Self-Help and the Unwritten Code of Absurdly Embarrassing Book Covers

This is my favorite example, Healing Feelings…From Your Heart. I mean seriously, if you tried, could you come up with a more cliché cover (and by that I mean the title, the book jacket – the whole package) in which to wrap this nugget of self-improvement wisdom? Let me be clear: I actually really like and appreciate the book. In fact, like many others in the self-help/self-improvement/inspirational genre, I think it is a gift. Or rather, it would be – if only you could get past the wrapping to open it up and partake. As a friend of mine said: ‘It looks like [the packaging of] a douche.’ Exactly.

From whence this unwritten code of absurdly embarrassing packaging of seriously centered and grounded advice? If it’s not the title, e.g. Money is My Friend, it’s the book jacket:

The Biology of Belief

Destiny of Souls

Spiritual Growth: Being Your Higher Self

These are all books I esteem – and recommend all the time despite my aesthetic discomfort, and the discomfort I know will inevitably be evoked in the person I recommending the book to. (My resources page is littered with examples if you’re itching for more.)

Which raises the question: who do we think we are helping with these ‘cosmic’ visuals and affirmation-esque titles?

Let’s look at this for a second. It’s a self-improvement book. – If you’re buying the book, if you’re interested, you’re probably doing some work on yourself. I mean the books are written precisely to increase self-esteem, confidence and power, where it is lacking. But who is the person who can buy this book, who can own reading it on the subway – who can even own peeking into it in the bookstore? Who is the person who’s self-esteem is strong enough to remain unabashed by the unabashed cheesiness and stereotyping? Healing Feelings … From Your Heart? I’d say you’d need some serious alignment, esteem and sense of self to hold your head up alongside your hand which is holding the book.

So aren’t we, as writers of self-improvement/inspirational books, sabotaging our own purpose of helping others with this unwritten code? I had a client here the other day who, when asked if he bought the book I recommended, confessed: ‘I’m sorry, I just couldn’t bring myself to hit “add to shopping cart”. I wanted to, – but I just couldn’t do it.’ He wasn’t even in a bookstore. In the privacy of his own home he could not  bring himself to hit ‘purchase’. And I understand him; I don’t blame him. (Though of course I still want him to get the book.)

For a long time, per the genius suggestion of a friend, I would plaster my book cover with stickers until it was entirely obscured. I didn’t actually care what the stickers were, so long as it took care of the title and the rippling energy rings. No matter that I then had to own reading my Hello Kitty inspired ‘not embarrassing book’ – somehow, that was easier.

Don’t get me wrong, as writers of ‘self-improvement’ or ‘inspirational’ works, we should, as all other people, be free to express and wrap ourselves in whatever packaging floats our boat. By all means, as NWA put to music: ‘Express Yourself.’ But I am left to wonder, is the way we express power – i.e. empowerment – really in trappings of a douche bag box? In being connected to the cosmos do you really feel like you see everything through a kaleidoscope? Is enlightenment airy-fairy-dairy or is it solid, centered and grounded? Or do we just feel so good that only clouds, dawns, and fuzzy pastels can compare?

Maybe the issue is that, as writers, our creativity comes in the form of thought and words, and not images. Maybe it is not the author’s vision at all, but the publishing houses behind him or her. Maybe there’s a whole independent slew of people who know nothing about the content of the book but only the format of the genre in which it will sell, (- though again I would ask that serious consideration be given as to whether audience and readership are not in fact being limited by the aesthetic). I don’t know, but I’ve just completed my first manuscript so I’m about to find out. Wish me luck.


As always, if you would like to see a particular issue addressed, please feel free to contact me with your suggestion.