book research


We all have a book inside us. We may even have several! If you want to write a book based on your life, are you clear on the type of book you would like to write? I have seven options for you—six nonfiction and one fiction—that might fit well with your plan to write a book.

I like to say a book is a credibility card that solidifies your brand and message. Should you write a memoir, focusing on your personal story?  Would it make more sense to write a book about what you have learned, one that features pieces of your story and a short summary of it at the beginning of the book?

Many of my clients have struggled with the question of what type of book to write to most effectively communicate their ideas and establish their brand and get their message out there. Some of my clients have pivoted with their brand, and a book has been instrumental in helping them do that. For example, one wanted to move from a more straightforward health brand to one that was more lifestyle oriented.

Other clients of mine have wanted to write their story as a book so they can inspire others but soon came to see that a memoir needs to be about a specific theme in their life that ties into their central message.

My video, How to Write a Book Based on Your Life, goes into some detail about the seven different types of books you might write. They are:

An autobiography or personal history. This type of personal project lets you tell your story to future generations. How I wish that my great-grandmother had written such a book so I could know more about how she went from having just a six-grade education to running a family business! Your great-grandchildren would surely appreciate a professionally written book telling your life story.

A memoir. Memoirs are thematic and often focus on just one aspect of a person’s life. Some authors write more than one memoir. Common themes including coming of age and the hero’s journey. Memoirs have a wider audience than an autobiography or personal history.

A life lessons book. Like a memoir, a life lessons book is thematic, but the themes are summed up with compelling statements. I love the title of the book by Starbucks founder Howard Behar, written with Janet Goldstein: It’s Not About the CoffeeWhat a great title that summarizes the book’s central message! All of his chapter titles are statements and lessons that we can learn from.

A business book. A business book can be part memoir, part life-lessons book. The key is to know your best stories and match them up with key ideas you want to put across (for example, that the Starbucks brand is NOT about the coffee!)

A self-help book. I specialize in helping people write this type of book. You may have seen my video on how to structure a self-help book. In it, I offer a structure that I have seen work time and time again. The book should take readers on a journey from here to there so that by the end of the book, they feel their life has changed and they know how to apply your ideas to their own life to make it better. There are two key elements in self-help books: the takeaway and the action plan. (You do not necessarily need an action plan, but you definitely need takeaway, as I explain in my video on How to Write a Book Based on Your Life.)

A parenting book. I cowrote an evergreen parenting book that continues to sell year after year (hence “evergreen”). In fact, it has sold over 130,000 copies. Now, I am not the expert of all time on parenting (my son would agree with me on that!). However, I did interviews and research, synthesized ideas, drew on my own experiences as a child and as a parent, and put it all together with the help of my coauthor, my son’s occupational therapist who treated him. We came up with a parenting book filled with tips and strategies I knew parents needed. I turned myself into an expert in the process. (Two book award committees and dozens of reviewers and endorsers apparently agree, because Raising a Sensory Smart Child has gotten a phenomenal response from those folks.) My coauthor, Lindsey Biel, OTR/L, provided the therapist’s perspective, which broadened the appeal of the book. You might want to consider a coauthor or at least a foreword from someone who has professional credentials who can vouch for the credibility of your parenting advice.

A novel. You can “fictionalize” your life and start writing a novel. Know whether you are going to make it a mystery, a romance, commercial women’s fiction (such as a novel about a mother and daughter who experience conflict they have to resolve), or a work of literary fiction. Know the conventions of these types of books so that you are clear on what you are writing. If you are going to write commercial women’s fiction, read some novels in that category. There’s an old saying: To be a good writer, you have to be a good reader. Did you know that bestselling novelist Jeffrey Archer said he read 100 novels before starting his own? That might have been more than he needed to read, but it goes to show you really do have to familiarize yourself with the type of book you want to write.

I also talk in my video How to Write a Book Based on Your Life about using sensory detail and storytelling so that you “show, don’t tell”—another old saying in the book biz. When you write, put us in the middle of the action and the moment of the scene, even if you are just writing an anecdote in a business book so you emotionally engage us. You don’t have to go on for pages giving us exhaustive detail about a client you worked with, but give us a sense of what it was like to be in the situation that went from uncomfortable to a sense of possibility for change. Show us how you overcame your bad habit of saying “yes, of course” and instead saying, “I’ll need to get more details before I commit to doing that.” Even a nonfiction book has a narrative arc. Perhaps you will show us how you went from hating your body to feeling grateful for the healthy body you inhabit, from weighing yourself obsessively to telling your scale, “Kiss my butt, buddy,” and weighing yourself once a year, not obsessing about the number. You started at a low place and achieved success in some area of your life. People want to see how you did that, and your book can do the job of conveying your story.

