how to write a book


Writing a memoir or nonfiction book but afraid you’re not a “real” writer with a broad enough vocabulary and an ability to create elegant metaphors? Banish that fear. I can offer you three ways to energize your writing to bring it up to the next level so that your book is compelling and your ideas and anecdotes come alive for your readers.

1. Pick strong verbs.

Avoid variations on the verb “to be” where you can because “to be” and its forms are weak, wimpy verbs. Also, turn nouns into strong verbs that make your writing and storytelling more energetic and compelling.

 

Weak: Summer is my favorite season.

“Is” is a form of the verb “to be.”

Strong: I favor summer over all the other seasons.

“Favor” is a strong verb compared to “is.”

 

Weak: My partner made an assumption that I was not ready for change.

“Was” is weak.

Strong: My partner assumed that change would overwhelm me.

“Assumed” is stronger than “made an assumption” and it’s less wordy. “Was” is weak. Also, when you begin choosing verbs that could go into that clause, you start getting more precise with your words, which gives your writing more oomph. Here, turning the noun “assumption” into a strong verb helps tighten the writing, making it more energetic.

2. Use a thesaurus to find variations on words.

Look for the overuse of certain words in your writing. Did you use “creative” in the first sentence of a paragraph, “creativity” in the second sentence, and “create” in another paragraph on the same page? Even if your book is on creativity, you want to use a variety of words to get across the concept of creativity. A thesaurus can lead you to words such as innovative, resourceful, imaginative, originality, inventive, and more. Bonus tip: If it’s hard to find a synonym you haven’t already used, maybe you need to tighten the writing so it’s less repetitive.

3. Use figurative language and wordplay.

If you keep using the same words over and over, you’re in the company of the great writer J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, who said she became frustrated trying to find new ways of saying “corridor” or “hall” when describing the movement of characters. When it seems there’s no way to avoid overusing a word that’s key to your story, work, and message, consider using figurative language and wordplay.

Weak: I created my 40-day program for people who think they’re not creative to help them develop their creativity.

We get it! But using variations on “to create” over and over will bore your reader.

Strong: I developed my 40-day program for people who think they’re not “the creative type” to help them discover their inner playground child, the self that sees the world as a playground filled with possibilities for doing something different and innovative.

Here, the writer actually is using figurative language to energize her writing and help brand herself at the same time. As a developmental editor or ghostwriter who also does book publishing consultations, I would say, “Terrific! Now Google ‘inner playground child’ to see if anyone else is using it, and consider buying the dot com URL (www.PlaygroundChild.com) to reserve it—and setting up an Inner Playground Child professional page on Facebook to help secure your brand and a clever turn-of-phrase to go with it.” Branding is key for setting your book and your work apart from others’ in the marketplace, so I would help steer you toward words, phrases, and clauses that would be unique to you.

 

Need help with writing, strategizing, branding, and envisioning your nonfiction mind/body/spirit book? Contact me today and let me know where you are with your plan for your book and what kind of help you need. (Perhaps a Vision Plan is your next step?)

 

 

energize your writing book power

 

 

Why should someone hire you as a coach or consultant, subscribe to your blog or newsletter, come to see you speak, or hire you as a speaker?

Because, of course, you are awesome, original, and a unique expression of divine light in human form.

Okay, but besides that, why should someone pay you attention or money, or give you opportunities, when there are a umpteen people who do something similar?

Because truly, you are unique—and that allows you to create a brand for yourself that is different from every other brand.

Branding yourself with a book is an excellent way to expertise yourself and convey to potential clients, followers, and fans who you are and what your message and work is all about. Maybe you will give away your book, maybe you will sell it, and maybe you’ll do a combination of both. Whatever you choose, figure out your brand and brand yourself with a book that serves as your credibility card, giving weight to your credentials.

For branding purposes, you don’t have to write a full-length book of 50,000 to 80,000 words (or longer—self-help books years ago were typically 100,000 words but the average length has shrunk considerably). You don’t have to get a book deal, although you might want to work with a book publisher or a book publishing coach or service to handle the technical issues involved with turning your document into an actual physical book and eBook (electronic book).

Focus on these editorial questions: “What is my book about, how does it help the reader, who is my reader, and how will my book help establish my credibility as an expert?” for that’s at the heart of writing a book will solidify your brand. You can give the book away or sell it when you do personal appearances and have interviewers hold it up to the camera when you do local (or national) television shows or Skype interviews that get shared on social media. A snappy title for a book will help people remember you and do an Internet search to find you. Books help you build your platform for your work (consulting, teaching, etc.) just as your work helps you build your author platform. Your work supports your book and your book supports your work.

