George Carlin tells a story about going into a bookstore and asking, "Where's the self-help section?" The bookseller replies, "If we told you, it would defeat the purpose."
While it's unlikely that any of the books belowcould have helped resolve the comedian's predicament, they do cover just about every other exigency. And many cross over into other areas, such as religion, psychology, health, business and parenting. Indeed, this category's already blurry parameters keep broadening; as Alpha Books publisher Marie Butler-Knight puts it, "self-help is a bit of a grab bag."
"Most mainstream publishers have curtailed their publishing into this market following a real boom in the '90s," says Perigee publisher John Duff. Still, judging by the deluge of books, especially for January's "new year, new you" promotions, the brakes on the category are easing up. One reason might be because, as Marnie Cochran, executive editor at Da Capo's Lifelong Books, points out, "It's a great category when you nail it." Many of the titles that sell, sell extremely well, like Stephen Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, which has sold 15 million copies since its 1990 publication by Free Press. A 15th-anniversary paperback edition is being reissued next month to coincide with the Free Press's release of Covey's latest hardcover, The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness, which has a 350,000-copy first printing.
"The old adage to sell what's selling seems to be the fairly conservative watchword for self-help books these days," says Jan Johnson, publisher of Red Wheel/ Weiser Conari. "And to a certain extent, we follow it." In May, for example, Conari will publish Change Your Mind and Your Life Will Follow by Karen Casey, whose Each Day a New Beginning: Daily Meditations for Women (Hazelden) has sold more than three million copies.
Platform, Platform, Platform
With the current glut of self-help books, however, "it can be hard to establish a self-help bestseller unless the book has a very well-known author who does a lot of media," says Wiley executive editor Tom Miller. "We have to be more creative in publicizing these authors. We have to partner carefully with writers who have established a platform—their own publicists or marketing teams, a strong speaking schedule, a mailing list." In the case of last month's Talk to the Mirror: Feel Great About Yourself Each and Every Day, author Florine Mark was the world's largest franchisee of Weight Watchers.
"Our experience, and what we've heard from our salespeople, is self-help's been a soft category," says William Shinker, publisher of Gotham Books. "We're looking for—and not just in self-help—authors with expertise in their area and, ideally, a platform that they've developed." One of the biggest assets for Ken Lindner's January book on decision-making—Crunch Time: 8 Steps to Making the Right Decisions at the Right Time in Your Life—could be his Rolodex: as an agent for some of TV's top newscasters, Lindner has had a confirmed Today appearance for months.
If authors develop large enough platforms, publishers will seek them out—or be much more willing to talk with their agent. After self-publishing nine books that have racked up sales of 900,000 copies, Matthew Kelly signed with Fireside Books for a revised edition of The Rhythm of Life: Living Every Day with Passion and Purpose (Nov.). The 31-year-old Australian has already brought his message—"Who you become is infinitely more important than what you do or what you have"—to people in 50 countries, and he established a foundation that donates his books to schools, more than 50,000 this year alone. "With this book," says Simon & Schuster senior publicist Lisa Sciambra, "we're really trying to broaden his audience." S&S is sending Kelly back on the road to support his 100,000-copy first printing. The originally planned Twelve Days of Christmas Tour has already turned into a Christmas Series, with stops in 18 cities. And Kelly's speaking schedule extends well into the New Year.
"One of my editors says this imprint was founded on the back of workshops," says Joel Fotinos, publisher for Tarcher/Penguin. "Most of the successful books are from authors who continually get out there and not only have a platform but extend it." One of Tarcher's bestselling books, Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, was published 12 years ago and continues to rank among Amazon's top 500. Laurie Puhn, a first-time author, lawyer and mediator, hopes to repeat Cameron's success with Instant Persuasion: How to Change Your Words to Change Your Life (Tarcher, Jan.). Six months before pub date, Puhn set up an Instant Persuasion Club online (www.LauriePuhn.com) with a monthly countdown to publication contest. And she's started giving Instant Persuasion presentations at venues ranging from Lord & Taylor to the New York Gift Show. "A lot of authors talk about things like that. Laurie does them," says Fotinos. "She excites everybody here because she opens up more doors for us."
