Why it Takes a Village to Raise a Self-help Book

How many people does it take to create a successful self-help book? If you say, one person, just the author — then think again. It could happen, yes, but it seldom does. I have yet to meet a really great self-help book on the market today that sold amazingly well and changed lives, that was fully produced and sent out to the world by a single solitary person.


Why is this you might ask? It’s because books require so much more than just a great concept and solid content. Let’s look at the journey from fresh idea to freshly published book and see how many hands help in this process.


Here’s a hard truth. Self-help books today are successful when they answer a compelling need in society, within a niche, where large numbers of people are hungry for those answers. To make it in the current dog-eat-dog world of publishing or self-publishing, you as an author need to be well known and accepted as an expert, to large numbers of people already. These are existing followers which are people who want your particular “self-help” advice, and who are ready to buy your words, excited to learn and grow from your material.


That kind of devoted following is developed over time and with a lot of give and take between the expert and the public. It very often starts with workshops in one’s own hometown and then branches out into speaking, consulting, coaching, blogging and endless hours interacting on social media. During this period, the expert keeps meeting people in person and online, in order to test the content and concepts in the real world.


As you can imagine, this takes time and it also takes any number of other professionals because the public has to find out that the expert exists in the first place. That in itself most often requires strategic help from various other gurus in website design, interactive tools, branding, graphic design, and marketing. But that’s just the beginning of the “village”. Those are only the early midwives who set the stage for the self-help book which is gestating in the heart and mind of the expert.


Fast-forward to the writing of the manuscript. If you are that author, then this is when you do act alone, when the content and case studies and exercises flow from your heart to your head and onto the page until lo and behold, 45,000 words have appeared! How exciting! But now what? Yes, you’re right: time to engage some more villagers. This time you might seek feedback from current clients, friends and family, or fellow writers who can offer encouragement and advice. You make your revisions and it’s looking good.


Time for a deep breath. Could this manuscript be ready to hand off to a book designer or load up to Amazon? Not yet. There are a few more midwives who help with the heavy lifting at this point. Enter your book editor or book developer. This is the person who gives you the “real” feedback on what’s working and what’s not. They are the ones who know what sells, they know the formula for the best self-help books. They’ll explain how you can improve your book in such an incredible number of ways, you’ll wonder — is this thing ever going to be done?


I know. It’s like a manuscript marathon of revisions: the pushing and the contractions and quite likely a few swear words. I know you’re exhausted. You’re probably wondering why someone didn’t tell you before that you’d need all this help.


It’s because in kinder and gentler times, some 25 years ago, before the web and before Amazon, an author like you would have been comforted in the bosom of your book agent who secured you a fabulous publisher. The publisher would have linked you up with a seasoned book developer and dedicated in-house editors who would take you by the hand to help polish your manuscript until your content was truly bright and shiny, compelling and exciting. Then their marketing and publicity experts would kick in to help design, print, launch, and position your book as irresistible, the book everyone needed. Makes you kind of misty-eyed for the good old days, doesn’t it?


But the good news is: there are all kinds of talented villagers out there to help you in the successful birth of your book. My best advice is to follow your own intuition and choose the individuals who match your needs at each of these many steps.What “villager” would be on your wish list today? Branding guru? Media relations rep? Book doctor? Or are you a complete DIY author and happy to be going it alone? Wherever you are at, I wish you well on your path and invite you to stay tuned for future blogs on this ever-shifting topic. I have a lot to say.