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Got a Brilliant Self-Help Book Idea? Here’s What You Need to Know

When you find a therapeutic approach that you’re truly passionate about, it’s common to want to spread the word as far and wide as possible. Most of us have gotten into the healing profession out of a desire to help; and the reality is that there’s only so many people we can touch in private practice or other face-to-face settings.

As a professional with nearly a decade of experience in the psychology and self-help publishing industry, I’ve worked with countless mental health professionals with many, many book ideas—some good, some not so good—and they’ve all wanted to know the same thing:

How do I go about getting this thing published?

So here are a few things to consider if you’re thinking about pursuing a book deal.

 Why Do You Want to Write a Book? (Be 100% Honest with Yourself)?

There are many reasons why people write books. For some, writing a book is a matter of prestige, a CV enhancer, or a way to market training services. Another common and equally valid reason to write a book is the desire to disseminate an approach that one views as potentially life-changing across a broader range of readers. Of course, there are also those who view writing a book as a ‘bucket list’ item—simply something they’ve always wanted to do.

 All of these are legitimate reasons for wanting to publish your book.

But whether you see yourself in any of the above, or have another entirely different reason for wanting to publish a book, it’s important to ask yourself this question because with the emergence of online publishing, blogging and social media, there are many alternative options to traditional publishing, particularly if you simply want to reach a larger audience with your approach.

Be honest with yourself about why you want to publish a book. It’s totally okay—and common—if you’ve just always wanted to be an author or if you think it would boost your standing among colleagues and in your field.

But if you ask honestly and find that your intentions are purely to get the word out, there may, in fact, be better ways to do so. If your book is already written, for instance, consider chopping it up into blog and social media posts and investing in your own platform. Or create a YouTube channel and share your approach there.

It will take time to build an online platform, but the value of having your own way to communicate with your audience will become increasingly important as you aim to sell other products, such as therapy sessions or trainings, whether online or in-person.

If You Decide That You Do Still Want to Go the Traditional Publishing Route, You’re Most Likely Going to Need a Platform, Anyway. Do You Have One?

One of the first things any publisher is going to want to know is how many people you are able to reach through your networks. This number may include professional organizations, e-mail lists, media contacts, list-servs you belong to and social media profiles.

As always, there are exceptions, but for the vast majority of first-time authors, a publisher is going to lean on your ability to sell your book through your networks, trainings, and events.

It’s important to be aware that while publishers have the ability to get your book carried by major retailers such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble, it’ll still be partially your responsibility—depending on the size and budget of the in-house marketing team—to get people to the shelves or to the online check-out.

Keep in mind that your platform does not need to be on social media. Do you present at major conferences? Regularly host packed trainings? Or are you affiliated with a large network that would be willing to help you sell your book? All of these will earn points with potential publishers.

If You’re a First Time Author, Do You Have the Majority of the Book Written Already?

Having a good chunk of your book written before pursuing a publishing deal is important for several reasons. Here are two:

As you can likely imagine, an acquiring editor at a publishing house is going to want to see writing samples before considering your book. Your writing does not have to be perfect, but it’s an important part of helping an editor—especially in psychology or behavioral science publishing—determine whether or not the material you’d like to publish is sound, aligned with their values, and fit to publish.

Also, many publishers work exclusively or primarily with agents to acquire new books. This arrangement means that some publishers will be off-limits to you if you don’t have an agent. And many agents will want to see your completed or mostly-finished manuscript before agreeing to take you on as a client.

And a quick tip about agents: A good agent is someone who is well-connected and in regular communication with the publishers in your field. Agents should help you not only in getting a book deal, but in getting a good book deal.

Are You Willing to be Flexible?

 If you’re still with me, congratulations! You’re almost ready to get out there and get your book published. Just one more, pretty important thing.

Get ready to practice being flexible. From the moment you start shopping your manuscript, whether it be to agents or to publishers directly, you’ll be inviting feedback. Keep in mind that publishing professionals have been in the game for years and it’s rare that they receive a book that’s anywhere near ready to publish.

At this point, your book is likely something you hold dear, but if you’re not willing to consider revisions to the title, table of contents, chapters, illustrations, arrangement, layout, and even the overall focus of the book, you might want to think twice about getting involved with a publisher.

If any of the above items have turned you off from the traditional publishing route, there are now many self-publishing companies that will give you more creative control over your book. There is certainly no shortage of options when it comes to publishing, and if it’s really important to you, you’ll certainly find an approach that fits your needs.

Jessica Dore has spent nearly a decade working in psychology and self-help book publishing in a variety of roles—from publicity and digital marketing, to content acquisition and developmental editing.

Got a Brilliant Self-Help Book Idea? Here’s What You Need to Know