self-help books


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.

 

Often, aspiring memoir writers ask me how to get started. Do they just hire a ghostwriter and pay for phone time to start telling their stories and getting them into documents? That’s one way to begin, but it is not the only way. I think it’s important to start the writing yourself so you can begin seeing the themes and lessons that you will want to emphasize in your memoir or book of life lessons. Let me offer some writing prompts for you memoir writers who are trying to figure out how to tell your life story.

 

Writing Prompt #1: Write the inspirational story of the moment in your life when you felt the most empowered. Use sensory detail—words that evoke sounds, sensations, visual images, and so on. What did it feel like to be in your body that moment when you spoke your truth? When you walked away from a bad situation? When you felt completely at one with the universe? When you knew you were okay, for the first time in a very long time? When you knew you had achieved success? (This story may end up being at the very beginning of the book.)

 

Writing Prompt #2: Write a story of being a young child playing. What toy were you playing with, and why did you enjoy playing with it? Use sensory detail. What did it feel like to lie on the rug in your family’s living room, or sit on the linoleum in your family’s kitchen, as you played? What were you imagining? What were you feeling? (This exercise can be very effective for drawing out of your unconscious mind a story that tells us something about who you are as an adult, what you value, and what the themes of your story are.)

 

Writing Prompt #3: Tell a funny story that captures your sense of humor. It could be a recent story or an old one from your childhood. Make sure that this story reveals your vulnerability, so that the reader relates to you person to person instead of just seeing you as an expert or leader.

 

After writing these stories, read them aloud. Make any changes to the writing you feel are necessary. Edit these stories as best you can, checking spelling and grammar.

 

Begin to think about what these stories have in common. What are your strengths, weaknesses, and interests as revealed in these stories? What, if anything, do your stories say to a reader about how you overcame challenges? What do they tell people about your personality?

 

All memoirs need a narrative arc. We need to see progress in the story as it takes us from the beginning, through the middle, and to the end. We need to watch you come of age, learn to run a successful business despite humble beginnings and mistakes along the way, grow into a person who has come to peace with your past and developed wisdom and a sense of clarity and purpose, and so on. Think about how you would sum up your memoir in a sentence. How would you describe it using two paragraphs that might be found on the back of the book or on the Amazon page for the book? Look at other books for examples.

 

Once you done some of the writing and started to get a sense of what the central story of your memoir is, think about whether you want to write a memoir, a life lessons book, or a self-help book with takeaway exercises and perhaps even an action plan for developing new habits. Do you want to write a personal history for yourself, your family, and your close friends, and perhaps mine it for stories to use in another book, such as a book related to your business as a speaker and consultant, or in a memoir about one specific time in your life?

 

Whether your plan is to publish the book for yourself and your family and friends, for a larger audience that includes fans of your work as an expert in your field, begin your writing today with these writing prompts for memoir writers. Even if you end up doing a life lessons book or a self-help book, you will be glad you wrote up these stories. Doing so will help you get a better sense of how to integrate your personal anecdotes into the book you want to write. A professional developmental editor or ghostwriter can better help you if you have put some time into writing some stories and putting some thought to the central story of your memoir. You will have an easier time conveying your vision of your memoir once you have written some of the stories, so be sure to get started with these memoir writing prompts!

 

(Do you want to know more about the difference between a developmental editor and a ghostwriter? A ghostwriter actually writes drafts of chapters. A developmental editor works with written material such as rough drafts of manuscripts or chapters. You can learn more about developmental editing by watching my video on cut-and-paste editing, available on YouTube.)

 

 

memoir writing life story life lessons

Writing prompts can help you get started with your memoir or other book that features your story.

 

 

 

Seeking a book deal? Definitely self-publishing? Either way, you need to know how to create a comparative books list. Believe me, as an in-house acquisitions editor at G. P. Putnam’s Sons/Perigee Books and HarperCollins Publishers, I relied on a strong comparative books list to make my case to my colleagues that the book project I was enthusiastic about would be a good investment for the company. When I work with clients to create a vision plan for their book, I find they often get stuck on this crucial piece of their publishing plan. That’s why I wanted to offer some advice here on 4 ways to distinguish your book from comparative books.

 

1. Offer a definitive, big picture view. Maybe the other books out there just don’t give the broader, comprehensive view many readers seek. For example, my book, Raising a Sensory Smart Child, coauthored with Lindsey Biel, is (as the subtitle promises) “The Definitive Handbook for Helping Your Child with Sensory Processing Issues.” As the parent of a child with sensory processing disorder, I didn’t want to buy a dozen books to get the information I needed. I wanted one definitive handbook or “bible.” I’m proud to say that several parents who reviewed it called it their “sensory processing disorder bible.”

 

2. Offer a more focused view. Sometimes, your best bet is to go in the opposite direction of a comprehensive guide—to focus instead on just one specific topic. Many books grow out of a chapter in a previous book or an idea that the previous book inspired. Cinematherapy Goes to the Oscars, which I coauthored with Beverly West, looked specifically at Academy-Award-winning movies and appealed not just to Cinematherapy fans but to fans of the Academy Awards. You might expand on a topic introduced in your previous book or on a topic that came up when doing publicity and marketing for the book. Every year, Bev and I did an annual Cinematherapy Awards press release to tie in with the Academy Awards nominations, and realized that this annual event provided a great way to talk about movies—and in our case, to talk about them in a different way.

