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Writing Self-Help Books

The number of self-improvement books has boomed in recent years. Most experts attribute this trend to the increased pace of our lives. Books with topics ranging from spiritual enlightenment to computer knowledge line the shelves of bookstores around the globe, helping readers with self-betterment.

Research, Credibility, and Rapport

The business of writing self-help books is about establishing credibility as an expert in your subject area. If you expect readers to seek your book for advice, you need to give them a reason to believe that you know more than they do.

Before beginning to write your self-help book, it’s important to complete extensive research. This research will be obvious to your reader and show your commitment to the subject matter. The use of statistics can help you make points, show how certain techniques work, or let your readers know they’re not alone.

Part of your research should include getting to know your target audience. Examine the type of person that you’ll be writing for, so you can develop a positive rapport and gain their trust by understanding who they are. It’s okay to address your reader as “you” and refer to yourself as “I.” This develops a warm and supportive tone that is imperative in a self-help book.

Organization and Thoroughness

Be sure to be absolutely thorough in your writing. Assume that your reader knows nothing about the subject you are discussing. Proceed in a step-by-step fashion to avoid confusion. Inspirational sentences and theories can be important, but remember to stay focused on the practical.

Organization is important with all writing, but especially significant in the self-help genre. Building your book around a framework of headings and subheads can help tremendously during writing and allow your reader to follow along easily.

Each chapter should focus on just one skill or theory, helping the reader know what they should be taking away from the material. It’s all right to use shorter paragraphs in order to limit each paragraph to a single idea, beginning the paragraph with a general statement of what it’s about.

Anecdotes and Examples

In this genre, anecdotes are absolutely essential to helping your reader apply your ideas to a real-world context. People love to read about the experiences of other people, especially when it relates to a problem they’re having themselves. While narrating the anecdotes, don’t forget to apply the concrete principles of your book. This should not be a story about someone, but a firm example of how your principles work. A long-running example for a process with multiple steps assists the reader in understanding how the process can be applied to everyday examples.

Exercises and Summaries

Unique to the self-help genre is the need for self-reflection and interaction. To add value to your book, exercises in each chapter to help readers absorb what they have just read and apply it to their lives. Self-help books are not meant to be read for leisure, but to engage the readers with new and useful concepts. The model of “instruction, example, exercise” works wonderfully with self-help books.

It’s also useful for your readers if you summarize at the end of each chapter. Since your book is about knowledge, not entertainment, repetition is advisable to drive home information. This outlines the important points and helps the reader commit the information to memory. Be careful not to overdo it, though; be as clear as possible the first time.

Marketing Your Self-Help Book

The best marketing tool is word of mouth. Since the success of your self-help book depends on your credibility, a positive buzz about your book is imperative.

Create Marketing Materials

One of the most important elements of your marketing campaign will be your author Web site. The Web site does not have to be detailed, but should contain information potential customers need to learn about your book, hear what others are saying about the novel, and purchase it. Your Web site is an excellent place to post reviews, information about upcoming author events, and offer visitors free content (such as self-assessment quizzes or articles relating to the issues discussed in your book).

Author business cards or book-specific bookmarks (including your ISBN, Web site address, and other important book information) are also excellent ways of reaching your market. Local bookstores will probably be willing to place your bookmarks or business cards close to the register for patrons to pick up. Also, contact book fairs or conventions about getting your promotional items placed in gift bags. These materials act as a reminder of your book to potential readers.

Build Relationships

Make a list of privately owned bookstores in your area. Owners usually love to get to know writers and can be your greatest ally when it comes to selling your book. If the store holds book signings or other author-based events, be sure to become a familiar face during them.

Building relationships with bookstore chains can be more difficult. Self-published authors should contact the Small Press Department at the chain to find out how to get the book considered for placement in the store. You will most likely be asked to send your book and a detailed marketing plan, so be prepared before you call.

Most areas have book groups that are open to hearing from authors about new books to read. Contact groups to suggest that your book be added as one of the selections, and then try to attend the discussion of your book. Creating a list of questions to guide the conversation can be especially helpful to you.

Make all trips that you take marketing opportunities. Bring some business cards or bookmarks when you visit friends or family members elsewhere. This gives your book more exposure than it would get in a local market.

Remember to network. Hang out where other writers do and build strong relationships. These alliances can help you market your book. Other writers may have thought of things that you wouldn’t have on your own, and vice versa. Stick with your fellow writers to make your book successful.

Get Press

Start building a list of magazines, newspapers, e-zines, and Web sites that might review your book. Reviews keep buzz about your book from dying down and offer third-party validation. Don’t forget to include publications that have to do with the subject matter of your book. Even if the publications don’t offer reviews regularly, they will probably consider writing one for a book that is closely linked to their subject matter. Ask authors of the reviews to write a tag line for you to use in your promotional items.

Many publications may also consider writing a feature instead of a review. This is also helpful in getting your name and book title out to the public. Remember, many authors request reviews and features. Be prepared to offer the reviewer reasons why your book is interesting and why you are worth reviewing or featuring.