Need help conceptualizing your book? Stuck on the title and overarching theme? Not sure if you should go with life lessons around your parenting successes or with a funny memoir? I can help. Give me some details about where you are in your process. Think about where you see yourself going with this book (doing podcasts and public speaking? being on local TV and radio talk shows? having a blog and newsletter along with a popular Instagram account?). And let me know if you’re ready for a one-hour consultation call and perhaps some coaching as you start your writing process. Contact me at info@nancypeske.com and let’s get you firmly on the road to writing and publishing your book.

 

how to write a book 7 ways

How to write a book based on your story or work: I can help you figure out what type of book you want to write.

 

During the process of beginning to write your nonfiction book, you’ll want to start thinking about titles. I find that at least having a working title will allow you to stay focused on what you want in the book and what you can skip. If you have a general title such as “Surviving the Worst,” “Living Fully,” or “My Memoir of Being a Child Prodigy,” it will be easy to become lost in the writing process. You’ll write and write until you say, “Oh boy. I have no idea where I’m going with this!” Sure, start writing. See how it feels. But soon you’ll wonder, “What belongs in this book? What’s my focus?” That’s when you need to consider titling your nonfiction book with help from the Internet. It will focus and motivate you!

Once you have started writing and shaping key scenes or sections of the book, you need to improve on any working title that is too general, like the ones above. Think about word combinations that capture the heart and soul of your mind-body-spirit nonfiction book. Sure, you may be writing a memoir about being a child prodigy, but why are you writing it? Because you had to learn that “Good Enough Is Good Enough” and the focus of your memoir is on letting go of perfectionism imposed upon you by your parents? Or maybe you ended up becoming a Buddhist practicing non-attachment and now, as a parent of a prodigy yourself, you want to write a short, self-published self-help book or life lessons book incorporating your stories of being a child and being a parent, offering advice to other parents. And let’s say a quick Internet search reveals no one has used that title Good Enough Is Good Enough except in one article and certainly not for a book. Yes, you have yourself a title for now. If you like, reserve the URL (www.GoodEnoughIsGoodEnough.com) and a Facebook page with that title. (By the way, that short, self-published book can later be expanded into a longer book, and you might have enough of a fan base for The Nonattached Parent or Good Enough Is Good Enough to get a book deal at that point.)

Or let’s say you want to write an inspirational self-help book and your working title is “Living Fully.” That’s much too general for a book title. Before you even do a search for it, ask yourself, “What sets my self-help book apart from the hundreds of thousands of inspirational self-help books in print? What promise do I offer that no one else does?” Perhaps the key original exercise, or practice, in your potential self-help book on living fully is a habit of expressing gratitude every day to at least one person, whether you know them well or not. That’s not a lot to build a book around, at least on first glance. But what if you blogged about the experience daily for a year and ended up with eight lessons you learned about practicing gratitude? Now you could come up with a title with the number 8 in it—Eight Ways to Become More Grateful could be your working title, or Eight Principles of Gratitude may be possibilities. Maybe you can explain in the book that you felt that to live fully, you needed to feel more grateful for the blessings of your life. Now your title isn’t “Live Fully” and your book isn’t a general book with a vague promise that doesn’t speak to anyone specific. Instead, it’s a book called The Gratitude Project: Eight Principles for Feeling Grateful and Blessed, and you have identified your audience: People who aspire to practice gratitude, and feel more positive and grateful, but need help learning how to do it. Your personal stories will flesh out a simple list that could be an article they find on the Internet, and you now are on your way to establish credibility as an expert in learning how to feel more grateful.

Of course, if an Internet search shows your title was already used for a book, play with it. Maybe your title will be The Thankfulness Project: A Year of Saying Thank You Each Day, or Everyday Thankfulness, or Everyday Gratitude, or “Today, I Say Thank You”–the possibilities begin suggesting themselves when you get more specific about what your book’s key message and idea is. Reid Tracy, CEO of Hay House, says, “A book for everyone is a book for no one.” Everyone wants to live fully–or at least, that vague promise would sound pleasant to just about anyone. But does everyone want to know about the “Thankfulness Project” or how to experience “Everyday Gratitude”? No–you have a specific audience now, with a specific problem your book addresses in a practical way: How to become more grateful or thankful through a practice or habit that is part of a larger program and message about the value of practicing gratitude daily. You can start writing stories about your original response to the standard advice to “be more grateful” and putting yourself into your book.

