Writing a self-help book? Start with this structure:

Define the problem

Give the history of the problem

Explain what the reader needs to know before tackling the problem

Offer an action plan

Expand outward with advice on how to apply the new knowledge and skills in the future, during especially challenging times, and when dealing with others (family, coworkers, community members) who are stuck in old patterns

(more details are available in my video on structuring self-help)

Then look at your outline. Sometimes, you’ll have topics that don’t have to be addressed in a specific order to make sense. Start with the ones that your reader will most want to read about and then delve into trickier topics that require the reader to self-reflect, admit to flaws, do extra work, or face challenging emotions.

Make sure your chapter titles have energy and give a sense of what is in the chapter. In her new book Goddesses Never Age (just released!), Dr. Christiane Northrup used the hook “Goddesses” from the title to create titles such as “Goddesses Know the Power of Pleasure” and “Goddesses Grieve, Rage, and Move On.”

 

Now, if your titles are particularly clever, someone reading the list of contents won’t know what the chapters are about. In that case, you can write subtitles for chapters to help readers better understand what they will find in each chapter. Julia Ross did this in her book The Diet Cure with chapter titles such as “Chapter 1: Depleted Brain Chemistry–The Real Story Behind ‘Emotional Eating'” and “Chapter 21: Essential Support–Exercise, Relaxation, Counseling, Testing, and Health Care Resources.”

How many chapters do you need? A typical number is 12 to 18 but you might have 8 or even 25. It really depends on the topics of your chapters and how much your text is broken up. If you do not use a lot of sidebars, bulleted and numbered lists, and boxed texts, your reader may be daunted by how long a chapter is–even if you have headers every few pages. Too many headers and other design elements can be distracting, but if you’ve got some breaking up the text, chapters won’t feel quite as long as they actually are.

Do your chapters have to be the same length? No. If you end up with a 7-page chapter and a 30-page one, you should consider whether you don’t want a little more consistency in length, but what matters more is whether the concept holds together for the whole chapter. You never want your reader to suddenly think, “Wait, what am I reading about? What chapter am I in?” Your subtopics have to fit under the umbrella of the chapter.

You might want to help your readers better understand the structure of your book by adding part titles. In my book Raising a Sensory Smart Child, coauthored with Lindsey Biel, OTR/L, Part One is “Recognizing and Understanding Your Child’s Sensory Issues.” The chapters in part 1 define the problem, its history, and what you need to know: Why Is My Child So…Unusual? The Seven Senses, Tuning In to Your Child, and Where Did the Wires Cross? By the time you get to part 2, Addressing Your Child’s Sensory Needs, you already understand sensory issues, how your child came to have them, what sensory processing disorder is all about, and how to better understand your child’s unique sensory issues. You are ready to take action–and most of the book’s chapters are about practical actions to take. Within those chapters in the “take action” section that makes up the bulk of the book, there are plenty of explanations of issues related to sensory processing, from learning disabilities to why children with sensory issues have trouble with transitions and grooming. But the main idea of starting to help your child with sensory issues by understanding what you’re dealing with is set up right away with details to follow in the practical, action plan section.

So while this self-help structure may seem formulaic, you actually have a lot of creativity within it. Sketch out your outline, make sure your structure works, and then start coming up with more clever titles for the chapters (and parts, if you use those). And don’t forget to calculate what your word count will be. You want 50,000 to 85,000 words for a full-length self-help book, half that for a self-published eBook. Divide it up by chapters so you remain aware of how long each should be.

Most larger book publishers insist that you submit your book through a literary agent, although many smaller publishers do not. Agents are gatekeepers: They choose to represent only those books they feel have a decent chance of getting a book deal and an advance. When an in-house acquisitions editor receives a pitch from a literary agent well known to that editor, it’s as if the bouncer at a club just let you through the red velvet ropes. That’s because many agents have personal relationships with the editors in your genre who want to hear about the projects she is selling. If they don’t have relationships with the editors, but have a solid track record of selling books that have done well in the marketplace, an editor will want to get to know that agent and find out what projects she is pitching. Agents and editors cultivate relationships with each other when they realize they share similar tastes. Specializing in certain genres of books is efficient for everyone, so when it comes to finding an agent, you want one who has experience working with books like yours.