To start conceptualizing a book that fits into your brand, take your personal story of how you became interested in the work you do. After all, that is the very foundation of your brand and what sets you apart from others who do similar work. You have to be present in your brand, and your followers will want to know about you and your life. I give parenting advice and my brand is the Sensory Smart Parent, which derives from my coauthored book Raising a Sensory Smart Child. My expertise is in raising a child with sensory processing disorder who has “sensory smarts,” that is, he understands his sensory processing differences and can meet his sensory needs and self-advocate in a socially acceptable away. You, too, will want to be able to sum up your brand in a few words that capture what kind of parent, teacher, entrepreneur, healer, or speaker you are that sets you apart. You’ll want to be able to quickly describe your expertise.

My other brand is Cinematherapy, which is the title of a book I coauthored with my cousin Bev West. Like so many women, we find that movies are more than just entertainment, they’re self-medication that can cure anything from a bad hair day to the dumped-and-out-for-blood blues. (That’s a carefully crafted pitch we used everywhere in promotion.) Bev and I learned the art of Cinematherapy from our mothers and mutual grandmother who made time to watch movies as part of self-care, which for them meant letting themselves feel their emotions fully. Notice that Bev West and I are not film experts or therapists, yet we have an identifiable brand we can describe briefly and that is captured in the book’s title. Our story gives our spin on talking about movies a personal touch. And now you know the story behind the brand!

So let’s start with your story of how you came to have the idea for your work, whether it’s paid work or volunteer work, volunteering or coaching, healing or teaching, or whatever it is.

Know how to pitch your story. Everyone has a life about which a story can be told, says my client Carl Greer, PhD, PsyD, a Jungian analyst, clinical psychologist, shamanic practitioner, and author of Change Your Story, Change Your Life. But if you had to summarize your story of how you developed your message or came to do the work you do, what is your story? Take a look at short author biographies on the back of books you admire that are in your genre (for example, inspirational self-help or memoirs centered around life lessons the author learned). Take a look at what authors write in the introduction of their books. They don’t go on for many pages, but they do succinctly tie in what happened to them with how they became interested in their topic and developed expertise.

branding book author self-help life lessons

A book can serve as a credibility card. Figure out your brand based on your story and start thinking about a book tied into your brand.

Know what is universal about your story. Your personal story is absolutely key to your brand. Your unique perspective is shared by no one else, yet what you do can’t be so very personal that people who hear about you have no idea what you have to offer that they can use. They have to make a connection and say “I can relate to that person’s story! He seems like someone who would understand my situation and could help me.” Your message has to be clear, and people have to know what they are getting from you that will help them with their problems and challenges. Your services may be nutritional coaching, helping mothers of babies to find time for self-care, or training professionals to be better at creating YouTube videos that help sell their products and services. Those are common services with universal appeal. A story such as “I came to be a nutritionist because I grew up eating poorly and after becoming very sick, I taught myself about nutrition” is universal. That’s a good start to branding yourself because it’s rooted in your story, but you need to go further, so read on.

Know what is compelling about your story. Perhaps there is a startling, dramatic detail to your story, such as that you nearly forgot your baby in your car because you didn’t take time for self-care and that woke you up to the urgency of this common, universal problem of new mothers not taking care of themselves. Perhaps your own YouTube videos got such devastating bad reviews saying that you seemed stiff and authentic that you vowed to learn how to overcome your stilted performances and now you teach and coach others into creating awesome videos that sell their products and services. Think about emotional extremes–what would make someone go, “Wow, that’s devastating/hilarious/amazing!” when hearing your story. Strong emotions strengthen brands, so find the emotionally compelling aspects of your story.

Find what is different in your approach or voice. Maybe your business model is different from others’ because your approach is different: You coach people with check-ins every week, or you send them daily reminders through mobile devices to keep them on track. Maybe your gentle, warm, kind approach sets you apart from others who coach people who are used to a “boot camp” approach. Ask your clients, fans, followers, and friends what they find different about your approach if you aren’t quite sure what makes you different. And really ponder what’s different in your approach or voice. Close your eyes, meditate for a moment, and pose the question, “What makes my approach unique?” See if an insight doesn’t appear.

What makes you different is key to your brand and to branding yourself with a book. Now I hope you are closer to figuring out your brand and a book that will establish that brand.

Questions? Comments? As always, I’m here to help you! Contact me and tell me where you are in your process of writing your book and where you’re stuck.

