Want to Get Rich? Write a Self-Help Book
N E W Y O R K, May 16 -- When the Rev. Eric Butterworth, once a wildly popular preacher of self-improvement, died last month, his New York Times obituary quoted a 1987 Forbes story in summarizing his message: "That we alone have the power within us to solve our problems, relieve our anxieties and pain, heal our illnesses, improve our golf game or get a promotion."
It was a thought that resonated then — and now more than ever. The 1987 story noted the huge size of the self-help market. But it turns out that that market had hardly been tapped. Butterworth's successors have moved into publishing's big leagues: Our new list of the top 10 self-help stars includes authors whose books often outsell even blockbuster novelists.
While Butterworth himself may have been forgotten, his self-helping descendants like Suze Orman and Dr. Phil McGraw are everywhere, blanketing bookstores and the airwaves. Covering everything from personal finance to spiritual renewal — often all at the same time — they fill a deep-seated need.
"When a society is rich and triumphant, its people start to ask not just what can be had from life but how can I live a life that's worth living," says Martin Seligman, former president of the American Psychological Association, whose own self-help book, Authentic Happiness (Free Press, 2002), was a best seller.
Guiding people toward that goal can be quite rewarding — and not just in the spiritual sense. One mega-seller, Stephen Covey's The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, is so massively popular that it gave rise to a publicly traded corporation. Last year, FranklinCovey, which is in the business of providing "integrated training and performance-enhancement solutions to organizations and individuals," recorded sales of $333 million.
Self-Help Buyers Line Up
Self-help books have been around since before the Civil War. What is new is the scale and the variety of media employed by these authors.
In 2001, 3,500 new self-help titles, amounting to 2.6 percent of all new titles, were published in the United States, according to Simba Information, a market research firm that focuses on the publishing industry. In terms of sales, self-help was even more pervasive, amounting to 5.7 percent of all consumer book sales, Simba says.