Consumers find annuities arcane. The National Association of Variable Annuities is hoping to change that.

A book it commissioned, "Creating Retirement Income," is meant to demystify the investment contracts. The book is due out this fall.

"It's not a textbook, it's not a treatise-it's a consumer-oriented book," said Mark J. Mackey, president and CEO of the Reston, Va.-based trade group.

"There are not a whole lot of books out there that describe variable annuities in a user-friendly manner."

To produce the 160-page book the trade group chose Lightbulb Press, New York, which is best known for producing Wall Street Journal guidebooks such as "The Wall Street Journal Guide to Understanding Personal Finance." Those books are heavy on graphics and favor short sentences.

Clarifying financial complexities for the general public is a tall order, Mr. Mackey said, but Lightbulb Press writers have the experience to explain annuities, wealth accumulation, and how to handle that wealth in retirement.

Variable annuities are insurance contracts providing returns based on an underlying investment portfolio.

The trade group had never before decided to deal directly with consumers, said spokeswoman Christine Underhill. One reason it plans to do so now is that baby boomers are approaching retirement, she said.

Details of how the book will be distributed are being negotiated, Ms. Underhill said.

Michael T. Ryan, a financial planner at Professional Planning Group of Westerly, R.I., said many customers are confused about annuities. They do not always understand the costs-"It looks like it's a free ride, which is really not the case," Mr. Ryan said-and they do not know all the options for getting their money out.

There is role for a book that can set them straight, he said.

The trade group's Mr. Mackey said the book would not "advocate any product or any company. "We're just explaining this product-and others, for that matter," he said.

Mr. Mackey, who took over leadership of the organization in 1995, has a diverse background that includes serving as general counsel for the Investment Company Institute and various roles at the Securities and Exchange Commission.

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