HOW TO WRITE & PUBLISH A HEALTH BOOK
You’ve got a great idea for a health book that will help millions of people, introduce a new treatment, and/or establish you as the “go-to” expert in your field. But how do you write it?
You may know just what you want to say yet still have endless questions about structuring the book, what to include and leave out, how to get it published, and more.
To help you get started, we drew up a list of some of the most common questions that authors-to-be ask us about writing and publishing a health book. Then we answered them as clearly and succinctly as possible.
After reading our Q&A, if you still feel you need help writing your book, we offer professional, experienced ghostwriting services. Just call us at (818) 917-5362.
Now, on to those questions.
1. Which kinds of health books become bestsellers?
In other words, is there a specific type of health book that’s more likely to become a bestseller than other types—like a diet book, for example?
The truth is that all kinds of health books can land on bestseller lists. Take a look at this list of the January 2019 top ten New York Times bestselling health books, and you’ll see what we mean:
#1 – When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi
#2 – The Subtle Art of Not Giving a ****, by Mark Manson
#3 – The Whole 30 Cookbook, by Melissa Hartwig
#4 – The Lose Your Belly Diet, by Travis Stork
#5 – The Gene, by Siddhartha Mukherjee
#6 – Medical Medium Life-Changing Foods, by Anthony William
#7 – Green Smoothies for Life, by J. J. Smith
#8 – The Zero Sugar Diet, by David Zinczenko with Stephen Perrine
#9 – 10-Day Green Smoothie Cleanse, by J. J. Smith
#10 – Being Mortal, by Atul Gawande
The list includes health books in the subgenres of self-improvement, diet, cookbooks, hard science, and health memoir, plus a critique of the medical system. So no, there isn’t any one kind of health book that’s most likely to be successful.
2. Are there some general tips for health book success?
Although different types of books have varying requirements, it pays to keep these tips in mind when planning and writing any health book:
- Begin with some startling or touching information about the disease, condition, or problem you’re discussing.
- Right from the start, let readers know you empathize with them and understand what they’re going through.
- Explain, in layman’s terms, the physiology and/or psychology of the problem.
- If you have a plan for better health, present it no later than chapter four.
- Devote several chapters to an explanation of the nuts and bolts of your program, with one chapter dedicated to each point in the program.
- Write for the layperson, not for your colleagues. (See “12 Rules for Readable Writing.”)
- Include plenty of case histories.
- Offer plenty of helpful, specific advice, even on matters you think the readers should already know about.
- Don’t spend a lot of time attacking anyone or anything; focus on helping your readers.
- Create an emotional experience for the readers. Make them sit up and say, “Yeah, that’s me!”
- Go easy on the heavy science; the majority of readers will want to skip it. You can put it in the appendices if you want to establish your scientific credibility.
- End the book with a rousing call to action plus an upbeat, encouraging reminder that almost everyone can attain and maintain better “health”.
3. How is a health book structured?
No matter how good your idea may be, if the structure doesn’t work, the book will fall flat.
But just as there’s no best kind of health book, there’s also no one structure that’s automatically superior. Too bad—it would be great if we could just pour information into a standard mold! However, there are many good ways to structure your health book, so you’ll have plenty of choice. Zeroing in on the most appropriate choice will depend a lot on your topic and the message you’re trying to get across.
Here’s a rundown of seven popular structures often used for health books, along with examples of books that have used them successfully.
Introducing a New Idea
This is an enthusiastic presentation of a new idea or item designed to intrigue everyone, even those lucky enough to be enjoying good health. Ideally, it’s a presentation of an item/program that benefits just about everyone, while being especially helpful to those experiencing certain problems.
This structure worked well for our book Green Tea: The Natural Secret for a Healthier Life. The first two chapters introduce green tea and provide background on the tea leaf, tea plant, and its healing history. Chapters 3, 4, and 5 examine the health benefits of green tea, focusing primarily on cancer and heart disease prevention. Chapter 6 takes a look at a related form of tea (black tea), and the final four chapters are devoted to the variations and myriad uses of green tea.
