Writing and Publishing a Self-Help Book
Charlotte: I always like to start off by asking what inspired you to write your self-help book, Women with Controlling Partners? Had you been planning to write the book or did it come in a moment of inspiration?
Carol: Since 1993, as a co-founder and facilitator of Recovery Groups for Women with Controlling Partners, we’ve been encouraged to put our clinical work into a self-help book for women and readers everywhere. Since I felt a great deal of passion for the work, it was an imaginable and exciting pursuit.
Charlotte: What were some of the first steps you took to start writing Women with Controlling Partners? What did your process of writing a self-help book look like? Can you describe what this looked like both in your everyday process and your long-term writing process?
Carol: Actually, many years ago, perhaps 16 or so, I began to look at books on writing particularly for non-fiction. I also sought out a writing coach who happened to be on the west coast who helped with the initial book proposal. She played an important role in helping me conceptualize the topic of psychological abuse–part of domestic violence that was not recognized at the time–that started me on the path of writing this book.
Because the recovery group is psycho-educational and follows a set format of topics over 12 sessions, it provided a helpful structure in which to organize the book and know where to begin.
Because I was in private practice, I created a schedule that allowed me to have every Friday to write. My style of writing was to sit and write for long periods of time so this schedule allowed for that.
Charlotte: Did you get stuck or challenged at certain points? If so, how did you get beyond those challenges?
Carol: The response to my initial book proposal to literary agents drummed up interest but no offers. This was around 2002-2003. The book, that was front and center in my life, went to the background as events in my personal and professional life took over.
Then around 2006-2007, I received in the mail a brochure announcing a non-fiction writing conference sponsored by Harvard Medical School. Deciding to attend this conference was my way of getting back on the horse sort of speak. Here I met Lisa Tener, an inspiring book writing coach, who would see me through to publication in 2016.
As you might imagine given the timetable, the book would get set aside and then come back to front and center in my life a few more times.
Two and half years ago, a question popped up in my mind that provided an answer that spurred me on to the finish. The question was: When I’m 80 years old and look back on my life, what will I regret? Not finishing the book was my immediate response.
The Process of Writing a Self-Help Book Tweet This
Charlotte: Can you say more about your target audiences? What specific challenges and opportunities did this audience present to you as a writer? What are some of the things you did in your writing to target and engage that audience?
Carol: My target audience is women with controlling partners but also anyone with a controlling partner can benefit from the book. Women as an audience is easier to target since the majority of those impacted by domestic violence tend to be women. Also, women purchase the majority of self-help books, etc.
In addition, my group experience over the many years gave me many narratives of women’s lives that readers could identify with and be helped by to feel less alone in their plight.
Charlotte: Did writing this book require any additional research or did it come from your experience as a social worker? If it did require research, what did that process look like?
Carol: I did do some research to lend credence to what I was discovering about the experiences of women with controlling partners. The research gives the book more credibility and helps to validate the seriousness of domestic abuse. I was fascinated by what I found to be true.
Also, in turn, the research helped me to provide data to the women in my recovery groups that helped them to feel more understood.
Including Stories in Writing a Self-help Book
Charlotte: You include some personal stories about the women in your group – what effect do you want these stories to have on the reader? Did their inclusion affect any decisions you made in the writing or publishing process?
Carol: Thank goodness the women courageously made their way to the groups and shared their lives so other women in the groups could benefit as well and know they are not alone. I decided to include personal stories in the book for the same reasons–portraying, for example, what coercion by an intimate partner can look like in someone’s daily life.
It’s these examples that help the reader to see themselves in their stories and use that to gain more clarity of their own experience while recognizing this happens to other women as well–they’re not alone. The book would be far less useful and effective for the reader without the women’s personal stories.
Charlotte: How do you think the relationship between author and reader differs with a self-help book, as opposed to a different genre? Were you conscious of this unique relationship while you were writing? What decisions did you make to engage readers and utilize that relationship?
Carol: My role as a therapist gave me a lens in which to “see” and address the reader. This I did from the start. I held the reader as someone sitting across from me as if we’re having a conversation of sorts. I’m providing information while raising their awareness about abuse in their lives that’s also painful.
At the same time, I wanted to make sure that I was also attending to the discomfort–the feelings and concerns that can arise throughout their recovery experience in the book. I made use of what was typical among the women in the groups at various points to imagine what the reader might be thinking or feeling. I believe this helped to engage the reader more in the here and now of their self-help experience.
I also started each chapter giving positive feedback about what they just completed and encouragement for what they will do next to help maintain their commitment in the recovery process.
Including Exercises in a Self-Help Book
Charlotte: Women with Controlling Partners includes exercises and questionnaires for the reader to do. How did you develop these exercises? What do you hope readers get out of the exercises? Where there any specific challenges in giving exercises to this particular target market? Do you use these exercises in your therapy groups?
