write a self-help book


Why should someone buy your transformational nonfiction book? Because you’re going to solve an urgent problem of theirs.

Back when I was an in-house editor at G. P. Putnam’s Sons and HarperCollins, I used to evaluate book proposals (selling tools used to try to get editors like me to give authors book deals). The book proposals for transformational nonfiction books—think business books, self-help, parenting, lessons on achieving success, and so on—had to make a compelling case that the book would solve an urgent problem for the reader.

When you write a transformational nonfiction book, you’re promising readers you can help them go from problem to solution. You’ll help them achieve this goal by offering them information and strategies, yes, but you also want them to feel they have to buy your book right now. It’s emotion that draws people in. Make your potential reader experience a sense of urgency about their problem and finding a solution that will end their headaches and frustration at last.

 

And keep this in mind: A reader’s urgent problem your book will solve might actually be a combination of problems.

 

My book, Raising a Sensory Smart Child, was written for the parent who wants to know how to help their child who has sensory processing issues. When I first began thinking of writing the book, there was information out there in bookstores and on the Internet but not enough for a parent like me to have a solid sense of what to do to get my child’s teeth brushed and to prevent him from melting down at the grocery store. Plenty of parents were stressed out and confused about what to do for their kids. My book would meet that urgent problem by offering even more information and strategies than they currently had. However, I knew that beyond needing those things, parents of kids with sensory processing issues are afraid that if their kids are struggling to function well (which is the case when kids with sensory issues don’t have them adequately addressed), kids are likely to become demoralized and give up on themselves. No parent wants that for their child so I knew that addressing that particular fear was important. My coauthor and I reassured potential readers with the promise that the book could help them go from being lost, confused, and worried (as I once was) to feeling competent and capable and actually helping their child manage their sensory issues (where I ended up after learning about sensory issues and developing “sensory smart” parenting strategies).

Problem and promise.

Both were infused with emotion.

My expertise was in going from where they were to where I was—an effective parent of a happy kid who yeah, had sensory processing differences, but that’s okay and even a good thing in some ways.

The narrative arc of my story was emotionally compelling.

I wanted to make sure people believed and felt that if I could do it, they could, too.

 

Increase the emotional reassurance factor of your book and you will have an easier time getting people to buy it.

 

Your narrative arc of going from your worst point to your greatest success increases the emotional factor of your book if you make your readers feel your fear, shame, and distress back when you were at your low point and feel the excitement of having reached your high point. Make them feel you empathize with their plight. That will help you attract readers who are in crisis or nearly frozen with anxiety about what will happen if they don’t fix their urgent problem.

If your readers have the problem you’ve identified but you’re concerned it might not feel very urgent to them, you can increase the emotional impact of your book by warning them of what might happen if they don’t make a change now—they might end up where you did! Simultaneously, you can encourage them to believe they can get to where you are—success!—if only they read your book and use your strategies for addressing their problem. In sum, you can make their problem feel more urgent. And you can offer the tantalizing promise of solving it at last.

 

Effectively convey the urgent problem and your promise of helping them solve it.

 

Once you have identified your potential reader’s problem or problems, and you’ve offered a promise, you’ll need to make sure you clearly and effectively convey them. Use your title and subtitle combination, your book’s jacket, the short description of your book they’ll find on its back, and copy and images on your author website to get across the problem and promise. Also, spell out the urgent problem and your promise for solving it at the beginning of your book. Keep in mind, too, that you’re going to want your chapter titles to reflect the reader’s ability to go from where they are (having an urgent problem) to where they’re going to end up (problem solved or nearly so because they’re now better informed, have a clearer sense of what they need to do, and feel more confident). What’s the promise? What can they actually achieve? What will their journey from problem to promised outcome look like as they read your book?

As you try to identify the urgent problem or problems you reader has, consider the following:

How long has your reader had this problem? Is it ongoing and frustrating? Has the amount of stress the problem has caused them and is causing them enough to make them, well, pretty desperate for help now?

Does your reader feel he has tried everything? Has he become skeptical about whether the problem can be solved or at least addressed sufficiently that it no longer bothers him? Can she start believing there’s hope because of your inspiring story that led to your writing your book?

Have you anecdotes about working with people just like your reader who thought there was little hope for change and who discovered that by using your ideas and strategies, they were able to achieve it after all?

What’s your reader willing to give up or do to make the urgent problem go away at last? Is he willing to commit to an action plan for change? Is she willing to question old ideas that have her stuck in a failure mindset?

The greater your reader’s frustration, the greater her urgency to finally find a solution. The greater the impact of the problem on your reader’s life, the more motivated she is to give your book a try.

Maybe you have the right action plan and approach that no one else has offered.

Maybe your personality, voice, and approach will make your book the game-changer for your reader because unlike other books, your book gives them hope for the first time in a long time.

