6 Tips for Writing a Self-Help Book

A common trend is to write a memoir that includes self-help information. But don’t be fooled. That book is a memoir.

If you’re going to market your book as a self-help book, which is a great genre with an already built-in audience, it must have more self-help content than memoir-type content.

And it must stand out from the crowd.

It seems like everyone is writing a self-help book.

Anyone who has learned anything in their life thinks they can turn that into a self-help book.

But that only works if you have a unique perspective to offer and/or you write a standout book.

So how do you stand out in an oversaturated market?


Invite Reader to Take Action

Many attack self-help books, saying they don’t work and are pointless. And they have a point.

Take the argument from The Good Men project:

You’re drawing from the experience and momentum of their own lives but for someone else to get the same momentum from reading their book is very difficult. Instead, their teachings will likely inspire them for a short period of time but it won’t be enough to steer them in a different direction in their lives over the long run.

So as the author, you obviously can’t control if someone is going to be motivated enough to actually take action.

But you can at least ensure you guide them in that direction.

That starts with giving actual practical advice, not just inspirational messages.

Then from there, don’t assume that your readers will come up with the action steps themselves. You may think your content makes it obvious what you want the reader to do, and you may be right.

But even if it is obvious, it is easier to ignore if it isn’t spelled out as a clear action step.

So include clear action steps or exercises.


Narrow Topic

Write a book that is for a specific audience. Sure, that means you have fewer people who will be interested in your book, but more people who will actually appreciate your book.

If you have a generic topic, you don’t have time to go deep into it. And going deep into a topic is where learning takes place.

Most people know the surface-level content.

Don’t write about prioritizing your life. Write about working moms making time for their priorities.

Don’t write about achieving goals. Write about making goals to change bad habits. Or making goals to overcome anxiety.


Have a Unique Voice or Angle

Once you have narrowed your topic, you need to ensure you bring your unique understanding and perspective to that topic.

Every topic has already been written about by someone.

But no one will write about it the same way you will as long as you bring a unique voice or angle to the topic.

So if your topic is about making goals to overcome anxiety, then perhaps your unique angle is all the wrong goals and methods that didn’t work. Maybe you struggled for a long time to find the one that would work, so they can learn from you what not to do.

Then they can learn what to do.

Maybe your unique voice is also the type of anxiety you had or the way your anxiety manifested.

By bringing in your experiences, you bring something unique to the table.


Include Research

People like reading stories, yes. I just discussed how you want to bring in your own unique story. So do include examples from your life and real-life examples from others implementing what you’re sharing.

But if all you’ve got is your personal experience, your book won’t be as credible.

And worse, don’t market your book that is all about overcoming a personal struggle as self-help. That is a memoir! A memoir can include self-help tips, sure. But if the bulk of the book is your personal story, you’re going to have angry self-help readers if you label it as self-help.

Self-help is a specific genre with expectations, and one is that your book will include stats and research.

I don’t care how much of an expert you are on the topic. If you don’t do any research before writing your self-help book, you’re doing it wrong.

As you research, you’ll find stats to bolster your credibility, case studies, and interesting stories that you can use so you’re not just using your personal story. People like to read stories. But self-help readers don’t want a memoir.

They want a self-help book that includes research and stories from the author’s life and others’ lives.


Use a Clear Structure

I’ve edited some self-help books that read like the author just sat down and wrote out their thoughts about the topic as it came to them.

While some authors like to be what are called “pantsers”—writing without an outline—it doesn’t work as well for self-help books.

You want to help a reader solve a problem, and that isn’t going to happen without some careful planning to guide them through all they need to know and when they need to know it.

So make sure you take the time to write down all your chapter topics and group them logically. They can be grouped thematically or progressively.

You may even consider dividing your book into sections. Perhaps the first section contains the chapters about identifying and acknowledging the problem. The second section contains chapters about developing a plan. The third section is about implementing it, etc.

If you aren’t sure how to organize it, look at how others organized theirs. Read blogs on the art of organization. I have one blog that might help: Effective Organization for Nonfiction Books.

But do not just wing it. That doesn’t work with self-help!


Use Effective Transitions

Along with clear organization, you must ensure your reader can follow your thoughts and see how everything fits together.

A common problem I see in the self-help books I edit is a lack of effective transitions.

When you shift into a new subtopic, use a transition that helps the reader see how one idea leads to the other.

To write effective transitions, find the connection between the two topics. Once you have the connection, mention the old topic and bring in the new.

Example

Topic #1: There are people, culprits, in your life that can keep you from dating effectively.

Topic#2: You must determine why you want to date.

Suggested transition: After you eliminate the culprit(s) in your life, take a look at yourself. What if you are the culprit? If your reason for dating isn’t a good one, you may be preventing yourself from effective dating. 

Connection shown in bold in the transition: The second happens after the first; the second topic may be another aspect of the first; and both are ways to ensure you are dating effectively.


Conclusion

Self-help books will always have an audience, but it is an oversaturated market with a lot of bad ones out there.

If you’ve got a self-help book in you, then don’t let the market and bad ones deter you. Make sure to invite readers to take action, narrow your topic, bring your unique voice or angle, include research, and use a clear structure and effective transitions.

Subscribe

If you would like to subscribe to my blog, click the button below.

About Me

With a passion for words, collecting quotes, and reading books, I love all things writing related. I will admit to having a love-hate relationship with writing as I am constantly critical, but I feel a grand sense of accomplishment spending hours editing my own writing.

Lest you think I don’t have much of a life, I should add I also enjoy dancing, singing, acting, eating out, and spending quality time with my husband and adorable kids.

I’m pretty cool. And you may want to be my friend. But in order for that to happen, you will need to know more about me than this tiny box allows.

Intrigued?