A Shrink's Guide To Self-Publishing (part 2)

In part 2 of "A Shrink's Guide To Self-Publishing" Stephanie Adams, LPC walks you through the process of organizing and completing your book and preparing it for publishing. Read part 1 here.

DSC_0661 Creative Commons License photo credit: Salem (MA) Public Library

Last week, we talked about how self-publishing can be a shrink's dream second income AND do wonders for their practice by increasing awareness of their expertise. But at the same time many of you who might consider this path worry that no matter how much you like the idea in general, you could never actually write a whole book.

I'm telling you now, don't sell yourself short! Think about it. What is therapy? A large part of counseling is simply listening to the client's story and creating together a different, better story of a life they can choose to lead. Probably at least once a session, you will find yourself doing things like attributing meaning to an event in the client's past, explaining a difficult concept to them, teaching a technique, or painting a verbal picture. That's storytelling, and you can do it on paper just as easily as you can do it in person!

What's Your Book About?

This is not an answer you come up with on a purely intellectual level. One might say all writers are intimately tied to our material. But since the counselor's vocational pursuits are so deeply personal, our stories will be even more so in many ways. So instead of coming up with a topic out of thin air, turn inward. What is your message to others? A practical way to start this process of discovery is by writing down things you say to clients every day. This will start to tell you what you are passionate about, and what you desire your clients to learn from you. By the time you're finished with that initial burst of energy, you should have 2-3 pages of handwritten ideas…or more! As you look over these pages, you will start to see a theme take shape from even seemingly disconnected ideas.

The easiest way I've come up with to find your theme is something I call "chunking." It involves taking your brainstorming sheets and breaking into "chunks" the ideas that go together. For example, say you've written, "dancers, artists, art therapy, painting, family therapy, eating disorder." Which of these go together? The answer to that question IS your theme. If you find yourself creating from these pages a mental narrative that involves the local school for the arts, eating disorders, and new techniques you've discovered, then it sounds like you've got an idea you want to share about a new method art students can use to conquer an eating disorder.

My "theme" is pure conjecture - but that is why I shared it. You will come up with a completely different idea from the same pages of notes than another person will. It's not important that you include all the elements you wrote down on your brainstorming sheets, or that you say what you think someone wants to hear about. What's important is that you discover the idea you're meant to share.

Once a theme has become clearer to you - because it WILL evolve as you get into the work of writing a book - you must ask yourself if you need to narrow or broaden your topic to do the subject justice. This is another highly subjective area, but I have confidence you can come up with the right choice for you. Take the example above. There are many art students out there, and many different kinds of therapy for eating disorders. So what should you focus on?

Let's say that you have a background in painting, and that is what you are most qualified to comment on. At the same time, you realize that dancers are more susceptible than other kinds of art students to eating disorders because of the focus on body image. Now, you could write about all the different groups you conduct, and all the kinds of therapy you are qualified to perform. But, you could do the most good writing a self-help guide to painting female figures in order to help dancers recover a healthy body image. This is the most precise definition of who you can help, and that is what is important.

If you cannot identify your reader, they will not be able to identify themselves as someone who can benefit from reading your book.

Once you have identified your reader, ask yourself what sets your book idea apart to the point that this potential reader will pick it up and say, "Hmm, I've never heard about this quite this way before." In order accomplish this result; you have a narrow range of specific options. The first option is to have a new piece of information no one has discovered before, which is hard to do in this day and age. The second option is to focus on an aspect of a problem no one has covered before, and the third is to deliver the information in a way no one has done before. How will you make your book stand out?

The Book Takes Shape

Flip back to the first few pages of notes you made, and take a moment to elaborate on the ideas you've started there. When you've done some more free writing, look over what you've come up with and start "chunking" again. This time, of course, you're starting from a narrower premise, so your specific chunks will become not book ideas, but chapters of your existing book idea.

Look at what you have. Maybe one cluster of ideas explains why this issue you're circling around is a problem. Another cluster of ideas tells your potential reader what will and won't work when addressing this issue.

Is it sounding a little less scary? I hope so! Writing nonfiction, like therapy, is just telling a client about a problem you see and how you'd like to help them overcome it.

Speaking of nonfiction, as you're allowing your chapters to take shape, start thinking about what kind of nonfiction book best suits the material you're sharing. Should you write a self-help book, generally written in the second-person and including exercises for the reader to work through on their own? Might you be writing a textbook for classroom use, or a training manual? Maybe your book would be best served as an inspirational journal? Or what if you're a play therapist, and your child clients would benefit from a children's picture book?

This is your book! Create the one you want!

Preparing Your Book For Publication

We've already talked a great deal about the process of formatting and submitting a book to be self-published through a service, but before then you want to make sure has been edited to the best of your ability. I don't recommend doing this completely on your own. If you can afford a line editor, great…but they are quite pricey. A less expensive option is to join a writer's group and exchange manuscript editing services with others in the group that are seeking publication.

Of course, with this kind of group, you will get varying levels of editing ability. That's why if you're going with lay editors, it's best to allow for each individual editor to help you in their area of strength. For my book, I had two or three people help me read the book for accuracy within my field. I had someone who knew my style of writing to check for clarity. Another helpful reader pointed out cohesiveness. And I was also fortunate enough to have someone read my book who was an expert in grammar and punctuation.

Almost even more than the content, your readers will judge your professionalism by the level at which your material is presented. If your book is grammatically accurate, focused, and easy to understand, you will rise in their esteem. If your book is instead riddled with mistakes and they can't understand what it's about, your venture into self-publishing could end up hurting you instead of helping you.

Gettin' Things Done Creative Commons License photo credit: UWW ResNet

Promoting Your New Expertise

After your book has been released, share it with people! Start a blog book tour, such as the one this article was written for. Send an announcement to your email list and share it with members of the community. Display it in your office, and have business cards printed up with the information on how to purchase your book. Organize a workshop or small group around your topic, and hand-sell the book afterwards.

Remember, writing a book says you're serious about your topic, so you want to encourage everything that puts you closer to becoming the go-to person within your niche. Don't worry - you will still get a chance to explore other aspects of your career in the future, but for now you want to recede into your niche and stay there! You are cultivating an expertise, remember?

When you love the topic you wrote about, sharing it can be a joy, because you're talking about something you love. Be creative, and have fun with it.

Any Counselor Can Do It

Many, many counselors want to investigate multiple streams of income, but they're scared because it's not something we're taught how to do. While this is an undoubtedly simplified version of the self-publishing and writing process, the purpose of this article is to show you how easy it is to do. Consider it Self-Publishing 101.

Regular people like you and me can make good money and realize dreams through self-publishing. I want you to be inspired and encouraged that you can do this and be a big success on your own terms.

Two months after publishing my book, I have already recouped my initial investment. That could be you. From now on, every royalty I earn is pure profit. Since I published the book, I have also opened up more streams of income by training counselors in teleseminars, and taking on counselors as consulting clients. All because of my book! What further streams of income might YOU open up by venturing into the world of self-publishing?

Stephanie Ann Adams, MA, LPC is the co-author of "The Beginning Counselor's Survival Guide: The New Counselor's Plan for Success from Practicum to Licensure" (available now in paperback and e-book) and the owner of Beginnings Counseling & Consulting, where she provides counselor innovation consulting and life counseling for emerging adults.