I recently reviewed a manuscript for a wonderful doctor who had written a book about getting better sleep. While praising him for his work, I had to point out that readers generally don’t care about the author’s personal experiences. Unless the author’s story is inseparable from the advice he or she dispenses, a self-help book is not a memoir.
My doctor friend made a very common mistake: He believed the reader was interested in him and his personal experiences with poor sleep. In reality, the reader has zero interest in the good doctor’s medical history. The reader is totally self-centered. The reader wants a solution for his or her particular problem, and they want it now.
I asked my doctor friend, “When you attend to a patient, do you tell them your personal experience with the same disease? Of course not! You say, ‘This is what’s wrong with you, and this is how we’re going to fix it.'” Period.
His personal story would make an appropriate preface, in which the author explains why he wrote his book. Perfectly fine in the preface! But in the book itself, he’s got to serve his reader. As an exercise, I told my doctor friend that in the main text of his book, he was allowed to use the word “I” exactly ten times. I didn’t care how he used it, but he could only use it ten times. No more. 🙂
As a strategy, I would encourage any self-help author to approach the task as if he or she were revealing amazing secrets to the reader. These are secrets that will help the reader change his or her life. I would say to the doctor, “Please list the ten secrets of good sleep.These ten amazing secrets, conveyed by you to your breathless reader, are why the reader will pay $15 or more for your book.”