Why I Wrote A Self-Help Book That Critiques Self-Help Books

I had written a book previously but decided not to put it on sale. The book was called ‘Discussions on Consciousness and the Self’ and as a miniature gesture against the pervasiveness of capitalism I decided to get a limited number of copies printed and rather than selling them to distribute them free of charge to family, friends and anybody who showed an interest in its content. The book was written by me shortly after I graduated from a B. Sc. Psychology course and consisted of what could be described as my ‘real’ thoughts on various related topics as opposed to what I wrote in examination halls for the purpose of passing exams and graduating from a university.

Since then I graduated with a Master’s Degree in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and have been working in that field where in addition to providing Cognitive Behavioural Therapy I also work both therapeutically and non-therapeutically with athletes in the area of the psychology of sport.

In any event, over the last year or so I have toyed with the idea of writing a second book, this time as a commercial venture. The impetus for this project stemmed from time spent browsing in bookshops over several years and dipping in and out of various self-help books. The ‘dips’ were pretty quick to be honest as in most cases I had difficulty with the content. Maybe this was because of my academic training or maybe it was for some other reason(s) but either way what I read seemed so underwhelming and, in many cases, downright simplistic. The human condition is way more complicated.

Rightly or wrongly self-help is a maligned genre. Forms of self-help literature have been around for millennia but the genre itself appears to have originated in 1859 when Scotsman Samuel Smiles published a book called ‘Self-Help’ which was designed to empower the working classes. One of the criticisms of Smile’s book was that it over-emphasised individual responsibility and minimised the duty of the state, particularly with regard to poverty. In other words it placed the burden of responsibility on the individual without taking into account the individual’s circumstances, which at the time would have included poverty and poor educational standards.

In modern times self-help is characterised by generic advice, potentially harmful advice, false hope, or by ill-informed celebrities writing books which state the obvious. For example, “walking is one of the ways we move through the world” was a piece of wisdom offered by one self-help author. Despite the banality of a lot of self-help literature it is important to note that self-help works for some people and, as such, if it ain’t broke why fix it.

For others though it doesn’t work. It is perceived as overly simplistic, not necessarily because of elitism or condescension or snobbery on the part of the reader but because, basically, as far as those readers are concerned, the self-help content is simplistic and, in some cases, irritatingly offensive. As such I decided to try to fill the void, as I saw it.

The concept of conscious living is one that has interested me for some time. Conscious living is about waking up. Properly. It is about being cognisant of the real reasons why you think what you think and do what you do. Conscious living is about being aware of what you attend to with your senses and the impact that your sensory inputs have on your wellbeing. Conscious living is about choice. To get to the point where constructive choices can be made awareness is required. As such I decided to write a self-help book on the concept of conscious living using the title ‘The Aware Self: A Compendium Of Conscious Living.’ In this particular self-help book, I try – note try – to avoid the dumbed down approach to living that I have witnessed in so many other books in the self-help genre by providing what I reluctantly refer to as ‘a self-help book for the thinking person’ which doubles as a critique of the self-help genre of which it is a part.

The outcome is a matter of personal opinion but irrespective of whether I have succeeded or not it is important to note that in an era of existential angst concerning bigger picture issues such as repeated global pandemics and the future of our planet that everything is related to everything else. This is a major tenet of conscious living. As such your wellbeing is essential to the wellbeing of your family, your community, your school/college, your workplace et cetera, et cetera, all the way up to the wellbeing of your planet. As such helping yourself to live consciously (and think consciously) is potentially one of the best gifts that you can give to yourself, your family, your community and so on up to and including your planet. My book is designed as a foundational resource in this regard.

To purchase a copy of ‘The Aware Self: A Compendium Of Conscious Living’ click here.

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How to Write And Publish A Book Cheaply

Writing and publishing a book cheaply was an extremely interesting experience  which I am happy to share.

My objective was to write a self-help book for ‘the thinking person’ that doubled up as a critique of the self-help genre. Details of why and so on are available here.

With regard to the practicalities of self-publishing a book written by someone like me who is not an established author the journey went something like this.

