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How to Plot a Self-Help Book: An In-Depth Guide

Bijgewerkt op: 12 jun.

Are you feeling inspired to write a self-help book? You’re not alone! The self-help genre is large and popular; from learning how to manifest wealth to conquering fears, you can find thousands of books on the topic.


So, if you want to write a self-help book that actually helps people, it’s a good idea to plot the book first. That way, you can test whether your idea can fill an entire book and how you can best guide your readers for the best results.


In this article, I’ll show you how you can outline your self-help book, focused on the reader’s journey.

How to plot a self-help book: an in-depth guide

Pick your topic

Chances are, you already know what you want to write about. Still, it’s a good idea to give that topic a closer look.


First: is this a topic you’re qualified to write about?


Now, you don’t need to have a PhD on the topic to write about it. But you do need to be qualified, either professionally or personally to write about it.


I mean, if I wrote a book on how to become a millionaire, would you actually read it if I wasn’t a millionaire myself?


Second: is your topic specific enough?


For instance, how to get rid of anxiety is fairly broad. Same goes for how to lose weight.


If your topic is too broad, your self-help book won’t be as effective as when it’s more focused. After all, there are many types of anxiety. And your way to lose weight might not work for, say, diabetics or meat-eaters.


So, narrow your topic: how to get rid of the fear of failure. Or how to lose weight when you’ve just had a baby.


Determine your reader’s journey

Now that you know your topic, it’s time to specify your reader’s journey. To figure this out, ask yourself the following questions:


  • What is the reader’s state at the start?

  • What is their transformational shift?

  • What is the reader’s state at the end?


If you picked your topic because you have personal experience with it, think back on your own journey. Or if you have professional experience, you can think of your client’s journey or gather information from research.

The start

For instance, at the start, your reader is afraid of failure and they’re aware of it (after all, you don’t purchase a book on the topic if you don’t know you have it). Most of all, they would like to do something about it but aren’t sure how. And, likely, they’re afraid of what you might ask them to do in the book (and afraid they might fail at that, too).


In our weight loss example, the reader starts out as someone who has just given birth and doesn’t feel comfortable with their new body yet. They would like to lose some of their pregnancy weight and get in shape again. But they’re also still recovering from giving birth and are likely often tired because babies will do that to you.


Knowing this will help you determine how you’re going to start the journey in your book.


The transformational shift

The transformational shift is when whatever solution or method you're offering will “click” with the reader. Usually, you start out with some easier things to build up to the thing that works best.


For instance, for readers with fear of failure, you might start with chapters that help them gain more insight into the origins of their fear and explain more about what fear is to help them understand it better. The transformational shift will come when this introspection and understanding moves toward being prepared to take action.


For our other example, the transformation shift comes when the readers have built a foundation through some easier principles and exercises. They’ve strengthened their bodies enough and are eating healthy food to stay fit. Now they’re ready to move on to heavier exercises to actually see results on their body.


Figuring out the transformational shift will help you determine how to structure your book. You’ll know how to guide them from one point to the next.


The end

Finally, you want to think about how you want your reader to end by the time they’ve finished your book.


Ideally, you want your reader to be rid of their fear of failure by the time they’re finished. Or at least have the fear be a lot less than it used to be. Likewise, you hope your reader has achieved their goals and is happy with their post-pregnancy body. Usually, the reader will have to keep doing exercises to keep the fear at bay and stay in shape.


Which means the end is also a good point to pitch any coaching or courses you may offer (if that’s something you do).


Answering this question helps you decide what you want your reader to accomplish by the end of your book.


Create your premise

By now, you have a clear idea of your reader’s journey. You can use this information to create a premise for your book.


This is useful to keep in mind while you’re plotting and writing your book. It’s a very condensed version of what your self-help book is about.


The premise generally takes this form: The reader is [this specific person] with [this problem], which I can solve by [your solution].


For instance: The reader is a young professional with a fear of failure, which I can solve with my unique fear-reducing framework.


Or: The reader is a mother who just gave birth and feels unhappy about their post-pregnancy body, which I can solve with my exercise and diet plan.


Now that you have your premise, let’s start plotting!


Start with the introduction

A self-help book generally starts with an introduction. In this introduction, you explain who you are and why they should follow your advice. After all, the reader will want to know whether you’re someone who can actually help them with their problem, either because you’re a professional or because you have personal experience with the problem.


It’s also nice to explain in your introduction why you’ve written this book. Is it because you’ve found the light and would like to share your solution? Or were you so frustrated about something that you just had to share?


Write down a condensed version of the introduction in your plot outline. For instance: I’m a PhD with a focus on anxiety and have conducted many studies on the fear of failure. The practice is moving too slowly, so I decided to share this insight from my studies so people can use it to reduce their fear of failure.


Or: I’m a mother of two children, 5 and 8, so I know how the body changes after giving birth and how that can make you feel insecure. I developed my own system that takes into account that you’re tired and don’t have time to cook elaborate meals. This worked so well for me that I shared it with some friends. They were so happy with the results that I decided to share my method within this book.


Specify the beginning: the problem

In your first chapter, you start with the problem. Here, you connect with your readers.


Luckily, you already know your reader’s mental state at the start of the journey, as we’ve already answered that question.


Hone in on what their issue is and be as specific as possible to show that you understand what they’re going through. This is also a good place to share a personal story or anecdotes from others. Including some research is also a good idea for establishing expertise.


Provide the solution

Your next chapter gives a teaser of the solution. Tell the reader how you came up with the solution and how you know it’s effective.


Add real-life examples of successes with your solution. This can be a personal story or examples of how others have used your solution and found success.


If you can back up how your solution works with some research, then it’s a great idea to add this here as well. You want readers to feel confident after this chapter that your approach will work for them.


Give step-by-step guidance

The rest of the book has chapters dedicated to give the reader step-by-step guidance on their road to self-improvement.


I always like to divide the chapters into sections with a certain theme. For instance, in our anxiety example, the sections could be “identify your fear,” “exposure exercises to get rid of your fear,” and “bringing it together to keep fear at bay.”


In our example for weight loss, the sections could be “easy & quick exercises and meals even when you’re tired,” “strengthen your body with and without your baby,” and “create a custom plan to keep working on your body.”


Notice how these sections are also related to the reader’s journey we identified earlier? This is useful for knowing which principles you want to explain first and which exercises you’d want to give your reader first.


And be sure to give your reader “homework” at the end of each chapter (usually in the form of a list of steps)!


Pull it all together for a transformative ending

After the step-by-step guidance, you pull everything you’ve taught the reader together into a transformative and positive ending. For instance, if you’ve explained a certain framework and worked with the reader to apply this in their daily life, this is where you bring together everything they’ve learned. Show them how they can use this to keep up their success.


This is also a good place to tell them about any further courses or coaching trajectories you offer for extra support (if you have any).


Want to check the plot of your self-help book?

Do you want to be sure that the outline for your self-help book works? Show a detailed outline to a friend, and see if they can follow what you’re teaching.


Of course, you can also ask for professional feedback with a plot critique.


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