How to Write a Self-Help Book (That Actually Helps People)
You’ve overcome a challenge or issue and gained some valuable life lessons. At this point, you want to create a self-help book to share your knowledge and experience with other readers. You’re prepared to provide them with the necessary resources to develop and lead better lives.
This article guides you through every step while offering advice from knowledgeable self-help book editors in the marketplace. How to write your own self-help book is provided below:
- Describe the exact issue your book will address.
- Convince your audience that you can assist them.
- Keep in mind that you’re delivering a story
- Provide your readers with concrete suggestions for what to do.
- Select an intriguing and instructive title (and subtitle)
- Always give credit where credit is due.
- Finish strong and leave the readers desiring as much
1. Identify a specific problem your book will remedy
With the exception of memoirs, all nonfiction books focus on identifying a problem and proposing a solution. This could be providing the reader with useful, step-by-step guidance or a deeper, more complex comprehension of an actual issue that modifies their perspective. Self-help books are no different: as a writer, it is your responsibility to focus on a specific issue and give your reader a solution.
Accept that you need to limit your scope.
Many authors of self-help books start out with a broad concept, such as overcoming mental illness or finding happiness. As a first inclination, broad, abstract topics like these are fantastic, but you’ll need to narrow the focus of your book for the benefit of your readers, your sanity, and your ability to make money.
It might be challenging to completely discuss abstract ideas in a way that is helpful and offers specific insights and recommendations. Additionally, they are notoriously challenging to sell to a typical self-help publisher who will be searching for something fresh and distinctive with a clear target market. The Self-Help category on Amazon has over 70,000 books as of March 2022, so producing a general book about “finding happiness” won’t quite cut it.
Distill your idea
Filling up the spaces of this fictitious promise to your reader will help you concentrate on the scope of your book:
If you are ____ and your problem is ____, I can help you by ____.
This promise enables you to pinpoint your target market, the issue they are having, and the remedy. We’ll use Wendy Thomas Russell, Linda Hatfield, and Ty Hatfield’s book ParentShift: Ten Universal Truths That Will Change the Way You Raise Your Kids to examine each of the three.
When writing any nonfiction, it’s essential to understand your target audience. It will not only assist you in marketing your book, but it will also serve as the inspiration for its design and aid in its quality writing. After all, how can you assist someone if you are unaware of their identity or of their needs?
Therefore, consider who will benefit most from the information in your book. The response must be as detailed as possible. Consider the book ParentShift: Ten Universal Truths That Will Transform the Way You Raise Your Children.
Undoubtedly, this book is intended for parents, but what kind of parents? This book is primarily aimed at new parents who are out of options because it is about changing how parents treat tantrums and timeouts.
Consider your surroundings, the culture in which you live, and your line of work. For example, parents who work full-time may require quick fixes since they must juggle triple shifts, play dates, and a mountain of housekeeping. Ten universal truths may be too much for them to handle. It will be simpler to target your population if you have more information about them.
Once you’ve identified your target market, pinpoint the specifics of their issue (or “pain point”) and note the various forms it may take. For instance, ParentShift puts up an issue right away: you’re struggling with parenting, you know it, and conventional parenting techniques aren’t working for you.
When you’ve determined your main issue, make it clear in the book’s title, subtitle, or blurb so that readers can immediately determine that it’s written for them.
How can the topic of poor parenting be addressed in a book about terrible children and toddlers? However, according to the product’s blurb, ParentShift “challenges some of our most popular disciplinary tools and replaces them with more than a dozen ‘toolkits’ designed to aid parents to manage nearly every home situation without damaging their long-term aims.” In other words, this book offers you fresh ways to evaluate your problem as well as alternative methods for fixing it.
Since this is the kind of revelation that motivated you to create a book in the first place, we’ll assume that you are aware of your own thoughts. To make sure your ideas are understandable and that you can easily explain them, consider outlining them with a buddy if you see that your thoughts are getting jumbled. Then, put it in writing and repeat the process!
2. Make your readers believe you can help them
The success of a self-help book largely depends on your writing ability and authority. After all, you wouldn’t saunter down the street and approach unrelated strangers for assistance in bettering your life, would you? This explains why well-known media figures frequently write self-help books—they already have a following of followers who respect them.
But if you’re not Oprah Winfrey or Russell Brand, how can you win over potential customers? Sharing information about yourself can be done in two different ways; the third, and occasionally overlooked, option involves style and organization.
Qualifications tell readers others can vouch for your knowledge.
By mentioning any pertinent credentials, authors can demonstrate that they are reliable sources. For instance, Brené Brown frequently refers to her work as a psychologist and researcher in her book Daring Greatly when discussing the types of people who find it difficult to be vulnerable. University degrees are important, but they aren’t the only qualification that counts. For instance, Matthieu Ricard’s book The Art of Meditation is much more enticing because its author is a Buddhist monk, someone the reader can rely on to have a thorough understanding of meditation.
Persuasive style and structure matter the most.
Despite the fact that it’s crucial for readers to recognize that you are deserving of their confidence, repress the impulse to make your book into a LinkedIn profile listing all of your Expert Qualifications.
“I find that ignoring their reader is the primary error I see new self-help authors make. Without considering what the reader needs to learn and how to impart it to them gradually, they feel compelled to put everything they have learned in their manuscript. Authors can demonstrate their authority by communicating directly with their readers and getting to know them on a personal level. They can also do this by revealing how they overcame a similar problem.
