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5 Tips for Writing Self-Help Books that Actually Help

If you’re in the business of helping people, then writing a self-help book is a great way to establish credibility, attract clients, and build your brand.  But your book won’t help your readers or you unless you provide clear information, offer steps that are easy to follow, and involve your audience in their own growth.

You also need to establish a relationship with your readers. Think about it. You’re asking those who’ve shelled out hard-earned cash for your book to trust you and your methods to change their lives. That’s big. Change can be tough. We resist it. So help your readers by making sure you and your information are accessible.  

These five techniques can help.

1. Know your stuff

To build your business or clientele, you need to establish yourself as an authority in your field. You want to let your readers know how you can meet their wants, needs, and challenges in a way the competition can’t. To show your readers you’re different, you need to let them know you’re aware of the other theories out there, and you need to back your own. In other words, give your readers facts (and cite your sources!). Facts can make readers feel safe, increase your credibility, and build trust.

2. Organize your chapters with headings

Headings—which include headlines and subheadings—cue your reader to the subject matter, chunk your content into digestible segments, and tell a story so they can grasp the big picture quickly. There are two main types of headings you’ll use most often.

  • Headlines are the top-level headings that precede the main text.
  • Subheadings are the lower-level headings that organize text into chunks. Note: If you have more than three levels, you’re probably going too deep.

Headlines indicate the bigger picture. For example, How to Relate to Your Teenager. Subheadings indicate what’s in each smaller section—Listen between the lines, Knock before entering, Avoid stalking their pals on Facebook.

3. Break it up with lists

Your readers can absorb only so much information. Have mercy and simplify the complicated. There are many types of lists, but the most popular in self-help books are the bulleted list, numbered list, and checklist. Research has shown that readers can take in about seven items, give or take two. So if your list is longer, divide it. For example, say you’re creating a packing list for a trip and find you have too many items. You can break the larger list into smaller ones like Shoes, Outerwear, and Toiletries.

Bulleted lists include a design element such as a dot, asterisk, or dash before each item. If you’re providing important points of information, a bulleted list can be just the ticket.

Numbered lists work for procedures, where one step follows the other. If you’re writing step-by-step instructions, go for the numbered list.

Check lists contain items preceded by check marks or a check box. If you want to inform your reader of items to take on a bike trip, you could use a checklist so the reader can check off each article as they pack it.

4. Provide anecdotes

Anecdotes tell a story, engage the reader, and provide examples to offer information or prove your point. An anecdote can be fact or fiction. If it’s true, make sure it’s accurate and either get permission from the people you’re writing about or disguise their identities. If the anecdote is fiction, have at it. Also, include anecdotes from your own life. Ratting yourself out helps you build a relationship with your readers. They see your failings, they can identify with you, and they can learn from your mistakes.

5. Put the self in Self-Help

Provide exercises. We all know self-help addicts, people who feel they’re changing their lives by reading a book but never apply what they learn. If you want people to read your book and follow what you’re advocating, if you want to help them change, you have to involve them. Insights plus action change lives. So give your readers some actions to take by adding exercises or assignments in a workbook or at the end of a section or chapter.

 

These are simple techniques that will help your readers understand your book. They’ll also help make the writing process easier because you can organize your information as you go, seeing what you need to add, delete, or change.

Now it’s your turn

What do you think? I’ve talked about five techniques to creating a helpful self-help book. Which did you find the most helpful? The least?

Do you have any to add? Jump in with comments. I love talking about writing. And I’d love to hear what you have to say. Just enter your comment in the box below.

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How can I help?

No matter where you are with your writing, no matter what stage of the process, I offer services as a writing coach and editor to help you with your work. If you’d like to discuss your project, contact me to set up a free, 30-minute consultation.

 

Comments for 5 Tips for Writing Self-Help Books that Actually Help

  • @Michael on May 17, 2013

Kelly,

The most powerful tip I feel is number 4 provide anecdotes. A list is one thing, however connecting with your reader by relating real things that happened to you makes all the difference in the world. The thoughts and experiences on whatever you are writing about just made you and the reader one and the same person.

Thanks, Michael. I think you’re dead-on.