Carol: Since the group recovery model includes checklists and exercises, it was easy to include these in the book as well. In addition, I focused on what other aspects of the reader’s experience with their partner will help them in their recovery bringing me to developing more self-reflective exercises.
This part did present more of a challenge initially, but as I got underway it became easier to figure out and I believe made the experience for the reader more personal.
Charlotte: At the end of chapters, you also include the little sections, “Check-In” and “You’ve Got This!” Why did you decide to include them and what do you hope they will do for readers?
Carol: Like in the groups, I decided to do a “check in” to give readers a pause in their reading and turn attention to their feelings–for the purpose of helping them cope with their reactions.
“You’ve Got This” was a summary of the main points in the chapter. To review, particularly with emotionally charged information, is helpful to take in more than once.
How Group Work Can Inform the Writing Tweet This
Charlotte: How did your group work inform the writing of your self-help book? Were you offering groups while writing? If so, what are some of the ideas or insights that came out of those groups?
Carol: Since I’ve been facilitating these groups for over two decades, they played a major role in writing the book. Also, while writing the book, the groups provided a more immediate reminder of what’s most important to the readers.
Charlotte: How, if at all, did your therapy groups inform your tone? Did you find yourself writing in a way similar to how you would speak in your groups? If so, was that a conscious choice you made for the reader?
Carol: Yes the tone is very similar. I was conscious from the beginning that my experience as a facilitator in the groups could help me in the way I engage the reader.
Charlotte: This book focuses on and provides support for a very serious, difficult issue. I felt deeply affected while reading it. Did you find that the topic affected you while you were writing, or affected your writing? If so, how did you deal with this? Did you find yourself needing more or less outside support than you expected prior to writing?
Carol: I’m glad to hear you were deeply affected while reading the book. I felt deeply moved revisiting the material and women’s stories for the book. I think I mentioned in one part of the book—about the ways a controlling partner uses shaming—that I was deeply moved by the painful experiences that women endure.
I move through these emotional responses. I have a lot of experience to do so as a therapist and group facilitator sitting with emotionally charged situations.
Charlotte: How did the women in your group feel about you writing this book? Did you have to disguise the stories or were there women who wanted their stories to be told? Did the women in your groups provide any support or feedback during your writing process? Who else provided support or feedback during your writing process?
Carol: The women in the groups were thrilled that I was putting the recovery group process in a book to help others. They also know that they learn and feel support from the stories of other group members so they saw how stories in the book could provide a similar meaningful experience for the reader.
All stories were anonymous with enough changes to protect privacy but retaining the richness of the experience for the reader. I believe the feedback on my writing was from writing coaches, and for me, mainly Lisa Tener who is very helpful as well as supportive.
Charlotte: What are some of the steps you took to get Women with Controlling Partners published? How did you choose this method of publishing? What do you think worked well with this method of publishing as opposed to other methods? What do you think didn’t work as well?
Carol: I put together, with the help of Lisa, a formal book proposal that was submitted directly to the publishing companies. I knew I wanted a publishing company that markets to lay people but also mental health clinicians.
Since this is my first book, I don’t really have knowledge of other methods of publishing. I’m very satisfied with the publishing process I have for the book.
Charlotte: Lisa Tener told me you had more than one publishing offer. What made you decide on New Harbinger? What makes them an excellent fit for this book and have they brought to the table, so to speak?
Carol: New Harbinger has always been in the back of my mind for many years as the publisher that might be best for me. In the mental health field, this publisher is known and recognized.
As a publishing company, they have been great to work with. For example, during their review of the first eight chapters, they gave useful input that helped to create a tighter narrative arc for each chapter. Upon the completion of the book, they committed to what they call a big marketing effort since my book has a huge audience. I’m grateful for all that they did and continue to do.
Charlotte: The book just came out. What are some of the positive results or responses you received from Beta readers?
Carol: So far, the feedback has been very favorable. One point is how well I engage the reader. That’s great to hear. Also, I’ve been told it’s well-written, with thoughtful exercises, and “everyone should read this book” since it raises awareness about coercive control in intimate relationships that’s so hard to detect yet is quite pervasive.
I’m particularly happy when I hear from clinicians who are purchasing the book. They are in a unique position to help women with controlling partners.
Carol A Lambert, MSW is a psychotherapist and domestic abuse expert with decades of clinical experience helping individuals and groups. Based on her one-of-a-kind recovery groups, she is the author of Women with Controlling Partners: Taking Back Your Life from a Manipulative or Abusive Partner published by New Harbinger Publications, Inc. Carol also serves as a domestic violence consultant for McLean Hospital, a private psychiatric hospital affiliated with Harvard Medical School.