Where do you find literary agents that might be right for your book project? You can meet them at writers’ conferences (and learn a lot about book publishing and writing at the same time). You can research agents online or in books such as The Literary Marketplace (a huge tome available in most public libraries and updated annually), Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents, or The Writer’s Market. However, my favorite two places to find the names of potential literary agents are www.publishersmarketplace.com and the acknowledgements section of books similar to the one you’re writing. (If you can’t think of any books similar to yours, check out my article on the comparative books list.) Publishers Marketplace will allow you to search a multitude of recent book deals (as well as other publishing information) for the low cost of $20 a month (and you can cancel your subscription at any time). You can research agents and editors in your genre, find out which agents and editors connected on specific books, and even, sometimes, figure out approximately how much of an advance the author received. Then too, the acknowledgements section of books will often list the names of literary agents because happy authors often like to publicly thank their agents. Don’t forget you can also search acknowledgments pages on Amazon.com and through Google Books. Type into the search bar “acknowledgements,” “thanks” and “thank you,” or even “agent” to find the names you’re seeking.

And how do you know a particular agent is right for you?

Tip 1: Look at the agent’s listAsk to see a list of books she’s sold to publishers if that list isn’t available on her website. An in-house editor is no more impressed by an unsolicited submission from a self-appointed literary agent she doesn’t know and who hasn’t sold strong book projects than she is by an unsolicited submission from an author she doesn’t know and who hasn’t sold any books.

Tip 2: Listen to your gut. You have to feel confident that the agent understands your book and books similar to it. If she doesn’t, how will she sell it? If her editorial suggestions on your manuscript or book proposal don’t sit right with you, you don’t have to take them. You can try to find another agent. That said, don’t let your ego get in the way! Agents use book proposals as selling tools, and they keep up on what acquisitions editors are looking for, so don’t be too quick to dismiss an agent’s advice.  A successful agent’s opinions about your book are shaped by her experiences, and if she’s sold books like yours to publishers, her professional advice may turn out to be absolutely invaluable.

You have to feel comfortable with the agent’s style of working with clients. You’re not looking for a friend who will reassure you that you’re a terrific writer; you’re looking for a busy, successful professional who will naturally limit her socializing with clients so that she can do what she was hired to do—sell!

Tip 3: Query more than one agent. It is acceptable to pitch to more than one agent at once. Why shouldn’t you give yourself some options? Send your book proposal to the first agent who responds to your query letter. If another agent responds, send the proposal to her, too, and let her know that another agent is interested and has requested the proposal. Yes, if you write a terrific query letter, you are likely to get more than one “nibble” from an agent! It’s a very common scenario.

Then too, if you’d like to ask me to help you strategize about what agents to approach and how long to wait for replies, you can always feel free to hire me as a book publishing consultant. Learn more on my services page.

Not sure you’re ready to send your book proposal to an agent? Have you begun the writing and conceptualizing of your book, and started to talk about it and write about it in person or online? You might be ready for a vision plan call with me to strategize your book writing and publishing plan. Check out the description and contact me through the contact form on my website (and yes, the details on that form help me to help you).

Want to know more about the books I’ve worked on? See my testimonials on my website.

Get more free advice from me! Follow me on Facebook.

 

Developmental editor, ghostwriter, and book publishing consultant Nancy Peske at work!

Developmental editor, ghostwriter, and book publishing consultant Nancy Peske at work!

Wrapping up a book project is always bittersweet for me. As a developmental editor, I’m like a book’s “midwife”: I’m happy to see the baby born into the world, but sad that my role in helping the author go from a book idea to a book is over. After a book is completed, I try to take some time to revel in the pleasure of having helped yet another author get that book written and ready for publication. Then, I take some time to ponder what I learned from the experience. One of my most recent projects yielded the following testimonial, which hints at five keys to making your self-help book a huge success:

 

“I have longed dreamed of the day when writing a book wouldn’t be so difficult. When I discovered Nancy, that dream became a reality. She is a treasure whose organizational, research, and editorial skills are unmatched. Plus she’s fun!!” Christiane Northrup, MD, author of Goddesses Never Age: The Secret Prescription for Radiance, Vitality, and Well-Being 

 

What a marvelous endorsement! I’m deeply grateful to Dr. Christiane Northrup for her enthusiastic words. She’s always been a cultural innovator and knows how to connect her message with a book-buying audience.

 

So what are the five keys to making YOUR self-help book a huge success?

