The start of a new year is prime time for personal transformations and resolutions—and for the self-help books that seek to guide readers on that path. January 2019 self-help book releases, many of which contain elaborate subtitles, include: Superhero of Love: Heal Your Broken Heart & Then Go Save the World by Bridget Fonger (Conari Press), Life Admin: How I Learned to Do Less, Do Better, and Live More by Elizabeth Emens (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), 55, Underemployed, and Faking Normal: Your Guide to a Better Life by Elizabeth White, Be Fearless: 5 Principles for a Life of Breakthroughs and Purpose by Jean Case (Simon & Schuster), Craftfulness: Mend Yourself by Making Things by Rosemary Davidson and Arzu Tahsin (Harper Wave), and How to Be Better at Almost Everything: Learn Anything Quickly, Stack Your Skills, Dominate by Pat Flynn (BenBella Books). It’s even release month for a meta book about the genre, the memoir Help Me! (Grove Press) by Marianne Power, about reading self-help books to see if the promise of a “perfect existence” could be fulfilled.
The genre is so wide-ranging that Amazon breaks self-help down into 28 subcategories , among them anger management, creativity, emotions, happiness, inner child, sex, spiritual and success. While of course many are released at other times of the year, December and January are particularly popular times for many publishers to put out these motivational titles.
According to journalist Toni Jones, founder of self-help book club and community Shelf Help, “January has always been a time for a mini life audit for most of us, and therefore big business for the publishing houses.”
Crime fiction author Sophie Hannah made her nonfiction debut on New Year’s Day with How to Hold a Grudge: From Resentment to Contentment—The Power of Grudges to Transform Your Life (Scribner). Hannah told Forbes.com the book was scheduled for a January 1 U.S. release “very deliberately” (it was released in the UK on November 1, 2018). The reason? “Over Christmas, and any holiday period where extended families spend lots of time together, many of us grow, create, observe and accumulate new grudges at an extremely fast rate,” Hannah explained. Hannah called the New Year’s Day release date “perfect” because “I’m hoping that people will make it one of their New Year’s resolutions to put into practice what I’m preaching, and what I practice myself too.”
Keeping with the New Year transformation and betterment theme, Seal Press* has published self-help titles in both January 2018 (How to Stop Feeling Like Sh*t: 14 Habits that Are Holding You Back from Happiness by Andrea Owen) and December 2018 (The CHAOS Cure: Clean Your House and Calm Your Soul in 15 Minutes by Marla Cilley). Executive Editor Laura Mazer, told Forbes.com that Seal has no particular season for self-help. “We’ll publish whenever it makes most sense for a specific title,” said Mazer, who also noted that, “ Younger folks seem to be hopping off the resolution bandwagon in favor of more mindful living all year round. ”
While she stressed that there are logistical and strategic factors that go into selecting a given book’s publication date, there can be advantages to publishing close to or at the start of a new calendar year. “Publishing in December gives you a chance at some last-minute holiday sales, and puts the book out into the world as people are getting into the New Year’s mindset. Publishing in January capitalizes on New Year’s resolution season,” said Mazer. Additionally, there may be timely promotional opportunities linked to self-improvement. “Many bookstores have ‘New Year/New You’ table promotions where self-help books can get some extra exposure at the front of the store. There may also be media tie-ins to stories about making or keeping New Year’s resolutions.”
That’s not to say that all self-help books are clustered around the new calendar year. Judith Curr, President and Publisher of HarperOne Group, explained in an interview, “HarperOne Group publishes self-help titles year-round, and when those titles are published is largely determined by when we believe they will be best-received by readers.” Curr cited two such HarperOne releases she called “very apt” for capitalizing on the New Year/New You mentality, both published on December 31, 2018: Giving: Purpose Is the New Currency by Epic Foundation CEO Alexandre Mars and Sober Curious: The Blissful Sleep, Greater Focus, Limitless Presence, and Deep Connection Awaiting Us All on the Other Side of Alcohol by Ruby Warrington. Curr pointed out that the publisher had a New York Times bestseller with Unfu*k Yourself: Get Out of Your Head and into Your Life by Gary John Bishop, which has sold over 750,000 copies since its August 2017 release.
Mazer also emphasized that Seal Press has seen success with self-help released at other times of the year, such as The Sh!t No One Tells You About Pregnancy by Dawn Dais, the fourth in a series. They will publish Imagination Transforms Everything: Rewrite Your Life’s Story with “Intentional Imagining” by Andrea Kasprzak in May.
Jones, whose Shelf Help book club is reading 2010’s Change Your Life in 7 Days by Paul McKenna (Bantam Press) this month, said that this year readers are approaching the genre differently than they have in previous years. “For 2019, instead of people looking to self-help as a kind of SOS or last ditch attempt to change some aspect of their life that is making them miserable, they are now seeing self-development as a key part of their well-being, and January as a chance to try some positive new ‘best-self’ strategies,” Jones said.
*The author has edited two fiction anthologies for Seal Press.