Best Practices for Writing in the Self-Help Genre

As an aspiring self-help author, you probably have the desire to help others. After all, the self-help genre doesn’t just inform or entertain; it aims to solve problems.

However, writing a self-help book requires more than a good idea. You also have to understand the genre and craft a high-quality manuscript. You can’t sit down at your computer and write a bestselling self-help book over a weekend.

Follow these best practices for successful writing in the self-help genre.

Use Your Personal Story to Connect with Readers

As a self-help writer, you don’t tell readers how to solve a problem. You show them that you had the same problem and conquered it.

The best self-help authors invite the reader on a journey. You have been down this road and can guide readers through it. Your knowledge comes from experience, your triumph promises hope. A connection with your story means more to readers than a list of facts about problem management.

In his book AfterLIFE: Waking Up from My American Dream, Carlo Sanfilippo shared the pain of losing three relatives and his marriage. This set the stage for him to reevaluate what’s important in life. When Mary Jo Rennert wrote You Are Still Beloved: When Your Long-Term Marriage Ends in Divorce, she revealed how her decades-long union dissolved with her husband’s infidelity. This gave authority to her message of love and hope after divorce.

These authors connected with readers through honesty and authenticity, and so can you.

Use a Tried-and-True Structure

Many aspiring authors begin to write without planning, only to stall out later when they don’t know how what to include or how to organize it.

One tried-and-true structure always works for writing a self-help book, and we encourage authors to use it:

  1. What it used to be like.
  2. What happened.
  3. What it’s like now.

In this structure, you begin by telling the story of the struggle or obstacle you faced (what it used to be like). This helps readers understand that you have experienced what they’re going through. Once you’ve established that connection, you explain how you dealt with the problem (what happened). The book ends by showing how your life has changed for the better by overcoming this problem (what it’s like now).

We recommend this formula because it pulls readers in with a personal connection, keeps them turning pages to learn more, and sends them off with encouragement and hope at the end.

Put in the Time

Set realistic expectations about the time it will take to write a self-help book.

Some writing programs offer to help you finished your book in just a few months, or even weeks. Sure, you could pound out a manuscript in that amount of time, but chances are it won’t be great quality—and why go to the trouble just to end with a sub-par product?

Here at The Book Professor® we believe it takes about a year to write a well-organized, engaging, strong nonfiction book. Our methodology will guide you through the process and help you create the well-written book you’ve envisioned.

Beat Writer’s Block with a Plan.

Remember that writer who starts without a plan and stalls out? Don’t be that writer! Use a BookMAP to plan your book’s contents from cover to cover. This prevents writer’s block because you always know what topic to write about next.

A BookMAP also helps you organize your material in a way that makes sense to readers. You want to make sure that an outside audience can follow your material. You know it inside and out, but they don’t, and it’s your job to present it with as much clarity as possible. Your BookMAP will prevent you from getting off topic or losing your reader.

Finish the First Draft Before Editing

Don’t write a chapter and then revise and polish it before writing the next chapter. Finish a draft of all chapters in your self-help book before you go back to change or edit anything.

Think of writing like building a house. A construction crew assembles the entire frame of the house before they move on to next steps. Imagine if a construction crew put up the frame for just one wall, installed the wiring and insulation on that wall, painted it, and hung pictures on it, all before the other walls were even begun. That’s what it’s like to try and perfect chapters of your book before you’ve finished the rough draft.

With a finished first draft in hand, you’ll have a birds-eye view of the whole project and any flaws that need to be fixed.

Writing is Just the Start

How will your book go from a Word document on your computer to a physical manuscript sitting on the shelf? For that matter, how will it get into the hands of readers?

Unless you plan to self-publish, you’ll need a publisher. Either way, you’ll need a promotional plan, since publishers won’t do all the promotional work for you.

Consider the following promotional tricks to increase your readership:

  • Find speaking engagements where you can share some of the material from your self-help book and bring copies with you to the event to sell.
  • Publish an article about your topic in a trade magazine or another publication that your ideal reader would browse.
  • Offer to do a seminar on your book topic at a conference.
  • Create material for an online learning course relevant to your material and offer your book as a resource.
  • Visit a podcast that draws the type of reader you’d like to sell to.
  • Blog about your topic and build an online community.

Need More Help?

Do you want more best practices for writing a self-help book? Contact The Book Professor® today to learn about our professional writing coach programs. Our coaches will guide you through the writing process from plan to completion, and our Mastermind program offers you a community of other writers for support and encouragement.