 

1. Have fun. Seriously, have fun. Don’t believe all those quotations by writers who talk about the agony of writing. If writing is agony for you, you need to look at why you’re doing it and what you need to heal in yourself to make the process a joy. Does your inner critic need to pipe down? Maybe you need to say, “Thank you for your concern, but I’m an excellent writer, and I need you to go away right now.” (Do a little “goblin work,” as Colette Baron-Reid describes in her book The Map, and see if that inner critic that intimidates you can be tamed!)

2. Don’t be afraid to break with your brand if your followers have given you clear signals they’re with you. Dr. Northrup was willing to take the risk of making her latest book incorporate more spirituality and metaphysics. She is in touch with her loyal followers on a daily basis through social media (she’s very active on Facebook) and tries out ideas to see how her followers react. She notices what resonates for them. That’s what gave her the courage to shift her brand in a new direction. Yes, it’s a risk, but it’s a risk based on her knowing her “peeps”!

 

Writing a self-help book? Don't skip the research and outlining! Hire a developmental editor & make the process pleasant and FUN!

Writing a self-help book? Don’t skip the research and outlining! Hire a developmental editor & make the process pleasant and FUN!

3. Be in touch with your followers and treat them like treasured friends. Yes, it’s time consuming to post on social media and interact with those who contact you, and heaven knows Facebook can be a time suck! But if your followers are willing to spread the word about your work, share announcements, and enthusiastically endorse you, take the time to acknowledge them when they contact you. You don’t have to respond to every single comment, but you do have to INTERACT with your fans. On Facebook, even big bestselling authors like Dr. Northrup and Marianne Williamson will reply to their followers. Do the same and when your book comes out, your fans will be eager to spread the word.

4. Do your research. It’s easier than ever to do research thanks to the internet. Check the original source of any quote by using Google Books and Amazon’s “search inside this book” feature. Use Google Scholar to locate original studies (and use ScienceDaily.com to get a sense of what’s out there and read a layman’s version of the research findings). If you want to check a fact or quote and find that the excerpts online are too short to allow you to see the context, order the book from your library using their website. Don’t just rely on your memory about something you “read somewhere.” Check your facts and see if there’s new research, too.

5. Organize and structure your book before you get too far into writing it. I can’t emphasize this enough: Don’t just write and write and then try to figure out how to structure what you’ve written. Get clear on your chapter outline first. Know what goes within each chapter. Work off outlines for each chapter. Writing an expanded chapter outline for a book proposal, even if you end up self-publishing the book, is a great way to start organizing and structuring your material.

 

Are you inspired to get help with structuring and conceptualizing your book? Are you ready for a vision plan call with me?

 

An author platform is a means of bringing your book, work, and brand to the attention of potential book buyers.

 

Building an author platform means figuring out how what you have to say fits in with the needs of book buyers—and figuring out how to get the word out to those book buyers via a platform. To start building an author platform, follow these 7 steps and begin to create a following for your book now, regardless of where you are in the process of writing it.

 

Step 1: Begin speaking and writing about your story and the topic of your book if you haven’t already. If you’re writing a memoir to inspire other women to take control of their finances after a financial crisis, get your thoughts together and try them out on a Facebook page or a blog attached to a simple website. If you want to write a memoir based on your experiences, start writing—and start talking about your experience with others online and in person. Discover where people interested in what you want to say congregate in the real world and in the virtual world. Summarize your topic in a few words and do a Google search. What pages come up? Where are people finding information about your topic? For example, do a browser search for “teenagers with sensory issues.” You should find a link to my blog at www.SensorySmartParent.com/blog on the first page because I’ve made a point of using that keyword to help me brand my work on sensory issues.

 

Step 2: Analyze the market.  What are others with messages and stories like yours doing to get the word out? What social media do they use? How do they connect with their followers? Women over 40 are the biggest book buying demographic. They love Facebook, Pinterest, and YouTube. LinkedIn and Instagram are options, too, as is Twitter. Figure out where people are talking about your topic and get active on that social media site. You don’t have to have accounts on all of them or be active on all of them, but you do have to be out there and see what people are saying.

 

Step 3: Put down the megaphone for a minute. Communication is a two-way street. Yes, you have something to say, but you also need to listen to your followers and potential book buyers. How are you going to connect with them in such a way that you aren’t just talking AT them but WITH them? How can you use social media or a blog to hear from them? How can you do a workshop with them to hear their questions for you? What do THEY need from you, your work, and your book?

