HOW-TO BOOKS: STEP-BY-STEP
I checked Amazon today for books in the category “how to….” 655,335 entries came up. We know these books are popular and there are lots of them, including How to Survive the End of the World as We Know it, and the classic How to Win Friends and Influence People. As our little secret, a potentially profitable writing niche, note that “how to build a gazebo” got only 23 hits.
I went beyond Amazon: Googling “how to” got 3.48 billion results. As with so many such searches, I did not venture past the first page.
Knowing something about a topic and knowing how to do a particular thing within that general topic are very different. Understanding bicycles is not knowing how to ride one. I’m reminded of the joke told about one of my fellow physicists, who was said to know a hundred ways to make love to a woman, but he didn’t know any women. I digress.
Let’s go back to the example I gave near the beginning of the book and fill in that “how to…” outline:
What you are trying to do.
Your potential reader is likely to search for a book or article that starts with “how to…” and continues to name the particular goal. If you Google some topics, you will be amazed at the variety you find.
Here, I will show how to walk your dog, based on my interactions with our rescued Chow-Retriever, Colette. No, she is not “part Chow” because of her voracious appetite for only the choicest canned food. She is genetically part Chow and part Retriever, but fully “Daddy’s girl,” having me wrapped around her not-so-little paw.
Why it is important to you.
Try to think of all the reasons why doing this is important:
1. I’d rather walk the dog then clean up after her because I had failed to walk her.
2. I usually enjoy taking a bit of a walk, unless the weather is bad.
3. I know it makes Colette happy, because she makes a big fuss just before we go out.
4. She looks sad if I don’t take her out.
Note the ordered, numbered list. People like lists. Specific, clear, finite, lists rule in the how-to genre.
Materials you’ll need.
List what is needed and where to get it.
1. A dog. Call or capture yours. [See Figure 1, not shown here.]
2. A dog collar, attached to the dog.
3. A leash. Purchase one that is strong, hard to chew through. [Figure 2.] (On an early trek, our part-Chow chewed through hers.)
4. A little plastic bag to pick up feces. Buy at grocery store. [Figure 3.] (Carry this conspicuously, to reassure the neighbors, even if you don’t always use it when you should.)
5. A dog treat, optional. (To reward good behavior, if it occurs and if it is observed. Note: praise is almost as effective and does not leave crumbs in your pocket.)
6. Clothing for dog walker, suitable for weather and neighborhood, and clothing for the dog, if you have that kind of dog.
Step-by-step instructions for accomplishing it.
0. Check the weather, by opening the door or window, or by listening to the radio or TV.
1. Call the dog. Example: “Come, Colette. Come, Colette. Colette, where are you?”
2. If calling fails, bring leash with you, attach it to dog’s collar and gently lead the dog up to and out the door.
3. If calling succeeds, praise the dog [“Good dog, Colette!”], attach leash to dog’s collar and gently lead the dog out the door.
4. If this is a “business trip,” walk the dog where this will not cause angst in your neighborhood.
5. If necessary, remove excrement from ground and deposit in bag, praising dog for urinating or defecating outdoors rather than indoors.
6. Return home, walking as little extra or as much more as you deem appropriate.
7. Congratulate self and dog. Example, “Good dog, Colette.”
What the outcome should be.
1. Dog will have done her “business.”
2. You will have obtained exercise.
3. Floors indoors will not require supplementary cleaning.
4. Your “significant other,” if there be one, will approve.
Sources of information and materials.
List them here, as appropriate. Numbered list, of course.
Surprisingly to me, how-to pamphlets and videos and books are big sellers, so go to it, providing somewhat more value to your readers than this brief example provided.
For extra value, and possibly extra money, produce a video.
Excerpted from my magnum opus, the recently published Write Your Book with Me, available from its publisher, Outskirts Press and from online booksellers like amazon.com and bn.com in paperback and ebook: