How to Write a Selfhelp Book
Writing a self-help book can be a challenging but rewarding endeavour. Self-help is a genre with a built-in audience. You name the problem, and there is sure to be someone struggling with it. If you’ve zoned on to a particular issue and have the passion to help people in the same situation, you need to know how to start.
With this post, we'll guide you through the basics, including developing the right idea and structuring your self-help book for the most significant impact on your reader.
Here are some steps to guide you through the process:
- Choose your topic: Start by identifying the area of self-help you want to write about. Please review your experiences and expertise, and consider what issues you have faced or helped others overcome. Your readers might be facing the same problems.
- You are well suited for the task if you are a teacher, doctor or caregiver or belong to an NGO that gives regular talks, workshops and courses. You must know what you're talking about. Like they say, "Know your song well before you start singing."
- Apart from that, from anger management to learning how to become a children's-party clown, you can choose to write about hundreds of self-help topics.
- You can write about anything, but what? You may already have something in your mind but be specific. Don’t choose broad topics like weight loss. Zoom in further and go for a case like weight loss for people with, say, polycystic ovary syndrome. You must narrow your audience to reduce the competition and to tell them you're unique. (There will be thousands of books out there about weight loss.)
- Connecting to your audience down to the smallest group is essential. Your title may appeal to fewer people, but your advice will be more direct and potent. If your topic is broad, you won't go deep. But for your self-help book to be most effective, it needs to focus entirely on one type of person and problem. Ask yourself whether your topic could be more specific. A hint: if you cannot imagine even one person who'd benefit from reading your book, you will likely be superficial.
- Understand your audience: Know who your book is aimed at, and tailor your language, tone and examples to their needs. Knowing your reader is critical when writing any book, but with self-help, it’s essential. You need to know who’s reading your book so that you can help them overcome their problem.
- As mentioned earlier, being too broad will dilute your efficacy. You don’t want to dispense generic advice to every person on the planet. You're not a taxi driver. It would be best to have a clear picture of your reader because that’s who you will speak directly to. Ask yourself:
- Who will read this book? Could you decide the demographics of your target reader? What is the reader’s age, location and gender? Think about your reader’s motivation. Why will this reader want to buy your book?
- Understanding your audience will help you write something tailored to their needs. Think of your self-help book as a conversation between you and the reader. When you know who’s listening, speaking directly to that person is more accessible.
- Research: Even if you think you know everything about the topic, research to ensure you get everything necessary. Read other self-help books, articles and studies related to your topic.
- After you have a satisfactory answer to your "who’s going to read your book" question, think about all the questions they’ll have on the subject. Make a list. Your list will help your research.
- Before you continue, address the elephant in the room: do you need to be an expert to write a self-help book? While having a doctorate from a prestigious university certainly won’t hurt, some of the best self-help books are written by those without a PhD. Real-life experience is often better.
- To write a self-help book, you'll need life experience, whether it’s professional or personal. Anyone can write a self-help book on any subject, but if you want yours to be successful, you need to back it up with real-life facts. And lots of research.
- Research and citations are always good, even if you know the subject well. You’ll need statistics to back up your opinion or, in some cases, contradict it. Look for case studies, medical data and other interesting stories. You can use all of this to enhance your book. Readers love stats, and they love anecdotes. Interweave these into your book.
- Research is easier to start online. Use Google liberally but don’t forget Q&A sites like Quora and other relevant forums.
- Look for what else is out there while you research. Check out other books on bookshop shelves on your subject. Take notes. Question:
- What did the authors do well (or poorly) in the books? Critique.
- How would the authors improve on their books?
- How is my book any different than what’s already out there? Perhaps, it’s your unique experience that's the difference.
- Have you overcome an extraordinary challenge? Could you find that unique angle? Your unique take will help you sell your book to an audience
- Create an outline: Write a comprehensive overview of your book's main points. This will help you stay organised and focused.
- There’s nothing worse than a self-help book that wanders off-message. You may enjoy digressions, but I assure you that the reader does not. The reader wants you to stay on course so that they may get the help they need as quickly as possible.
- By outlining, you’ll know what to discuss in each section to provide a more organised, thoughtful and helpful presentation for the reader.
- Below is a suggested (very) basic outline for your self-help book.
