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Getting Paid to Give Advice
by Cathy Goodwin, Ph.D.

People all over the world search for books and articles that promise a happier, more meaningful, more prosperous life. They rarely buy just one self-help book. Instead, as one fan once told me, "There might be just one sentence somewhere that will change my life. I can't stop looking."

The good news is that the self-help market is large, generous and growing. There are many doors open to writers. For example:

* Want to try out a new idea? Dozens of online ezines are dedicated to self-help themes, especially prosperity and abundance. Although most do not pay authors, you can showcase your writing all over the world.

* You can self-publish successfully in this category, especially from your own website. Readers surf the Internet by topic, such as "divorce" or "weight loss." You don't have to depend on an eye-catching dust jacket to draw readers.

* Ideas can come from your own life experience. Have you survived a bitter divorce? Discovered a new way to approach the first year of marriage? Lived through your midlife crisis? What do you wish someone had told you a long time ago?

My own book, Making the Big Move: How to Transform Relocation into a Creative Life Transition, came directly from my own lifetime of moving all over North America. I couldn't find a book that explained the stresses and frustrations of moving, so I wrote my own.

Does self-help sound like the category you want to target? Before you open a new file on the word processor, visualize your buyers and readers. In the self-help world, you have to start marketing before you begin a writing project.

Convince an agent or editor that readers really, really want your book, and they're ready to pay right now. Your book will be most likely to succeed if you can promise readers they will find a soul mate, make lots of money or shed unwanted pounds. You'll attract even more interest if you can promise benefits in twenty-one days or less -- with no effort.

Identify experts who will recommend your book to others. Self-help sells by word of mouth. My book, _Making the Big Move_, appears on websites of real estate agents and moving companies. Managers will share your book at staff meetings if you can demonstrate connections to name-brand companies. Psychologists will look for therapist credentials.

Follow the trends. Right now books about coping with adolescent girls are hot, but those authors began writing last year. "Dream it and do it" prosperity books were hot last year but have all but disappeared from the shelves.

Study your competition. Editors must believe your book will stand out from the crowd. Research your topic on amazon.com. Books that achieve the rank of "1000" or lower are best-sellers. You will need a breakthrough idea to compete with them.

Not enough competition? Your challenge is even greater, as I learned by writing about relocation stress. Some bookstores had no idea how to shelve my book. One chain includes it with household reference books on cooking and decorating.

Sell yourself as an expert. A Ph.D, first-hand experience. and previous publications are ideal.

If you lack credentials, don't despair. Use your proposal to demonstrate that you have access to experts who will grant you interviews. College professors and therapists are easy to reach and most are eager to share their expertise with writers, in return for a credit line.

You also need to study the major psychological and sociological journals. You can identify articles related to your topic through academic search engines, such as Proquest. University libraries and many public libraries offer this search tool at no charge.

Use the genre writing style. People who read self-help want to feel good about themselves. You have to be upbeat. People want to hear what they can do -- not what they should avoid or not do. "Don't eat sweets and get fat" becomes, "Gain energy and lose weight with fresh fruit."

Self-help readers like exercises, forms and stories. For example, I wanted to warn readers that grief lingers for several months after a move. Readers did not want scholarly references on griefwork, although I had read them myself. Here's what I wrote:

"I did fine till Independence Day," said Ursula. "Our old neighborhood always held a big picnic. The first year, I found myself feeling really sad as July approached. I didn’t realize why till the kids asked, ‘Will we have a big picnic this year?’ And then I realized I was grieving for the friends and the fellowship we’d always enjoyed."

Ursula may find herself feeling sad every Fourth of July for many years to come. People who suffer a loss around a holiday tend to associate the holiday with that loss, often for the rest of their lives.

Be ready to spread the word. Publishers like authors who offer workshops, coaching, or consulting as their primary business. Self-help authors tend to be in demand as guest speakers of professional groups. You will be expected to share your ideas and sell books through your own speaking engagements.

Self-help books tend to be sold by word of mouth and often do better through websites than through traditional bookstores. Authors need to plan for these marketing channels. You need to aggressively manage your website and your listing with the online bookstores.

Bottom line: The self-help world offers a hospitable, profitable outlet for productive writers who are fascinated with the way people work and live. If you enjoy translating scientific psychology into language and stories that can change people's lives, you can enjoy a long and lucrative career.

© Copyright 2002, Cathy Goodwin, Ph.D.

Check out Cathy Goodwin’s web site http://www.movinglady.com.

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