I've been writing spiritual and self-help articles and books for six years now. I made my own shift from writing academic articles to books that are meant to uplift humanity's spirit. In my former world, data, plausible theories, and footnotes ruled every page. In one of my early pieces for major chemical company, for example, I discussed the repolymerization process of the Nylon 6 fiber within the context of a closed-loop recycling process. This 250-page report was a result of an archeological excavation of a municipal solid waste landfill in Arizona, an environmental research project with a university excavation team done in 110-degree heat. To a mainstream audience, it was a snoozer. Describing the smell of non-decomposed hotdogs, grass, diapers, fabrics, and newspapers from the Nixon era might have made the piece more of a page turner, but I doubt if my fellow academics, and the folks who funded this research, would have been amused with anything less than non-objective observations of 25-year old garbage.

Although my father-in-law, who was uproariously amused by this project, and awarded me an official-looking diploma with the inscription Queen Du Garbegét (it still hangs on the wall in my office as a reminder not to take work too seriously), the book was well-received by scientific community. During those years, however, I was nagged by an impulse to teach to a wider audience and extend my thoughts beyond a small and specialized readership. So I made a decision to make the huge transition from writing for academics to writing for people seeking personal growth.

Since I've been immersed in both science and self-help communities, I've noticed the qualities needed to produce well-written pieces in both worlds are similar. If you are among those left-brainers who are considering using the other half of your brain and feel the calling to become a self-help and spiritual writer, here are four tips to help you.

 

Use your skills as a researcher to organize your writing

 

There is a sense of safety in academic writing: you tell it like it is and don't worry about entertainment value. There is little or no fluff required, and what shines is a concise and clear presentation of findings, well-documented to provide validity and proof that your theory is solid. In my current world, where spirit rules and science takes a back seat, there is little difference when it comes to organizing your research. Although it is a different kind of subject matter and you've shifted to more intuitive observations, the discipline of organizing your writing is the same. In spiritual and personal growth pieces, a reader still wants you to back up your argument and show you've done your homework.


The outline for my last book, The Oneness Gospel, was extensive. It summarized two years of lectures and global travel of study with a variety of teachers. My process of drawing congruency among these teachings and organizing them was entirely different from my first two books, where I just shot from the hip. This time, I transcribed thousands of pages of notes, assigned each lesson a category and number, and organized ideas into groups with an indexing system. There was no other way I could make any of sense of this vast material, most of it taught by monks who often spoke in heavily accented English. They had their own funny and abstract way of communicating. Imagine recording the teachings of the Jedi master, Yoda, and rearranging his backwards English in order to distill the core of a lesson. The Oneness Gospel teachings were coaxed into place with personal stories and other metaphysical interpretations of the New Testament Gospels so I could connect many Eastern and Western spiritual viewpoints. My outline grew to fifty-eight pages, and this was after the thousand pages of notes had been transcribed. Had I not already had the discipline to do this level of work, I would not have had the patience to write the book. My point here is that if you are translating sacred or holy works or summarizing the words of avatars and gurus, you still need to use a detailed approach. Otherwise, you'll spend hours (or years) wandering through the pages of your research and will not be able translate its essence into a coherent message.

 

Although personal experience flavors good structure, you'll always need an excellent outline. Resist the urge to write without one. Some writers "download from the matrix" and write a book in ten days because it's "channeled from the universe." It could happen to you, but if it doesn't, use your common sense. Put in the time you need to take the intuitive exercise of writing and ground it into a good outline. Unless you organize your book when you begin, your subject will wander and you will wander along with it, adding a sense of confusion to your process.

 

Don't let your perception of the competition swallow your message

 

Although self-help, personal growth, and spirituality are competitive categories, and it's important to distinguish yourself and your message from other books on the market, keep in mind that you are talking about the same truths, principles, and making the same observations that human beings have made for thousands of years. Anyone on the path of spiritual awakening knows we are all recycling the same wise and beautiful truths. Chances are your subject has been covered many times before, so stop worrying and let your unique voice emerge. Readers will be interested in the way you see and experience those truths. From the beginning of your project, accept that many aspects of your content will not be original. View all inspirational writers as being on the same team. You'll be able to sleep better at night, knowing you are at peace with what you are writing about, and your words will wind up looking and feeling more natural on the page.

 

In The Oneness Gospel, I wrote about the spiritual truths taught by my Indian dasas and mystics and what I saw as identical lessons given in the New Testament. None of this information is new, and probably neither are many of my observations; it's my realizations of these spiritual truths and experiences with this content that are unique. Remember that while we all share the same intellectual and spiritual infrastructure, it's your voice and vibration that are a one-of-a-kind broadcast. Nobody will experience life exactly like you do. I learned that this is the most distinguishing feature of this category and good writing sings when written with heartfelt truth. While you write with honesty, quit worrying about the competition and just do it. The book will wind up exactly where it is meant to be. There is no "publish or perish" model in self-help.

