Saturday, April 25, 2009

Nobody Wants To Take Advice From A Dabbler Or A Flake

My blog series on the most common problems I found in the self-published, non-fiction books I recently judged for The Next Generation Indie Book Awards continues. In part one, I discussed books written by authors who are not qualified experts in their chosen subjects. This time, I take on the dabbler: the author who comes across as a jack of all trades, but master of none.

Nobody wants to take advice from a dabbler, but judging by many of the supplied biographies on their book jackets, plenty of self-published, non-fiction authors seem to be totally unaware of this. They seem to think that if their qualifications in the subject matter of their book are light or spotty, their unrelated experiences and accomplishments will establish some level of general authority for them in readers' minds. This is not true.

Every non-fiction author has hobbies or interests outside of the subject matter of his book, but the only hobbies and interests his readers need to know about are those which help to establish his credibility as a subject area expert. It’s typical for non-fiction author bios in mainstream books to include some mention of the author’s general area or country of residence, and maybe a line or two about marital and family status, but that’s about it as far as personal details go.

Given that the person who buys your non-fiction book is, in a sense, 'hiring' you to educate them on some subject, your author bio is like a job application. Don't mention anything in your author bio that you wouldn't list among your qualifications in a job interview. While you may very well be "an eco-conscious lover of life, dreamer of dreams, and chaser of rainbows,” such a statement will not instill confidence in a potential employer, nor anyone perusing the jacket of your non-fiction book.

Just as in a job application, relevance matters. Nobody wants to buy a book on estate planning from an author who describes himself as a “Yoga instructor, 4th Degree Black Belt, Photographer and Community Theater Director”. Such a bio just makes the reader wonder why the author didn't write a book on yoga, martial arts, photography, or running a community theater, since those are his stated areas of expertise. If you have no experience, education or training to speak of with respect to the subject of your book, you’re not qualified to write that book.

Similarly, the longer your list of disparate professional titles, the less credibility you have in the minds of readers. The multi-gifted likes of a Leonardo DaVinci or Benjamin Franklin come along once in a generation or less, and anyone else laying claim to a half-dozen, unrelated professional titles is more than likely just padding her resume. Either that, or she's someone who's quit (or been fired from) every job she's ever had because she can't fully commit to any profession. Either way, it doesn't look good.

Invented, self-assigned titles are also a bad idea. Stating that you’re a “Spiritual Color Consultant / Themed Self-Actualization Life Coach” doesn’t make you seem important, accomplished or authoritative to the reader; it just makes you seem like a self-aggrandizing flake who has no legitimate educational or work experience.

Along those same lines…enough already with all the authors claiming to be a “Life Coach” when they can’t list any educational or career credentials justifying that title. While Life Coaching is a genuine career (just ask Tony Robbins), the title has become a trendy, umbrella term that’s frequently appropriated by people for whom a more accurate title would be “Unemployed Guy Who Thinks He’s Good At Helping His Friends Solve Their Problems”.

The fact that you helped your best friend start up her small business and provided moral support during her divorce does not make you a Life Coach, nor does the fact that all your salon clients bring their job, relationship and family problems to you because you give such great advice. A legitimate Life Coach is engaged in Life Coaching as his or her primary occupation, and typically has some kind of certification, or a degree—often an advanced degree—in a subject related to business, counseling or education. A legitimate Life Coach can usually introduce herself as the founder of, or a partner in, a thriving practice with a lengthy list of satisfied clients.

If you genuinely feel you’re in a position to advise others on how to be more organized, self-confident, driven, assertive, etc., but can’t offer degrees or a longstanding practice to back it up, then zero in on the training or career experience you feel justifies the title of Life Coach and spell that out in your author bio instead of just granting yourself the title.

Coming up next time: memoirs and reference books are entirely different things.

1 comment:

Leon Basin said...

This was an interesting read. Thank you for sharing.