The World of Wellness Books: A New Perspective

By   Hannah Bickerton 8 min read

whitefox: helping brands, thought leaders and writers create beautiful bespoke books

whitefox explores the wellness space, what the term actually means and the influence it is having on publishing.

‘Wellness’. A word with which we are increasingly familiar. But what does it really mean? You may have come across the term partnered with ‘health’, but it’s important not to confuse the two – one can be in perfect physical health but one’s overall wellness can still be suffering. While health is certainly a component, wellness is more concerned with intentions, actions and a lifestyle that fosters wellbeing and balance in all aspects of life. The Global Wellness Institute (GWI) defines wellness as the active pursuit of activities, choices and lifestyles that lead to a state of holistic health. It extends much further beyond health, incorporating physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, social, environmental and many other dimensions of life. 

Research from McKinsey & Company estimates that the global value of the health and wellness market is over $1.5 trillion, with an annual 5 to 10 per cent growth rate. Non-fiction books in the wellness genre reflect the breadth of the industry, with books focusing on a plethora of topics such as exercise, mindfulness, nutrition, self-care and spiritual centering. Wellness books not only help to free a reader’s imagination, but also educate and provide guidance on any lifestyle changes that will enhance their general wellbeing. Wellness writer Zoë McDonald highlights that ‘recent research into neuroscience has also proven that many of the activities that enhance ‘‘wellness”, from time spent in green space to exercise and meditation, have impressive benefits for cognitive function and mood. In this context, wellness titles aren’t so easily dismissed as “fluffy”.’

The #wellness hashtag has been used on Instagram nearly 60 million times. In comparison, #selfhelp has been featured in a mere 4.3 million posts at the time of writing this article. Although only so much weight can be placed on the figures based on hashtag usage, it still provides an important insight into people’s interests, the popularity of certain terms and how they resonate differently from one another. However, the self-help genre must not be underestimated; according to NPD Group, US sales of self-help books grew annually by 11 per cent from 2013 to 2019, reaching 18.6 million volumes. Meanwhile, the number of self-help titles in existence nearly tripled during that period, from 30,897 to 85,253. Self-help books such as Louise Hay’s You Can Heal Your Life, Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist and Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich have each sold over 50 million copies. whitefox’s very own You Don’t Need Therapy: 7 Steps to Sort Your Sh*t Out by Alan Lucas is an example of a brilliant book within this genre, pulling audiences in with a subversive, controversial title and then building a connection with them through the quality of the content and advice within. But wait a minute, aren’t ‘self-help’ and ‘wellness’ essentially the same premise? Perhaps, but for many readers ‘self-help’ has become an outdated term in the last few years, sounding more like a treatment for a malady, while ‘wellness’ has come to be perceived as aspirational and holistic. While self-help often involves instructions on how to achieve someone else’s idea of betterment, wellness is a process of living more successfully on your own terms.

At one point in time, wellness might have been seen as simply an extension of self-help, a category of literature dedicated mainly to personal optimisation and productivity. But under the influence of millennial values, wellness has been positioned and marketed more as a sense of self-care rather than self-improvement – far softer, gentler and more forgiving than its more disciplined forebear. McDonald agrees that ‘self-help has slightly negative connotations in some quarters, and there is often a bit of sniffiness about the genre. Wellness is self-help 2.0, and now that even macho thought leaders accept self-care as essential for optimal functioning, wellness has become mainstream.’ In a society where something is being sold to us every which way we look, some may misconstrue wellness and self-care as simply purchasable experiences like spa treatments, expensive skincare and luxury retreats. In fact, self-care is far less materialistic – originating from a series of loose, secular rituals meant to calm the nervous system, informed in part by the work of feminist writers of colour, including bell hooks and Audre Lorde, who wrote about caring for one’s self in oppressive conditions. As Lorde writes in her essay A Burst of Light, ‘caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.’ If self-help is about how to do and fix something about yourself, self-care is about how not to do, and about finding contentment within yourself as you are.

