Dr. Wayne Dyer has finished lecturing students at the State University of New York at Farmingdale (Long Island) on how to overcome personality defects that make them unhappy. As the audience applauds, Dyer, 36, walks to a table in the center of the gym while his wife, Susan, stations herself at a second table near the exit.
The Dyers have brought cartons of his book, Your Erroneous Zones, in the trunk of the car, and Dyer, pen in one hand and cash for change in the other, sets up an autographing assembly line. Before the crowd clears, he has sold more than 100 books (at $6.95), proving once again that if Wayne Dyer has any personality defects—or “erroneous zones,” as he calls them—being bashful about promoting himself isn’t one of them.
By a self-marketing tour de force, Dyer has taken a book that nobody but he would call “a classic” (which he does) and saved it from the oblivion most self-help books so deservedly achieve. Your Erroneous Zones has been near or at the top of most national best-seller lists for more than five months. There are 500,000 hardcover copies in print, the paperback rights have sold for $1.1 million and Dyer is developing a syndicated TV show and, of course, writing another book about “not being victimized.”
Dyer was a practicing psychotherapist (a Ph.D. gives him the title “Doctor”), a teacher at St. John’s University and the author of two counseling textbooks when literary agent Arthur Pine happened to read about one of his lectures in 1974. Pine asked if Dyer had ever thought of writing a popular book. He had, and he did.
Until about 10 years ago, Dyer says, he “was as messed up as everyone else.” He spent much of his youth—not unhappily, he adds—in foster homes in Detroit. Four years in the Navy convinced him “I have to have control of my own life.” A further influence was the traffic jams he encountered in Detroit while teaching at Wayne State. “I realized I could sit there in my car fuming and honking,” he says, “or I could decide I wouldn’t let it bother me. I started taking a tape recorder in the car and worked on my lectures.”
As his self-control developed, he learned to stop worrying about being bald, or feeling guilty about his divorce from his first wife or embarrassed about his mediocre college grades. He no longer depended upon other people’s opinions of him. In sum, Dyer explains, he began deciding for himself, minute by minute, how he would live his life.
That, expanded to 234 pages, is the message of his book. In the beginning it did not incite cartwheels at Funk & Wagnalls and was published with minimum fanfare. Dyer decided on the title in hopes of waylaying customers en route to the sex manual department (and books about “the erogenous zones”). He suspended his teaching and private practice to promote his book. Since last April he has visited nearly 60 cities in 48 states, wheedling his way onto radio and TV talk shows and into newspaper columns. He carries boxes of books for sale wherever he goes.
While Dyer and his wife still live in a modest, rented Long Island home, he would seem to have few financial worries. He quotes Emerson—”To be great is to be misunderstood”—as a way of brushing off critics such as actor Robert Blake, who accused him of trivializing substantial problems when the two were on Johnny Carson’s show in October.
Dyer hints that he has even whipped that cosmic erroneous zone, the meaning of existence: “Things don’t really matter,” he says. “But I always act as if they do.”