Excerpts to Ponder
As you have seen, there is a particular writing style and specific techniques that advance the goal of conveying information or delivering a message in an accessible and lucid manner. Consider these excerpts that exemplify some of the tools you will employ in writing a self-help or how-to book.
“The following guidelines summarize most editors' advice for drafting a one- or two-page query letter about a nonfiction manuscript ….
State your specific idea….
Explain your approach….
Show how what you have to say is fresh and different from other things already in print….
Cite your sources….
Mention your connections and qualifications….
Convey some sense of your enthusiasm for the project….”
This excerpt from Judith Appelbaum's How to Get Happily Published provides an illustration of a bulleted list that is common in self-help and how-to books. You may find this excerpt particularly useful in drafting a query letter.
Break Up the Text
Since a high priority in this genre is to publish books that are user friendly, easy to navigate, and make for an enjoyable read, the text in self-help and how-to books is occasionally broken up with a particular piece of information that either doesn't quite fit, is so important the author wants it to stand out, or simply presents a concept with a new twist. In the Everything series, you see this in the sidebars consisting of E-Facts, E-Alerts, E-ssentials and E-Questions. In other books, this is accomplished in different ways, but the end result is the same with the short phrase highlighted in some fashion.
For example, in How to Write a Book Proposal, the author, Michael Larsen, utilizes what he calls “hot tips.” Here is a sample:
“HOT TIP: Avoid footnotes in your proposal. They are distracting and will make your proposal (and your book) look academic. If your book will have footnotes, make them blind footnotes, divided by chapter, that readers can find at the end of your book. If you use them in your sample chapter, include them at the end of the proposal. Avoid asterisks, which also interrupt the flow of the text.”
Tell a Tale
Here's where you can be creative and craft a story or spin a yarn to make a point. As you were informed, anecdotes can be true or fabricated either in whole or in part, but either way they can serve up a message in an entertaining and effective fashion. Consider the following anecdote from How to Deal with Your Lawyer by Richard D. Bank.
“Manny and Max were not only partners in a thriving business but brothers as well. Between Manny and Max, things deteriorated to the point where, although in the same office, neither spoke to the other and they communicated through employees.
“Fortunately, closing the company and liquidating the assets at much less than value was avoided because of an all night negotiating session in my office. One brother sat in the library with the company's accountant. The other brother paced the halls, his wife goading him on. Both insisted that I, counsel to the corporation, be the only attorney present. And so I shuttled back and forth between the two until an agreement was hammered out. One brother bought the interest of the other at a fair price and both were spared litigation.
“This tale is usually convincing proof to all my clients that such agreements [Buy-Sell Agreements] are necessary.”
The clients' real names were changed but everything else in the incident is accurate. By using characters and concrete circumstances, the anecdote serves to emphasize the need for having partnership or stock restrictive agreements.