Secrets of the Best How-To Books

51. Secrets of the Best How-To books

If you’re teaching readers how to do something–anything at all–this episode is for you.

How-to books seem simple to write, and they can be. But only if you know the secrets of bestselling how-to books.

The best personal development, professional development, and self-help books all share these 5 elements in common.

Mentioned in This Episode

Breakthrough Sold Separately, by Brandi Harvey

Redefine Wealth for Yourself, by Patrice Washington

Traffic, Sales & Profit, by Lamar Tyler

Your Next Chapter, by Angela Raspass

Make Money as a Life Coach, podcast by Stacey Boehman

Episode Transcript

Hey there and welcome to Nothing but the Words. I’m your Author Coach Candice L Davis.

How’s your writing going? Are you making progress on your book?

Whatever book you’re writing, I want to encourage you to keep making progress.

It doesn’t matter if you write a page a day or a paragraph a day. Just keep moving forward.

If you’re not sure where to start, go back and listen to some of my earlier episodes.

I lay out all the basics to get started writing your book, starting in episode #1.

I’m recording this on February 2nd, and honestly, my mind is blown that January flew by so quickly.

While I accomplished many of my goals for that month, there were some things I didn’t quite finish, so I’m tightening my calendar as we roll into February.

More than ever, I have what my coaching client Brandi Harvey calls “an acute awareness of your time,” a concept she learned from a well-known pastor.

If you haven’t read Brandi’s book, Breakthrough Sold Separately, I highly recommend it.

If you have goals you aren’t achieving quickly enough, her book will give you the tools to stop spinning your wheels and keep going.

My message here is don’t let 2021 pass you by.

Okay. In this episode, I want to share with you some of the lessons I’ve learned from some of the very best how-to books.

And I’ll use some of my clients’ books as examples in case you want to check them out and see these success secrets at work.

In this case, I’m referring to any book you’re writing that aims to teach people how to do something.

So that could fall under personal development, self-help, professional development, parenting, business, personal finance—as long as you’re teaching in your book, these secrets apply to you.

Secret #1: The best how-to books are easy to navigate.

This sounds super simple, and it can be.

Making your book easy to navigate starts with your outline.

If you want your book to be more of a reference book, provide a detailed table of contents so readers can dip in and out as needed.

If you want readers to follow your process from chapter to chapter, make that clear in the beginning.

And then connect one chapter to the next so readers understand how one chapter builds on the next.

My client Patrice Washington does a fantastic job of this in her upcoming book Redefine Wealth for Yourself, another book I highly recommend.

With her book, you can assess how you’re doing in every area of your life and then jump to the section where you most want to make improvements.

It makes the book incredibly valuable for readers.

Secret #2: The best how-to books tell great stories.

If you’re writing a simple manual, a super-short book, then you might not tell a lot of stories.

But the stories you tell should still be great.

I could list so many of my coaching clients who do this well.

But Lamar Tyler’s books, including Traffic, Sales & Profit, come to mind.

Lamar’s book are short and powerful.

They teach you exactly what they promise to teach.

But he also peppers them with super relevant case studies.

He shares his own success, but he also highlights the success of several of his clients.

Those stories make readers feel like the results are absolutely achievable.

Those stories can come from:

  1. Your experience
  2. Your clients’ experience (with their permission or complete anonymity, of course)
  3. Documented stories of public figures (Cite your sources.)

Great stories illustrate the concepts you’re teaching, make your ideas and strategies relatable, and give readers a break from reading about process.

Secret #3: The best how-to books have their own spin on the subject.

As I was jogging on the Peloton last weekend, I decided to listen to one of my favorite podcasts instead of taking a class.

Stacey Boehman’s Make Money as a Life Coach is great for anyone who sells anything.


It’s targeted at life coaches, but if you’re a coach or consultant or ever have sales calls, I think you’ll find her show valuable.

In episode #106, “Selling Intangibles,” she walks listeners through her 5-step process for consultation calls.

This is her proprietary process.

She came up with it.

She didn’t invent selling on consultation calls, of course, but she did create her own system for it, which she shares on that episode.

The best how-to books often do exactly that.

They share the author’s system.

In many cases, this system comes in the form of a formal framework or model.

For instance, in her book Your Next Chapter, my coaching client Angela Raspass has illustrations of different models, including her Self-Worth Trilogy.

These models are Angela’s original work.

No other expert can claim them.

You don’t have to be a graphic designer to come up with the kinds of models.

Come up with the idea and pay a small fee to have someone design them for you.

These models not only make it easier for readers to process the information, but they also give the author something extra to use in marketing the book.

Secret #4: The best how-to books give away the whole process.

All too often, authors tell me they don’t want to give away their whole process.

They want people to work with them or take their course instead.

In response to that, I usually ask this question: How many times have you gotten all the results you wanted from a book?

And how many times have you implemented less than 50% of what you learned?

The reality is walking readers through your whole process demonstrates your expertise.

It earns their trust.

And yes, a small percentage of highly motivated, highly confident, and highly capable readers will implement the steps and get results on their own.

You want them to.

They’ll be the biggest cheerleaders for your book, even if they don’t follow every step.

But most readers will lack the confidence or the discipline to implement it all on their own.

Those who are really interested in results will look for opportunities to connect with you, buy from you, and work with you.

Lastly, Secret #5: The best how-to books position you, the author, as the expert.

This is my own personal bias of course.

There are strong how-to books out there that have fairly anonymous authors.

They teach what they’re meant to teach.

In that sense, they get the job done, but even though their name is on the cover, you never get a sense of who the author is.

But writing a how-to book or a how-to hybrid that doesn’t include you as the expert, is a wasted opportunity.

The best how-to books tell readers why they should listen to this author-expert.

They share some of the author’s struggles and successes.

They position the author as a real person who happens to know a lot on the topic.

In doing so, the best how-to books open doors for the author way beyond the book.


To recap, if you’re teaching people how to do something in your book:

  1. Make your book easy to navigate.
  2. Tell great stories.
  3. Bring your own spin to the topic with your system, your models, your tools, or your framework.
  4. Give readers the whole process so they have a chance to get real results.
  5. And position yourself as the expert by sharing

That’s all for this week’s episode. If you found it valuable, follow me on Instagram @candiceldavis for more writing tips and inspiration.

Thanks for listening to Nothing but the Words.

I’m your Author Coach Candice L Davis. And I’ll see you next time.

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