So yes, go ahead and skip the titling process to start writing if you’ve written nothing, or only a few pages or even just a chapter or so. But as you write more, begin to think about what your book is about, specifically, and what promise it offers to an audience with a need. Try to capture that idea in a few words. And pick up your mobile device and ask:

OK, Google, are there any memoirs on overcoming perfectionism?
Siri, how can I feel more grateful?

nonfiction title self-help book memoir just right

Your mind/body/spirit nonfiction title needs to be just right for YOU!

 

Now, take a look at the top links that come up. How can you compete with those articles or books to get people’s attention? What’s different about your experiences and what you have to say that will make people interested in the topic check you out? How will you get people to discover your book (and buy it!) rather than gravitate toward someone else’s website, blog, social media account, or book page? Keep in mind that when it comes to memoir and self-help, people will often buy more than one book on a topic, so don’t worry too much if your book isn’t the most original book on the face of the planet. Even so, you have to be a part of your book, sharing your story and your voice. And you have to be reflected in the title you pick. It has to feel right for you.

Try out your titles on your friends and family, and anyone who knows your work in this area. Listen thoughtfully to their feedback. And keep trying for that “just right” title that fits your book, your message, and your stories. Then, use the Internet to see if it’s original enough to work for your book. If it is, plant your flag in the ground by saving the website address (which costs about ten dollars) and/or a Facebook page in that name.

Now that you have your title, you’re ready to start writing an article of 600 to 800 words on that topic. Your article can be posted on your blog and shared on social media. Congratulations! You have a title you’re happy with. You can always change your title later, but this step in the titling process can be extremely motivating and helpful for solidifying your title. And Siri, Google, and the Internet were helpful companions, weren’t they?

As always, feel free to ask me any questions or leave a comment! And if you’re interested in getting my help with your book, check out my services page. I am doing vision plans right now, helping authors who have a book proposal to maximize its potential for getting a book deal or for guiding them in writing and marketing their own self-published mind/body/spirit nonfiction book.

 

 

 

 

Authors, do you know how to avoid accidentally plagiarizing when using online sources to do research for writing your book? I have some tricks to share.

 

Rarely do you see blatant plagiarism where a writer cuts and pastes into a document from online sources and simply replaces a few words as happened this week with Monica Crowley, author of What the (Bleep) Just Happened, published by a division of HarperCollins Publishers, one of the Big Five publishers (and one I used to work at as an in-house acquisitions editor). You can’t rely on an in-house acquisitions editor or their copyediting and proofreading team to make sure you didn’t plagiarize. So if you are doing online research to write a self-help, life lessons, or other nonfiction book, know what you have to do to treat the authors of original material with respect and avoid plagiarizing accidentally.

 

In my opinion, Crowley should have known it was wrong to simply use others’ words and replace a word here and there–for example, she replaced “depends” with “relies” and “prominent” with “major.” Maybe she actually thought this was acceptable.

 

It is not.

 

Even if you know better than to write over someone else’s words, to be safe, never, ever cut and paste someone else’s words into a document unless you put their words in quotation marks and note the source along with adding a link that takes you to that source!  Take the time to cite resources properly.

 

Even then, it is best to put the notes in an idea file document. Create some headers to categorize the material to remind you that this is just the idea file and not a file of your writing. I like to use all caps and create a header with summary concepts, like SENSORY OVERLOAD TANTRUMS MELTDOWNS and SENSORY OVERLOAD SYMPTOMS. Then, when I go to write the chapter, I can work with the idea file, but I know I’m not actually going to salvage any of the writing in the idea file. I’m going to memorize it and then outline from what I know.

 

Also, I generally write in Times New Roman, Arial, or Cambria (common default fonts), so I like to put any direct quotes I save in another font to signal to me “this is someone else’s writing.” That’s another a safety mechanism that can prevent accidentally misreading someone else’s words as yours.

 

If it’s hard to imagine how you might reword the material, look it up in a few different sources and memorize the concepts. This way, it’s easier to come up with how you would say it.

