Help Yourself

by Tina Jordan

After 20 publishers rejected LIFE 101: Everything We Wish We Had Learned About Life in School — But Didn't, John-Roger and Peter McWilliams' guide to building self-esteem, the authors decided to publish it themselves , four months ago.

Now that the book has sold 101,000 copies at $18.95 and made several best-seller lists, paperback houses are eager to reprint it, but McWilliams won't bite. ''Once the bandwagon is rolling, everyone's willing to jump on,'' he says.

Actually, McWilliams is an old hand at self-publishing and something of a hero to disgruntled writers everywhere.

For over 20 years he has been beating the big guys at their own game; he estimates that there are some 7 million copies of his 23 books in print. They range from computer manuals to poetry to self-help guides like You Can't Afford the Luxury of a Negative Thought. You have to wonder why a fellow with this track record bothers to send his books to the major publishers at all. McWilliams acknowledges that there's a prestige factor, but as he points out, self-publishing is ''a grand old tradition. Even Walt Whitman printed his own books and sold them for $1 apiece.''

Yes, and he also reviewed them under a pseudonym — something the energetic McWilliams has not yet tried.