Author Tags: Advice

Born on April 27, 1950 in Toronto, Douglas moved to Vancouver in 1995. An artist and entrepreneur she has authored several books including How to Bring Angels to Earth, Angel Playtime (Wisechild, 1998) and Always Becoming – Forever: A Journal of Conscious Living/ Conscious Dying (Becoming Books, 1999). She is not to be confused with the Diana Douglas who operates Self-Counsel Press. [see separate entry]

[BCBW 2003] "Advice"


IN A FLOOD OF 'FREE MARKET' FRENZY, IF all support for publishing in Canada was suddenly withdrawn, one major B.C. publisher could weather the storm easily.

That's because in terms of 'marketing', that prime buzzword of the 1980's Diana Douglas is peerless. Her 17 year old Self-Counsel Press is the Canadian non-fiction equivalent of Reader's Digest, making long stories short for book consumers who want packaging more than profundity.

For anyone wanting low-cost, accurate information on law, business, personal and self-help topics, Self-Counsel titles can be found in bookstores, public and corporate libraries, stationery and office supply dealers, storefront legal services, mega food stores, drug stores and news stands.

"The operating philosophy of Self-Counsel is simple and practical," says Douglas," Anticipate a need for basic, understandable information or methods of saving money, and fill that need by publishing an informative and clearly written 'how to' book priced between $5.95 and $14.95."

Self-Counsel has consistently amassed greater sales than every other B.C. publishing company except Douglas & McIntyre (a company founded by her father, Jim Douglas). But because Self-Counsel's 95 current books, not including form kits, have such titles as Landlording In Canada, Tax Shelters, Fundraising for non-Profit Groups and Design Your Own Logo, press coverage is minimal.

"'Of course we're disappointed at the lack of attention our authors receive from the traditional book reviewers," she says, "One of our goals is to have a Self-Counsel author finally interviewed by Peter Gzowski on CBC Morningside then surely we would be culturally significant.

"But we are encouraged and supported by business publications, lifestyle reviewers, newsletters and consumer and special interest groups."

Since making the first B.C. Divorce Guide in 1971, Self-Counsel has produced 176 titles at a rate of 10-12 new titles per year. Douglas says consistent sellers are an incorporation guide (200,000 sold, 65,000 in B.C.), a book on wills (186,000 sold, 62,000 in B.C.) and divorce guides (160,000, 65,000 in B.C.). Starting a Successful Business in Canada, she, has sold 150,000.

The popularity of such books is' a direct disadvantage when it comes to current funding guidelines for Canada's publishers. In a nutshell, "arty' books or books which have 'cultural value' have traditionally received Canada Council support: Self-Counsel titles like Every Parent's Guide to Understanding Teenagers and Suicide and Marriage and Family Law have not.

"If you are a publisher who chooses to publish a 'self-help' title, but does not clearly identify it as such, you can be eligible for funding assistance," says Douglas, "'To us, this is inconsistent and unfair as we must then compete with these titles in the marketplace without support.

"We strongly feel that a review of Canada Council guidelines and eligibility criteria should be done."

Self-Counsel's staff of 25 entered the personal self-help market in 1985 with titles like Family Ties That Bind, plus they've commenced a series for seniors that includes Jurgen Hesse's Mobile Retirement Handbook and Henry Hunnisett's Retirement Guide for Canadians, now in its 9th printing. With one of every five Canadians expected to be 65 or over by the year 2021, a new Self-Counsel title for September is Wise & Healthy Living: A Commonsense Approach to Aging Well ($9.95) by the medical team of Richard and Brenda Breeden Underwood.

Also well-timed is Ernest Rovet's The Canadian Business Guide to Environmental Law (Self-Counsel $8.95), giving a lawyer's view of how to comply with complex regulations on a province-by-province basis, plus providing advice to businesses, large or small, about responding to environmental lobbyists, media and government officials.

"I'm very excited about the future," says Diana Douglas, "and I'm proud of our publishing and marketing efforts and our staff who make it happen.

"The only difficulty we face is a continuing negative attitude by some of the publishing community and government funding bodies towards our publishing program.”

It's one thing to be placed at the back of the bus. It's quite another not be allowed on the bus at all.

But Diana Douglas remains diplomatic and optimistic, continuing to participate in Canadian and B.C. publishers' associations from her minority and understated position where nothing's wrong if the customer is always right.

[Autumn / BCBW 1988] “Publishing”