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How Not to Write a How-To Book

In this excerpt from The Book Bible, Susan Shapiro's new writing guide, she offers 10 ways for how NOT to write a how-to book.

Susan Shapiro is a popular writing instructor and author of numerous how-to books, including her Writer's Digest book, The Byline Bible. That instructional book offered practical ways for writers to get their first byline and subsequent bylines in the publications of their dreams. In that guide, she included examples of essays she and her students wrote and got published. Many of those essays resulted in book deals for those writers. 

In her newest writing book, The Book Bible, Shapiro uses the same no-nonsense approach to help writers write and find a publisher for their book. Each chapter begins with a list of what not to do, followed by advice from Shapiro and other experts in the particular genre being addressed. All genres, from children's books and novels, to poetry, memoir, and other types of nonfiction, are addressed. 

In this excerpt from The Book Bible, you'll find 10 tips for how NOT to write a how-to book. 

How Not to Write a How-To Book | Susan Shapiro

HOW NOT TO HOW-TO

  1. Know Nothing About Your Subject: Pick an area where you have no real knowledge or experience, since everyone would love to hear a personal trainer pontificating about how to build a house. You’re sick of your field anyway, so here’s a way to explore new territory.
  2. Avoid Research: So what if there’s already many books about how to win elections by people who work in the political arena and, as a hairdresser, you have no knowledge or wisdom to add and don’t even vote? No problem—their stuffy opinions are too complicated. You’ll bring a freshness and originality to the topic.
  3. Forget to Contact Experts: The big shots out there already have huge platforms, jobs and audiences, so why should you add to it by quoting them?
  4. Skip Advice: Write 300 pages about your own bad relationship history ending with meeting your fantastic spouse. It can chronicle how you did it, so that’s a good enough how-to, right?
  5. Oppose Another Hit Book: Call yours “He Is Just That Into You” or “How Not To Win Friends and Influence People,” riffing off a long-ago bestseller—instead of coming up with your own original idea.
  6. Plagiarize Other Authors: It’s already on the internet, so that means you can steal the work of other people and cobble it together to make your own book, right? I mean, like, there’s not even any bylines on Wikipedia, so it’s all up for grabs.To beat cancer, you need a good doctor to catch it early and a healthy lifestyle. Sometimes the obvious stuff bears repeating, doesn’t it?

  7. Recycle Advice Everybody Already Knows: To beat cancer, you need a good doctor to catch it early and a healthy lifestyle. Sometimes the obvious stuff bears repeating, doesn’t it?

  8. Avoid Current Trends and Political Correctness: Forget about all those plus-size models and body positivity activists and call your book How to Lose Weight to Get Skinny and Beautiful.

  9. Skirt Fact Checking and Updating: Make sure to mention people who have died without indicating they have passed away, cite organizations that are no longer in business, web articles that have been taken down and websites that are defunct.

  10. Stay Hyper-Local: Include entire pages listing the best doctors, lawyers and accountants in your town—even though you want a mainstream publisher and their books are national—or international. Isn’t there like that big rule to write what you know.

The Book Bible | Susan Shapiro

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