Writing a Self-Help Book in 7 Steps

Kevin Ott
Woman writing

If you have a heart for others and an insightful mind that sees ways for people to break out of problems, you have the first ingredients needed to write a self-help book. The rest comes with hard work, discipline, and a clear plan, as the following steps outline.

1. Know Yourself and Your Strengths

You can't help others in an area that you haven't conquered yourself. This doesn't necessarily mean you have to be an Olympic athlete or have some miracle one-in-a-million story. You just need a track record of success in that area that says, "Hey, I know what I'm talking about with this stuff. What I've done really works."

2. Define the Problem You Will Tackle

Your first inklings about writing a self-help book might be filled with glittering generalities. Your goal might be vague: "I want to help people live happier, fuller lives." That's fine, but how? What specific obstacle have you conquered that you can help others overcome? Define the one problem you'll focus on.

3. Get Even More Specific: Find Your Niche

Once you've settled on the one problem, get even more specific. Refine your target audience to a specific niche to help you cut through the white noise of competition. Do you want to help people lose weight? Is there a specific corner in the community that you want to help? Maybe it's mothers of autistic children because you have a unique understanding of what they go through, and you want to help them develop exercise that combats stress. Finding your niche, whatever it is, will help provide focus for your book.

4. Begin Building Your Platform

Before you begin writing, you have to answer a tough question: how will I reach my niche? Do you have a network of people who can help you reach this audience? Make a list of people you know, things you can do (public speaking, blogging), or places you can go (conferences, radio shows) to build your sphere of influence.

Example: You know the head of a county-wide support group for moms with autistic children. Ask her if you can speak to the group sometime to share the principles that you know will be in your book.

5. Begin Writing

Start small. Think baby steps. Don't think, "I'm going to sit down and write an entire chapter in one night." Create micro-goals like these:

  • Sum up the problem your book will solve and the primary solution it uses in one sentence. Sound easy? That task alone could take an entire evening. That's great. You're refining the concept of your book.
  • The next night, take that one-sentence summary and expand it into a paragraph. You're adding a few more general principles that explain the problem and solution a little better.
  • The next day, take the paragraph and expand it into a page.

6. Build Momentum and Find Structure

This is just one example of a way to ease into the writing process and build momentum. The good news about self-help books is this: they are not long. 25,000 to 30,000 words will do it. That may sound like a sea of words but that's only about seven to ten chapters. Use the typical self-help book structure as a framework for your chapter planning.

7. Use Writing to Build Your Platform (and Vice Versa)

Use the book writing process to build your author platform and use your platform to shape your book. How does that work? Here's a sequential cause-and-effect example:

  1. You start a blog to build your platform.
  2. In truth, you are secretly writing your book through your blog. Plan a blog article series that maps out the core principles of your self-help solution. When you finish the series, use those articles as chapters in your book if you are self-publishing. If you want a traditional publisher, they often refuse to publish material that's been made available online. In that case, don't use your articles in your book verbatim, but as guides for each chapter.
  3. As you get a following through your blog, social media, podcast, or whatever you're using to build your platform, you may get invitations to speak at small local events. Even if you have not finished your book, say yes to any opportunity. These events will give you the chance to test your solution in the real world.

Your Book Will Need Help Too

After you finish your first complete draft, don't immediately shoot it off to literary agencies or publishers. Test it in the market. Give it to someone in your target audience and see how much it really helps them. Receive their brutal feedback with open arms, then revise your book. Repeat as needed until it is genuinely changing people's lives.

Writing a Self-Help Book in 7 Steps