 

Step 4: Brand yourself, your story, and your work. If you do public speaking on a topic, or have a professional reputation that’s integral to the book you wish to write, you already have a brand, although it may need some tweaking. A brand is an identity or image. What is your public image? How do you get it across on your Facebook page, YouTube Channel, or website and blog that you showcase you to people outside of family and friends? If you have no brand and no public image that strangers who would be interested in your work and your book can access online, you need to get one—now.

 

Step 5: Find or tweak your tagline, hook, or title. If you write on parenting, what type of parent are you? What is your message to other parents? How can you sum it up in a few words that will resonate emotionally for other parents who would be interested in your work and your book? If you have a hook already, is it working for you? Did you outgrow it? Is it hard for people to remember? Too much like someone else’s trademark? Play with it! Get a great tagline, hook, or title.

 

Step 6: Develop an online presence. It’s not enough to be out and about in the real world talking about your story and your ideas. You must have an online presence that includes social media accounts. Join the conversation about your topic that is unfolding online. Social media not only allows you to express yourself but also allows you to get feedback and questions from others. Your fans can easily share your posts and videos with others and do publicity work for you. Don’t delay creating an online presence just because you’re not sure how to go about it. You can get started with a website and blog and begin blogging. Go to WordPress.com and begin WordPress blog. Or, start with a public Facebook page for your work or idea, and ask friends and family to follow it and to share your posts. YouTube is now the #2 search engine on the web (behind Google), so create some videos and a YouTube Channel. Do a browser search for tips on how to blog, how to make a video blog, how to upload a video to YouTube, and how to use Facebook. Ask a friend to help you. Take a webinar or teleseminar. Buy a book on social media. Or hire me to help you strategize your social media and online presence. I’ll get you started!

 

Step 7: Pay close attention to what other, similar authors are doing. Check out some of the social media pages, websites, and blogs you follow for ideas. And take a look at these examples of hooks and brands some of my clients have created, and created an online presence for:

 

Author Victoria Treadwell has a website that will tell you all about her marvelous 30,000-word memoir of helping her husband triumph over brain cancer, called Love & Grit.

 

When Mama Can’t Kiss It Better: A Journey of Unconditional Love, Loss, and Acceptance by Lori Gertz has a Facebook page.  Her blog, where she writes pieces about her experience having to un-adopt the daughter she dearly loves, can be found at www.lorigertz.com   Her memoir has been published and the book writing process started with her blog.

 

Intuitive counselor Tara Taylor, whose tagline is Be the Master of Your Life, has a website at http://www.tarataylor.ca and public Facebook page for herself as an author.  Tara’s personal life, which led to the coaching and counseling work she does, was fictionalized into a paranormal YA series beginning with the book Through Indigo’s Eyes. The novel was cowritten with Lorna Nicholson who, you guessed it, has online presence for her brand, too: www.lornaschultznicholson.com

 

Kathi Casey, The Healthy Boomer Body Expert, has a website at www.kathicasey.com  Her Facebook page is Kathy Casey, Your Healthy Boomer Body Expert.  And she has a YouTube channel featuring videos demonstrating her work. Her book is Stop Back Pain! and its website is www.kissbackpaingoodbye.com

 

Debbie Magids, psychologist, uses The Total Health Prescription as her tagline and her name as her website, www.drdebbie.com  Her Facebook page is Dr. Debbie Magids Her book, available in bookstores, in online bookstores, and through her site, is All the Good Ones AREN’T Taken. 

 

Elena Mannes, Mannes Productions, wrote the book The Music Instinct, available in bookstores, online, and through her website: She has a website for her work as a documentarian at www.mannesproductions.com

 

Carl Greer, author of Change Your Story, Change Your Life,  from Findhorn Press, has a website at www.carlgreer.com and a Facebook page for Carl Greer, Author  Carl Greer began his website, blog, and Facebook page after writing his book and before creating and sending out a book proposal.

 

I began creating my website, www.nancypeske.com, and this blog (which was originally separate from the website and merged from it last year), in 2009 in order to help people learn about my work and get guidance on how to write a book, get it published, and market it. I have a Facebook page for my work as a ghostwriter and developmental editor, called Nancy Peske, Literary Editor. I’ve also got a public page for myself, Nancy Peske, public figure. And as you can see, I don’t just talk at people–I also love to hear what they have to say, and solicit feedback to help me become better at serving their needs and doing what I do.