Changing one's life, of course, is a recurrent theme in this category. Another example is a forthcoming Plume title, Breaking the Pattern: The Five Principles You Need to Remodel Your Life by Charles Stuart Platkin. The January release, says marketing and publicity director Brant Janeway, was self-published last year and picked up by Plume because of Platkin's marketability (read: platform). "He's one of the country's leading experts on behavior modification," Janeway tells PW. "His syndicated column appears in more than 155 newspapers across the country, and through the Web site he founded, Nutricise, he has counseled more than 100,000 people."
Sometimes publishers develop a platform by partnering with other media. Alpha Books, which has already garnered brand recognition for its Complete Idiot Guides, has recently teamed up with Psychology Today magazine for a new series, Psychology Today: Here to Helpbooks. Butler-Knight explains the joint venture as a way "to offer the collective knowledge of top experts and stand out in a crowded arena." The first three titles, covering food obsession, bipolar disorder and sexual satisfaction, are due in December.
Fortunately, there's still some wiggle room for those without a platform. At least that's the case at McGraw-Hill, which has become an increasingly active player in this field—publishing upwards of 100 self-help titles annually—since its acquisition of NTC/Contemporary four years ago. "If you have a really strong hook, you can still get it out there," says executive editor Judith McCarthy, who singles out an in-house favorite among female employees, Brent W. Best's The Hurried Woman Syndrome: A Seven-Step Program to Conquer Fatigue, Control Weight, and Restore Passion to Your Relationship (Feb.).
For Women Only
The self-help category has long had a special appeal for women, and not just the fictional Bridget Jones, who worked in a literary publishing house but read only relationship guides. Some industry observers estimate that women account for as much as 85% of the category's sales. It should come as no surprise, then, that publishers actively court women of a certain age—midlifers, their younger counterparts (the so-called quarterlifers) and everyone in between.
"We're continuing to grow our list of 'nonfiction chick lit,' as we've been calling it around here," reports Perigee senior editor Michelle Howry. "It's really a fallacy to say that young people aren't spending money on books these days, because they're still making bestsellers out of fiction titles, from The Devil Wears Prada to the latest Sophie Kinsella novel." This month journalist Alexandra Robbins answers questions about Conquering Your Quarterlife Crisis: Advice from Twentysomethings Who Have Been There and Survived. In Midlife Crisis at 30: How the Stakes Have Changed for a New Generation—and What to Do About It (Plume, Mar. 2005), authors Lia Macko and Kerry Robin choose as role models successful women who hadn't found themselves at 30, such as financial whiz Suze Orman, who was a waitress at that age. Realizing that success is key at any age, Jennifer Read Hawthorne, coauthor of Chicken Soup for the Woman's Soul, shows quarterlifers and those twice their age how to achieve it in The Soul of Success: A Woman's Guide to Authentic Power (HCI, Jan.). The book is based on 30 principles drawn from numerous successful women.
As the baby boomers age, embracing midlife and beyond becomes a topic of particular interest. Some titles in this area take the humorous approach, such as Thank You, Your Opinion Means Nothing to Me: A Year of Hotflashes, Flashbacks and Finding My Voice (Thorsons, Sept.), a memoir of spiritual and physical transformation by Florida writer Nancy Blair.
In Younger by the Day: 365 Ways to Rejuvenate Your Body and Revitalize Your Spirit, life coach Victoria Moran attempts to turn back the clock a day at a time. Harper San Francisco's associate publisher, Mark Tauber, describes this December release as "whole body self-help." He sees Moran's work as part of a much larger trend, away from complete, one-size-fits-all programs. "We're having less success with them and more in the 'dip into, dip out of' that crosses into inspiration. There's not the burden of having to learn an entire program. With the rise of the Web, you're able to sign up for programs that will personalize. However, what the Web can't do is the daily inspiration you can read by your bedside or on the subway."
