Excerpt from SHAM by Steve Salerno, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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SHAM

How the Self-Help Movement Made America Helpless

By Steve Salerno

SHAM
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  • Hardcover: Jun 2005,
    288 pages.
    Paperback: Sep 2006,
    288 pages.

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For today's budding self-help star, the usual progression is to parlay one's pseudoliterary success into a thriving adjunct career on TV or radio, on the lecture circuit, or at those intensive multimedia seminars known to the industry as "total immersion experiences." According to Nationwide Speakers Bureau founder Marc Reede, whose specialty is booking engagements for sports celebrities, "personal-improvement experts" account for no small part of the 9,000 percent increase in membership in the National Speakers Association since 1975. Just the top dozen speakers grossed $303 million in 2003; their fees generally ran between $30,000 and $150,000 per speech. More than a decade after her ethereal book A Return to Love dominated best-seller lists, Marianne Williamson's personal appearances still sell out as quickly as Springsteen concerts. Mass-market single-day presentations by Tony Robbins must be held in basketball arenas and convention centers. He attracts upwards of ten thousand fans at $49 a head–still a bargain-basement price for salvation when compared to his weeklong Life Mastery seminar at $6,995. "You have to have something for all the market segments," Robbins once told me. "You can't ignore the folks who can only afford a quick dose of inspiration." By 1999, more than a decade of having something for all market segments had paid off big-time for Robbins; Business Week pegged his annual income at $80 million.

It was the lure of such lucre that sparked the mainstreaming phenomenon among Hopkins, Ziglar, and other training specialists from fields closely allied to sales and motivation. Ziglar, the author of arguably the most successful "crossover" book ever written, See You at the Top, now preaches to thousands of eager disciples at his sky's-the-limit tent revivals. (Herewith a free sample of the indispensable advice Ziglar offers to husbands: "Open your wife's car door for her." And, as an added bonus, a bit of all-purpose wisdom: "You have to be before you can do, and you have to do before you can have.") Suze Orman followed Ziglar's lead as well as his advice and soared to the top: Starting with a background in institutional finance, she mastered the art of talking about money in a way that sounded as if she was really talking about "something more meaningful." She then threw in a dollop of spirituality for good measure and became a touchstone for millions of women who'd always felt unwelcome at the financial party.

A truly hot SHAM artist may franchise himself. Relationships guru John Gray presides over just a handful of the estimated five hundred monthly "Mars and Venus" seminars that bear his imprimatur. The rest he entrusts to a cadre of handpicked stand-ins who can parrot his kitschy trademark material. And then there are the barnstormers, like the aforementioned Peter Lowe, who took the seminar industry to another level by packaging a number of speakers into themed motivational road shows. His evangelical tours teamed an improbable rotating cast of eclectic presenters, ranging from former United Nations ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick to actor Edward Asner to professional football coach Mike Shanahan. They also featured a formidable, at times almost overwhelming, menu of ancillary products.

Ah, the ancillaries. All major seminarists reap a substantial added windfall from their so-called ancillary products: the $10 workbooks, the $19 videos and DVDs, the $49 series of CDs and cassettes for the car, to give you that all-important motivational jolt during the commute to work. To keep the good vibes flowing once you're ensconced at your desk with your misanthropic boss hovering over you, there are the inspirational trinkets, like those $29 paperweights engraved with uplifting slogans. Robbins occasionally takes time out from his usual seminar patter to hawk unrelated products–like QLink, a pendant that, he says, will protect you from cell-phone radiation, electromagnetic pulse, and other types of harmful ambient energy. The pendant costs anywhere from $129 for the bare-bones model to $839 for a version finished in brushed gold–the perfect complement for one's newly gilded self-image. Tom Hopkins, at one time the unquestioned dean of trainers in the field of real-estate sales, now depends on his low-cost success seminars to generate sales of his ancillary goods. The modest fee for the seminar is Hopkins's loss leader for an array of high-margin products.

Excerpted from Sham by Steve Salerno Copyright © 2005 by Steve Salerno. Excerpted by permission of Crown, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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