 

Competition in this category may appear daunting; however, it is only an illusion. Many authors feel overwhelmed by the thousands of spiritual and self-help books on the market, and feel they can never be successful without a publishing contract, but it's not true. In the major personal-growth publishing houses, the top tier (the top ten authors who generate 90 percent of the income for the entire house) will chug out a book a year, and because they already have a huge following, they will hit their sales objectives before the book is out, or shortly after the affiliate programs, media tours, and other typical book launch marketing have concluded. I know an author who was offered a spot on a major publishing house list, and although it seemed prestigious, it was a nightmare for her to put in her own marketing dollars to promote the book and, later, buy back her rights to the work. She decided to repackage the material, and steadily sold copies of her book, and used it to increase demand for her later titles.

 

Go in with your eyes wide open to the process and be sensible about your expectations. If your book is well-written but is not picked up by a major publisher, it will resonate with someone, and you will still uplift humanity's consciousness. Your positive message will be successful no matter how many copies you sell. You may find that your worries about a big publishing contract could have been time better spent in just getting the message out to humanity.

 

Get to know your readers

 

I began my first spiritual self-help book without clear objectives. What was the book was meant to do? Who were my readers? What demographic best described those people seeking the kind of spiritual advice I offered? During that project, I allowed myself to change my mind at least a dozen times. There's an old saying: "If you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there." Identify your audience from the beginning. Otherwise, you will spend too much time drifting between sets of ideas and build a shaky foundation for your book that will later have to be painstakingly corrected.

 

In some types of qualitative research in the social sciences, we allow the research to take any number of directions, and we don't worry too much about who is willing to read it (our dissertation committee, department chairs, or academic peer reviewers). But this is an unproductive approach when we're writing self-help because the audience is much larger. I spent more time rewriting and massaging my first book on personal growth than I should have because I did not clearly identify my niche audience from the beginning. For this reason, the core teaching of the book changed many times.

Academic writing is another universe. You're writing for a small audience that has a similar knowledge base. These readers understand what you're talking about and will critically review your work. You don't have to worry about explaining everything. Mainstream readers are learning. They seek wisdom and spiritual guidance want to open their minds along with yours and crawl inside your heart to feel what you feel. As a writer, you must take a risk. You can't always depend upon data; you have to expose your whole self, not just your left brain and analytical skills. Make sure you understand your reader. Self-help is more of a niche market than ever, so look into who your message can affect positively and write as if you are speaking to them in your living room.

 

Appreciate the rules of the industry and go with the flow

 

I think it is vitally important to put a photo of your favorite major-league talk show host on your vision board (with you sitting in the opposite chair on the set), but please get grounded. Don't spend another year shopping a manuscript when you can hire a freelance editor to teach you to omit needless words, tighten your work, and get it ready for self-publication so you can get out on the road with a positive message. Manage your vision with wisdom and love at the same time as you take the time to know the business. Make smart decisions about where to submit your work and do it efficiently. While you are waiting to hear back from a publisher, construct an economically smart and solid self-publishing strategy. Establish a budget and stick to it. There is no way to understand the market perfectly and convert every marketing strategy into a sale, so be willing to risk part of your investment on your learning curve. You're going to make plenty of mistakes. It's best to just accept that every marketing tool has both advantages and pitfalls.

 

Use your energy productively to create a plan. Sure, send out the manuscripts. (Publishers and agents who accept e-mail submissions are my favorites because the response is so much quicker). It's terrific if you have contacts in the industry who can refer you to publishers. But take charge of your creation. Don't expect someone else to get your message out to the masses. Establish a time frame and a personal deadline for how long are willing to shop the work. Tuck your ego in your pocket and put out several requests to either agents or publishers that are strategically aligned with your material. If you get turned down, pay attention to all suggestions and criticisms (which usually steer you toward better writing and more sensible marketing), and indulge yourself in exactly two hours to feel lousy. Then move forward. Don't let one rejection paralyze your efforts publish your book. You're in the business of uplifting humanity's spirit, and if you don't move forward, who will? If not now, when? Stop complaining about the lack of opportunity and surrender to the powers that be to move the work where it needs to go.

 

While your book is moving along, get smart about the book industry. You're a researcher, right? Understand the ways you can circulate your post-published material. Observe the rules. Keep up on how distribution and wholesalers work. Read Mark Levine's The Fine Print of Self-Publishing. Empower yourself by learning what a publishing or publishing services contract ought to contain. Find out how digital books are sold. If you don't have a platform or marketing infrastructure established, know what to look for in a good print-on-demand scenario.

 

If you put your desire to teach and inspire people into the right channels, the universe will provide you with more satisfaction than you thought possible. Isn't that what you're teaching? If you're writing about organizational theory and quadrant four problems with unlimited variables, but want to shift to the impact of God's love in your life, remember to use your current skill set to communicate your new message. Many former psychologists, scientists, and doctors are teachers and writers who have made a successful transition from an academic to a mainstream readership. Use your science skills to approach your writing with love, but also bring an organized mind to your keyboard.


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