In the realm of non-fiction literature, the genre of self-help holds a unique and powerful position. Self-help books have the potential to inspire readers to take action to genuinely improve themselves. Those who endeavor to write such books are a special breed. It takes an individual of compassion, insight, clarity, and wit to create an engaging manuscript, filled with words that will motivate their readership. Beyond that, it takes focus and determination to make it through the grueling writing process. For the would-be writer of a self-help book, it can be tough to know where to begin. (Image Credits: Karolina Grabowska/Pexels)
The journey from deciding to write a self-help book to completing it is a long and daunting one. It’s inevitable that certain doubts and questions arise. Are specific credentials needed to write about certain subjects? What is the most effective way to organize the material? What are some clever ways to make a self-help book relatable?
As a manner of addressing these and other commonly asked questions, experienced Venture Capitalist, Ron Bauer of Theseus Capital, provides the following concise guide meant to start any aspiring self-help author off on the right foot.
Choose a Specific Focus
The first thing any prospective self-help author must do is choose a specific focus for their book. There is certainly no shortage of subjects to choose from. It could be anything from ‘breaking bad habits’ to ‘becoming a better public speaker’. It is, however, very useful for the author to consider their own background, training, and unique skill-set when deciding on the subject for a book.
For example, if a would-be author happens to be a professional efficiency expert, they might do well to write a self-help book on how to stop procrastinating or something of that nature. It should be stated that there are certain subjects that ought to be avoided absent some significant training or institutional accreditation.
For example, unless the author holds a degree in psychiatry or psychology, it’s probably not a good idea to write a self-help book dealing with mental health conditions. I chose the area of Raising Capital for my first book and I am currently working on a second book that is focused on another area of specialty I have.
Perform Extensive Research
In order to maximize the help readers receive from the book, an author must make absolutely sure their information is as accurate and up-to-date as possible. This means extensive thorough research. That is to say, more than just a cursory search on the internet. Books on similar and related subjects should be read, scientific studies should be examined, and experts in the field should be interviewed.
Further, it ought to be kept in mind that when writing a work of non-fiction such as a self-help book, it’s extremely important for the author to keep detailed notes of all the research they conduct.
Write an Outline or Book Proposal
When crafting a book of any kind, writing an outline or book proposal is crucial. To do so, simply take the central assertion (or thesis) of the book, break it down into its component pieces accompanied by the appropriate research, and assign each piece a corresponding chapter.
Then, make sure that the chapters are organized in such a way that they build a steady and coherent argument. A typical outline need not be more than a few pages of general information pertaining to each segment of the book.
The point of an outline is to act as a map of the larger work and serve as a useful reference tool if the author ever temporarily loses their bearings during the course of writing. The outline or book proposal is also a useful tool to secure a literary agent or publisher for your book.
Craft a Personalized Introduction
According to Ron Bauer, a great way to establish an immediate rapport with readers is to create a personalized introduction. An author would be served well by connecting the book’s subject matter with a funny anecdote, a story from their past, or a lesson that they learned.
This will make plain to the readership that the author has relevant insight into the problem the book addresses, while simultaneously establishing their credibility.
Write Up Some Sample Chapters
Now comes the difficult part: actually digging in and writing. At this stage, the best advice anyone can give a would-be author is to hunker down and keep at it. Discipline is paramount. Write, edit, and revise until the first few chapters are the most well-written, informative, and polished that they can possibly be.
After that, it can be valuable to seek out a few other pairs of eyes. Treat loved ones and trusted friends to a sneak preview of the book, and encourage them to be honest in their reactions and blunt in their criticisms. Frequently, authors have a difficult time seeing the flaws in their own first drafts. Let the notes and critiques sink in, then rewrite the chapters accordingly.
Avenues for Publication
Once the first two or three chapters are completed, avenues for publication can be considered. At this point, an author can choose to send a package comprised of their personalized introduction, the sample chapters, and the book’s overall outline to literary agents and publishing houses to see if it attracts any interest. Ron Bauer claims that a package like that is more than enough to land a book deal.
The upside to this outcome is that the author may continue working on the rest of the manuscript secure in the knowledge that publication is guaranteed.
The downside is that most of the book must still be written. The other option is to plug along and finish the book completely before shopping the whole manuscript around for a buyer. The upside here is that the manuscript is already finished and can be submitted the moment both parties agree on a publishing contract. The downside is that it’s a much longer process before seeing any professional reward.
During the arduous process of writing a self-help book, it is useful to remember that the ultimate goal of such an enterprise is to guide and inspire other people. It is meant to be an act of compassion and care for the readership, not an exercise in fatigue and frustration for the author.
By keeping that thought in mind, and by adhering to the basic principles outlined above, any aspiring author with the requisite research skills and discipline can successfully write and publish a self-help book.