For Douglas Seibold, founder and publisher of Agate in Evanston, Ill., which released its first book in June 2003, self-help is one of the few areas left for African-American publishers. Too many publishers have what he calls "the herd mentality" and offer only women's fiction or street fiction. By contrast, he is partnering with Niaonline.com, a four-year-old Web site for African-American women, on books for strong black women. The first, The Nia Guide for Black Women: Achieving Career Success on Your Own Terms, edited by Sheryl Huggins and Cheryl Mayberry McKissack, will be out later this month. The pair are also working on a guide to Balancing Work and Life (Mar. 2005).
"Getting our books strong placement in bookstores and major media outlets" is what Seibold sees as his biggest challenge. So far he has managed to meet it with self-help newcomer Toby Thompkins's The Real Lives of Strong Black Women: Transcending Myths, Reclaiming Joy, an October title featured in this month's Ebony and the December issue of Essence. Thompkins will speak at several bookstores in New York City and at the Miami Book Fair.
Hyperion is also flirting with the African-American niche, attracted by the success of Natasha Munson's Life Lessons for My Sisters: How to Make Wise Choices and Live a Life You Love!, which was iUniverse's bestselling book ever, with 20,000 copies sold. (Interestingly, Munson's record was just broken as this article went to press, by Amy Fisher's If I Knew Then.) The publisher is reissuing that book in April along with a new Munson title, Spiritual Lessons for My Sisters: How to Get Over the Drama and Live Your Best Life!
The Spiritual Journey and the Workplace
The crossover appeal of Munson's work, which Hyperion will promote on the OnFaithPublishing.com Web site, is indicative of what president Bob Miller sees as the rebound of spiritual self-help titles: "Since September 11 those books have come back." Nick Anfuso, Free Press editorial director, agrees. "The spiritual journey is as strong as ever," he says. "That's probably not just related to the war. These are very disturbing times, people are out of work and looking for comfort now more than ever."
"There's a ton of stuff out there, but there are far fewer that rise to the top," observes Harper San Francisco's Tauber, who cites Marianne Williamson as an author who's climbed to major sales levels. With next month's TheGift of Change: Spiritual Guidance for a Radically New Life, Williamson comes full circle in more ways than one. Like her first book, A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of "A Course of Miracles," it is being published by Harper San Francisco, and it uses A Course in Miracles as its starting point. The paperback of Williamson's Everyday Grace: Finding Hope, Finding Forgiveness, and Making Miracles was released earlier this month by Riverhead.
Some of the more meditative spiritual titles offer what John Tarrant, author of Bring Me the Rhinoceros: And Other Zen Koans on Joy (Harmony, Oct.), likes to call "a can opener for your knowing." Other times the spiritual journey can take a detour into visionary fiction. Inspirational fiction pioneer Dan Millman does that with the prequel to his two-million—copy bestseller Way of the Peaceful Warrior—The Journey of Socrates (Harper San Francisco, Apr. 2005).
Often self-help books cross over not just into other categories but other niches within self-help. With a foreword by Tom Peters, Crucial Confrontations: Tools for Resolving Broken Promises, Violated Expectations and Bad Behavior by Kerry Paterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan and Al Switzler (McGraw-Hill, Sept.) is being marketed to resolve both personal and professional issues.
Balancing home and work problems is also a top priority for Andrea Molloy, author of Stop Living Your Job, Start Living Your Life: 85 Simple Strategies to Achieve Work/Life Balance (Ulysses, Jan. 2005). Yet another "balancing act" comes from John G. Miller, founder of QBQ Inc., an organizational development firm dedicated to the importance of personal accountability for organizations and individuals. Just published by Putnam is Miller's QBQ! The Question Behind the Question: Practicing Personal Accountability at Work and in Life.