 

Be cautious about lists, too. For example, if I were to list the common symptoms of sensory processing disorder, number one on the list would be unusual under-reactions or overreactions to everyday sensations. There only so many ways to say all that, and it truly is the most basic symptom, which pretty much defines disordered or dysfunctional sensory processing. Writing some variation of that symptom as #1 on the list is just giving readers a fact in your own words. But if #2, #3, #4, and #5 on the list are in almost the exact same order as they are in a list someone else wrote, you didn’t do your research carefully. The symptoms lists are everywhere. Mentally process what you read, remember the basic symptoms, and then write them in a list, from memory, and then check a few sources to see if you forgot any. I’ve written a symptoms list many times and I can’t remember what I’ve put as symptom number two each time. Who knows? It’s really #1 that’s memorable.

avoid plagiarism writing a book

Avoid accidentally plagiarizing when you are writing a book!

 

If you hire a researcher, that person could cause you to accidentally plagiarize. Perhaps Crowley had a ghostwriter or researcher helping her, and Crowley was not on top of the researcher’s work. Even so, the helper might not have been responsible for these passages.  A professional ghostwriter can often pick up on a researcher’s or author/expert/client’s cut and paste from someone else’s site when the document is returned from the author/expert/client. A ghostwriter or developmental editor will look for font and formatting changes as well as words that don’t sound like the author/expert would use them. For example, in one plagiarized passage, Crowley used the term “coyly”—that’s an unusual word. If I were the ghostwriter or developmental editor working on a book like this, I’d find or ask for the original source of the anecdote and Google “Churchill drunk coyly” and similar combinations to figure out the original source of the anecdote. I probably would have found the same source she (or her researcher) used and realized oh no, this is plagiarized and that means other passages may be too! That’s just one way I would research an anecdote or ask the client to research it. Be really clear with a researcher about what you want delivered. Think about whether you might want your researcher to read this article and discuss it with you.

 

Also in that anecdote, she had Winston Churchill saying something to a woman while “drunk” (an informal word that you should not use to describe people who are inebriated unless you are sure you want to use that word.) I’d question who referred to him as “drunk” and look that up using a search engine, and perhaps Google Books.

 

Anecdotes should be put in your own words, just as if you were telling the story to someone else. You should cite the original source in an endnote or footnote if you can’t find multiple sources that have the same basic details. Use your own words; it’s easy to do. You would do it if you were speaking on a teleseminar or in front of an audience, wouldn’t you?

 

Good researchers and writers doing research take detailed notes. They save links and summarize what was on the site, and put in quotation marks specific locutions/combinations of words they might want to use as a direct quote. They even use ellipses (that’s: . . .) and brackets (that’s []) to be sure the quote is not tampered with, and they note the page number. Then, in later drafts, they, and the copyeditor, go back and check the quotation in context, word for word, punctuation mark for punctuation mark.

 

When rewording material, process it mentally. Sit and think about all the research you did on a particular topic, and think about what details your reader needs to know. A statistic? Dates? Actual quotes from people that show they clearly misspoke, misremembered, or lied about details and dates? People often don’t remember exact details so do some research online, using reliable sources. Just for fun, try to find a reliable source for the claim that drinking 8 ounces of water a day is important for health. Go to a .gov site, or Web MD or Mayo Clinic or a major medical college (with a .edu) and try to get evidence to support this claim. Good luck! Whatever you find, cite the source in your text or even in endnotes and paraphrase it accurately if you choose to paraphrase. Books rarely have footnotes anymore since people don’t like them at the foot (bottom) of the page. I love endnotes. They help me see where an author got her information, clue me into other books I might want to read and articles I might want to check out, and provide information that didn’t quite fit in the main text but is still interesting.

 

It’s shocking that someone who gets a major book deal would plagiarize, but it can happen. Be sure you talk with professionals in the book business about any research that needs to get done for your book and any fact checking it requires. They can save you embarrassments and headaches–and headlines and lost credibility.

 

 

So to sum up:

 

Don’t rely on someone else to catch any accidental cutting-and-pasting of words from another source!

 

Don’t cut and paste someone else’s words into your document without clearly marking what is a quotation and citing the source, including a link. 

 

Use tricks like all-caps headers, idea files, quotations and citations and links for every quote, and different fonts to avoid accidentally mistaking someone else’s words as your own.

 

Memorize concepts. Process your ideas before writing them in your own words. Paraphrase accurately but still, cite sources.

 

Be cautious about lists.

 

If you hire a researcher, discuss with that professional what they will deliver. Consider having them read this article. 

 

Cite your sources. Cite your sources. Cite your sources.

 

Want to receive even more practical information about writing mind/body/spirit nonfiction? Be sure to sign up for my email newsletter and you won’t miss any of the free information and special offers I have for my followers!

 

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”!

 

self-help books developmental editor

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?