And the frustration of keeping that buried treasure to yourself is worse than the challenge of becoming an author.
You’re just not quite sure how to write a self-help book of your own.
But you’re ready to learn.
Writers and helping professionals often have a deep well of reflection and experience to draw from. And when we’ve benefited from books others have written, who can blame us for wanting to pay it forward?
There are thousands of readers who are hungry for the inspiration, motivation, and strategies you can offer them.
The self-improvement book industry is “an $800 million market that’s growing 6% per year,” according to Market Research.com.
I love this genre so much, I’ve authored over two dozen self-help books — several that were bestsellers, and one that became a Wall Street Journal Bestseller.
And the best way to get the same results with your book idea is to follow the steps laid out in this post.
How to Write a Self-Help Book
Your book begins with an idea. Then, once you’ve decided to write a book about it, you need to get clear on the kind of book you’ll be writing and on the takeaways you want for your reader.
Writing a self-help book is writing for personal development — yours as well as your reader’s. It’s a unique genre in that, when done correctly, furthers your growth as well as that of the people for whom you write it.
All the more reason to choose this genre for your first book. But how big a project will this be? And how long will it take?
- How to Write a Self-Help Book
- How Many Words are in a Self-Help Book?
- How to Structure a Self-Help Book
- How to Write a Self-Help Book Step-by-Step
- 1. Brainstorm your book idea.
- 2. Outline your book.
- 3. Start with a story.
- 4. Have a conversation with your ideal reader.
- 5. Brainstorm and choose a title and subtitle.
- 6. Repeat to reinforce.
- 7. Get permissions and cite your sources.
- 8. Write your first draft.
- 9. Get an editor.
- 10. Revise your book.
- 11. Find beta readers.
- 12. Collect endorsements (and, if possible, a foreword).
- 13. Find a designer for your book’s interior.
- 14. Find a cover designer.
- 15. Publish your book.
How Many Words are in a Self-Help Book?
Some are shorter than 30,000 words, and some are longer than 70,000. Self-published titles tend to be shorter.
If you have any favorite self-help books, check their length, and ask yourself whether you thought they could have been shorter — or could have been improved with more content.
Your book will be long enough when it fulfills its purpose in as many words as you need (and no more), without sacrificing storytelling or helpful subtitles.
And its purpose should be clear from the words on the cover.
How to Structure a Self-Help Book
When you’re writing a self-help book, break your content down into the following steps to make it as clear and helpful as possible:
- Define the problem. Make it absolutely clear what problem you’re addressing, why it matters, and why you felt called to write a book about it.
- Give some history of the problem. Provide some helpful backstory to show the reader how the problem has developed, how it has affected others and how it continues to be an issue.
- Share what the reader needs to know before addressing the problem. There are usually some caveats related to the problem and its resolution. Show the reader what they need to know in order to get the best results from your book.
- Offer and describe an action plan. Here’s where you show your reader exactly what they could do to tackle the problem and improve their situation.
Here are some structural tips for keeping your reader engaged throughout your book:
Now that you have an idea of the kind of book you want to write and how to structure it, take the following steps to get your book from idea to publication day.
How to Write a Self-Help Book Step-by-Step
1. Brainstorm your book idea.
It’s one thing to have an idea. It’s another to take that idea and flesh it out so you know you’ll have enough content for a book.
Mind maps are useful for this stage, but so is simply making a list of the topics related to your book’s central problem, the myths or assumptions you want to counter, and the questions you want to answer.
In short, write down every point you want to make with your book. And make it clear.
2. Outline your book.
Once you know all the points you want your book to make, it’s time to get organized.
An outline gives your book the structure it needs to flow and make sense. Writing from an outline helps you avoid straying from the points you want to make. It keeps you on task and makes it more likely that you’ll keep your book’s promise to your reader.
Essentially, you’re creating your book’s table of contents and then fleshing it out a bit.
3. Start with a story.
What better way to lead your reader into your book than by telling a story that makes them feel understood or that gives them some insight into your book’s central problem?
Effective storytelling draws people in. Tell a good story, and your reader feels more invested in your book.
Stories take impersonal facts and humanize them, making it more likely that your reader will remember them and internalize your message.
4. Have a conversation with your ideal reader.
Along with storytelling, you can engage your reader more effectively by addressing them with a conversational tone that is both friendly and respectful of your reader’s boundaries.
When you’re writing this book, pretend you’re having a conversation with someone who’s going through what you have. Be authentic as well as kind and considerate.
Put yourself in their place and use an approach that would make you want to trust the author.
