Sadly I have seen smart and dedicated professionals spend months on a self-help book that fails to make a ripple. Usually, the culprit is one or more of the three following pitfalls. I don't want that to happen to you. So p-l-e-a-s-e don't fall down the same black hole.
Pitfall No. 1 GENERAL INFORMATION
A self-help book that begins with a general overview of why naturopathy or ecstatic coaching is a powerful path to healing will not help people. Same thing goes for the business author who starts off by explaining how technology has changed the world of the small business owner.
Why? Because your reader is not interested in general information—they can easily find it on Google.
Example: Let’s say that Jane, your reader (and target market), is a menopausal woman who suffers from debilitating migraines. The purpose of your book is to present your time-tested protocol for treating migraines, along with a few case studies that will earn her trust.
She is eager to learn how your expertise can solve her very specific problem right now. Cut out all the content that is not specific to that purpose. Yes, everything. Your reader will appreciate it. And there’s a bonus result: your laser-focus will leave your reader wanting more.
Pitfall No. 2 BEING TOO POSITIVE
This one might seem strange. Why would you want to avoid emphasizing the positive aspects of the solution your reader is looking for?
Practitioners, consultants and coaches often get so excited about what they offer that they forget to talk about the problem. This is a HUGE mistake. Your solution must be counterbalanced with a clear and vivid picture of the pain and frustration that is afflicting your potential client/reader.
What is this problem costing them? How is it affecting their relationships, their work?
Consider Jane’s migraine. She is constantly vigilant, always worried that a headache might disable her at any moment. As a result, she’s stopped going to the theater with her friends. She’s become withdrawn with her family. And at work, she’s been passed over for a promotion because she can’t travel. This is a major disruption in her life.
This approach applies to any kind of problem you solve, whether it’s helping someone grow their business or guiding someone through a painful divorce. Reminding your reader of their pain shows that you appreciate and understand what’s going on in their world. It creates connection. It also generates a desire for your solution.
Pitfall No. 3 DULL, BORING COPY
Write in simple, conversational English! People respond to straight talk. Don’t use a three-syllable word when a two-syllable word will do.
Many professionals and consultants sit down to write and immediately lose their natural voice. They fall into a dull and inauthentic style reminiscent of their college paper-writing years. Or they use an academic style suitable for professional journals. They mistakenly think long or convoluted sentences are better than short ones; or that using semi-colons will make them seem smart or sophisticated. Not so.
Be direct. Get to it. No matter how valuable your content is, if it’s not accessible it won’t be read.
Give readers easy access to your wisdom and knowledge by following these guidelines:
Keep your sentences short (25-30 words) and your paragraphs short (65-85 words).
Write in your natural conversational voice.
Avoid technical jargon, academic or formal language.
Break up long chunks of text with subheads and bulleted lists.
Use images that add color and information.
Sally Wolfe is a professional book editor and coach with eight years experience specializing in nonfiction self-help. Prior to her editorial career, Sally spent 17 years in Silicon Valley’s tech industry as a copywriter and publicist, where she honed her business and communications skills.
Contact her: sally (at) sallywolfe.com