Write an introduction explaining who you are and why you’re qualified to write the book. Also, discuss why you decided to write this book. Did someone ask you to write it? What other reason?
Outline each chapter of your book. (Start with ten chapters and expand if necessary.)
Chapter 1: Explain the problem or the pain you're writing about. You can use this as your chance to connect with the reader through empathy.
Chapter 2: Introduce your solution. Please explain how you came to this solution and why it works. Here, include real-life examples, although you’ll also sprinkle some instances throughout the chapters. While you should also have your experience as an example, don’t just focus on yourself. Show how others used your advice to accomplish their goals.
Chapter 3 and after Give step-by-step solutions, each chapter building on the last.
Last chapter: Tie everything up nicely on a positive note. Encourage the reader to start on your recommended actions immediately. Ideally, at the end of each chapter, you’ll give the reader an assignment to complete.
- Write in a conversational tone: Avoid using jargon or academic language. Write in an effortless, casual style that is easy for readers to understand.
- Use personal stories and examples: Sharing your experiences and models can make your book more relatable and engaging.
- Include actionable steps: Provide practical and actionable steps for readers to improve their lives.
- Go through your book from beginning to end. What would be the first step towards reaching their goal? The next step?
- Assume the reader has no background in the subject besides recognising the problem. Guide the reader from recognising that problem to understanding the solution. You should treat your book as a 101 introductory course.
- Feel-good platitudes can only go so far. Keep the self-help book in the realm of practical advice. Don’t get too motivational and fluffy. Readers are desperate for solutions, not to feel good about being in pain.
- Include exercises at the end of each chapter. Activities add an interactive component and create an opportunity for the reader to gain small wins throughout the book.
- Include real examples: You need real-life examples of people who’ve taken your advice and accomplished their goals. Add credibility to your theories. It can't be a fluke if others have done it.
- Connect the dots: Help your reader understand how everything fits together, how one thing leads to another.
- Coming up with the perfect title for your self-help book: This can be very challenging. You don't want to be too esoteric or too generic. You want it to be attractive to the curious. Tour a good bookshop, and examine some of their titles. Ask yourself why some work and some don't. Please don't worry about fixing it. Test them out on friends who'll be honest. (Remember, you're trying to sell your book to hundreds of people, not just your four best friends.)
- Edit and revise: Once you have completed your first draft, take the time to edit and change your work. Consider working with a professional editor to help refine your writing.
- Seek feedback: Again, not from your four best friends. Share your manuscript with a person you trust for their honest feedback; neither a good friend nor an enemy. Use feedback to improve your book.
Summary: A self-help book is a long process. Please take some time to develop your ideas and your craft. You are creating a valuable resource to help people improve their lives.
Your Poetry Book
Publishing a poetry collection is an achievement for any writer, and there are many avenues to make it happen now than before. Traditional publishers (in theory, at least), small presses and self-publishing options have all opened new avenues for writers to get their work out there.
Traditional publishers are more established and reputable in the industry, but getting a publishing contract with them for poetry would be a major miracle. Getting accepted can be challenging for any poet, and it is almost impossible if you're a first-time author. There was a time when traditional publishers took some risks for art's sake, but not anymore. For one, traditional publishers are one of the most risk-averse business people in the world, and very few books from even A-list authors (whatever the category) make the cut. Unfortunately, books of poetry sell poorly, and only a few hard-core buffs collect them.
Among Malaysian poets, Wong Phui Nam, Shirley Lim, Salleh ben Joned, and Cecil Rajendra paid their dues over decades for their current recognition, and none of them depended on their poetry books to pay the rent.
Conversely, small publishers may be more open to working with emerging writers. They have fewer resources than traditional publishers but can offer excellent editing, design, and distribution services. Theoretically, they can be more flexible when accepting manuscripts and working with authors. Unfortunately, they have the rent issue because poetry is a hard sell.
Thanks to the rise of digital publishing, self-publishing is now the best option for poets. Self-publishing allows poets to have complete control over their work, from design to distribution and can be a great way to get their work in front of readers.
GETTING YOUR COLLECTION READY
Reading, studying and researching the works of masters and other poets is a crucial part of becoming a skilled poet or writer. Reading can help you better understand the craft, build your vocabulary and improve your ability to convey emotions and experiences through words.
