In my YouTube video on structuring a self-help book, I described the parts of a self-help book. When you divide those parts into chapters, you may have one or more chapters per part. However, you might find that one of those parts, such as the action plan, just needs to be a section of a chapter. (When that’s the case, you probably have exercises scattered throughout the book.)
Here’s a handy guide to remembering the way these six parts are commonly broken into chapters in a self-help book:
Self-Help Book Contents
Introduction: How I Came to Write This Book and Do the Research, And How It’s Organized
Chapter 1: The Urgent Problem (Don’t Worry—You’ll Solve It!)
Chapter 2: How You Came to Have This Problem (The History of Your Woes)
Chapter 3: What You Need to Know Before Tackling Your Urgent Problem (Trust Me, It’s Important!)
Chapter 4: More Stuff You Have to Know Before Taking Action to Solve the Problem (No, You’re Not Done Yet)
Chapter 5: Even More Stuff You Have to Know Before Taking Action (Be Patient—Each of These Chapters IS Necessary!)
Chapter 6: The Action Plan (What You’re Going to Have to Do)
Chapter 7: The Action Plan, More Details (It’s More Complicated Than You Thought, So We Need Another Chapter)
Chapter 8: The Action Plan in Action (What It Looks Like, With Lots of Anecdotes So I’m Sure You TRULY Get These Ideas)
Chapter 9: Troubleshooting When Problems Arise (Those Special Times When You’re Stressed Out or Things Get Complicated)
Chapter 10: Expanding Outward (Maintaining Your New Habits, A Pep Talk to Keep You Going, And How to Connect with Others Who Support Your New Habits and Deal With People Who Don’t)
Resources, Acknowledgements, Appendix, And All That
Of course, you don’t have to have ten chapters. You might have six, or twelve, or twenty-three. What’s most important is that the overall structure supports the reader’s journey from identifying the problem (and being emotionally engaged by your book!) to feeling empowered to create new habits, sustain them, and affect the world in a positive way. Now, that last piece may sound lofty, but don’t all of us want to improve some aspect of our lives, not just to alleviate discomfort or embarrassment, or make more money or have better relationships, but to expand on our greater joy and confidence by inspiring people around us, attracting new clients and friends and partners, and improving how things work in our families, workplaces, and communities? Increasingly, I’m finding my clients are putting more consideration into what goes into this last part. We’re all exquisitely aware of how much the world is changing, and how strongly we want to affect it positively. I encourage those of you who are writing self-help to put some thought to what would be in the fifth part of your self-help book.
The sixth part, “the future,” is your opportunity to help the reader connect with your work, your future advice, and other resources. It can include the author biography page with your contact information and resources. This is also the place where appendices (typically, charts and lists) go, and where acknowledgments typically go. (Sometimes, they’re in the front, but do you really want to hear all the “thanks to so-and-so”s before YOU read a book? Probably not. Stick it in the back of the book if you can.) You’d also add an index here if your book needs an index. But for pitching a book, you just need to list what’s in the sixth part; you don’t have to include it. I definitely urge you NOT to include acknowledgments in a book proposal–and don’t put in a dedication, either. Those are final touches for when the book has been written and edited.
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Self-help book structure by chapter