Maybe your hand-holding, compassionate way of talking about their problem will make them set aside their shame and embarrassment and tackle their problem at last.

Increasing the emotional impact of your book’s message will definitely give you a better shot at having your transformational nonfiction book sell. Even more than that, it will make your book more effective at helping readers to transform their lives for the better. Believe me, hearing from a reader that your book changed their life feels fantastic. THIS is why you’re writing your transformational nonfiction book!

 

Need help writing your business book, self-help book, life lessons book, or other transformational nonfiction book? Contact me and let me know what your expertise is, what type of book you have started to write, and what kind of help you feel you need.

 

transformational nonfiction books solve an urgent problem

write a self-help book


Are you feeling lost as you’re structuring chapters in a how-to or self-help book you’re writing? Did you get lost as one section of chapter one started to grow like creeping Charlie on your lawn, taking over the grass? Do you feel as if you’re repeating yourself over and over again, but you don’t know where to first introduce an idea and how to acknowledge that it’s familiar to the reader when you mention it a second or third time? Developmental editors like me help authors out of the weeds when they have trouble structuring chapters or sections. If you aren’t working with a developmental editor, here are some simple tips for structuring book chapters that might help (and of course, you can check with me to see if I’m available to get you out of the weeds, too):

First, don’t try to cram in too many ideas. Aim for five to eight topics per chapter. That’s true whether you are writing a full-length book or a mini-book. If your book is a “life lessons” book of transformational nonfiction, and the title is something like Fifty Ways to Make Your Fifties Fabulous, one topic per chapter makes sense since you’ll have fifty short chapters. However, if the number of lessons is smaller and you want each lesson to be a chapter, you’ll want subsections in each chapter to break up the text. For example, if you want to write The Six Laws of Marketing to Millennials, you’re probably going to need several sections for each law or chapter.

Second, arrange your ideas in a logical order. You might want to write your ideas on cards or simply type them into a document and move them around to get a feel for what order might work. In a book chapter, consider making an emotional connection or offer them a provocative idea at the beginning. Start with a story or some a startling statistic, statement, or fact. That can lead the reader into your first topic. You want to meet the reader where they are to get them where you want them to go, so make a connection right away.

Third, justify or change your order. Explain to yourself why you want to cover one topic before you cover another. You probably have a good reason and don’t realize it! As you justify to yourself why topic 2 comes before topic 3, you will get a better sense of how to write a transition from that topic to the next when you are writing the actual chapter. If you realize your order doesn’t make sense or doesn’t work quite right, it might be that a topic is a subtopic of one of the others. You can write it up as a subtopic in your outline for the chapter and perhaps give it its own header that is a different size from the headers for your main topic. You might even end up placing some material in a sidebar or boxed text that can be read after a section of text has been read. Sidebars and boxed texts are a convenient workaround when you have material that doesn’t smoothly fit into the main text. You might use a sidebar for text that is focused on resources (how to find a practitioner, nutritional or educational testing that can be done, etc.) or that serves as a warning, practical tip, or fun fact.

developmental editor nonfiction

 

Fourth, keep in mind that your entire book doesn’t have to fit into chapter one. It’s easy to get bogged down as you think about all the things you want to write about in your book. Remember, chapter one’s purpose is to meet the reader where they are and make a connection with them and then offer the main points that will be explored in detail later in the book. Phrases such as, “Later in this book,” and “As you will learn,” can help you cut yourself off before you go into too much detail on a topic that you want to explore at length later on. You don’t want to overdo the references to what’s coming, but you also don’t want to pile everything into chapter one.

Again, if you get completely stuck in your structuring and writing, consider hiring me as a developmental editor. I can pull you out of the weeds and convince you that you truly can conquer the task of writing a how-to or self-help book, business book, parenting book, life lessons book—or even a memoir. You might want to check out my services and testimonials pages to learn more about how I work with clients and what their experiences have been.

I especially love this endorsement from a recent client:

“I am an experienced author who has sold 1.1 million copies worldwide. Nevertheless, I got stuck on book number four and was paralyzed for five years. In one conversation, Nancy gave me a piece of advice that simplified a complex problem and actually got me excited about the book once again. Thank you, Nancy!”—Randi Kreger, Author of Stop Walking on Eggshells

Need help structuring your transformative nonfiction book? Contact me.

write a self-help book


Many aspiring authors contact me about help with writing a book based on what they’ve learned as a result of their experiences. They want to help others by sharing their story, wisdom, and advice in a book but don’t know how to start to write a memoir, novelization, or self-help book based on their experiences. I help them by consulting and coaching them (learn more HERE), ghostwriting their book (learn more HERE), or doing developmental editing on their manuscript (details HERE). The work often starts with a one-hour consultation call.

Now, I am all for writing your book solely for the sake of catharsis and self-expression. I think more people who are in a healing process should write about their experiences, as an act of self-empowerment. That said, writing for an audience that has its own needs is different from writing for yourself. Don’t confuse the two. Your needs and desires have value, but they are not always the same as a reader’s needs and desires.

