Eight Tips For Reading and Writing How-To Books

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A lot of people on this side of the Internet have dreams of writing books. If you want to write non-fiction books, then this article might save your bacon. There are things that a lot of writers do which they should avoid. I’m going to talk about a terrible experience I had reading a how-to book, and how you should avoid reading bad books and writing them.

Why Write This Article Now?

Firstly, I’m trying to move the world forward from the election shenanigans that have been taking up everyone’s attention.

Secondly, I read a terrible book that was designed as a “how to guide” for a genre of fiction.

I’m not going to name the book because that seems mean (I also don’t want the headache), but I am going to give you guidance on how to avoid reading books and wasting your time, and I’m also going to give would be how-to writers a list of mistakes to avoid.

Let’s start with how to avoid a terrible book for the reader.

How To Avoid Reading A Terrible Book

1.       Check Out The Writer’s Other Work

I could have avoided a lot of wasted hours if I’d looked at the writer’s track record before buying his book. Incorrectly I assumed that because this writer was talking about the genre of fiction, that he’d probably written in the genre before.

Unless he’s been using a particularly obscure pen name, he hasn’t. All of these books are about writing. How to write characters. How to write romance. How to write horror. No actual fiction books whatsoever except for one strange Sherlock Holmes fan fiction. Needless to say, if I’d have read this guy’s bibliography before I’d started, I probably wouldn’t have bothered buying the book.

2. If A Book Looks As Though It Has Fake Reviews, Run For The Hills.

I didn’t even read the reviews before I bought the book. Normally I do, but this book only cost a few dollars so I didn’t bother. I figured, “What have I got to lose?”

What I had to lose was about ten hours of my time. I looked and it had some four and five-star reviews. They were undoubtedly fake. You’ll be able to tell because they will look like this:

3. After You’ve Bought The Book, Does It Continue To Sell Itself?

I found that a common denominator between good books and poor books seems to be how hard they sell themselves after you’ve already paid. If your book is good, you don’t need to talk it up in the introduction. Certainly, an introductory section will talk about what you’re going to get and why it’s important, but this book started with five pages of testimonials from dubious sounding names.

4. Take Note Of When You First Find Some Useful Information.

I bought this book on the Kindle, and the Kindle doesn’t show page numbers, but the percentage of the book that you’ve completed. I got to 27 percent of the way through the book before it even started talking about the actual subject, which was how to write in the particular genre that it was a how-to guide for.

Realistically, all books are going to contain some filler material. However, getting a third of the way through book before you find anything to do with the topic is bad. It’s unacceptable.

5. If A Book Starts With Unrelated Subjects, Read No Further

Within that twenty-seven percent before we got to the point, there was talk of God and morality, how to inspire you to act, and another range of self-help light topics that were designed to provide empty motivation at the expense of tangible information.

Looking back, I should’ve known when I started reading about how giving to charity and leading a noble life will help you be a better genre writer that I should’ve put the book down and never read the rest of it again.

However, I was a bit of a masochist and I carried on. I recommend you don’t do this. If a writer doesn’t get to the point, then they don’t deserve your readership.

Part Two: Tips For Writers

Obviously, if you want to write how-to information, you could do worse than inverting the mistakes I’ve spoken out about. For instance, get to the point before you’re a third of the way through the book. Also, don’t bring your personal, religious or political beliefs into your work unless it is absolutely necessary.

In a book about writing for a particular genre fiction, there is no reason whatsoever to talk about your political beliefs. (unless you’re writing a political thriller, I guess.)

So, in light of the above rules. Here are some more tips to learn from my reading this terrible book:

6. If It’s Only An Article’s Worth Of Information, Then Don’t Stretch Out To A Book.

I wanted to take notes on this book. In fact, I did.

I took one A4 page-worth of notes from the whole book. It comprised of about 3 to 5 pages in the actual book I was reading.

Now, if this person had have written an article on their website distilling this genre into the notes I made, then it would be a fantastic article. I would have shared it on Twitter, I would have linked to it and I would have probably bought this person’s book in the future knowing that they’d provided good information.

If you only have an article worth of information, don’t try and turn into a hundred and fifty page book. It won’t work, and people will be dissatisfied.

7.  If You’re Going To Write How-To Information, At Least Somewhat Prove That You Can Walk The Walk.

As I stated above, after the fact, I looked up this person. They don’t write fiction, yet they have about thirty books on how to write different aspects of fiction.

This is going to be more damaging to your reputation than any particularly bad information you might produce. People are going to look at you as a fraud or charlatan if you can’t prove that you are actually doing what you’re writing about how to do.

In the modern world, it is really easy to get new skills, try new things and then write about it. However, you have to actually do the first two before you can do the third thing in that list.

This guy could have sat down and worked a few hours a day, writing a few novels in his genre. Not only would his book have been better, because he’d have known how to actually writing the genre he was writing about, but he also wouldn’t have looked like a charlatan.

8. Don’t Provide How-To Information Solely In Order To Make A Profit.

I have written about how to create a how-to book before.

I think it’s a fantastic way to make money, because you are educating and providing something of value.

However, providing the value has to come before making a profit. There are tons of scammers who will base their next Amazon book project upon keyword research or some trending topic. However, this is only going to provide you short-term gains, and it will do so at the expense of your long-term success.

If you research a subject in depth, write a few things – be they book posts, an email list, or something similar- and give them away for free, you are demonstrating that you can provide value to people.

If you then create a paid product, people will be happy to give you money for that product. If it answers the questions or it solves their issues, then they will be thankful for you doing so. They will be thankful for you taking their money.

However, if you make a quick buck at the expense of somebody’s problem, this will only impact you negatively in the long run. Even if you do it under a pen name which you abandon after you’ve made your quick buck, this quick buck comes at the expense of building a long-term reputation. That’s an incredibly expensive lesson to learn.

Final Thoughts

This seems like an incredibly negative article. I’m going to stop, although it seems could go on all night talking about the mistakes that this person made. (This is what happens when I get duped.)

Hopefully, those of you who might have been tempted to create a short-term project which is low quality and low investment will have been dissuaded.

P.S. To end on a positive note, I wrote a series a while back about how to use other people’s penchant for low quality information profiteering to create something of value for yourself. You can read those posts here:

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