When it comes to writing a self-help book, it's easy to cross the line into memoir writing. After all, the lessons we want to pass on to others often originate with personal experience. Nevertheless, there are a few rules for writing self-help books that can help you avoid the common mistake of blending in elements of memoir.
Make it Specific
DO THIS: Target a specific area of personal improvement. It’s all about focusing your content and providing unique direction to readers. Pick a topic like changing a habit, letting go of anxiety or fear, becoming more confident/organized/patient/etc.
NOT THIS: Speak broadly about happiness, achieving goals, or spirituality. Writing on vague ideas like “life goals” provides no marketing hook and little helpful advice to your readers—plus, the market is saturated with books on these topics.
Share Your Credentials
DO THIS: Use your professional experience and credentials to establish yourself as an expert in the field pertaining to your book. It’s crucial for the retail success of your self-help book that you have a certification, degree, or career in fields like therapy, psychology, or holistic healing. Alternatively, it can be helpful to have significant experience as a life coach or professional mentor or own a successful business that relates to your content.
NOT THIS: Write a book solely based on overcoming a personal struggle. Publishers, retail buyers, and consumers are generally not interested in reading a book by an author whose sole credentials are personal experience.
Keep it Structured
DO THIS: Structure content in a clear progression towards an end goal for the reader. For example, your book may be divided into three sections: 1) Acknowledging the problem and developing a plan 2) Implementing the plan and overcoming the problem 3) Following through and sticking with the plan. There needs to be forward momentum and ideas that build to a solution.
NOT THIS: Write free-form thoughts about self-improvement without a sense of order and advancement. Writing this way provides little help to the reader in solving the problem they bought the book to address.
Give Readers a Game Plan
DO THIS: Offer clear, actionable advice such as bulleted to-do items at the end of each chapter (or interspersed throughout) that build on the content and require reader involvement. This is the imperative for a successful self-help book. People buy self-help books so that they can learn tools to better themselves, so you absolutely must give readers a takeaway. For example, if you ask your readers to answer questions, make sure to give them guidance as to how to interpret their answers or what to do based on the results.
NOT THIS: Offer your readers vague questions and platitudes like: “Think about a time you struggled and how you overcame it” or “The power of positive thinking will help you achieve your dreams.”
Learn the do's and don'ts of memoir writing here.