't come back."

Crown publisher Steve Ross is also cautiously optimistic. "With all the news about illicit accounting practices, people pulled away from the pool. Now they're in their swimsuits and ready to dip their toes back in," he observes. "We think we have a real opportunity with the softness of the market. Tread gingerly, soberly, be very selective, but don't publish gingerly."

But how do publishers know which books to select? Are basics or more advanced titles appropriate? What criteria determine what investors want to read now? And are investors really ready to start over again?

Platform, Platform, Platform

In a twist on the real estate saw—location, location, location—most publishers stress that authors this year must have a platform. At HarperBusiness, "continuing to publish really well—thought-out books by respected brand authors is highly critical," says director of marketing and communications Lisa Berkowitz. And, of course, one hot platform is Oprah favorite Ric Edelman. In April, HarperBusiness will reissue both Discover the Wealth Within You by Edelman and his slim, post-9/11 book, What You Need to Know Now, in paperback. "Edelman's franchise continues to expand," says Berkowitz. "It's a very back-to-basics message. That's what's resonating now: conservative, low-risk investments. People very much want something practical, that's easy to understand, that alleviates their anxiety about money."

In these bargain-oriented times, HarperBusiness is one of several publishers experimenting with giving its business titles added value. To promote Mitch Zacks's Ahead of the Market: The Zacks Method for Spotting Stocks Early—In Any Economy (Mar.), for example, HarperBusiness is giving book buyers three months of free access to (worth $75). The offer is printed on the front cover, and a password is printed inside each book. In addition to the perceived value, Berkowitz notes, "It's good to have an Internet component. We try wherever possible to have a Web presence for our authors."

Personal finance guru Suze Orman has become so popular that Free Press editorial director Dominick Anfuso refers to her as "an industry unto herself. We're tremendously excited about the new book, The Laws of Money, The Lessons of Life: Keep What You Have and Create What You Deserve No Matter What Happens." Orman, he notes, "seems immune to softness of the market. She is much more comprehensive and balanced and has her own little niche." Sales for the February title should get a boost with her PBS special, scheduled to air in March. In addition, Orman's one of the few personal finance "franchises" to sell her wares on QVC. The shopping channel has already purchased 175,000 copies of a special edition of Hay House's Suze Orman Protection Portfolio (Jan.), which includes a guidebook and several CDs to create financial documents such as a durable power of attorney for health care, plus a sturdy green portfolio, available only on QVC, for keeping papers organized.

Harmony has two franchises in one with The One Minute Millionaire: The Enlightened Way to Wealth (Oct.) by Mark Victor Hansen (co-creator of HCI's blockbuster Chicken Soup for the Soul series) and Robert G. Allen (Nothing Down), who have sold 85 million books between them. The duality of the authors is reflected in the physical book as well. The left pages, written by Hansen, are printed with purple borders and recount the parable of a woman who needs to make a million dollars to get her children back; the right pages, by Allen, offer hard-core business information. "The whole point of it is to create enlightened millionaires," explains executive publicity director Tina Constable. "It's great to make money, but it's great to give back." Harmony shipped out 75,000 copies to a team of Enlightened Eagles, people who volunteered to spread the book's message by giving away 100 copies each. The book's promotion included 10,000 butterfly tattoos and a 15-city tour. To keep the momentum going come January, the authors are planning to air an infomercial and, in an unusual twist for a business book, Hasboro will release the Always Together Bear inspired by the book.

"We're getting some big numbers out the door," says Roger Scholl, editorial director of Currency/Doubleday, about radio personalities Ken and Daria Dolan's Don't Mess with My Money: The Dolans' No-Nonsense Lifetime Money Plan, which launches next month with a 65,000-copy first printing. "They already have a platform built-in with their show. They field calls all day from people seeing their finances wrecked in this economy and they felt they needed to give some answers." At sister company Broadway, David Bach, whose Smart Women Finish Rich and Smart Couples Finish Rich have sold more than 550,000 copies combined, also offers advice geared to today's troubled economic times in this month's The Finish Rich Workbook: Creating a Personalized Plan for a Richer Future.

Fireside's Gompertz prefers a two-pronged approach when it comes to business books—"One is the brand name. Even in this marketplace, the consumer wants a name they can trust. Foremost is the Motley Fools." In August the cyber-investing pioneers David and Tom Gardner published The Motley Fool Investment Guide for Teens: 8 Steps to Having More Money Than Your Parents. They'll follow up with The Motley Fool Personal Finance Workbook (Jan.) and a revised edition of The Motley Fool Investment Workbook (Apr.).