Initially I looked at the pros and cons of self-publishing and of being published by a publishing company. Detailed articles on the differences in question are available elsewhere but for me the clinchers for the self-publishing route were control over the content and the length of time that the project would take. Because my content was opinion-based and because I had a limited amount of time to devote to the project I felt that self-publishing was the way to go. Of course finance played a role also and I was prepared to pay a relatively modest figure up front for a relatively small initial print run with a relatively large financial return for me per book sold – pending keeping other costs down. Future (larger) print runs could be funded from the proceeds of the initial run. Crucially the option of going down the published route after the self-published route was also available. In fact going down the self-published route first could make any future published route easier and shorter.

Once the self-publishing decision was made I got writing. The concept for the book had been with me for some time so now it was a matter of getting it out of my head and into book format. Briefly, the concept for the book was to take a number of standard self-help topics such as gratitude, compassion, communication etc. and to interpret them at a level much deeper than typical self-help books. To do this I interpreted the topics through the prisms of psychology, philosophy, science, spirituality, literature, poetry and song.

Writing about these topics from these perspectives was a labour of love. A quote from the year 1635 from the English poet Francis Quarles was never too far from my mind. “I wish thee as much pleasure in the reading as I had in the writing” he wrote and this was my wish also. However there was a long way to go before anything was ready for anybody to get pleasure from reading.

While writing the content I was concurrently exploring other aspects of the project such as the cover design, sourcing a company to print the book, the price to charge, the layout and design, the word count, the editing process, physical shops and websites that might sell the book on my behalf, how much of a cut they might take, developing my own e-commerce platform where I could sell it online also and doing all of the above on my own with a very small budget.

After much research and trial and error the following is how I got from concept to copy.

I wrote the content using Microsoft word in the expectation that this would be the format in which the book would be published. Didn’t work out that way. During the writing phase I concurrently searched for a company that would print the final version. There are so many add on services out there in addition to printing that companies offer such as editing, cover design, library deposits (a legal requirement for copies of newly published books to be sent to designed libraries), ISBN and barcode  provision, support with promotions etc. I settled on a company called Carrowmore and agreed terms for the number of books that I required to be printed. As ever the more you print the cheaper it is per copy to print.

One written I used Reedsy software to edit the content. Doing so was as simple as copying my Word chapters into Reedsy and accepting or rejecting the editorial suggestions made. All free of charge.

For the cover design I used Canva Pro at a minimal price of €6.00 per month for the first three-months of a contract that I could cancel at any time. This allowed me more than enough time to design a book cover. Various templates were offered but I designed my own template and used my own image for the front cover. My image happened to be my logo. The trickiest part of this phase was understanding the dimensions of a book cover and allowing for the spine and what are called bleeds (at the edges). By all accounts the print job consists of an oversized pages which are trimmed to the correct size with the bleed being the area trimmed off. In my case my finished cover was 6×9 inches.

A space was available for a barcode which I was given by the publishing/printing company who printed the book (Carrowmore). To receive the code from them I provided them with an ISBN number which I purchased from the International ISBN Agency in London at a cost of roughly £80.00. Curiously I could have purchased a bundle of 10 ISBN numbers for a little over twice that amount, which was tempting, but in the circumstances I settled for just one. I had a little difficulty inserting the barcode into the cover template, so the publishing/printing company kindly offered to do it for me.

At this stage the book was finished at a cost of roughly €100.00, or at least I thought it was. I sent the book content in Microsoft Word format to the publisher/printer. I then sent the book cover separately. The publisher/printer patched everything together and sent me a pre-publishing file containing the book in final format. I was impressed but thought something was missing. Even though it read well it didn’t look right. In hindsight I had put so much attention into the content that I had overlooked the internal formatting. I used a free open-source template that I found from usedtotech which drastically changed the internal layout of the book for the better. At this stage the book was now finished and ready to be printed at a total cost of hundreds of enjoyable hours and roughly €100.00.

My book called ‘The Aware Self: A Compendium Of Conscious Living’ is available in paperback format and in e-book format. It can be viewed and purchased from my website at www.cogbeh.com

Good luck with your project. I hope that my experience might be of assistance to you.

In my practice as a Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist I provide Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and I work non-therapeutically with athletes and sports people on the psychology of performance. I provide my services in-person or online. See www.cogbeh.com


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Categories: The Aware Self Book