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Not-So-Great Advice: 7 Needless Errors Self-Help Writers Make When Trying To Get Published

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

  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.

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  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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!

Writer QuestionsQUESTION: Do you think there are enough advice books out there? Or do we need more?


12 Responses to Not-So-Great Advice: 7 Needless Errors Self-Help Writers Make When Trying To Get Published

  1. The main thing is, if you have something to share that you think some people might be saved with their dilemma, why not? For those readers where the story is not applicable then so be it. Selp-help writers should be consistent in doing what they are called to do. It is called “life’s mission.”

  2. Thank you for this…

    I needed to hear that message…

    I am not sure of what to do with the book I’ve written.

  3. I think everyone has a story. Everyone has their own point of view. If every writer chose not to write a book because there were so many books of that type in the world, then there would be no new writers. When a person has a story that is burning to get out of them, then, they should write their book. Half the battle of writing is just that, writing. One should not be stopped in their desires to create a book. Now a days there are so many avenues for a person to get their out into the public’s hands. One should not be lost in the fact that, there are those kinds of books that have been written before. They should not be worrying about if their book is going to be the one that makes a lot of money. The truth is most books that are written do not turn into payments for the writers. One shouldn’t worry about if they will make any money from their book written, well not at least until you have a finished book. When you put your mind on all the obstacles of whether you should write, and whether anyone will pay for your book, you will be stopped dead in your tracks; you will never finish your book. I think it is very short sighted for one person to tell another person, oh you shouldn’t write that book because there are a thousand books like that one out there. It is true that there are a thousand books out there on that same subject but they are lacking one thing, they do not have that writer’s voice or that of the writer’s point of view. I say, if you want to write a book, then you should write that book.
    Never let someone else stop you from creating! Life becomes dole when we stop creating. An unhappy person is someone who has stopped creating. The written word is one of the powerful ways of creating. Mankind has used the written word to control whole societies for thousands of years. One person can use the written word to help another, to create stories of all kinds. Never underestimate the power of the written word. Just look at the bible for proof of the power of stories and the power of the written word. Please create away, write until your heart’s desires are filled.

  4. My perspective os, if you have gone through something tragic or fighting and living with a chonic illness every day and you have found a way to make your life more meaningful and enjoyable, then by all means, you have a great “Self Help” book. Your ability to help someone an be a great healer for yourself and others.

  5. Sure all the comments are great expressions! However, for Self Help, one should be able to help himself or herself before going out to the world and talking about it. I have a project D.Y.D.Y. which I have been working on since January and am going through a hard time which has helped me write better.

    Hope all your projects go great people. God Bless You…

  6. Not every self help book emotionally touches all the millions of people out here.
    Because we are all really unique where it counts deep within, there is a special book or books for each person.

  7. I feel strongly that if someone in the world has gone through a
    strange and unusual circumstance, and he or she feels as
    though the whole world need to know about this, then let it
    be so, publish it, he or she should give out the information
    in which is important and should be known, it might help
    save someone marriage, or life who knows, every situation
    is different. The author should know whether or not his or
    her story would be beneficial to someone or not.

  8. I don’t think there’s such a thing as too many advice books. Some people relate to things differently than others so why limit what’s available?

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