The writing style that works best for Introducing a New Idea is one that makes the reader feel as if she’s having a pleasant chat with a friend who’s telling her about a wonderful new discovery.
Problem, Breakthrough, Plan
This approach is basically a quick survey of a serious health problem, followed by a description of the “Eureka!” moment when a fantastic new solution is discovered. The remainder of the book is devoted to a plan for better health that includes the new solution.
This structure is used effectively in our New York Times #1 bestseller, The Arthritis Cure. The first chapter introduces the problem (osteoarthritis) and briefly explains why current solutions are inadequate. Chapter 2 offers background information to help the readers understand what follows. Chapter 3 delivers the punch, introducing the new breakthrough products (glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate) and the studies that led to this discovery.
The rest of the book is devoted to helping the readers solve the problem of arthritis via an eight-point program. Chapter 4 presents an overview of the program, and each of the succeeding chapters focuses on a single aspect of it. The final chapter wraps it all up and offers the readers encouragement and confidence. (We call this the “You can do it!” chapter.)
A book utilizing the Problem, Breakthrough, Plan structure is very practical in nature and designed to be read from cover to cover.
Cohesive Concept, Point by Point
This structure involves the presentation of a new idea, item, or program, with a chapter dedicated to the discussion of each element. It’s well-suited to health books with solutions that can be broken into discrete parts that work best when combined. Examples include “lifestyle” health books that have separate sections on diet, exercise, positive thinking, and so on.
The first chapter introduces a problem or situation and offers a multipoint plan for improvement. Then each of the following chapters addresses one point, principle, or aspect of the plan.
For example, in our book Wake Up! You’re Alive, we present a five-point plan for achieving better physical health by changing your mental outlook on life. Chapter 1 introduces both the problem (physical illness is made worse by a poor attitude) and the solution (adopting enthusiasm, belief, love, forgiveness, and perseverance will greatly improve health.)
Each of the succeeding five chapters discusses one part of the solution, with the last two chapters summing it all up.
Books utilizing the Cohesive Concept, Point by Point structure should be a pleasant read, with each of the “what to do” chapters given equal weight, and their combination leading to a powerful result.
There’s a Problem!
Sometimes, you don’t know you’ve got trouble until somebody warns you, and that’s the basis of the There’s a Problem! book structure. It takes a look at an important problem that most people don’t know about, and it may even include a call to action. But there is little or no discussion of the solution. It doesn’t solve the problem.
A good example of There’s a Problem! can be found in The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, by Barry Schwartz. His premise is that “the culture of abundance robs us of satisfaction.”
You’ve probably never realized that having too many choices may be a problem for you, but Schwartz sounds the alarm with his opening story about going to the store to buy a pair of jeans and being confronted with too many choices: slim fit, easy fit, relaxed fit, baggy, extra baggy, stonewashed, acid-washed, distressed, button-fly, zipper-fly, faded, and so on. All he wanted was “regular jeans” but the clerk didn’t know what those were. She had to consult with one of her colleagues before she could point him in the right direction. It was a stunning moment for Schwartz.
Throughout the rest of the book, he examines the reasons that too many choices is a significant problem in our society. As for what to do about it, he offers very little input, only 16 of the book’s 233 pages.
The goal of a book utilizing the There’s a Problem! structure is to educate readers and provoke an emotional response from them—whether anger, shock, fear, disgust, or something similar. Providing a solution is not the focus.
Health books with this structure present objective information on large topics like vitamins, herbs, or diseases that can be easily divided into stand-alone subparts, then arranged from A to Z or in some other logical way. Typically, Chapter 1 presents the overarching concept for the book, and Chapter 2 offers background information. The chapters that follow present the various components and subparts one at a time, usually in alphabetical order. At the end, there is often a wrap-up chapter. The book is not designed to be read from start to finish. Instead, readers are expected to concentrate on the chapters or areas that interest them and ignore the rest.
The Encyclopedic Approach is put to good use in our book Alternative Cures That Really Work. Chapter 1 gives an overview of alternative cures, and Chapter 2 explains how to understand medical studies. Arranged alphabetically, each of the subsequent 23 chapters is dedicated to one disease or condition and discusses the effective alternative cures.