Professional Ghostwriter and Editor Nancy Peske

Professional Ghostwriter and Editor Nancy Peske. On Facebook, my page is Nancy Peske, Literary Editor

 

Your platform won’t build itself, and you don’t have to wait to get your book written to start creating it. Take action now to build your platform! And follow this blog, as well as my Facebook page, for more helpful tips on building a platform, writing a book, and getting your book published. Just sign up at www.NancyPeske.com AND you’ll get a free report on how to find the right literary agent for YOU!

 

Any other questions on platform building? Feel free to ask a question here in the comments!

“Don’t judge a book by its title”—but that’s what we do when we’re looking at books and considering whether to buy them. A title can make or break your book. Here are three utterly mindblowing tips for titling a nonfiction book.

 

 

1. Think holistically. Your title, subtitle, and jacket work together to sell your book. I coauthored a book that got all three right: Raising a Sensory Smart Child is clearly is aimed at parents (hence “child” in the title and subtitle, and “raising a … child”). The title presents an intriguing concept (what are “sensory smarts”?). And the jacket features a happy, active child that has emotional appeal to parents who are stressed out and worried and want their child to be joyous and full of life. Sensory kids often can’t sit still so the picture puts a positive spin on that phenomenon.

 

Does your self-help book deliver on its title and promise? Does it solve a problem? Does it offer "takeaway" for readers that they can apply to their own lives?

Jacket, title, and subtitle work together to make a great book package.

2. Speak to the heart and mind. A great title will make you laugh, intrigue you, touch your heart—in short, it will speak to your mind and your heart. Here are some of my favorites:

 

That Crumpled Paper Was Due Last Week. If you laugh and say, “Yep, that’s my kid,” you know you have to check it out, right?

 

Eat More, Weigh Less. My boss at HarperCollins, editor-in-chief Susan Moldow, acquired this New York Times bestseller by Dr. Dean Ornish. We used to joke about variations such as “Work Less, Earn More.” Talk about a simple, compelling promise!

 

Mindblowing Sex in the Real World. The author, Sari Locker, PhD, wanted a twist on “The Real World,” which was an MTV hit at when the book was in production (I was the acquisitions editor). I thought a contrast would be good and came up with the word “mindblowing.” One of the suits at the publisher pushed hard against it but we pushed back. The book and title were hits, and the title was mentioned as recently as this year in the New York Times. That is a title with staying power! (Pun intended.)

 

3. Switch It Up. Bev West, my coauthor and cousin, came up with “cinema therapy” and “mood movies” or “movies to match your mood.” Our book proposal’s cover sheet shows what we settled on. Someone in-house at Dell, our book publisher, suggested making “cinema therapy” one word, Cinematherapy, and using it as the title, relegating the “mood movies” concept to the subtitle. We also wrestled with “girl” vs. “gal” and other alternatives (“girlfriend’s guide” was taken). Contrast the proposal title/subtitle to the final jacket.

 

 MoodMoviesOrigTitle

Cinematherapy, movie therapy for women: a vision turned into a successful book series and television show

Cinematherapy, movie therapy for women: a vision turned into a successful book series and television show. Original title and subtitle were flipped around.

 

 

So as you’re titling, start picturing your book’s jacket. Look at other books—not just online but in a bookstore. Look at their jackets. Which ones do you respond to, and why? What are the title and jacket trends in your genre? Do you want to match them or buck them?

 

Do you have a one- to three-word “hook” that works for your brand and your book? Cinematherapy spawned Bibliotherapy, Advanced Cinematherapy, Cinematherapy for Lovers, Cinematherapy for the Soul, Cinematherapy Goes to the Oscars, Gay Cinematherapy, TVTherapy, and Culinarytherapy. How can you use your “hook” within your title as in your brand to emotionally engage and intrigue readers?

 

 

Next Page »

Sign up for notifications
—and a copy of the FREE eBook Eight Great Tips for Finding the Perfect Publisher for Your Book
error message goes here

Signup Form Error(s)
Follow
  • Follow on Facebook
  • Follow on Twitter
  • Follow on Pinterest