Richard Koch adapts a well-known business principle—that 80% of a company's business comes from 20% of its clients—for personal life in Living the 80/20 Way: Work Less, Worry Less, Succeed More, Enjoy More (Nicholas Brealey, Jan. 2005). "We're excited to have this book on our list," says Trish O'Hare, president, North America Group, Nicholas Brealey Publishing. "We think that people in business don't just want to transform their leadership qualities, but themselves." Another business book publisher, Gallup Press, the publishing arm of the Gallup Organization, is kicking off its first season with a book with ramifications for both the work world and the personal realm: How Full Is Your Bucket?: Positive Strategies for Work and Life (Sept.) is by Tom Rath, a global practice leader at Gallup, and former Gallup chairman Donald Clifton, who just happens to be Rath's grandfather. Previously, the Gallup Organization partnered with other publishers.
Out last month from Fireside is a more strictly work-focused title, Making Work Work: New Strategies for Surviving and Thriving at the Office by Julie Morgenstern, founder of Task Masters, a professional organizing company. According to PW's review, "In accessible, encouraging prose, Morgenstern helps readers learn their boundaries, limits, strengths and weaknesses." Under its Owl paperback imprint, Holt has just published a revised and updated edition of an earlier Morgenstern title, Organizing from the Inside Out: The Foolproof System for Organizing Your Home, Your Office, and Your Life.
"Workplace is a very strong subcategory," says Jossey-Bass executive editor Alan Ringler, quoting Freud: "Work and love are the cornerstones of our humanness." Banishing Burnout: Using the Worklife Profile for Self-Assessment and Action Planning (Apr. 2005) by Michael P. Leiter and Christina Maslach shows how to make work less stressful. Evan Harris approaches the problem by simply walking away. In The Art of Quitting: When Enough Is Enough (Barron's, Nov.), Harris relies on the wisdom of another 20th-century great, W.C. Fields: "If at first you don't succeed, try again. Then quit. No use being a damn fool about it."
And here's a title that Fields no doubt would have been proud to coin—Enough, Dammit: A Cynic's Guide to Finally Getting What You Want Out of Life (Celestial Arts, Sept.) is by Karen Salmansohn, a New York City motivational speaker who numbers among her earlier books How to Be Happy, Dammit and The Seven Lively Sins: How to Enjoy Your Life, Dammit. (Do we detect a motif here?)
While work problems remain a constant of the self-help category, so does another universal theme, that of death. "In terms of evaluating manuscripts," says Marlowe & Co. publisher Matthew Lore, "I ask, Does this book have utility? Does it have a sense of urgency?" For him, Anneli S. Rufus's The Farewell Chronicles: On How We Really Respond to Death (Marlowe, Apr. 2005) meets both those criteria. "She's one helluva writer," he says. Although her earlier book on being alone, Party of One: The Loners' Manifesto (Marlowe & Co.), went into eight printings, Lore anticipates that her new title will resonate with even more people. Other similar works focus on coping with specific losses, such as Deborah S. Levinson's Surviving the Death of Your Spouse: A Step-by-Step Workbook (New Harbinger, Dec.), while Stephen Levine's Unattended Sorrow: Recovering from Loss and Reviving the Heart (Rodale, Feb. 2005) offers guidance on coping with emotional pain from loss and traumatic moments, sometimes ones from many years past.
Help with Recovery
Like other areas of self-help, "the field of recovery seems to be perking up," says HCI Books publisher and president Peter Vegso. "The market is huge: 76 million Americans, or 43% of the adult population, have been exposed to alcoholism in the family, and 20 million adults abuse, or are addicted to, substances." Given the statistics, Vegso expects the newest addition to the Chicken Soup series to be a bestseller—Chicken Soup for the Recovering Soul: Stories of Healing, Hope, Love and Resilience (Dec.) by Jack Canfield, Victor Hansen, Robert Ackerman, Theresa Peluso and Peter Vegso. The book will be the focus of the Ninth Renewal Convention on Adult Children, Recovery and Trauma, organized by U.S. Journal of Training (a division of HCI), to be held in Las Vegas in February 2005.
