How to Make a How-To Book Worth Reading


When writing a how-to book, you don’t have to make it engaging. There’s no writing rule that says you can’t publish it if it isn’t catchy.

However, there is a Writing Challenge that strongly implies you shouldn’t publish it if it isn’t catchy. Consider this…

Do you know why the Idiot’s Guides and for Dummies books did so well when they first debuted back in the day?

Because they were fun.

Because they had fascinating little factoids thrown in on the sides.

And because, despite their names, they didn’t make people feel like idiots or dummies. They made them think that, yup, they got it. They could, in fact, learn the information in question. The subject matter they’d been curious about for so long was actually within their grasp.

All thanks to the fact that they had this really fun, really cool, really understandable teacher to rely on.

That’s why this week’s Writing Challenge is what it is. When writing a how-to book, this is what you really should strive for…

Make it engaging.

When we’re talking about writing reference guides or “how to” books, we don’t mean boring manuals. These aren’t supposed to be dry, dull and dreary.

Though, technically, there’s no hard and fast rule against making them that way, if you want to make a positive impression on your readers and would-be readers, give them every fascinating detail you can about your topic of choice... backstories, scientific theories, artistic or philosophical interpretations, technical variations and/or whatever else applies to keep them intrigued.

Remember your college textbooks? The ones that were all factual and to-the-point until you wanted to fall asleep in them?

That shouldn’t be what you shoot for here. While you hardly have to structure it in a humorous manner, complete with jokes and teases, you should strive for some level of comradery between you and your readers.

One way to do that is to frame it as a conversation, starting with something like, “So you want to learn how to think logically? In that case, you’ve come to the right place.”

Or, if that sounds too cheesy for you, how about this writing prompt to get you thinking:

Tens of thousands of people every year ask what it takes. What does it take to write a book? They want to know all the elements involved. What should they expect?

So this is what I tell them… Commitment.

Half of them don’t like that answer very much. The other half stick around for at least the next sentence. Maybe even more.

Now, in that last example, the writer could also throw in a number of personal stories along with all those “backstories, scientific theories, artistic or philosophical interpretations, technical variations and/or whatever else applies to keep them intrigued.” Personal stories are often great ways to boost reader engagement levels when writing a how-to book.

Often, but not always. For that matter, the same can be said for those other potential additions listed in the actual Writing Challenge. So here’s one final thought to keep in mind for this kinda sorta genre.

You don’t want to just throw in details because they’re interesting. You want to include details because they’re relevant and you can make them interesting. Never forget that you have dual criteria going on there:

  1. Relevant

  2. Interesting.

When writing a how-to book, don’t accept one without the other. Or at least think really, really hard before you do.

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