5. Brainstorm and choose a title and subtitle.
Brainstorm a list of at least 20 titles. If possible, when you narrow down your choices to a top 3, get some feedback from readers in your target audience, as well as from people with experience crafting effective book titles.
Do the same for your book’s subtitle or tagline. The title and subtitle together should communicate your book’s promise to the reader with clarity and elegance.
6. Repeat to reinforce.
Teachers have used repetition for centuries to help students remember the material — from Latin declensions to times tables and so on. And it never hurts to reinforce what your book is teaching by ending each chapter with a brief recap.
You can also ask related questions to get them thinking and tying the subject matter to their own experience.
Repeating the most important points throughout the book is another way you can use repetition to ensure your reader doesn’t lose the main benefits of reading your book.
7. Get permissions and cite your sources.
Credit where credit is due. If you’re quoting published sources and you want to include a substantial piece of someone else’s content in your book, be sure to get their permission and to cite all your sources.
As for brief quotes from published sources, it’s usually enough to cite them. You can also provide a link on your book’s resource page to that author’s website or the sales page for the source you cited.
8. Write your first draft.
If you know roughly how long you want your book to be, and you have a fair idea of how many words you can write per day, you can set a deadline for finishing your first draft (total word count divided by daily word count plus a time cushion of a few days — because life happens).
Having a deadline can motivate you to do your daily writing, even on those days when you’re less inclined to sit down and do the work. And the sooner you finish that first draft, the sooner you can move on to the next step.
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9. Get an editor.
That next step is finding a good editor for your book. If you can find one who specializes in self-help books or who at least has experience editing them, so much the better.
You’ll likely get better results from someone who at least reads self-self books and knows roughly what self-help readers expect. You want an editor who can tell you whether your book is delivering on its promises and whether it’s likely to hold a reader’s interest to the end.
10. Revise your book.
Once your editor has worked their magic, it’s time to revise your book, which could involve substantial rewriting – all in the name of making your book something your readers won’t want to put down.
After you’ve done the work, your editor should be able to finish the job by copy-editing and proofreading your book.
11. Find beta readers.
Good beta readers, particularly those who have a genuine interest in your book, can tell you what they like and don’t like about your book. Those who are avid readers of self-help books will more easily spot the differences between your book and the ones they’ve read before.
Even if the feedback isn’t all positive, draw from it what you can use to make your book better. And don’t forget to reward your beta readers in some way.
12. Collect endorsements (and, if possible, a foreword).
Do what you can to collect endorsements from other self-help authors or from credible experts in your book’s subject matter. You can add these to your book’s sales page as well as to your paperback’s back cover.
Even your ebook can have a page or two dedicated to endorsements. If you can only get one or two, you can work them into your book’s description to put them front and center on the sales page.
If you can get a known authority to write a foreword for your book, even better.
13. Find a designer for your book’s interior.
Yes, if your budget is tight, you can certainly learn how to do basic formatting for your book. But if you can manage it, professional formatting will ensure that your book’s interior makes a good impression on your readers.
A formatter with experience in interior book design and an understanding of your genre can make your book’s interior look every bit as polished and pleasing to the eye as any traditionally published book.
Ultimately, that investment up front can have a huge impact on your book’s sales potential.
14. Find a cover designer.
As with the previous step, it’s possible to learn how to design an appealing cover. But If you don’t have the time or inclination to learn how to design like a professional (and many authors do not), it’s best to pay someone who already can.
Nothing says you can’t learn how to design beautiful covers yourself. But for your first book (or your first self-help book), treat yourself to one designed by a recommended professional.
You’ve already spent weeks on your book’s content, doing what you do well. Why not leave the cover to someone who loves designing them as much as you love writing?
15. Publish your book.
Once your book is written, edited, revised, formatted, and fitted with a beautiful cover, you’re ready to publish. Here’s where you’ll decide whether to work exclusively with Amazon (with KDP Select) or to “go wide.”
If you’re a first-time author, KDP Select is a great place to start. The more experience you have as an author launching and marketing your books, the more you’re likely to see an advantage in exploring other venues.
Now that you’re familiar with all the steps to becoming an author, where are you with your current work in progress (WIP)?
And what could you do today to get further along and closer to the big launch?
You’ll get there sooner if you have a daily writing habit. And the more you connect with other writers, the more motivated you’ll be to finish your book and get it out there.
When you’re ready for more, Authority Pub’s got you covered with helpful posts on publishing, launching, and marketing your book.
I can’t wait to see you share the news about the book you’re writing! And I’ll do everything I can from here to help you maximize your potential as an author.
May every day get you closer to a successful launch of your life-changing book.