This structure involves a series of related chapters or essays grouped thematically and often written by different authors. It works well for books that are essentially variations on a theme. Although there must be a very strong overall theme, the individual chapters can be presented in almost any order without affecting the cohesiveness and usefulness of the book.
Handbook for the Heart: Original Writings on Love is a good example of the Anthology approach. The introduction presents the concept of love and its positive influence on life. Each of the 31 chapters that follows is written by a different expert and looks at love from a slightly different point of view.
The Anthology structure doesn’t require the readers to work their way through the entire book. Like the Encyclopedic Approach, any one chapter can stand alone. The essential difference between the two is the Encyclopedic Approach is methodical, comprehensive, and more suited to medical or scientific information, while the Anthology structure is more impressionistic and better suited to emotional content.
Learning Day by Day
This structure is based on a collection of ideas, inspirational quotes, and/or exercises to be perused or performed consecutively. Readers are given information to master or tasks to perform as they progress through the book as part of a daily, weekly, or seasonal program.
An example of the Learning Day by Day structure can be found in the book, A New Day, A New Life: A Guided Journal. The book presents a different task for readers to perform each day to help them gain insight into themselves and their actions and, as a result, overcome substance abuse.
4. How do I decide which structure is right for my book?
Choosing a structure for your book is a lot like trying on an article of clothing. You begin by imagining how it will look on you. You hold it up to your body and look in the mirror. And then you try it on to see how it fits.
It’s can be the same process when finding the perfect structure for your book. Start by imagining how your material might read when it’s “poured into” a structure that seems compatible. For example, if you have a detailed plan based on a groundbreaking new idea, use the Problem, Breakthrough, Plan structure. If you want to explore a problem in depth without providing a plan or solution, try There’s a Problem! And if your material is made up of numerous parts that don’t constitute a plan, consider the Encyclopedic Approach and the Anthology structures.
Then, keeping this structure in mind, try creating a table of contents for your material. You might also write a chapter in the style of that structure, to see how well it works. Some structures won’t work at all, but one or two others might seem like a natural fit.
Experiment with several different structures before you decide on the one that makes the most sense for your material.
5. How scientifically technical can I get?
The short answer is, not very. Although readers want to know that your information is sound and your advice is science-based, most are not interested in wading through pages of scientific details.
There are exceptions, of course; some dense, detailed books do quite well. However, the overwhelming majority of health books are aimed at readers who prefer books they can understand easily.
That said, there are ways to get some science into your book painlessly, including:
- A “heavy science” chapter. If your book is properly structured, a single chapter that delves into the relevant biology, physiology, or other scientific information can work well.
- “Science boxes” sprinkled throughout the text. Often highlighted in gray, these boxes can contain formulas, diagrams, brief abstracts, and other information that readers can either study to enhance their knowledge or safely skip.
- Appendices. You can put information that’s vital to establish the basis of your program, but is sure to bore all but diehard health professionals, in one or more appendices. A dense and detailed review of the literature is an excellent candidate for the appendices.
6. Does my idea have to be supported by numerous scientific studies?
Not necessarily. Many new ideas are backed by a modest number of studies plus personal experience, then build from there. It’s perfectly all right to base your health book on a combination of studies and your own experience with patients/clients.
7. Can I use a writing coach or other such assistance?
Absolutely. A fair number of health books are ghostwritten or rely on hefty assistance from an editor or writing coach. Here’s a quick rundown of the specialists you can turn to:
- The ghostwriter structures, researches, and writes your book for you. In some cases, the ghostwriter literally does everything, working from your initial idea to create the book from scratch.
- The developmental editor works from your existing manuscript, looking for problems with organization, focus, style, and content. She or he identifies issues, offers suggestions, and may rewrite select areas. In a general sense, the developmental editor focuses on the “large” problems with the manuscript.
- The copyeditor goes over the finished manuscript to ensure that the writing style is consistent, there are no omissions or redundancies, and the rules of spelling and grammar have been followed. The copyeditor also looks for loose ends, inconsistencies, and factual errors.