Wellness has developed as an independent entity of self-help and succeeded in shedding the genre’s associated stigma. Its rise in popularity is mirrored by the number of books published on specific, and often very niche, topics in this space. According to the GWI, meditation and mindfulness is the smallest but fastest-growing segment in the industry, at $3.5 billion and 25.4 per cent growth in 2020. This segment includes all forms of meditation practices, as well as related mindfulness practices like breathwork. Books on these practices vary widely in their approach and target audience, from Matthew Sockolov’s bestselling, instructive book Practicing Mindfulness: 75 Essential Meditations to Reduce Stress, Improve Mental Health, and Find Peace in the Everyday to Mat Auryn’s mystical Psychic Witch: A Metaphysical Guide to Meditation, Magick & Manifestation, and the beautifully unique Breathe, Mama, Breathe: 5-Minute Mindfulness for Busy Moms by Shonda Moralis, MSW, LCSW. Mindfulness is often linked closely to mental health, which consists of, but is not limited to, emotional, psychological and social wellbeing. The pandemic raised the fundamental importance of taking care of one’s mental health, many turning to books as tools for learning about psychology, processing personal experience and finding techniques to cope with everyday life. Intellectual and physical development books are often grouped with mental health, but the two can differ greatly. Personal development books work to provide information, insights and guidance on improving readers’ way of thinking and, ultimately, their lives. They usually help readers learn new life skills, such as problem-solving, assertiveness, navigating difficult conversations and understanding the world around them. Over the last few years, this subgenre has rapidly expanded to cover various topics, from relationship guidance to developing a new mindset, building resilience and starting a new chapter in life.

Physical wellness and nutrition is of equal importance to mental wellness, and it has become increasingly clear that we need to balance our time between taking care of both. The pandemic launched an entire fitness movement dedicated to at-home accessible workouts, and the multiple national lockdowns provided people with more time to cook and reassess the foods they were consuming. One significant development of this subgenre was the creation of healthy yet budget-friendly meals. The books of 2021 and 2022 reflect this holistic change of integrating healthy eating and proper nutrition instead of making an entire lifestyle or diet change. Public health in general, outside of its usual academic setting, became part of key discussions and reading, developing not only from the pandemic but also the civil unrest and Black Lives Matter movement. Public health involves the science of protecting and improving the wellbeing of people and their communities, and can range from civil and human rights issues to illnesses and chronic diseases. Being at the forefront of global news has enabled the public health subgenre to rapidly expand and become one of the most popular reading categories of 2021 and the first few months of 2022.

Smith Publicity predicted at the start of the year that ‘the wellness genre will grow, with increasing numbers of readers focused on their physical, mental and emotional health and wellbeing.’ Interest in wellness isn’t disappearing anytime soon. If anything, we’re likely to see some really incredible projects sparking from the excitement surrounding this fresh, new age genre. LightEn’s Inner Alchemy: The Path of Mastery by Zulma Reyo is an interesting example of a truly unique wellness book project that has created a realm of publishing possibilities. LightEn publishes important spiritual works in English, Spanish and Portuguese and considers them gifts to humanity. These works are provided free of charge online and as closely as possible at cost in their print form. They also support Zulma Reyo’s School of Consciousness (ZRSOC), which aims to provide students with the tools of self-transformation so that they can connect with greater wisdom and change this world. Inner Alchemy isn’t simply a wellness book, but a key contribution to a school of thought, and a significant element of the LightEn and ZRSOC brand, helping share their messages and lessons on a major scale. The wellness genre provides endless possibilities for individuals, schools, businesses and more, so we wouldn’t be surprised if we started seeing more of these unique, independent publishing projects in the coming years.

Since the start of the pandemic, the wellness space has expanded to encompass so much more than self-improvement. It has forced people around the globe to reassess their priorities and stop taking their wellbeing for granted. With the psychological impact of COVID-19 likely to linger for years, wellness and self-care is no longer a luxury, but an absolute necessity. This isn’t simply a passing trend. In fact, over the past year in particular, it has become abundantly clear that a holistic approach to wellness is here to stay, as well as people’s desire to gather as much information surrounding this space as they possibly can from books and other integral resources.

Hannah Bickerton
Hannah Bickerton
Hannah has worked in marketing for nine years, specialising in strategy development for start-ups and EdTech companies. Having recently jumped across industries to join the Whitefox team, Hannah isn’t a complete stranger to the publishing world with previous employment at Macmillan and TES Global. She is now dedicated to ensuring that anyone who has something interesting to say knows all about whitefox.