Four Questions for Self-Help Authors

For this post I’m largely ceding the floor to April Hamilton—blogger, novelist, and editor of Publetariat, an important resource for people who want to self-publish a book.

In 2009, April wrote a smart series of posts about common problems with self-published non-fiction books. The series is worth revisiting. The questions she asks will apply to many self-help and spirituality books.

1. On what experiences did you base your book?

Watch out for authors who base all their advice on a few isolated incidents in their personal lives. Perhaps these authors did meet a significant goal or achieve another desirable result. But any of us can forget the difference between coincidences and genuine cause-and-effect relationships. For some juicy examples, see Hubris, Not Bad Writing or Design, Sinks Most Self-Published Non-Fiction.

2. Are you qualified to write about this topic?

When you buy a non-fiction book, you are in effect hiring someone to teach you something. So, check out the author’s bio, including experience and education. As April points out in Nobody Wants To Take Advice From A Dabbler Or A Flake, relevance matters.

3. Is your book actually a memoir?

A good self-help book offers genuine instruction—principles, examples, and suggestions for  changing specific behaviors. Watch out for books that merely string together a series of personal anecdotes rather than giving a model that you can follow. For details, see Memoirs And Reference Books Are Entirely Different Things.

4. Did you write in plain English wherever possible?

Sometimes authors need to invent new terms to convey new ideas. But when writing for a general audience, the best self-help writers use familiar words whenever possible. Their books are filled with examples drawn from daily life—stories that can be told without a specialized vocabulary.

Invented Ideologies And Lexica warns us to beware of the needless acronym. As Mark Twain said, “Don’t use a five-dollar word when a fifty-cent word will do.”

1 thought on “Four Questions for Self-Help Authors”

  1. This is a good and timely post for me, Doug, thanks! And I have added Publetariat to my Favorites list; it looks like a great site.


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