writing how-to booksWriting a How-To Book or Manual

by Marg McAlister


Keep just one thing in mind and the whole 'How To' project will become much, much easier: "If I were buying this book or manual, what would I hope to find out?"

Put yourself in your readers' shoes.

What is the best possible information you can give them? What would it take to make them say "Wow, I'm so glad I bought this book!"?

  • Start with a list of headings - then expand.
  • Think about things that are important to you.
  • Give the best value you can. If you were buying this guide, what would YOU want to know? How would YOU like it presented?

6 Questions to Ask Yourself When You Are Planning Your Book or Manual

Question 1: The Book's Market.
Who will be keen to buy this book? What would buyers most want to know? What is the angle? The more tightly you can focus your thinking in the planning stages, the higher your sales. (For example: "How to Pay Off Your Mortgage in Three Years" rather than "Budget Tips for Everyone".)

Question 2: What is the USP (Unique Selling Proposition)?

This will drive your thinking as you structure your 'how to' book or manual. What does this book offer that a million others can't? Plan the content carefully so your book delivers new insights or information. If it doesn't seem so very different from other books on the subject, what could make this one different?

Question 3: What is the Most Important Question to be Answered?

From the initial list of questions or instructions for your book's content, list between 6 and 10 'must-knows' related to this topic. Each of these will form a chapter, or a section of your manual.

Question 4: How Should Your Book be Laid Out?

How do you want the information presented? As a series of tips? As tips interspersed with interviews with other experts? As a step-by-step instructional manual? In a chatty, informal style? Does it require photographs, art work, tables or diagrams?

Question 5: Do you want to build a mini 'how to' course that you can send via email, based on the content of the book?

Sometimes purchasers who initially decide against buying a book change their minds if they sign up for a mini-course via email. All you have to do is come up with a series of 7-10 'lessons' based on the content of your book - just enough to give one or two useful facts in each lesson, but not enough to act as a substitute for the book. Each mini-course lesson will have a link back to the sales page for your book.

Question 6: What Should the Title Be?

Brainstorm this. Find a title that tells readers clearly what is in the book, but don't make it too long. Try to come up with half a dozen possible titles.

Four Important Things to Keep in Mind When Writing Your Book

  1. Make your language reader-friendly
  2. Let readers see the benefits of owning this book or manual right away
  3. Make your book easy to read, and 
  4. Point the way forward (what can readers do next to build on what you have already shown them?)

© copyright Marg McAlister


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