Why Publishers Publish How-To Books

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One would think that every possible subject in how-to from how to build a Victorian gazebo to how to throw a slider has already been written, but not so. Recent entries in the how-to library have included How to Succeed from a Support Position, How to Get into the Right Law School, and How to Get a Date with a Vampire (And What to Do with Him Once You've Got Him).

Gardening and Home Improvement

Most large trade publishing houses publish books on gardening and home improvement. There are a number of publishers whose total output falls into this area. Sunset Publishing produces more than a dozen books a year on these subjects. There are more than two dozen others that publish exclusively in this category.


The Fannie Farmer Cookbook is approaching its centenary; Knopf has recently published its thirteenth edition. The Betty Crocker Cookbook has sold more than twenty-six million copies. Craig Claiborne's The New York Times Cook Book, first published more than twenty years ago, has sold 2.5 million copies worldwide. Is there no limit to the public's appetite for books that tell you how to make and eat chocolate truffle tarts and lose weight at the same time? The answer is a resounding no.

Some large publishers put out a dozen or more cookbooks a year. Cookbook authors go on extensive publicity tours to promote their books. Most large cities have bookstores that sell cookbooks exclusively, and book superstores have large cookbook sections. The Book- of-the-Month Club has a Home Style Book Club. The classic work on vegetarian cooking, The Moosewood Cookbook, has sold more than one million copies, and there are dozens of others in this specialty.

Hundreds of new cookbooks are published each year, and no matter how exotic the title and subject matter, they continue to sell well.

My favorite titles are White Trash Cooking and The Enchanted Broccoli Forest.


Books on business have long been a staple of trade publishers. About fourteen hundred new business books are published yearly. Some large publishers maintain a separate imprint for their books on business subjects; others integrate them into their general list. There are also business book clubs. At this writing, two out of the top ten nonfiction best-sellers are business books.


Each year, booksellers are offered an output of more than two hundred calendars produced by about a hundred different publishers. Large and small publishers participate in the "date" game. Random House publishes about twenty-five different calendars a year (including seven with the Sierra Club imprint). Although there are some high-priced calendars, most are priced in the $9.95 range, which seems to be a magic number in this category.

The subject matter of calendars covers a broad range of interests. One year, the eclectic mix included calendar subjects such as: Chinese Women Artists, Protect Our Planet, the Ultimate Sailing Calendar, Contemporary African Art, Cars Detroit Never Built, the EcoFreak Wall Calendar (365 wacky and wild ideas about saving the planet), and the class item, The Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling.

New Age

New Age is a relatively new phenomenon. It encompasses the holistic view of body, mind, and spirit and includes Native American, Buddhist, and African traditions and philosophy in its subject matter. Although mainstream publishing houses publish New Age works, much of its output is produced by publishers who specialize in this field.

A listing for Timeless Books in a recent ABA Official Directory states that it publishes books on self-study, inspiration, and inner development, with such titles as The Divine Light Invocation and Hatha Yoga:

The Hidden Language. Many New Age books have sold in excess of a hundred thousand copies. One book, The Celestine Prophecy, has sold two million copies and is in print in 20 languages. There are specialized bookstores that sell only New Age.

Mystery and Murder

Mystery and its companion, murder, have long been a popular subject of trade book publishing. Hundreds of these books are published each year by mainstream and specialist publishers. As in other categories, there are bookstores dedicated to this special interest subject.

There is even a large group of women mystery writers headquartered in Raleigh, North Carolina, called Sisters in Crime. Its stated purpose is "To promote recognition of women's contribution to the field of mystery writing."
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