 

“What’s in it for me?” That’s a key question on the mind of a potential follower/book buyer who is interested in mind/body/spirit nonfiction, the type of book I work on. (Editors, like ghostwriters, specialize in certain genres.) Whatever you are writing, it should sit firmly in that sweet spot where you and your work meet up with someone else’s need or desire to become informed, amused,  inspired  invigorated, etc. When you conceptualize a memoir or self-help book based on your story of overcoming challenges, you need to remember the needs of your potential reader. She wants to learn how she, too, could be like you, and do what you have done. She wants to feel a bond with you. If you want to write a story about a series of terrible situations you survived, do that because it has meaning for you and because it can be a valuable step in your healing process. But don’t assume people want to share in your trauma. They have their own traumas to process. If you want to write mind/body/spirit nonfiction that inspires and educates others, you have to step back from your story and imagine what your reader wants to read. She wants to share in your recovery from abuse, low self-esteem, addiction, and so on. The story of your trauma should be just a small piece of the book you are writing for her.

 

self-help book or memoir

The story of your trauma should be just a small piece of the book you are writing for a reader of mind/body/spirit nonfiction.

 

I hear daily from would-be authors who want to write their story of trauma, and I tell them that if they want to write and inspire others, they need to focus on how they overcame the trauma. As a reader, I always want to know the answer to “What’s in it for me?” I hope the answer is, “An engrossing story that educates me on how I can overcome trauma in my own life.”

 

Karin Volo’s memoir, 1,352 Days, tells an absolutely harrowing tale of how she survived nearly four years of being locked up in a county jail fighting extradition to a foreign country where you’re presumed guilty, not innocent. When I worked with her as a developmental editor to tell the story in an inspiring way, I encouraged her to maintain riveting details about her painful experiences, including the shock and fear she felt when hauled away from an airport gate in handcuffs or locked into a cell with strangers who could have committed a horrific crime for all she knew. However, the story that resonated for me, and that I knew would resonate for readers, was the story of how she got through those years in which she was separated from her young daughters and family, how she kept sane and optimistic, and how she came to forgive herself and her ex-husband for their roles in bringing about this frightening series of events. The book is a memoir, but as a reader, you  will feel it’s about you and what you can do to own your role in bringing about difficulties in your life, and what you can do to change your habits of mind and behavior and let go of anger, resentment, and shame. It’s her memoir, but in essence, it’s about… YOU.

 

Other nonfiction books I’ve worked on are in the self-help vein, and have practical strategies, tips, exercises, and action plans for transforming your life. They incorporate stories and anecdotes, but those stories don’t go on page after page in exhaustive detail. I took my own story about discovering my son had sensory processing disorder, and learning how to help him, and wove it in my book Raising a Sensory Smart Child, but I kept the stories short. I deliberately tried to paint the scenes emotionally so other parents could relate to my experience. I made myself vulnerable on the page, because it’s always easier to take advice from an author who admits to her own failings. In short, in telling those stories, I was always aware of how my reader would feel reading them.
Here’s a trick for making sure your stories are as much about your reader as they are about you. Watch how often you write “I” compared to how often you write “you” or “we.” My general rules are as follows:

 

Consider using “we” to create a bond with your audience: “We parents know what it’s like…” “We all try and fail at times…” Consider using “you” to give advice or create an intimate conversation with the reader. “You can consult with an occupational therapist…” “You might want to look at how you approach your child when he’s totally absorbed in what he’s doing…” “You, too, might be feeling overwhelmed by all the choices…” If you use too much “we” language, it can start to sound as if you’re pontificating, so be cautious. In self-help, I favor “you” but will often switch from “you” to “we” when I’m concerned that the author might take offense at the assumptions I’m making about her.  Rather than write, “You play a role in your child’s inability to control his temper”–ouch!–I would write, “If our children are unable to control their tempers, we parents need to know that we play a role in that” or “We might hate to admit it, but we parents always play at least some role in our children’s inability…” I might stick with “you” language and write something like, “You may not realize it, but you could be playing a role in your child’s inability to control his temper.” People don’t like to read about their failings, and they don’t want you to be the expert on high telling them what they are doing wrong and never admitting you screw up, too, so make sure that your language reflects their need to feel connected to you instead of judged by you.

 

Never forget that you are writing for a reader, not just for yourself, and your writing will be much more engaging, and much more likely to attract followers to your work.

(P.S. Want more helpful advice on getting started writing and publishing your book? Sign up for my email newsletter!)