Gompertz labels his other publicity approach "narrowvesting," or targeting specific market segments with books like Financial Strategies for Today's Widows (July 2003). "We've done it with parenting. There was a moment in time where we thought the market was glutted and got into very specific areas. Likewise we're doing it for personal finance," he remarks. "We always envision people browsing sections. We want to stick out. If a book is not a category buster, we're going to do something so specific that a person picks it up."

Dollars and Sense

The ups and downs of the stock market make investment titles and their timing a risky proposition. At Doubleday/Currency, for example, which publishes 10—15 titles a year, Scholl notes, "We don't have any investment books coming out next year at all."

Similarly, says Alpha marketing manager Dawn Werk, "We have done little in this category this year, and we probably will continue to publish very modestly in it next year. We're sticking to investing and business basics and are producing books that help educate those who did well during the dot-com craze, but didn't know why or how." Next year, the publisher's Complete Idiot's Guides series will add books on Savvy Investing (Jan.) by Edward T. Koch, Debra Salvo and Kenneth E. Little; and Market Timing (Feb.) by Scott Barrie.

Bloomberg Press co-founder John Crutcher labels personal finance "tough sledding." But, he adds, "nothing stays down forever, either, and the category has some strong areas. What is selling is quite different than a few years ago. Our fastest selling personal finance books were on mutual funds, IPOs and stocks. Now they are investing in REITs and bonds. The Money-Making Guide to Bonds: Straightforward Strategies for Picking the Right Bonds and Bond Funds (Sept.) by Hildy and Stan Richelson is in its third printing. The lesson to us: in this market, people need alternatives. Whether a publisher has them by luck or by plan, books that meet that need are doing well."

Some houses are investing in just one or two specific personal finance books this season, perhaps the most finely tuned being Estate Planning Success for Pennsylvania Residents (Lucky Press, June) by Mark James. Marlowe & Company's sole investment title brings together essays by Peter Lynch, John Templeton and Warren Buffet in Invest Like the Best: Classic Advice from the Most Successful Investors (June) edited by Clint Willis, whereas John Downes and Jordan Elliott Goodman offer a complete directory of financial terms and publicly traded corporations in the sixth edition of Barron's Finance and Investment Handbook (Barron's, Mar.).

The goal of all these books is, of course, like the Abba song, money, money, money. Former broker Sharon Durling explains how women can hold on to the green stuff longer in A Girl and Her Money (W Publishing, Dec.). A dollar or so a day may not keep the doctor away, but could still pay off, according to Peter Bielagus in Getting Loaded: Make a Million While You're Still Young Enough to Enjoy It (NAL, Jan.). For couples, psychologist Jonathan Rich offers advice on getting over money management conflicts in The Couple's Guide to Love and Money (New Harbinger Publications, Feb.). Similarly, Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz and her dad, Charles Schwab, encourage dialogue in It Pays to Talk: How to Have the Essential Conversations with Your Family About Money and Investing (Crown, Dec.). Other new releases include an updated edition of A Random Walk Down Wall Street (Norton, Apr.) by Burton G. Malkiel, first published in 1973; A Parent's Guide to Money (Parent's Guide Press, Oct.) by Alan and Gibora Feigenbaum; and Good Advice for a Bad Economy (Berkley, Jan.) by John Ventura and Mary Reed.

While some publishers are cutting back on investing titles, others remain bullish. "Certainly we've seen in 2002 the worst financial market performance since the crash of 1929," says Jeffrey Krames, publisher of the business book division of McGraw-Hill trade. "Jack Welch said that when you're number one or number two, you can withstand market downturns. When you're number five and number one sneezes, you catch it." Krames's biggest concern is "to make sure we're positioned for the next great bull market. Our acquisitions program today is driven by three factors. One, today's investors are savvier and more battle hardened. Two, markets are cyclical; we will see new highs again in the not-too-distant future. Three, investors do turn to brand names." Consequently, the McGraw-Hill investing list runs the gamut from Security Analysis: The Classic 1940 Edition (Nov.) a facsimile edition of Benjamin Graham and David Dodd's investing bible, which went back to press three weeks after it was published, to a revised edition of Jeremy Siegel's Stocks for the Long Run (Aug.).

McGraw-Hill has also tried to keep costs down by doing more paperback originals. "We are very concerned with delivering as much value to customers as ever," says Krames. "When we feel we have a very timely book, we are putting it out as a paperback original." Among these are Paul Jorion's Investing in a Post-Enron World (Feb.) and Richard A. Ferri's Protecting Your Wealth in Good Times and Bad (May).