 

3. Offer a brand no one can resist. The words you use to convey your message can set your book apart in the marketplace, not just because the words are appealing but because the voice in your writing matches that branding. The bestseller You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life had an emotional appeal that made it sound like more than just a self-help book on gaining confidence so that you could improve your life. No, it’s a book about being a badass living an awesome life someone who has greatness ought to be living! The edgy word “badass” is key to the brand. Books can serve as credibility cards for your work as an expert, so choose your wording and graphic look carefully as you create or refresh your brand.

 

4. Offer an updated approach. Even books on so-called “evergreen” topics, like how to become more assertive or how to become more effective at finding a soulmate, need to be updated as society changes and technology alters how we interact with each other and find, share, and save information. Maybe all the books out there on dating don’t cover the complexities of dating when the reader is gender-nonconforming, or they don’t incorporate information on how to use the latest dating apps. Although technology changes, general ways of using tech can remain the same for several years before you need to update. Think “what’s the strategy” not “what’s the specific technology people are using today.”

Sensory Books sensory diet

A comprehensive approach might be the key to making your book stand out among comparative books.

 

I hope these tips make it easier for you to set yourself apart from comparative books. If you’re still struggling with your brand, and would like to work with me on branding, contact me at info@nancypeske.com and tell me are with your brand so we can set up some coaching sessions.

 

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.

 

 

 

“What’s in it for me?” That’s a key question on the mind of a potential follower/book buyer who is interested in mind/body/spirit nonfiction, the type of book I work on. (Editors, like ghostwriters, specialize in certain genres.) Whatever you are writing, it should sit firmly in that sweet spot where you and your work meet up with someone else’s need or desire to become informed, amused,  inspired  invigorated, etc. When you conceptualize a memoir or self-help book based on your story of overcoming challenges, you need to remember the needs of your potential reader. She wants to learn how she, too, could be like you, and do what you have done. She wants to feel a bond with you. If you want to write a story about a series of terrible situations you survived, do that because it has meaning for you and because it can be a valuable step in your healing process. But don’t assume people want to share in your trauma. They have their own traumas to process. If you want to write mind/body/spirit nonfiction that inspires and educates others, you have to step back from your story and imagine what your reader wants to read. She wants to share in your recovery from abuse, low self-esteem, addiction, and so on. The story of your trauma should be just a small piece of the book you are writing for her.

 

self-help book or memoir

The story of your trauma should be just a small piece of the book you are writing for a reader of mind/body/spirit nonfiction.

 

I hear daily from would-be authors who want to write their story of trauma, and I tell them that if they want to write and inspire others, they need to focus on how they overcame the trauma. As a reader, I always want to know the answer to “What’s in it for me?” I hope the answer is, “An engrossing story that educates me on how I can overcome trauma in my own life.”

 

Karin Volo’s memoir, 1,352 Days, tells an absolutely harrowing tale of how she survived nearly four years of being locked up in a county jail fighting extradition to a foreign country where you’re presumed guilty, not innocent. When I worked with her as a developmental editor to tell the story in an inspiring way, I encouraged her to maintain riveting details about her painful experiences, including the shock and fear she felt when hauled away from an airport gate in handcuffs or locked into a cell with strangers who could have committed a horrific crime for all she knew. However, the story that resonated for me, and that I knew would resonate for readers, was the story of how she got through those years in which she was separated from her young daughters and family, how she kept sane and optimistic, and how she came to forgive herself and her ex-husband for their roles in bringing about this frightening series of events. The book is a memoir, but as a reader, you  will feel it’s about you and what you can do to own your role in bringing about difficulties in your life, and what you can do to change your habits of mind and behavior and let go of anger, resentment, and shame. It’s her memoir, but in essence, it’s about… YOU.

 

Other nonfiction books I’ve worked on are in the self-help vein, and have practical strategies, tips, exercises, and action plans for transforming your life. They incorporate stories and anecdotes, but those stories don’t go on page after page in exhaustive detail. I took my own story about discovering my son had sensory processing disorder, and learning how to help him, and wove it in my book Raising a Sensory Smart Child, but I kept the stories short. I deliberately tried to paint the scenes emotionally so other parents could relate to my experience. I made myself vulnerable on the page, because it’s always easier to take advice from an author who admits to her own failings. In short, in telling those stories, I was always aware of how my reader would feel reading them.
Here’s a trick for making sure your stories are as much about your reader as they are about you. Watch how often you write “I” compared to how often you write “you” or “we.” My general rules are as follows:

 

Consider using “we” to create a bond with your audience: “We parents know what it’s like…” “We all try and fail at times…” Consider using “you” to give advice or create an intimate conversation with the reader. “You can consult with an occupational therapist…” “You might want to look at how you approach your child when he’s totally absorbed in what he’s doing…” “You, too, might be feeling overwhelmed by all the choices…” If you use too much “we” language, it can start to sound as if you’re pontificating, so be cautious. In self-help, I favor “you” but will often switch from “you” to “we” when I’m concerned that the author might take offense at the assumptions I’m making about her.  Rather than write, “You play a role in your child’s inability to control his temper”–ouch!–I would write, “If our children are unable to control their tempers, we parents need to know that we play a role in that” or “We might hate to admit it, but we parents always play at least some role in our children’s inability…” I might stick with “you” language and write something like, “You may not realize it, but you could be playing a role in your child’s inability to control his temper.” People don’t like to read about their failings, and they don’t want you to be the expert on high telling them what they are doing wrong and never admitting you screw up, too, so make sure that your language reflects their need to feel connected to you instead of judged by you.

 

Never forget that you are writing for a reader, not just for yourself, and your writing will be much more engaging, and much more likely to attract followers to your work.

(P.S. Want more helpful advice on getting started writing and publishing your book? Sign up for my email newsletter!)

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