In my YouTube video on structuring a self-help book, I described the parts of a self-help book. Each of these parts helps you, the author, to take the reader on a journey, keeping them engaged and oriented as they go through a process of transformation (which is why self-help books are often called transformational nonfiction books). When you divide those parts of the self-help book into chapters, you are likely to end up with more than one chapter per part.

That said, you might find that one of those parts, such as the action plan, just needs to be a section of a chapter. When that’s the case, you probably will have exercises throughout the book.

Self-help books should have exercises for the reader to use to start understanding and applying the book’s ideas and strategies. An action plan in a self-help book gives them an overall strategy for using the individual exercises as well as the strategies over a period of time to build new habits. I’ve worked on books that have an action plan at the end of the book that lays out how to employ the strategies and exercises the reader has learned (an example is Goddesses Never Age by Christiane Northrup). However, the typical place for the action plan is within the book itself after the reader has been set up to truly understand the ideas and strategies they’ll be employing.

Also, consider having a list of takeaway points at the end of each chapter so that the reader can refer back to the key ideas presented in each chapter. 

Here’s a handy guide to the sections of a self-help book and how they can be broken into chapters:

Self-Help Book Contents

 

Introduction: How I Came to Write This Book and Do the Research Plus How to Use This Book/How It’s Organized

Part One, Defining the Urgent Problem

Chapter 1: The Urgent Problem (Don’t Worry—You’ll Solve It Thanks to This Book!)

 

Part Two, History of the Problem

Chapter 2: How You Came to Have This Problem (The History of Your Woes)

 

Part Three, Preparing for Action

Chapter 3: More of What You Need to Know Before Tackling Your Urgent Problem (Trust Me—It’s Important!)

 

Chapter 4: More of What You Need to Know Before Taking Action to Solve the Problem (No, You’re Not Done Learning Yet)

 

Chapter 5: Even More of What You Have to Know Before Taking Action (Be Patient—Each of These Chapters Is Necessary for You to Achieve Lasting Transformation)

 

Part Four, The Action Plan

Chapter 6: The Action Plan (What You’re Going to Have to Do To Transform, Including Exercises You Should Actually Do)

 

Chapter 7: More Details of the Action Plan (More of What You’re Going to Have to Do to Transform, Including More Exercises You Should Actually Do)

 

Chapter 8: The Action Plan in Action (What It Looks Like: Descriptions and Anecdotes So You Truly Understand How to Apply the Ideas and Strategies in This Transformational Nonfiction Book to Your Everyday Life)

 

Part Five, Troubleshooting/Maintenance/Challenging Times

Chapter 9: Troubleshooting When Problems Arise (Somewhat Unusual Circumstances That You Might Face)

 

Chapter 10: Expanding Outward (Maintaining Your New Habits, A Pep Talk to Keep You Going, And Advice on Connecting with Others Who Support Your New Habits)

 

Part Six: Looking Forward (Stay in Contact!)

Resources, Acknowledgements, Appendix, Endnotes Citing Sources, Recommended Reading, Etc., Ending with a Call to Action, Namely, “Stay in Contact and Join My Community” on the Last Page

Of course, you don’t have to have ten chapters. You might have six, twelve, or twenty-three. What’s most important is that the overall structure supports the reader’s journey, or what might be called a hero’s or heroine’s journey, that meets them where they are and takes them where they want to go. They start with identifying the problem (and being emotionally engaged by your book!) to feeling empowered to create new habits and sustain them. The idea is to experience personal transformation and even affect the world in a positive way, applying new strategies to interactions they have out in the community and even connecting with other like-minded individuals who are on a similar path. For example, recently, I worked on a self-help book that ended with advice on how to connect with other women in a sisterhood of support for sustaining the habits promoted in the book—how to communicate with them in ways that support and honor each other, how to overcome old wounds around being betrayed by other women, and so on.)

Readers of self-help books expect to read stories of others who took the journey and had struggles they can relate to. They also expect to receive practical guidance. Your self-help book’s exercises might include guided visualizations, journaling/workbook-type exercises, meditation/body scan exercises, and practical experiments such as trying out a new behavior every day (reciting affirmations, for example).

Now, that last piece about affecting the world in a positive way might sound lofty, but many people want to improve some aspect of their lives not just to alleviate discomfort or embarrassment, or make more money or have better relationships, but to expand on their joy by inspiring and encouraging others, attracting new clients and friends and partners, and improving how things work in our families, workplaces, and communities. Increasingly, I’m finding my clients are putting more consideration into what goes into this last part. Asking readers to join your community by signing up for your mailing list or a group you moderate on your site or on Facebook (such as a closed group) keeps people connected to your brand and participating in a larger conversation and movement. We’re all exquisitely aware of how much the world is changing and how strongly we want to affect it positively. I encourage those of you who are writing self-help to give some thought to what would be in the last part of your self-help book and how you will stay engaged on social media and through a mailing list, speaking events including workshops, and other outreach.

