A recent Book of the Week, "I Choose Love", by A.G. Billig, got us thinking about the rising popularity of the self-help book. So we asked A.G. if she would tell us how she brought her title into being for the benefit of authors with similar aspirations, for our "Notes from the Field" series. Here's her story...
I never considered writing a self-help book—short stories and novels were my thing since I was 8—until I had. One morning I woke up with the idea to write this book that would make a difference in people's lives. I also had a title, "I Choose Love," and a very clear structure.
My heart was so excited about it but a choir of voices in my head clamored with doubt in my mind. Who are you to write a book about love? You're not the Dalai Lama or Neale Donald Walsch! What could you possibly say that's not already old news?
If it weren’t for my determination and habit of making decisions based on my intuition and gut, this book would have never seen the light of day. But my seven-year-old spiritual journey had taught me, among many other things, how to avoid the traps of the mind and recognize a self-limiting belief at work, something that often stops authors in their tracks.
How to Nail Your Book's Outline and Concept
Once I typed the title on the blank Word document on my computer, new ideas started poured in. I don't find it presumptuous for an author to have a vision for her book and what she wants to accomplish with it, particularly when it comes to self-help books. After all, you're writing your book to help other people, right? My vision included not only the content of the book but also the impact I wanted to make in the world, and how.
I knew I wanted to help people stop living their lives in fear and remember their true essence was love. I wanted to give them daily actions they could easily include in their routine, yet keep the reading entertaining and captivating. One surefire way to achieve this goal is to share a little bit of your story and of the people you know or worked with. Reveal just enough of your own transformation to establish that you're speaking from experience and not so much as to turn your book into a memoir. Another trick is to use "I" only when necessary and use "You" a lot as if you were having a casual yet meaningful conversation with a dear friend.
A self-help book is not a bedtime read. It is the kind of book that ideally people will read with pen and paper a hand. It's something that solves their problems, an advisor they will return to for the right answer. If you keep that in mind, it's easy to figure out the best structure for your book. Each chapter needs to have a clear title that reflects its main takeaway. Depending on the type of self-help book you're writing, you can add a sheet with exercises or a quiz at the end of each chapter. In my case, the journey from fear to love included six steps and I devoted a chapter to each of them.
Use Title & Subtitle to Show the Problem You Solve
Remember, a self-help book is not about you and the story of your life but about the problem you are solving for other people. You need to make the main takeaway or benefit to the reader crystal clear up front, so there's no better pIacement for that than your title and subtitle.
Overcome Your Fears to Attract the Life You Want morphed into A Journey from Fear to Love for the second edition. That's one of the perks of self-publishing your book; you can tweak your book as much as you want, whenever you want, and test different covers, price points, keywords, and categories.
You can ask your book designer to make two or three versions of your cover and test them in Facebook groups first. Readers do judge a book by its cover even when they're looking for their next great read on their smartphone. If the first version doesn't generate the expected sales, you can always try the other one.
Established authors don't have to worry about the price of their books. They have a large following of loyal fans who always buy their books. But for an author who is just breaking into the self-help books market, the price can be an incentive for new readers. The sweet spot for self-published books is between $2.99 and $5.99. You can play with different prices within this range until you find the one that works best for your books.
Another way to generate more sales is to run a special price promo campaign where you reduce the price of your book for a limited time.
Breaking Down the Amazon Algorithm
Amazon works as a search engine so picking the right keywords and categories to enhance the book's discoverability is a must. Researching the bestselling books written on the topic helped me in making the best choice and also writing a compelling book description.
After I created my ideal reader avatar, I used Google Ads and the Amazon search toolbar to make a list of potential long tail keywords. People are more likely to look for something like how to overcome fear or how to find true love — both long tail keywords then love or fear. I made a list of about 50 long-tail keywords. You want to find those with high search volume and low competition. Tough, but not impossible.
The next step is to run them in the Amazon search bar while browsing in incognito mode, and see how they are performing on Amazon. A few key factors:
—Predictability: Amazon tends to automatically fill in the search field with other words once you punch in a word
—Bestseller Ranking: What's the ranking of the books that show up?
—Number of Competitors: The bigger the number of books that show up under that keyword, the bigger the competition and larger the niche.
Categories are a crucial aspect of the Amazon metadata. Although you can only pick two from your author dashboard, you can email Amazon to add eight more. Yes. You are entitled to ten categories. You will need to find a balance between broader categories, where the competition is high, and niche categories where the stakes that you become a bestseller are higher.
Launching Your Self-Help Book with a Bang
As a former PR expert working with international brands and founder of the award-winning blog Self-Publishing Mastery, I was also aware that nailing the metadata wouldn't be enough to launch my book with a bang. I needed a strong PR campaign.
The main pillars of my communication plan were:
1 - Free bonuses for the readers (two guided meditations and a workbook), which I mentioned in the book description
2 - A special price during book launch (the book was a bestseller in three different categories)
4 - A book blog tour (interviews and book reviews)
5 - A street team (people who got book ARCs, downloaded the book from Amazon during the launch period and also wrote reviews).
But my goal with I Chose Love—to inspire people around the world to become ambassadors of love—needed more than just a book. It needed a platform that would inspire people through different avenues. Although I don't recommend a different website for each one of your books, with a self-help book things can be different, particularly if you plan on building a business or a nonprofit around the concept of the book, do workshops, webinars, and online courses. So I bought a web domain (theprojectoflove.com), started The Project of Love Vlog, and wrote the outline for a documentary about love, which I presented to the executive producer from Gaia this February.
The whole PR campaign preparation and execution took almost four months (from December 2015 to March 21st, 2016 when the book was released). The writing, only one month and a half from mid-November until December 31st, 2015.
Book Launched...What's Next?
I released I Choose Love as an eBook in 2016. It was followed by the paperback version in 2017 and the audiobook version 2018. Needless to say, I worked with a professional for the book cover and formatting and also hired an editor to polish the book. You can have the greatest manuscript ever but if you fail in these aspects success will elude you.
Once you release a self-help book you become an expert in your field. For many people, a self-help book is just the starting point of a new business. Think about what can you build around your book to serve even more. How about an online course or workshops or webinars? How about coaching people? You can also be the catalyst of a community of amazing, like-minded people.
A Final Word
Reading, talent, and discipline are the three keys for writing a great fiction or nonfiction book. Reading builds your vocabulary and enriches your inner world. Talent makes everything easy and fun. Discipline helps get things done. Believe that all the great truths are already being said, all there is to know is already there, not only in books but especially in our hearts. It is not the information we bring that will necessarily attract the readers, but the way we convey it, our personal touch, our personal experiences that cast a new perspective on life. Someone out there will resonate with you, your energy, your writing, with your rendition of the truth.
At the end of the day, please remember there is no one size fits all strategy. Yes, there are certain genres and topics that sell well, but follow your heart and passion instead of chasing instant commercial success. Give yourself time; enjoy the process of writing and using your talent to help others. Have faith in yourself and love your book. It's contagious!
If you have any questions or would like to share your own experiences as an author of a self-help book, I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!
A.G. Billig is a published fiction and nonfiction author and the founder of the award-winning blog Self-Publishing Mastery. As a self-publishing expert and author coach, A.G. Billig uses her book marketing and publishing expertise to help authors become successful. Her key areas of expertise are brand building, traditional media and PR, book launch events and campaigns, public appearances (including TV and radio interviews) and metadata.
A.G. Billig is an experienced book marketing workshop presenter and a frequent guest on writing panels and conferences in Southern California and Europe. She is also the creator of two online courses for authors, Masterclass in Creating Podcasts that Sell Books and Masterclass in Power Branding for Authors.
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