Professional book editor in the UK reveals the number 1 rule for writing a self-help book and why you need to stick to it!
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As a full-time book editor, I have been approached by many aspiring authors who have written a self-help book. Some have focused on mental health issues like anxiety and depression; some have concentrated on addiction and recovery; and others have centred on abuse and healing. Although these clients have had great ideas, methods, and techniques that could really benefit their target audience, they have all shared the same issue in common.
Yep, you guessed it – a lack of research and evidence.
When someone in need picks up a self-help book with the hope of learning how to deal with a myriad of possible issues, that person expects to see that the author is an expert in that field with a credible bibliography and professional knowledge.
If they realise that the book is full of opinion-based points with a lack of real knowledge and expertise, they will quickly put it down and find one they can trust to help them.
It’s the same principle as if you visited the doctor, only to discover that the ‘professional’ behind the desk has not been trained at all, but an imposter full of opinions and guesses. You would dash straight back out the room and demand to see a real doctor.
Well, it’s the same for self-help books – if they lack authority, they won’t get very far.
So… the number one rule for writing a self-help book is to research your topic as much as possible and provide evidence to support what you write.
For example, let’s pretend you're writing a self-help book for people who suffer with paranoia and paranoid thoughts. You may be inclined to write the following paragraph at some point in your book:
It has been said that no one really knows the exact cause of paranoia, but different people will have their own possible reasons and explanations. However, scholars and researchers have listed the main factors that could cause someone to experience paranoid thoughts.
The example above is only three lines long, but there is a lack of evidence, and therefore credibility, on three separate occasions:
1. It has been said that…
Who has said that no one really knows the exact cause of paranoia? Is the original source of this statement trustworthy, or has the author just made this point up for the sake of it?
2. …but different people will have their own possible reasons and explanations.
This section doesn’t lack as much evidence as the previous example, but if you wish to extend the reliability of what you’re saying, this is the perfect opportunity to add a case study or two to show individual reasons and explanations.
3. …scholars and researchers have listed…
What scholars and researchers? Well-known researchers who may have appeared on the TV? An organisation full of scholars and academics? These are just a few of the questions your readers may ask when they read this empty statement, so try to avoid sentences like this if you want to remain trustworthy.
Now, if you’re used to writing empty statements such as the ones listed above, you may be wondering how on earth you’re supposed to change that.
Well, before you even begin writing the book, you should have extensively researched the area you plan to write about.
As a result, when you eventually start to write, you should have bags of evidence to support your claims.
Let’s refer back to the previous example and I'll show you how to transform a hollow paragraph into one that will fill your readers will confidence and hope.
According to Mind, the mental health charity in England and Wales, no one really knows the exact cause of paranoia, but different people will have their own reasons and explanations. For example, in the case study on the previous page, Lucy’s paranoia began after she experienced a traumatic experience as a child. Although not everyone with paranoid thoughts will share Lucy’s past, Mind has also given a list of potential factors that could cause a person to experience it.
As you can see from the new paragraph above, I have given much more evidence to support the three points, which increases the credibility for the reader. Instead of providing a lack of evidence like before, this example clearly states that the author has researched Mind and used their know-how to provide resourceful information that may be useful.
Rather than telling the reader that many other sufferers have different causes for their paranoia, I included a real case study to show other people's experiences, so readers are then able to relate to them personally.
If you’re writing a self-help book about any topic, remember to research as much as you possibly can, provide evidence to support your points, and reference EVERYTHING!
You don’t want the copyright police chasing you down!
- Chelsea x
P.S. If you have a self-help book that needs a professional edit, feel free to get in touch with me here! :)
Hey! I'm Chelsea and I'm a professional book editor at Stand Corrected Editing, my editorial business in the UK. If you need professional book editing services and are currently looking for a manuscript editor, please get in touch and we can get started today!
With my book editing and proofreading services, I hope to spread my knowledge and expertise on how to make your novel a success, and be a mentor to others who desperately want to pursue a fruitful career as an author!