All writers have an extremely personal relationship with what they write. But if you’re a self-help writer, the personal nature of that material isn’t disguised through characters with different names in fantastical or fictionalized worlds. It’s just you and the reader, one on one: a friend trying to help another friend. Although all forms of writing require vulnerability, when you can’t disguise yourself at all it becomes even more challenging. Your instinct will be to make the writing more formal, but would that actually help your readers?
What would’ve helped you?
When you’re thinking about a self-help audience, you’re directing your book toward someone who is in need of something. Whether that be the strength to overcome a traumatic experience or simply to achieve a higher level of spiritual happiness, your reader is coming to this book with a specific goal in mind. If you’re a self-help writer, you’ve chosen a topic in which you have some expertise. Whether you studied it in school or you experienced it personally, you have something to offer your readers. The best way to approach it is to think of how you felt when you experienced what your reader is going through. What do you wish people would’ve said to you? What do you wish you would’ve done for yourself? Be that person for your reader, admit what you did wrong and help your reader learn from your mistakes- much like they’re a younger sibling.
Make it personal
If you’re not at least somewhat uncomfortable writing a self-help book, you’re doing it wrong. Readers don’t want to read a book from the perspective of someone who comes across as so much wiser and better than they are–that just makes you appear stuck-up. Instead, they want to get advice from someone who they feel truly understands them in ways that no one else does. You can’t be afraid to admit uncomfortable truths or details about what you went through. Be open to the idea of discussing things that you may be afraid won’t cast you in a good light or experiences that are so vulnerable and raw that you wouldn’t want others seeing you like that. Your instinct will be to steer away from these experiences, but these are the moments that will end up helping your readers the most. They let your readers know that they’re not alone in what they’re going through and that if you can get through the experience or achieve the goal, so can they.
Make the reader your friend
Because the material and what is being accomplished through a self-help journey is so impactful and personal, you can’t write your book from a distant third-person perspective. Not only do you need to be very present in the book, but you need to have a level of love and affection for your reader as well. As writers, thinking about readers can be a scary thing. We love our books and the idea of these nameless, shapeless identities picking it up and having a reaction that’s totally out of our control scares us to death. But as a self-help writer, you don’t have the luxury of solely focusing on the material and worrying about the reader later. What makes a self-help book effective is that personal one-on-one relationship a reader can develop with the author. When you’re thinking about your voice for your book, picture the reader as one of your closest friends and imagine you’re writing it to them.
Even if your story is a personal one, your readers will still want to see you’ve done at least some level of research on the subject you’re working with. And it doesn’t always have to be that you’re finding facts or figures to back up what you’re saying- it could be the opposite, too. If the book is about your journey and what worked for you personally, then you can talk about what experts have recommended and why those things didn’t work for you. If your book is more about your personal experience and not as backed up by research, make sure you let your readers know that up front. Everyone’s experience is different, what worked for you might not work for someone else (and that’s OK). It doesn’t make your book any less credible because when you were going through your experience you likely received a lot of advice that may or may not have worked for you, too. Your readers will respect you being upfront and just reading about someone who shares an experience or struggle or feeling with them will be a comfort in and of itself.