 

"Oh no! I have an URGENT PROBLEM I need to solve! Where is the perfect self-help book for me?"

“Oh no! I have an URGENT PROBLEM I need to solve! Where is the perfect self-help book for me?”

howtostructureselfhelpbookcontentshandyguidepeskewordmasonservices

A handy guide to the six-part self-help book structure with chapters listed.

Was this blog piece and handy self-help book structure guide helpful? I hope so! If you do get stuck, contact me at nancy@nancypeske.com and give me details so we can set up a consultation.

Wrapping up a book project is always bittersweet for me. As a developmental editor, I’m like a book’s “midwife”: I’m happy to see the baby born into the world, but sad that my role in helping the author go from a book idea to a book is over. After a book is completed, I try to take some time to revel in the pleasure of having helped yet another author get that book written and ready for publication. Then, I take some time to ponder what I learned from the experience. One of my most recent projects yielded the following testimonial, which hints at five keys to making your self-help book a huge success:

 

“I have longed dreamed of the day when writing a book wouldn’t be so difficult. When I discovered Nancy, that dream became a reality. She is a treasure whose organizational, research, and editorial skills are unmatched. Plus she’s fun!!” Christiane Northrup, MD, author of Goddesses Never Age: The Secret Prescription for Radiance, Vitality, and Well-Being 

 

What a marvelous endorsement! I’m deeply grateful to Dr. Christiane Northrup for her enthusiastic words. She’s always been a cultural innovator and knows how to connect her message with a book-buying audience.

 

So what are the five keys to making YOUR self-help book a huge success?

 

1. Have fun. Seriously, have fun. Don’t believe all those quotations by writers who talk about the agony of writing. If writing is agony for you, you need to look at why you’re doing it and what you need to heal in yourself to make the process a joy. Does your inner critic need to pipe down? Maybe you need to say, “Thank you for your concern, but I’m an excellent writer, and I need you to go away right now.” (Do a little “goblin work,” as Colette Baron-Reid describes in her book The Map, and see if that inner critic that intimidates you can be tamed!)

2. Don’t be afraid to break with your brand if your followers have given you clear signals they’re with you. Dr. Northrup was willing to take the risk of making her latest book incorporate more spirituality and metaphysics. She is in touch with her loyal followers on a daily basis through social media (she’s very active on Facebook) and tries out ideas to see how her followers react. She notices what resonates for them. That’s what gave her the courage to shift her brand in a new direction. Yes, it’s a risk, but it’s a risk based on her knowing her “peeps”!

 

self-help books developmental editor

Writing a self-help book? Don’t skip the research and outlining! Hire a developmental editor & make the process pleasant and FUN!

3. Be in touch with your followers and treat them like treasured friends. Yes, it’s time consuming to post on social media and interact with those who contact you, and heaven knows Facebook can be a time suck! But if your followers are willing to spread the word about your work, share announcements, and enthusiastically endorse you, take the time to acknowledge them when they contact you. You don’t have to respond to every single comment, but you do have to INTERACT with your fans. On Facebook, even big bestselling authors like Dr. Northrup and Marianne Williamson will reply to their followers. Do the same and when your book comes out, your fans will be eager to spread the word.

4. Do your research. It’s easier than ever to do research thanks to the internet. Check the original source of any quote by using Google Books and Amazon’s “search inside this book” feature. Use Google Scholar to locate original studies (and use ScienceDaily.com to get a sense of what’s out there and read a layman’s version of the research findings). If you want to check a fact or quote and find that the excerpts online are too short to allow you to see the context, order the book from your library using their website. Don’t just rely on your memory about something you “read somewhere.” Check your facts and see if there’s new research, too.

5. Organize and structure your book before you get too far into writing it. I can’t emphasize this enough: Don’t just write and write and then try to figure out how to structure what you’ve written. Get clear on your chapter outline first. Know what goes within each chapter. Work off outlines for each chapter. Writing an expanded chapter outline for a book proposal, even if you end up self-publishing the book, is a great way to start organizing and structuring your material.

 

Are you inspired to get help with structuring and conceptualizing your book? Are you ready for a vision plan call with me?

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