Maybe you already are certain that you want to write a self-help book and weave your story, and other stories, into the book and use it as a sort of credibility card for your work but also as a key tool for your clients and followers. Maybe you feel strongly that a memoir is the best way to get your story out there and inspire and educate others.  If you’d rather not use real names, or you would like to explore what might have happened instead of just what did happen, you can think about turning your story into a novel. You can also consider writing a book of life lessons, with advice based on your story, and don’t offer any specific advice to readers.

If you’re struggling to conceptualize your book, here is how to get started.

* Write. Notice I didn’t say “write your book.” Some people free write until they reach hundreds of pages of material and there’s nothing wrong with doing that, but it’s easy to get attached to what you’ve written, and what’s on the page may not work as the basis of your book. Start small. Write a blog piece, a scene, or a chapter. Play around with it: Write it in first person, then second, then third. Write it as fiction or as a memoir, or as an anecdote illustrating a point, like you would find in a self-help book. Explore your story and your message from various angles to get a feel for how you want to tell it.

* Look at your goals. What audience would you like to reach, and why? What other types of books are they reading? Where do they hear about those books? Do they buy books based on advertisements, word-of-mouth recommendations, Facebook posts, bookstore displays–what is the main way of reaching them? Why do they trust the authors of those books? Are they drawn in by the power of the author’s personal story? Are they impressed by the author’s work as a therapist or coach? These are the kinds of questions that will help you to put yourself in the shoes of your potential reader and know how to write for that individual and how to get him or her to know about your book. You’ve thought about what you want to write. Now think about who wants to read it.

* Look at comparative books. Know what other books and information are out there. What is your fresh idea, take, or spin? If you know you want to write a self-help book on a particular topic, be aware that your idea probably isn’t completely unique but that’s okay. Give it your own take.

* Check in with your gut. Does it feel right to do a memoir, or even a novelization, of your story? Do you want to share life lessons, or give advice? Do you want to create exercises that will help the reader to learn what you learned, only in a more pleasant way? Get in touch with your instincts about the book you are meant to write–and think about whether you might be meant to write more than one book!

How do you get started writing your story?

* Consider collaborating or procuring a foreword. I knew I wanted to write a practical guide for parents whose children had sensory processing disorder because it was incredibly difficult to access that information back when my son who has SPD was two years old and newly diagnosed. There were NO practical books that could help me figure out how to brush his teeth or calm him when he was having a sudden tantrum. I teamed up with my son’s occupational therapist, who was not only treating him for SPD but who had also done some writing herself, to create Raising a Sensory Smart Child, a book that offered two valuable perspectives and appealed to parents and professionals. If you’re thinking you don’t have the right credentials to write your self-help book, find someone to team up with as a collaborator, or ask this person to write a valuable foreword for your book. I ended up with both a collaborator and a foreword writer with an important name in the special needs community (Temple Grandin).

* Start your outreach now. Begin building your author platform. Get a Facebook page and a blog if you’re going to create a memoir or a nonfiction book. If you want to write a novel, start writing regularly and working with a writer’s group to receive and give feedback and support (your fellow writers may well become your loyal readers!). If you’re blogging or on Facebook, ask your followers for feedback. Ask them questions to get them involved in a conversation, and respond to their answers. Encourage them to subscribe to your blog, like your page, and give you their email addresses so you can contact them in the future (you should offer a free gift, or a just a promise to send them information but never to sell their email address to anyone). Think about building a community of followers who talk among themselves and to you about your topic. These followers will not only buy your book when it’s ready, but they will also spread the word about the book or any other products or services you want to promote–not because you pay them but because they believe in you and your work and message. You can learn more details about starting to build your author platform on Facebook in my new eBook 25 Powerful Ways to Get Engagement on Facebook.

* Make a habit of learning a little more every week. Notice I didn’t say make this a goal: I said make this a habit! Every week, schedule time to learn more about your topic and your audience and more about using social media, creating webinars and teleseminars, marketing, doing workshops and lectures, and getting the word out about your work and your message. If you don’t make time to do it, you will become overwhelmed by all there is to learn once your book is actually written. Set some boundaries so you don’t get sucked in to using social media so often that you don’t get any writing done–it can be addictive!

* Talk to a book publishing consultant or developmental editor early on in the process. It can be invaluable to toss ideas around with a knowledgeable publishing insider. It’s energizing to have a clear picture of your overall strategy and clarity about what you can do write now to get started creating your book. If you are going to contact me, do give me some details about your book project and whether you’re leaning toward self-publishing or building your platform then aiming to get a book deal. We can schedule a brainstorming session and focus in on your brand, your plan, and your action steps for getting closer to your goal right now. Email me at Nancy at nancypeske dot com and check out the services page on my website, www.nancypeske.com.