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Fact: People love self-help books. They love reading them AND (after they’ve made a breakthrough) they often love writing them. Literary agents love to see self-help books that offer guidance and direction; so do publishers. Books about spirituality, dieting, and mastering our emotions fly off the shelves (so not only are they fun to work on, they also rake in the dough).
There are lots of reasons that writing a book of personal advice based on life experience is a good thing—for the writer, for the writer’s loved ones, and maybe for the world. But if you want your self-help advice to be noticed by the big players in the book biz, you’ve got to know how to play the game.
Here’s Where Most Self-Help Books Go Wrong
- The material is self-indulgent. Okay—this one’s a little tricky because, let’s face it, the act of writing is often, in and of itself, self-indulgent. But bad nonfiction self-help books take self-indulgence to a whole other level. Self-help books that are not upbeat, reader-centric, and full of practical advice tend to disappear into literary agents’ and editors’ slush piles.
- The material isn’t fresh. We all know the modern dilemma: Everything’s been said and done. Chances are, if you’ve thought of something, somebody else has too. But that shouldn’t be a discouragement! It just means that you have to know the competition really well. If you’re going to have the chutzpah to tell that world it should take your advice, then you’d better know what advice is already out there.
- The writer doesn’t know how the publishing industry works. Many writers think they can put a book on paper, then everything else will fall into place. But most of the time it’s not that easy. Self-help authors need to read up on literary agents, editors, and types of publishers. Only then can the real work of getting published begin. We recommend you start with our Free Publishing Tool Kit if you’re new to the book biz.
- The writer doesn’t have a strong author platform and a strong Web presence. When a literary agent receives a proposal for a nonfiction book like a self-help book, the writer’s personal experience and ideas are only going to take the project so far. If you want to land a big book deal, you’ve got to show that you’re a tireless promoter, that you already have a fan base, and that you’re establishing yourself as an authority in your field. Otherwise, you may be better off skipping the “self-help” angle and reworking your book as a memoir.
- The writer has a weak nonfiction book proposal—or no proposal at all. Prescriptive nonfiction (like self-help books) is normally sold via proposal. So writers who don’t put together fabulous proposals tend to be left in the dust.
- The writer isn’t querying the right literary agents (or editors). Maybe you’ve written the best nonfiction book proposal in the history of the universe. But if you’re not sending it to the right people, you might as well not send it to anyone at all. Writer’s Relief can help you identify the BEST literary agent for your nonfiction book.
- The submissions are full of typos and formatting faux pas. When you’ve been in the publishing industry long enough, you realize that agents will use red flags as shortcuts to making a decision about a project. Certain types of formatting choices and typos can land your project in the trash with little more than a glance. Writer’s Relief can proofread and format your book submissions.
Before you send your nonfiction self-help book out into the world, take our advice: If you’re serious about publishing, get serious about learning the publishing biz. Build your author platform. Create a killer author website. And be true to yourself and your vision as you begin to send your good advice into the world!
QUESTION: Do you think there are enough advice books out there? Or do we need more?