Nor has Wiley any intention of backing off the investing category. In the words of publisher Joan O'Neil, "As one of the leading financial publishers, we will continue to publish. But we won't be as aggressive. Where before it was just publishing to a particular trend, now you have to dig a little. If you build it, they won't necessarily come." In fact, with its acquisition of both the Frank J. Fabozzi series and the Hungry Minds series, Wiley has increased its presence in both personal finance and investing over the past year. Forthcoming releases include the previously self-published Morningstar Funds 500 (Feb.) by Chris Benz and Scott Cooley, Morningstar Stocks 500 (Feb.) by Mark Sellars and Morningstar's Guide to Mutual Funds (Jan.) by Christine Benz, Russ Kinnel and Peter Di Teresa. Wiley even has a book on the successor to day trading, Swing Trading (Feb.) by John Markman, which explains how individual investors can get into a similar game by holding their trades longer.

A Penny Saved...

Despite the hemorrhaging of retirement funds, 401(k)s and IRAs remain popular ways to save. As Ron Fry, president and publisher of Career Press, points out, "People still have to do something with their money." Known for its practical books, Career Press offers information on what to do now that the stock market has dropped in How to Protect and Manage Your 401(k) (May) by Elizabeth Opalka, while in What If Boomers Can't Retire? How to Build Real Security, Not Phantom Wealth (Berrett-Koehler, Dec.) author Thornton Parker tackles a tougher question—What will happen when boomers stop buying stocks for retirement and begin liquidating them?

Once it is time to retire, is there really a right way to start spending retirement funds? That's the question Margaret A. Malaspina sets out to answer in Cracking Your Retirement Nest Egg (Without Scrambling Your Finances): 25 Things You Must Know Before You Tap Your 401(k), IRA, or Other Retirement Savings Plan (Bloomberg, Jan.). Eric Schurenberg helps readers avoid common mistakes in the updated edition of his 401(K)—Take Charge of Your Future: A Unique and Comprehensive Guide to Getting the Most Out of Your Retirement Plans (Warner, Apr.), while Ed Slott contends that the tax code can cause people to lose up to 90% of their retirement funds in The Retirement Savings Time Bomb (Viking, Jan.). Paul Grangaard, on the other hand, attempts to inflation-proof retirement income in The Grangaard Strategy (Perigee, Jan.).

Rudy Shur, president of Square One Publishers, observes, "Personal finance and investment books have shifted away from 'get-rich-quick' investing. Two years ago, I was receiving 50 book proposals a month from money experts who felt they had discovered a no-fail beanstalk to instant wealth. Now I see about five a month—and most of them are centered more on counting beans than planting them." For Shur that translates into books like Patrick W. Rice and Jennifer Dirks's IRA Wealth: Revolutionary IRA Strategies for Real Estate Investment (Mar.) and a revised edition of Retiring Right (May) by Lawrence J. Kaplan.

At Perseus, "Personal finance has never been the major part of our list," notes executive editor, business, Nick Philipson. "One of the challenges in this category is you have to have a very unique topic or slice of the pie or a celebrity author. What we found across the board this year is that the media was generally looking for commentators that would reassure the public, and that booksellers wanted sure things. There were too many players doing too many books." One of Perseus's few entries into this crowded field is a social and political history of the 401(k), written from a journalist's perspective: The Great 401(k) Hoax: Why Your Family's Financial Security Is at Risk, and What You Can Do About It (Apr.) by Anne Colamosca.

College can be even harder to plan for than retirement, given the phenomenal rise in costs. As publicist Jeanne Krier at Princeton Review Books points out, "In October, the College Board reported the average tuition at four-year public colleges jumped 9.6%, the highest increase in a quarter century. For four-year private colleges, it's up nearly 6%, and at community colleges it's up nearly 8%." Princeton Review has two guides for parents to help pay for school, the 2003 edition of Paying for College Without Going Broke (Oct.) by Kalman A. Chany with Geoff Martz and Eight Steps to Help Black Families Pay for College (Feb.) by Thomas A. LaViest and Will LaViest. Peterson's, a division of Thomson Learning Solutions, also tries to demystify financial aid in Get a Jump! The Financial Aid Answer Book (Oct.). And The College Board offers The 2003 College Cost and Financial Aid Handbook.

So in these murky economic times, what's a publisher of personal investing books to do? Getting out of the personal finance and investing game entirely, or printing only books by writers who have already developed a trusted name might work in the short term. But like any good investor/gambler, most publishers are keeping their cards close to the chest and working on developing their backlist while they wait for the economy to deal them one good hand.