Bubbling with Enthusiasm

A bookstore customer wishing to buy a self-help book has certain criteria. The book must have in-depth information on the subject at hand, and that is either supplied or supplemented by authoritative quotations from experts in the field. In providing the reams of material required to fill out a book, an author forgets at her peril the whole point of the exercise: providing help.

To a certain extent, creating enthusiam is a vital element of the self-help genre. People tend to be set in their ways, and they buy a book precisely as a boost to get off their ass. Showing how others have achieved success is a way to motivate the reader to do the same. Sprinkling genuine stars into the mix is a solid plus, since star power induces imitation.

Past a certain extent, though, it doesn’t matter how many stars you trot out onto the pages. A reverse reaction can set in if the reader is left only admiring the feats of others. Stars, for example, are so far above the reader that he cannot be blamed for thinking: if only I had the money, fame, (fill out the blank), I could do that too—but I don’t. I’m just a regular schlump looking for help. 

That is one reason why publishers seek authors who already have a program that has been proven to help its clients. Unlike a book, which is a passive instrument of instruction, a guru of whatever sort must actively prove her worth. Examples are used partially as incentives, but they also show people who have worked out their problems according to the program’s guidelines. Those practical lessons provide the true grit underlying all the glitter.

At all times you should keep in mind a single question that a reader has: “What’s in it for me?” All of the examples must be laid on a grid that is your program. If you are advocating aerobic exercise in a chapter, for instance, start with why a reader should do it, provide a few example of success others achieved because of it—but then tell the reader what he should do. Lay out the program step for that chapter. Of course, you can reverse the order—laying out the step and then providing examples of others’ success. 

When you build a self-help book that way, step by step, you’ll also find that the examples can be distributed in a logical fashion. Oh, that example models walking, so it goes in the aerobic exercise chapter. The examples are put at the service of your helping the reader.

Exercise: You can use a shortcut if your book is mainly informational. Insert text boxes throughout the manuscript that provide instructions for the reader. They not only stand out, because they are special text elements, but they keep reminding the reader that she personally can profit from the information you are giving.

“So many self-help ideas are like meringue—you take a big bite, and there's nothing there.” 
—Deborah Norville

Copyright @ 2018, John Paine


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