At Hazelden Publishing, which recently re-upped its trade distribution contract with HCI for another five years, "we see a strong trend toward basic recovery material," says Nick Motu, v-p of publishing and educational services. "Due to the demand for classic Hazelden publications, we've developed a strategy to build on these books through new titles such as 12-Step Prayer Book: Second Edition [Sept.] compiled and edited by Bill P. and Lisa D." Hazelden, which will publish between 20 and 24 books in 2005, relies heavily on backlist sales. According to Motu, "A backlist book of ours will sustain the same sales in year 10 as year one. Probably in our top 50 trade books, we'll have three-quarters that are 10 years or older."
Similarly, 31-year-old New Harbinger Publications in Oakland, Calif., has had backlist growth. According to cofounder and publisher Matthew McKay, backlist now accounts for 80% of the company's sales. The house has increased its marketing efforts in recent years, and in 2003 it took back distribution of its books. As a result, says McKay, "profitability is up by approximately 58% from 2003." He also factors in the economy for the company's uptick. "Whenever the economy takes a downturn, people are not spending so much money on therapy, they're buying a book."
As part of its marketing push, New Harbinger began developing new series, including a gift line that it will launch in February. "In the past," says McKay, "we've grappled with how to incorporate self-help elements in a gift book format. Consumers are typically reluctant to buy self-help as a gift for fear of causing offense." Upcoming titles include The Well-Ordered Office: How to Create an Efficient and Serene Workspace (Feb. 2005) by Kathleen Kendall-Tackett and Five Good Minutes: 100 Morning Practices to Help You Stay Calm and Focused All Day Long (June) by Jeffrey Brantley and Wendy Millstine.
Other publishers, too, are looking at ways to turn self-improvement titles into year-round gift buys. "We're putting a lot of attention on Toni Raiten-D'Antonio's The Velveteen Principles: A Guide to Becoming Real: Hidden Wisdom from a Children's Classic," says HCI director of communications Kim Weiss of the just-released book of wisdom based on the children's classic The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams. "We think this is going to be more of an impulse buy." HCI has concentrated on the packaging for this book to give it a feel reminiscent of Benjamin Hoff's The Tao of Pooh and priced it competitively as a $14.95 hardcover.
At Hay House, kits by bestselling authors such as Deepak Chopra(The Good Night Sleep Kit, Apr. 2005) and Louise L. Hay (You Can Heal Your Life Affirmation Kit) also have a gift feel and take on increased importance given the variety of new outlets for self-improvement books. "It's important for us to be mindful of the environment and how our books are merchandised when developing our lists," notes Johnson at Red Wheel/ Weiser Conari. "Self-help titles are sold into a variety of stores outside of traditional bookstores—bath and body chains, home stores, small gift boutiques and through catalogues."
Of course, sometimes parody is the best defense against life's problems, especially when it's priced well. Following on the heels of The Metrosexual Guide to Style, which has sold more than 100,000 copies, Michael Flocker advises readers on living well in The Hedonism Handbook: Mastering the Lost Arts of Leisure and Pleasure (DaCapo, Nov.). The writer-producers of MTV's Punk'd, Rob Cohen and David Wollock,offer their take on what makes for a happy life in Been There, Done That: The Balls-to-the-Wall Checklist of Things Worth Doing! (Perigee, Nov.). And for hip-hop illiterates, there's Hold My Gold: A White Girl's Guide to the Hip-Hop World (Simon & Schuster, May 2005) by Amanda McCall and Albertina Rizzo.
While the self-help category is broad enough to encompass both grieving and humor, there is a common thread of hopefulness that runs through every book. "It's hopeful just because of what it is," says Shaye Areheart, publisher of Harmony Books and Shaye Areheart Books. "If you really believe in the ability of people to help people, you can't help but believe that every copy you sell is a good thing."
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