Self-help stories tap into the mainstream

From niche new-age publications to daytime TV titans, such as Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Phil, stories on self-help and personal growth are gaining prominence, thanks largely to the unfailing belief of a growing number of Americans that they can improve both their mental and physical states.

From niche new-age publications to daytime TV titans, such as Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Phil, stories on self-help and personal growth are gaining prominence, thanks largely to the unfailing belief of a growing number of Americans that they can improve both their mental and physical states.

"Self-help is now a lot more mainstream because people, especially since 9/11, are looking for a lot more meaning in their lives," says Kathy McGee, editor-in-chief of New Age Retailer.

As a result, many lifestyle and self-help publications have regular columns and features about personal growth, says Pilar Gerasimo, editor-in-chief of Experience Life.

"About a third of our coverage specifically deals with quality of life," she explains. "But self-help is also infused into the consciousness of our whole magazine."

But self-improvement doesn't exist in a vacuum. Even when looking to improve themselves, consumers have their wallets on their minds, especially in light of the current economic downturn, Gerasimo says.

"Money energy and money awareness are hot topics right now because [they] fuse the perennial interest with the realization that attitudes toward money are a reflection of our personal selves," she says.

However, the popularity of self-help content has had an unintended effect on many editors. Because there are so many self-help experts, authors, and speakers in the market, many editors find themselves in a gatekeeper role, Gerasimo says.

"While self help is actually of enormous value as a category, it's also incredibly overcrowded and there's a lot of junk out there," she explains.

Although self-help content might seem ubiquitous, publications serve readers by helping them find content that they might not have time to look for, Gerasimo adds.

"Part of what we try to do is help readers find resources that they might not find on their own," she says. "We reach a little bit deeper, and we have more spiritual sources, like [author] Sherry Huber; Cheryl Richardson, who is a life coach; and lots of medical experts for the personal growth coverage."

However, editors can be leery of self-help content that has a religious component, preferring content that is useful to readers of different faiths, says Jacqui Clark, publicity director for Hay House, publisher of self-help authors such as Marianne Williamson, Wayne Dyer, and Esther and Jerry Hicks.
"We've gotten very good at taking God and spirituality out of our pitches and then pointing out to editors how the message is still fantastic," she says. "It also helps if you can deliver it all packaged up in a way that shows the editor how they're going to write it."

Pitching...self help
  • Self-help and personal growth are a booming online media category, so pitch the growing number of blogs and Web sites devoted to spirituality with book review suggestions and trend stories
  • Personal growth doesn't exist in a vacuum, so use breaking news, such as the current economic slowdown, as a hook for a self-improvement pitch
  • First-person testimonials on how a program, author, or speaker helped someone reach a new goal can humanize a self-improvement-themed pitch

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