- The proofreader provides the final check of the manuscript before it goes to press. He or she looks for and corrects spelling, punctuation, syntax, formatting, typos, and other errors. Although there is a bit of overlap between copyediting and proofreading, they are separate and distinct functions.
- The writing coach helps you clarify your goals and develop a plan of action, while advising you on a number of issues related to writing and publishing, including refining the initial idea, building your marketing platform, and selecting from among the different publishing options. The writing coach may also perform some editing chores and help you improve your writing.
8. If I use a ghostwriter, do I need one with a health degree?
No. A good ghostwriter is adept at researching, absorbing, and presenting new information. Many excellent and complex health books have been written by ghostwriters with little or no health science expertise.
Having said that, it certainly doesn’t hurt if the ghost has a health degree or experience in the health field, for this can shorten the learning curve and may eliminate it entirely.
For more on ghostwriters, see “How to Hire a Ghostwriter – 9 Steps.”
9. What’s the process of getting a health book published?
Exactly the same as it is for any other nonfiction book.
If you’re interested in standard publication, you begin by writing a book proposal, which you submit to literary agents who represent health books. If an agent agrees to represent your book, she or he will shop it around to the appropriate publishing houses. If one or more shows interest, your agent will negotiate a deal on your behalf.
With the deal in place, you’ll finish writing your book—you only have to write a small portion of your book to accompany the proposal—and the publisher will handle the cover design, printing, and other elements of publication.
If, on the other hand, you decide on self-publication, you can skip the book proposal. It wouldn’t hurt to write one, as doing so forces you to think things through very carefully, but it’s not required.
Instead, you can plunge right into the writing of the manuscript followed by the self-publication process. You’ll be serving as your own publisher, which you can do entirely by yourself, or you can hire a cover designer and other experts to handle the individual elements of publishing for you. Or you can engage a self-publishing firm to do it all for you.
10. Is there a list of agents who represent health books writers?
A large number of literary agents represent health books. Here are 30 who represent health, fitness, wellness, and/or diet books, as of October 2018.
- Betsy Amster Literary Enterprises – http://amsterlit.com
- Brandt & Hochman, Literary Agents – http://brandthochman.com
- Bresnick Weil Literary Agency – https://bresnickagency.com
- Carol Mann Agency – http://www.carolmannagency.com
- Charlotte Gusay Literary Agency – http://www.gusay.com
- Cowles Agency – http://www.cowlesagency.com/
- David Black Agency – http://www.davidblackagency.com
- Denise Shannon Literary Agency – http://deniseshannonagency.com
- Don Congdon Associates – http://www.doncongdon.com
- Dystel & Goderich Literary Management – http://www.dystel.com
- Ethan Ellenberg Literary Agency – http://ethanellenberg.com
- Fifi Oscard Agency – http://www.fifioscard.com
- Fine Print Literary Management – http://fineprintlit.com
- Fletcher & Company – http://www.fletcherandco.com
- Folio Literary Management – http://foliolit.com
- Foundry Literary + Media – http://foundrymedia.com
- Harvey Klinger – http://www.harveyklinger.com
- HSG Agency – http://www.hsgagency.com
- Inkwell Management – http://inkwellmanagement.com
- Jeanne Fredericks Literary Agency – http://jeannefredericks.com
- Joelle Delbourgo Associates – http://www.delbourgo.com
- Kimberley Cameron & Associates – http://www.kimberleycameron.com/
- Levine/Greenberg/Rostan Literary Agency – http://lgrliterary.com
- Lisa Ekus Group – http://lisaekus.com
- Richard Henshaw Group – https://richardhenshawgroup.com
- Serendipity Literary Agency – http://www.serendipitylit.com
- Sterling Lord Literistic – http://www.sll.com
- Stonesong Literary Agency – http://stonesong.com
- Veritas Literary Agency – http://www.veritasliterary.com
- Waxman Leavell Literary Agency – http://www.waxmanleavell.com
11. Can writing a health book truly make a career difference for me?
While publishing a health book doesn’t necessarily ensure wildly successful results, it’s been a huge boost to the careers of many people. Take a look at what these books did for their authors:
- Chicken Soup for the Soul made Mark Victor Hansen and Jack Canfield media sensations, leading to numerous follow-up books and over a billion dollars’ worth of branded merchandise sales.