3. Don’t forget that you’re telling a story
Rarely do self-help books have a single, overarching plot line. They are typically driven by a thesis or argument rather than a narrative, with chapters organized around anecdotes that support the thesis.
Structure intuitively for a great reading experience
How can you guarantee that each chapter of your book reads easily and logically? by deciding on a thorough outline before you even begin writing? In order to publish a book traditionally, you nearly usually start with a book proposal, which is a great approach. Making a strategy, though, is well worth your effort, even if you’re self-publishing, to make sure that every chapter is required and adds value.
Good starts may make or ruin a self-help book, just like they can with novels. Readers should learn a little bit about you and the motivation for your work in the beginning. It should also include a brief, concise synopsis of what comes next. You’ll start getting into the heart of things in Chapter 1, outlining the complexity of the main issue. You decide how the next chapters of the book will be organized after that.
Solidify through anecdotes and emotional storytelling
The greatest approach to explain each point in your self-help book is with a tale or anecdote, whether it’s personal, hypothetical, or wholly made up. Ideally, each chapter should be organized around a single idea or insight. By including a character who readers can relate to or are interested in, stories have a big effect on evoking an emotional response or more intense attention.
Want an illustration? Consider how Christian teachings are communicated through the parables that Jesus used to impart wisdom: “be kind” is far less remembered than the narrative of the good Samaritan.
Only tell stories that add to your message.
Self-help editor Danielle Goodman underlines the necessity to only present experiences that are worthwhile: “Proof of concept is vitally necessary when it comes to self-help books. That is why telling stories can be so effective. It takes your advice off the page and applies it to actual individuals like you and your followers who live in the real world.
“When recounting fragments of your experience, the key question to ask oneself is: Is what I’m writing in service of my message? How, in other words, does this narrative highlight the feelings, insights, and recommendations you want your audience to have?
“Once you have the solution, clearly show the reader how the puzzle fits together. Tell them why you specifically chose to include this story and what you hope they will learn from it. And if you’re having trouble understanding how this anecdote is relevant to your message, skip it for the time being.
4. Give your readers specific actions they can take
As a result of the self-help genre’s tendency to be more abstract than, say, how-to manuals or even memoirs, your book may run the danger of offering counsel that is too nebulous. And you know how annoying ambiguity can be if you’ve ever attempted to seek directions from someone who sort of somewhat understands how to go to the library.
“One clue that you haven’t made your self-help counsel totally obvious is a comment from editors or beta-readers like this: ‘Great, but how does someone actually DO that,'” self-help editor Kate Victory Hannisian explains.
You can include a recap at the end of each chapter to make sure your takeaways aren’t lost in the narrative. A Hunter-Guide Gatherer’s to the 21st Century by Heather Heying, and Bret Weinstein perfectly repeats each of its chapters, summarizing the key points in bullet points. However, you can go one step further and provide a checklist of actions to take or questions the reader can ask themselves to diagnose their own needs.
5. Pick an appealing and informative title (and subtitle)
Self-help titles typically follow a format and almost always have a subtitle:
[Attention-Grabbing Phrase]:[Description of the Book]
Self-help books demonstrate this formula with the following titles:
- The 4-Hour Work Week: Leave the 9-5, Travel the World, and Become Rich
- Transform fear and self-doubt into power, tranquillity, and peace with the self-love habit.
- A Proven Method to Accept Yourself, Strengthen Your Inner Self, and Thrive: The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook
So what should you consider when choosing the title for your own book? Let’s perform a quick linguistic study of the typical title components used in this genre.
6. Always cite your sources
You probably won’t be the first person to ever write on your subject or even offer advice on it. Don’t feel like your concept has been “stolen”; different people can offer different, yet nonetheless helpful, advice on the same topics.
Recognizing those who have contributed to your research and giving them credit for their contributions is crucial. Add to them or make them bigger if you like, but never claim ownership of them; doing so constitutes intellectual property theft at worst and highly uncool at best, as many unhappy college students will attest.
Instead, show grace by citing your sources, outlining any points of disagreement, and positioning yourself as one of many voices in this discussion. Consider Cal Newport as an example; his summary of earlier writings on the topic of technology’s distraction potential is a masterclass at outlining a current debate and establishing your position within it:
“[This idea] is not new. [Nicholas Carr’s] The Shallows was just the first in a series of recent books to examine the Internet’s effect on our brains and work habits. These subsequent titles include William Powers’s Hamlet’s BlackBerry, John Freeman’s The Tyranny of E-mail, and Alex Soojung-Kin Pang’s The Distraction Addiction—all of which agree, more or less, that network tools are distracting us from work that requires unbroken concentration, while simultaneously degrading our capacity to remain focused. Given this existing body of evidence, I will not spend more time in this book trying to establish this point.”
7. Give readers something extra at the end
Consider this an extra step that will be especially helpful to writers who want to earn a living from their work. If a reader finishes your book, you will already know that you share a common interest with them, which means they may have more to learn from you.
Mention in your book if you’re active on social media, teach a video course, or provide additional materials on related subjects for free on your platform. Even if you don’t already have any of these things, you can still provide a straightforward and cost-free resource that enhances your book, such as a printable checklist the reader can download for quick reference. The aim is to direct the reader to your website and provide them with a “reader magnet,” or something they can download in exchange for joining your mailing list. Which, if you don’t have one already, you’ll need to set up!
Self-help books can advance a writer’s career, become quite lucrative, and really assist readers in bettering their lives when they are skillfully written. You won’t regret taking the time to polish yours because it’s a win-win situation in the purest sense. Good fortune!