Writing Self-Help – The Fundamentals

What does it take to write a self-help book?

Lots of people blunder into it, thinking it’s just about getting everything out onto the page. Then that’s it. But this is tantamount to writing a novel without structure and direction. It’ll bore readers or be hard to follow. Readers will then disengage and put the book down. There you go: you’ve lost them.

With a self-help book, it’s worse because self-help authors are also working in the self-help industry. The book is a direct reflection of them and their practices. Release a shoddy book, and people are going to think that the author is shoddy. Now people don’t just disengage from the book, but will also disregard the author as a self-help practitioner. That’s two strikes. Most people don’t go back for the third.

If you’re going to write a self-help book, here are the fundamentals you need to consider …

Word Length

Go to a bookstore and check the self-help section. What you’ll find is that most of the books are about the same size – about 25,000 – 50,000 words. Readers want help, and they want to digest it as quickly as possible. That’s not to say that a bigger book can’t work. But it’s going to have a harder chance of succeeding.


It’s worth scribbling down everything you feel your practice offers. Look at each item. Work out which item would deserve its own chapter (a main) and which item would be explored as a step in that chapter (a subordinate).

For example, if we were writing a book on improving health through diet and exercise, we might break it down like this:

Understanding Our Bodies

  • Delineates that everybody comes into this from a different starting point
  • Recognise and respect any physical detriments, like physical problem spots or injuries
  • A caution: listen to the body – pull back if your body is telling you it’s not coping
  • Have fun through this program


  • An introduction to diet
  • The right and wrong foods
  • Breakfast
    • Explain that breakfast is the most important meal of the day
    • Look at the best things to eat
    • Offer some recipes
  • Lunch
    • Look at best things to eat
    • Offer some recipes
  • Dinner
    • Look at the best things to eat
    • Offer some recipes
  • Supplemental Meals
    • Snacks you can eat through the day
    • Shakes
      • Recipes


  • Alternating routines, e.g. work the legs one day, work the arms another day
  • Drawing up a program
  • Exercises
    • Arms
    • Legs
    • Back
    • Body
  • Charting progress

Just through this simple example, we can see what are the mains, what are the subordinates, and the relationship they share.


If you were to buy a television cabinet in a flat-pack, you’ll find that it comes with a set of instructions that show you how to build the cabinet. With each step, you’ll assemble another part of it. You would see it build up. By the end, you have a completed cabinet.

What you’re doing is no different. You’re effectively offering a set of instructions on how to fix or improve something.

So these steps need to be clear, actionable, and progressive.


There should be an order that these steps follow. What does the reader need to know first before they progress?

Going back to the analogy of the instructions, you can’t complete step 8 until all the steps before it have been ticked off.

Think about the best order for your methodology.


How do you sell your message? You will notice that many books in this genre have a certain amount of steps to achieve the goal, e.g. 7 Steps to Weight Loss.

It’s fine to wrap your methodology in some nifty presentation, but make sure it’s justified. Don’t say to yourself that your book is going to contain twelve steps and thirty-five thousand words, and then force the methodology to fit. That will show.

While writing observes, incorporates, and shares certain facets (e.g. structure, grammar), its form is still dictated by what the content is doing. The content should always drive the shape it employs.

Point of Difference

Think about why your message is going to sell, when there are undoubtedly others who are saying the same thing. This holds true to any genre of writing.

You need to find the why in why your content is different from what’s already out there, and how that will make it stand out from the competitors.

This might be any or all of the methodology, the presentation, who you are as an author, etc.


Want to be the next Tony Robbins, Wayne Dyer, Louise Hay, Eckhart Tolle, or Brené Brown?

It is guaranteed that you will not join this pantheon of self-help authors by simply regurgitating what they’re saying. If people want to read what Tony Robbins has to say, they’ll pick up a Tony Robbins’ book or go to his workshop. They will not go to your book.

There is also the matter of copyright. While it’s fine to quote another author, using their methodology or one of their exercises is an infringement on their intellectual property, and can result in legal action.

The reason people are coming to your book is because of what you have to say.

Unique Voice

The writers who succeed are the writers who find their unique voice. They don’t try and sound like other authors. They don’t write exactly like other authors do.

They sell who they are uniquely, because that’s what stands out in a crowd.

Sell who YOU are to write the book you want to write.

If you’ve been thinking about writing a self-help book, why not attend our 3-hour workshop to get all the tools you need to write and publish it?

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