As you know, in addition to writing fiction and blogging, I’m also a reviewer. I have less time to review now than I used to, but I still pick up the occasional offers. I’ve read my fair share of Self-Help books for review...and I think we need to talk.
Here’s one of my dirty little secrets: I’ve read Self-Help books for years and have some sense of what works. I really, really have no interest in things like Women Who Love Too Much or Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus (blech and double blech), but I have enjoyed everything that Zac Bissonnette has written so far (which is a sign of what a great writer he is because I am sooo not his target audience). I’ve also read more guides on fitness than most people know exist, and I not only used to read books on fashion and beauty (or, more accurately, wardrobe advice, cosmetics application and hair styling tips), I used to seek out old, out-of-print guides when I was younger. I mean, I remember sitting in the back room stacks of the Cambridge Public Library in the Eighties reading things that were published in the mid Sixties, and one of my favorite guides on skin care for adolescents was published in the Seventies. And I’ve perused plenty of titles on personal finance, education, programming, time management and organization, among others.
|One of my favorite books, and not an exaggeration to say it changed my life|
Brevity doesn’t have to be a bad thing, but let’s not get carried away: some of the titles I’ve seen in the last few months would be better as a monetized blog post and not an ebook. If you can’t write more than ten thousand words on a subject, please step back and reconsider whether it’s something you should be putting on Amazon or Smashwords, even if it’s free. And if it’s not free...do you really want to charge ten bucks for sixty pages? Really?
The basic problems these books are trying to help us solve haven’t changed- we’ve been trying to make limited resources do more for centuries, and we’ve all wanted to look taller, thinner and wealthier with high cheekbones, full lips and almond shaped eyes for at least fifty years- so it has to be presented in a way that speaks to your contemporaries enough that you’ll keep them through the end of your short book. One way to do this is through real-life examples, be they testimonials or anecdotes; provide some kind of proof that someone else has taken your advice and been better for it before you clicked Publish on Kindle Direct Publishing’s dashboard. If you are going to talk only about your own experiences, then tell a compelling story about yourself. In other words, be engaging and take me on your journey. Even more importantly, use your skills as a writer to convince me that I can and should follow you on that same path.
|...whereas this was one of the worst things I ever read, and I only finished it because it was required for a retreat|
The best Self Help is common sense, but that’s not a bad thing. As we’re inundated with garbage science, get rich quick schemes and politicians, entertainers and media figures who profit from making readers and viewers afraid, reminders of common sense can be good things. So if that’s something you want to publish, be proud. Now figure out a way to do it well.