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  10 Key Ingredients for Successful Self-help and How-to Books
By Sharon Good

People are always looking for ways to enrich their lives and improve their skills. That keeps self-help and how-to books in demand. No wonder then that agents and editors are always looking for unique, well-constructed books in these genres.

To write a successful self-help or how-to book, you must win readers' trust by convincing them that you understand their problems and will offer ways to resolve them. You must also provide tools and techniques to further readers' knowledge and skills, and resources for further study or growth.

In addition, your book must include each of the key ingredients below. These are the same ones agents and publishers will expect when reviewing your book proposal.

1. Solid credentials or expertise
These can come through professional or personal experience. They may include an academic degree, but can also be achieved through a special skill or expertise you've developed, a topic you've studied extensively or a field you've written about for some time.

2. A strong hook
A hook is a clear statement of what makes your book unique. The hook states the major benefit of your book in a clear and compelling way. The hooks of many books are stated on their back covers or front inside flap. Study several to get a better sense of how best to write yours.

3. A compelling title
Your title should move people to pull your book off the shelf (and then purchase it!). The title should be catchy, yet clearly convey the book's focus. Self-help titles are promise-oriented; how-to titles are informative.

4. A strong chapter outline
The content of your book must be strong and cohesive, with a clear objective and a logical or chronological beginning, middle and end. Use the outline to create the structure and flow of your book. Flesh out your outline with the specific topics you'll cover in each chapter. Reorganize as the book as it takes shape.

5. Engaging chapter titles and subheads
Use attention-getting chapter titles to draw your readers in—and keep them in. These titles should also describe the subject matter to be covered in their chapters. Use subheads to break up material and highlight important sections.

6. Strong first and last chapters
Set your readers up in the first chapter. Let them know the benefits they'll receive from the book, or the skills and techniques they will learn. Fire up their enthusiasm to keep reading.

Use the last chapter to bring the book to a meaningful conclusion, with a strong, encouraging send-off. Answer any questions that may not have been covered in previous chapters. Include a summary of the book, if appropriate.

7. A readable style
Communicate clearly. Use a warm, friendly, conversational style. Write simply and clearly, avoiding jargon or academic phrasing. Take a writing class or workshop if you need guidance and feedback, although many writers develop proficiency through practice.

8. Include the reader
Address the reader as "you." Include a variety of case histories and examples with which your various readers will identify. Let them feel you're speaking to them personally.

9. Use interactive techniques
Use interactive elements to get readers involved in making personal changes or learning new skills, rather than just reading about them. These may include exercises, quizzes or questions.

10. Support the text with additional materials
Use visual aids, such as charts, photos or illustrations to clarify and enhance the text. "Front" and "back matter" inform readers about the book's purpose and structure, and additional resources.

Front matter may include a foreword, preface and/or introduction. Back matter may include appendixes, resources, reading lists, bibliographies, references, index, etc.

Copyright 2001 Sharon Good

WriteDirections faculty member Sharon Good is a writer-editor and co-owner of Excalibur Publishing Inc., a small press in New York City, as well as a publishing consultant and personal coach for writers. She can be contacted at ExcaliburPublishing@compuserve.com.

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