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Why we can't get enough of self-help books


Hannah-Lilly Buchanan reads Rhonda Byrne’s bestseller The Secret. Photo: James Flynn/APX

Hannah-Lilly Buchanan reads Rhonda Byrne’s bestseller The Secret. Photo: James Flynn/APX

Author Rhonda Byrne

Author Rhonda Byrne


Hannah-Lilly Buchanan reads Rhonda Byrne’s bestseller The Secret. Photo: James Flynn/APX

Since the economic crash, the sales of self-help books have grown four-fold as people seek answers to life's many questions.

Have you noticed over the last several years how the 'Self-Help' section of your local bookshop has expanded?

It's a wide-ranging genre now. In a single row of books, you can find out how to lose weight, succeed at work, handle stress, stop smoking, become more positive, enjoy better sex and develop closer relationships with others.

Industry experts estimate that between 2008 and 2014 the sales of self-help books in Ireland quadrupled.

"In 2014 the Irish market grew by 28pc on the previous year," says Maria Dickenson, MD of Dubray Books. "In total 112,000 mind, body and spirit books were sold at a value of €1.3million. When you consider that the overall book market in Ireland declined slightly, this was a phenomenal result."

In the US alone, the self-help book market is worth more than $10 billion (€8.5bn) each year.

"One of the key reasons as to why these kinds of books are selling so well in Ireland now is that there is a greater social and cultural awareness of mental health and people are now willing to discuss the issue," says Maria.

The growth in the sector, both in Ireland and abroad, has coincided with the downturn in the world economy. Even during this time, consumers were prepared to spend their hard-earned money in their quest to find solace, motivational advice and in some cases an instruction manual on how to live their lives.

"It's natural that during difficult times people reach out for something to help them," says literary expert Emma Walsh, who runs Walsh Communications Publishing Consultancy and Literary Agency in Dublin. "In the past they may have turned to their church to find the answers to their spiritual dilemmas but now more and more Irish people are opting for the self-help book for advice and guidance."

The top-selling self-help book in the country at the moment is The Secret by the Australian author Rhonda Byrne. Although it was first published in 2006, it continues to sell in huge volumes. At last count the book had exceeded 20 million sales worldwide.

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Based on the 'superstitious law of attraction' with claims that positive-thinking can create life-changing results such as increased wealth, health and happiness, The Secret gained global popularity after it featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show.

However, it's still lagging far behind You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay, which is thought to be the most successful self-help book ever written. Hay wrote it in 1984 and, so far, almost 40 million copies have been sold.

Its premise is that because the mind and body are connected, illnesses of the body have their root causes in emotional and spiritual aspects of the mind.

Hay's childhood was traumatic, and her marriage broke up when her husband left her for another woman.When she was later diagnosed with cervical cancer, she claims that she refused conventional medical treatment, and began a regime of forgiveness, coupled with therapy, nutrition, reflexology and occasional enemas. She believes that she managed to rid herself of cancer by this method though it has never been medically confirmed.

Irish authors have also come to the forefront of the self-help literary movement, most notably psychologist Maureen Gaffney. In her best-selling book Flourishing, Gaffney explains how a deeper sense of well-being, meaning and purpose can be found and how to use adversity as a positive turning point in life.

Emma Walsh believes the age of the self-help book will adapt in the coming years.

She says: "During the height of the boom there would have been a lot of books on economics and business selling well and self-help books would not have been as sought-after. Then you also had a fad when there were many titles about moving abroad and buying a dream holiday home, international cooking and so on. Now, because of many factors, self-help books of a motivational kind are doing well as people seek help in their lives.

"Publishers take commercial decisions based on what they can see doing well. In many ways publishing imitates life so as a trend or phase develops we must follow."

As long as people seek the answers to difficult, internal and spiritual questions, the self-help book will have a home on the shelves of our bookstores.

And with fewer and fewer of us turning to religion for those answers, the future of the self-help book sector in Ireland appears stronger than ever.

'I don't get into  bitchy conversations since I've been  reading self-help'

By Deirdre Reynolds


Hannah-Lilly Buchanan reads Rhonda Byrne’s bestseller The Secret. Photo: James Flynn/APX

Hannah-Lilly Buchanan reads Rhonda Byrne’s bestseller The Secret. Photo: James Flynn/APX

Hannah-Lilly Buchanan reads Rhonda Byrne’s bestseller The Secret. Photo: James Flynn/APX


Mother-of-two Hannah-Lilly Buchanan (35), a motivational running coach from Mullingar, reveals how reading The Secret by Rhonda Byrne, inspired her to take on her own self-help challenge for 2015.

"Over the past few years, I just felt like I was taking one step forward and two steps back in life. Then last year, someone recommended self-help book The Secret to me.

"Despite my reservations, I ended up reading it from cover to cover in one day. It just made complete sense to me. Basically, the book talks about the power of mindset. If you start every day saying 'I'm so tired' or 'I'm going to be late', then that's exactly what will happen. Equally, if you start by saying, 'This is going to be a fantastic day', then it probably will be.

"What you put out to the universe is what you get back. It sounds cuckoo - but the philosophy of The Secret really worked for me. Within a month, I had given my first motivational talk, and I just felt happier and more confident in myself.

"Admittedly, putting The Secret into action can sometimes be difficult. When you're feeling down, for instance, you don't necessarily want to hear someone telling you to think positively.

"Following The Secret also made me realise how much negativity there is around. Even just standing in the queue for the bank, all you hear is people complaining.

Since reading the book, I don't get drawn into bitchy conversations anymore. And I make a daily gratitude list, even if it's just referring to a cup of coffee.

"At the moment, I'm reading The Secret Daily Teachings, another book by Rhonda Byrne (below).


Author Rhonda Byrne

Author Rhonda Byrne

Author Rhonda Byrne

"Starting next month, I plan to do 10 things that make me happy every day for a year as a personal feel-good project, and I'm going to blog about it.

"It could be something as simple as listening to my favourite song, even if I'm not in the mood. I'll know for sure next February whether or not it works!

The Expert’s TOP five self-help books

By Literary agent Emma Walsh

1. The Little Book of Mindfulness by Tiddy Rowan

It’s well-written and doesn’t weigh the reader down with overly complex concepts. What’s really impressive about this book though is its bite-size. You can carry it around with you and flick through it no matter where you are.

2. Flourishing by Maureen Gaffney

I enjoy Maureen’s writing style and in this book she conveys the importance of positive thinking but also looks at the impact negative thinking can have on a person as well.

3. The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman  Vincent Peale

Excellent book, well explained and written. In terms of new concepts it doesn’t really offer many but it does, again, reinforce how positive thinking can influence your reality and outcomes in your life.

4. What I know for sure by Oprah Winfrey

Oprah has made a career of listening and in this book she has cleverly incorporated all the best bits she’s heard experts tell her into publication.

People like and trust Oprah and that’s important too in this genre.

5. The Secret by Rhonda Byrne

One of the most successful self-help books of all time, its huge sales have more to do with the fact that it came on the resurgent self-help scene relatively early rather than much else.

It points out one small gem of wisdom and then keeps repeating it throughout the book.

That said, it has helped people for years and that must be recognised.

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