Writing a How-To Book? The Power of Simplicity

lisa tener book writing coach
Your Book Writing Coach

A few weeks ago, an aspiring author who was writing a how-to book contacted me to help her with her book proposal, and to help clarify where her book was going. She’d been working with an editor, but she felt she needed more clarity on what to do with her book.

Too Much Info Overwhelms Your Readers

Sandy’s (I’ve changed her name) challenge was a common one. She had so much information for parents to help their children she didn’t want to leave anything out. The problem is, when you put everything in one how-to book, you can overwhelm your readers and actually make it harder, not easier, on them.

book writing: a fountain of knowledge
Writing a how-to book? Make your book a fountain of wisdom or useful information–not a deluge! Photo credit: David Donohue

Consider boiling the main information into a certain numbers of keys, steps or “secrets.” If you’re providing how-to information, it’s often helpful to have a system or program, such as a six week program, a 5 step system, the 7 keys, etc. (As a side note, 3, 5, 7, 9, 10 and 12 seem to be some magic numbers). I wouldn’t make it any more than 12 – 15 steps. People want something easy. 3, 5 or 7 steps sound really do-able. If your system is very complex, you might extend to the upper end of my suggested spectrum.

Take it Out and Put it Elsewhere!

If you have lots of ancillary information, you may be tempted to put some of it in appendices, but it might be even better to put it on your website. This is a way to give readers more information once they’re truly ready for it, without overwhelming them. And it’s a way to bridge the relationship between somewhat passive readers to more active members of your community.

You may want to offer some of the website information free, and you may also decide to offer more detailed information in the form of special reports, audios or videos.

Create a Program Based on Your How to Book

book writing coach Lisa and Leigh
Your book doesn’t have to provide readers everything or they’ll get overwhelmed. Your book can be an entry point for private consultations, classes, teleseminars and more.

Also, remember, that your book is a good way for readers to learn some of what you have to offer, and that people often need more hand holding to implement something new. Sandy’s parenting book is a perfect example of a system that will be much more powerful if her readers have support—perhaps a weekly support group or webinar series.

With these additional offerings, your knowledge and information will make a much greater impact, and provide a more generous income stream for you–how many books do you have to sell to make a living versus spaces in your webinars or consulting gigs?

Writing a how-to book that’s programmatic can provide the very material for your program, making it easy to develop them both at the same time! The 7 chapters in your book, easily become the 7 week program you deliver by Zoom!

Go Short?

Don’t just ask yourself, “What do I need to put into my book to make it work?” Ask, “What can I take out?” If you’re afraid your book will be too short, remember to add real life examples and stories. If you can’t share your patients’ or clients’ stories due to confidentiality, consider creating composites and having a disclaimer about this in your introduction, explaining that the examples are individuals but composites.

write a short book
Some readers like short books.

Also, don’t be afraid to write a shorter book. With less and less time, readers often gravitate to those who package their message with brevity.

So, maybe it’s time to sit down with your outline or first draft and edit with the motto, Less is more. What can you simplify? Are there excerpts you save for volume two or the website or a special report? What content can you put on a YouTube video?

Have at it…and let me know how it goes!


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