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How-To Books

How-to books are explanations of how to accomplish specific tasks written for non-experts. It’s a diverse category, covering things like personal finance, diet and health, cooking, house and home, and personal development.

According to Simba Information’s Business of Consumer Book Publishing, the how-to market generated sales of $270 million in 2006, an increase of 3.8% over 2005, and 10.2% over 2002. How-to books accounted for 4.3% of total consumer book sales in 2006.

The top five publishers in the how-to category generated $160.6 million in sales last year, accounting for 41% of total category revenues. The top five are: John Wiley & Sons, Random House, Simon & Schuster, Meredith, and Reader’s Digest. Publisher of the immensely successful For Dummies line of books, Wiley alone generated $103 million. Other successful how-to brands include Meredith’s Better Homes & Gardens series and the Reader’s Digest Complete Do-It-Yourself Manual.

There had always been how-to books for the “domestic arts” of cooking, cleaning, fixing, gardening, growing, and child-rearing. What the For Dummies and Idiot’s Guide books did was expand the coverage of topics from computer applications and operating systems to include virtually anything modern man found perplexing, and to provide the answers in language and cartoons easily understood by laymen.

They also made it okay to admit that you were stumped and intimidated, and made it easy to laugh at your predicament. It’s hard to believe that, back in 1991, the original publisher of Dan Gookin’s DOS For Dummies found it a hard sell because the chains thought that their customers would be insulted by the title.

According to Bowker’s Books In Print database, 2,707 new how-to books were published in the U.S. in 2006, a 4.6% decrease from 2005 and a 7.5% drop-off from the peak year of 2004. Below is a bar graph showing the arc of new how-to books published since 2002:

AGrabois-How to Books-bar graph-15Oct07_1.jpg

Of the 2,707 new how-to books published last year

  • 15% were reviewed by at least one major source tracked by Bowker
  • 1% appeared on at least one national bestseller list tracked by Bowker
  • 9% were published as mass market paperbacks
  • 47% were published as trade paperbacks
  • 44% were published as hardcovers

The bestselling how-to book on both Amazon and Barnes & Noble is Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends & Influence People (Simon & Schuster). Originally published in 1936, Friends was also Barnes & Noble’s bestselling how-to book of 2005.

Other category bestsellers include:

AGrabois_How_to_Books_4_Covers_15Oct07.jpg

Below are some of the more interesting deals publishers made for how-to books this year, along with the original descriptions, from Michael Cader’s deals database:

  • THE CRAFTY CHICA’S STITCHES GONE WILD, by Kathy Cano Murillo. A step-by-step guide to hand and machine-sewing unique tote bags and purses of all shapes and sizes. (Potter Craft)
  • KILOBYTE COUTURE: Go Geek Chic with Jewelry from Your Hard Drive, by Brittany Forks. 25 step-by-step jewelry projects using computer and electronic parts.
    (Watson-Guptill)
  • EYE CANDY: 50 Makeup Looks for Glam Lids and Luscious Lashes, by Linda Mason. For teens and twenty-somethings with 50 step-by-step makeup looks for eyes.
    (Watson-Guptill)
  • SEW BABY, by Amy Butler. 25 home sewing projects for baby and toddler. (Chronicle)
  • ILLUMINATING WORDS: The Power of Writing to Ease Depression, by Elizabeth Maynard Schaefer. A science-based guide to using writing as a means of easing the symptoms of depression. (Celestial Arts)
  • CAT WRANGLING MADE EASY, by Dusty Rainbolt . A guide for the multi-cat household. (Lyons Press)
  • 300 BUCKS AN HOUR, by Eliot Schrefer. Tricks and tips that break SAT prep down like a video game strategy guide. (Gotham)
  • THE ENLIGHTENED SMOKER’S GUIDE TO QUITTING, by Jack Gebhardt. Presenting the author’s simple, seven-step program to stop smoking in a straightforward, lighthearted and revolutionary approach. (BenBella Books)
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