Two Questions to Ask Before You Write a Self-Help Book

So, you want to write a self-help book. You have a body of ideas, some stories, and a process that you’d like to document.

These are the questions to ask yourself:

  1. You’re at a party and someone asks you, “What’s your book about?” You have 10 seconds to answer.
  2. You answer the first question, and the person replies, “Interesting. But why would I care?

If you cannot answer these questions—or if you are not willing to answer them—then take pause.

Writing a good book can be a long, arduous, gut-wrenching process. If you’ve never written a book before, then brace yourself for a real surprise.

Writing is a purging fire.  Are you ready for it?

Writing is a process in which everything you think you know will be questioned.

In his book The Way of Transformation, Karlfried Graf von Durkheim describes spiritual practice as entering a “zone of annihilation.”

That’s writing, in a nutshell.

Writing a book forces you to develop and articulate your ideas. During this process, you might discover gaps in your knowledge, contradictory claims, and holes in your evidence.

In fact, you might plunge headlong into the void. You might realize that you don’t really know anything.

I am not saying these things to annoy you. I actually want your book to succeed.

The two questions listed above are what a literary agent will ask you. They are what an acquisitions editor at a publishing house will ask you.

Most importantly, they are the questions that potential readers will ask you.

The failure to answer these questions is part of the reason that many nonfiction books lose money.

May this never happen to you.

Image by Horia Varlan, Flickr Creative Commons


  1. I feel like writing my literature review is entering the zone of annihilation. I am intrigued that you say this about writing in general — and frankly buoyed! Ha! It’s difficult, putting ideas into words! I am not alone!


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