In addition to reading, another essential aspect is regular practice. Writing regularly can help you develop your unique voice, hone your skills and experiment with different styles and forms of poetry. It's also important to seek feedback from others, whether from a writing group or a trusted friend or mentor, to help refine and improve your work.
Focus on concrete, sensory details to evoke emotions and create vivid imagery. Using specific images and features can help readers connect with your work and make your poetry more memorable.
Writing is a process that takes time to develop and to find your voice. Don't be discouraged by rejection or criticism but use it as an opportunity to learn and grow. It takes dedication, practice, and a willingness to learn.
What's the story behind your poem?
The narrative is a powerful tool for improving your writing. Every good poem should have a story, whether with a beginning, middle and end or a more abstract exploration of emotions or ideas.
Understanding your story will help you clarify your poem's central theme or message and guide your writing towards a more focused and cohesive structure. It can also help you identify gaps or inconsistencies and inspire new ideas and directions.
Your poem doesn't have to be literal or straightforward. It could be an exploration of emotions, a meditation on a particular idea or a reflection on a specific moment or experience. The key is to be clear about what you're trying to convey and use your poem's structure to guide your readers towards your message. With the story of your poem, create a more engaging and meaningful piece of writing that resonates with your readers and leaves a lasting impact.
A small project is less daunting for beginners to ease into poetry. Writing just a few lines can help you focus on the essential elements of poetry, such as word choice, imagery and rhythm, without being overwhelmed by a more extended narrative or structure.
Short forms like haiku or tanka can be a great way to start small and explore the possibilities of poetry. They can also help you develop your ability to convey emotions and ideas concisely and powerfully.
Even a short poem can contain a lot of depth and meaning if well crafted. You don't need an epic poem to create something impactful. The most straightforward ideas and images can be the most profound.
Starting small can help you build confidence and inspire you to continue exploring the possibilities of more extended structures and complex narratives.
Don't edit while writing.
Separate the editing process from the writing. It can be tempting to perfect your writing as you go along, but it can hinder your creativity and stop you from exploring new ideas and possibilities.
The first draft is about getting all your ideas on paper, letting your creativity run wild, and not worrying about mistakes.
Move on to the editing process after your first draft, and focus on the technical aspects: your grammar, punctuation, word choice, structure, and flow.
Editing is just as important as writing, but it's a different process. Separating them will allow you to explore your creativity and take risks with writing without worrying about perfection. This will create a more original poem.
Read your poetry aloud.
Poetry is meant to be read aloud, which is also an essential part of the editing process; hear how the words and phrases sound and flow together. Besides helping you identify awkward or clunky phrasing, repetition and other issues, this will help you understand its underlying rhythm and musicality and how it will sound to someone else.
Write what you know.
Know your song well before you start singing. Research your topics so you know what you are talking about. Incorporate emotional truths you have experienced and have become part of your life. Poetry allows more freedom than other writing forms but still requires following rules and executing good writing. Connecting with other poets and critique partners can help you grow as a writer. Refrain from agonising over starting; write and worry about refining and editing later.
Most poetry books contain between 30 and 100 poems, so it’s essential to do writing exercises and write poems constantly. Only when you have a substantial collection, do you start organising them? A book of poetry isn’t simply all your work sandwiched inside a book cover. Choose your poems carefully and arrange them so they seem to converse with one another, unified by a theme, a style or poetic form, and placed in a particular order. Finally, make sure your work is free of typos.
What type of poetry do you want to write?
To attract a poetry book buyer, you must have a substantial collection of poems that resonates with the readers. Not all poetry is equal for all readers. You may appeal to one segment but to others (until you reach the A-list, then you'd appeal to everyone).
For example, if one like a soothing storyteller, Wong Phui Nam's works would appeal, or if you like dirt-under-finger nails dirty and earthy, one would likely gravitate towards Salleh ben Joned (this writer's favourite). Lovers of protest poetry would certainly love Cecil Rajendra. Then, there's Shirley Lim (the first Asian to be awarded the Commonwealth Poetry Prize for her first poetry collection, Crossing The Peninsula, in 1980) is, in this writer's opinion, the closest to a Malaysian A-list poet there is (although she now lives in the US).
There are so many categories. What's yours?