- The South Beach Diet skyrocketed obscure Florida cardiologist Arthur Agaston to nationwide fame.
- Fit for Life took Harvey and Marilyn Diamond to the top of the New York Times bestseller list, leading to sales of over 12 million books.
- For the Love of God put Richard Carlson, Ph.D. on the media map. His follow-up book, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, turned him into an international sensation.
- The 8-Week Cholesterol Cure transformed an unknown health writer, Robert Kowalski, into a publishing dynamo, with new editions and spinoffs of the book still appearing two decades later.
- The Arthritis Cure catapulted an unknown preventive medicine specialist, Jason Theodosakis, M.D., to the cover of People magazine; made him the subject of stories in Time, Newsweek, and the New York Times; and brought him scores of new patients.
- The Zone made biochemist Barry Sears into a household name with a net worth of $17 million (as of 2018).
12. How can I improve my odds of getting a book contract?
The publishing industry is driven by the bottom line: how much money can the book make? One of the most important indicators of potential profitability, from their point of view, is how well known the author is. Thus, they prefer books by health professionals who already have a media platform, thanks to their radio and TV appearances, seminars, blogs, podcasts, previous publications, and more.
The best thing you can do to support your bid for publication is to begin building or expanding your media platform, right now. Even if you’re an unknown local practitioner, you can begin making your name known through speeches to local clubs, appearances on health-related blogs and podcasts, informative and helpful tweets, and more.
For a detailed discussion, see “A Media Platform: A Must for Book Authors.”
13. Do you need help with the writing?
Writing a health book is a tremendous undertaking—far greater than coming up with an idea that will help millions of people or introducing a brand new treatment or program. You need the right structure, presentation, wording, flow, examples, and much more to make yours a compelling, readable book that will fly off the shelves. You’ll also need to become an expert at explaining science in layman’s terms, to make your book accessible to the average person.
Because of this, many people find it well worth it to utilize the expertise of a ghostwriter. A ghostwriter not only takes your ideas and turns them into a powerful, readable, and compelling manuscript, he or she can also provide or oversee a wealth of ancillary services, including:
- Editing and proofreading
- Writing a book proposal
- Helping you find a literary agent
- Facilitating self-publication
- Supervising the design of your book cover and interior
- Overseeing the printing process, and more.
We, Nadine Taylor and Barry Fox, are experienced health book ghostwriters with bestselling credentials who can do all of the above, and more. We’ve been praised by clients and top editors at New York publishing houses for our health books, which include:
- The Arthritis Cure (St. Martin’s Press)
- Healing the Addicted Brain (Sourcebooks)
- Arthritis for Dummies (Wiley Publishing)
- Syndrome X (Simon & Schuster)
- Natural Menopause Remedies (Penguin)
- What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Heart Disease (Warner Books)
- Green Tea (Kensington)
- Runaway Eating (Rodale)
We excel at turning your great ideas into a fascinating health book written in laymen’s terms. Nadine, a Registered Dietitian with an M.S. degree, is also an expert in health, diet, and nutrition.
So if you’re ready to begin writing a compelling, highly readable health book, call us at (818) 917-5362.
Should you write and publish a health book?
If you’re a physician, psychologist, chiropractor, nutritionist, or another type of health care professional, becoming the author of a popular health book can be an extremely powerful marketing tool for you.
A well-written health book can:
- Greatly increase your public profile
- Solidify your reputation as the expert in your field
- Get you invitations to appear on radio and television shows
- Make you a worthy subject for magazine and newspaper articles
- Open the door to high-profile speaking engagements
- Drive traffic to your website
- Increase the sales of your products/services
In fact, becoming the author of a well-written health book may be the savviest business decision you’ve ever made!