Writer’s Guidelines for the If I’m So Smart… Series

The If I’m So Smart… series is a practical, holistic, and friendly set of books that helps frustrated readers solve problems that don’t yield to purely intellectual solutions. In more detail, it is:

  • Practical – it includes action steps that readers can take right away
  • Holistic – it provides tools for actions, feelings, thoughts, self-care, and moving forward
  • Friendly – the author talks directly to the reader — “I know you can do it” — in an easy and conversational style

The series follows the form of Brooke Castillo’s successful and powerful book, If I’m So Smart, Why Can’t I Lose Weight? The books are primarily written to women ages 29-59 who have tried to solve a problem through goal setting or other intellectual approaches without success. Each book treats a single problem. Some example problems are: Finding Love, Starting a Business, Removing Clutter, etc.

Bring the skills that make you a good coach to your writing! Be warm and empathic. Offer real solutions. Be authentic. Use your sense of humor! Help your readers connect their minds and hearts to succeed.


The books will typically run 50,000 to 70,000 words, averaging around 250 pages in small trade paperback form. Chapters can range from 6,000–12,000 words, with an average of about 7,500 words per chapter. Introduction and Conclusion chapters typically run around 1000–2000 words.

Basic Outline

An Introduction covering the problem, why other approaches don’t work, and giving an overview of the book.

  1. One to two chapters covering tools specific to the book’s subject.
  2. A chapter on Feeling Tools – tools that connect readers with their feelings and help them deal with them.
  3. A chapter on Belief Tools – tools that work on common thoughts that cause the problem to stick.
  4. A chapter on Self-Care Tools – tools that help the readers nurture and provide for themselves to have strength to overcome the problem.
  5. A chapter on Future Tools – tools that get the reader moving to a better future.
  6. A Conclusion – an inspiring summary of the book, that encourages the readers to go out and get it done.

More Details on the Outline

  • The titles of this series are very important and must take the form of “If I’m So Smart, Why Can’t I [X]?” Note: We’ll determine the [X] in the title together but as you work on a proposal, think of a phrase someone with the problem you are writing about might type into Google.
  • All books will have the subtitle “Tools to Get it Done!” Make sure your proposal—and your finished product—provide Tools to Get it Done and that this subtitle makes sense.
  • At the beginning of each book there is front matter. The front matter should include:
    • A Title Page
    • A Table of Contents, listing the chapters and the tools inside them
    • A Dedication: A short paragraph about who the book is for
    • A Notice: A disclaimer for legal purposes which Journey Grrrl Publishing will write in conjunction with our legal counsel.
    • Acknowledgments: Thanks to people who helped create the book
  • After the conclusion, the book may include:
    • Bonus Material (e.g., a compelling blog post, a list of the author’s offerings for more help with the problem, a coupon for a coaching session with you, pictures you think will be helpful, etc)
    • A final note to the reader
    • An “About the Author” Page

Writing the Chapters

Each book contains 5 to 6 primary chapters. Every chapter starts with a title and a quote—usually a quote from within the chapter. If you use an inspirational quote from somewhere else, give the author credit.

Chapters start immediately with a tool and contain 5-9 tools. The tools can be as short or long as is required to explain them, but 1,000 words is a good target to shoot for.

The Introduction is your place to attract readers!  Let them know how your book will help them.

Each tool has a number and a title. For example, Brooke’s first tool is “Eating Tool #1: Your Brilliant Body” When one tool ends, another starts. A chapter may end with an optional summary of tools, in the form of a bulleted list.

How Brooke does it: Her chapter of Eating Tools is called “Eating is Not Rocket Science” and the quote is “No diet can substitute for the wisdom of your own body.”

The Conclusion is a final, inspirational wrap-up of the book. Use stories of clients.

What is a Tool?

A tool is a specific technique which takes the reader closer to his or her goal through a set of simple instructions. Tools break down problems into bite-sized chunks. Tools can also contain:

Why the tool is important

Background information about using the tool

Stories from clients who have used the tool

Diagrams of the tool, such as Brooke’s Hunger Scale

Forms to fill in, such as Brooke’s Sensations Vs. Feelings Worksheet

Useful lists

Important points highlighted in boxes

Remember, tools are practical!  They give readers steps to take to improve their problem.

The first one or two chapters address left-brain tools specific to the book’s subject.

How Brooke does it: Her first two chapters on Weight Loss are Eating Tools and Exercise Tools.

What are the basic, surface elements of the problem your book is about?  Those are good topics for the first tools. For example, a book on Clutter might contain chapters on Organizing Tools and Removing Tools. A book on Writing Books might contain Ideas Tools and Writing Time Tools. Look for the top aspects of your problem and focus on tools that address them.

How Brooke does it: Her eating tools are:

  • Your Brilliant Body – about paying attention to your body
  • The Hunger Scale – a way to put a number on your hunger
  • Four Types of Eating – divides eating into categories for better awareness
  • Waste Some Food – a practical action that changes your mindset
  • This Ain’t Your Momma’s Food Journal – a way to track each day’s eating (Notice how she puts her own spin on the old idea of a food diary? Look for ways you can do that too.)

About Feeling Tools, Belief Tools, Self-Care Tools, and Future Tools

Confused about the difference in these tools?  Here’s more information about each of them.

Feeling Tools address emotions. They help readers recognize their emotions, respect them, and act on them appropriately.

How Brooke does it: Some of her Feeling Tools are:

  • Be Willing to Feel and Not Run from Your Feelings
  • What are you Feeling Right Now?
  • Fat is not a Feeling (Notice how the last tool focuses on a specific worry about weight loss?  Adapt your tools to your specific topic.)

Belief  Tools address thoughts. They help readers discover and let go of thoughts that don’t serve them.

How Brooke does it: Some of her Belief Tools are:

  • Beliefs are the Foundation of Our Identity
  • If You Don’t Like What You Are Feeling, Change Your Belief
  • Beliefs Are Choices (Tip: For more about feelings and beliefs, check out Brooke’s book Self Coaching 101.)

Self-Care Tools help the reader treat herself kindly. They are nurturing and strengthening.

How Brooke does it: some of her Self-Care Tools are:

  • Make You the Number One Priority in Your Life
  • Give Yourself a Time Out for Being Mean
  • Choose to be Around People You Love

Future Tools keep the emphasis on what can happen instead of what has happened. They encourage the reader to take control of her life and move ahead. They focus on positive outcomes.

How Brooke does it: Some of her Future Tools are:

  • What do You Really Want?
  • Let Your Future Self be Your Mentor

A Final Word About Style

The If I’m So Smart… series uses informal style. Write the way you talk. Write the way that comes naturally to you. Use contractions. Sentence fragments are OK where they make sense.

Humor is welcome! Use humor that is kind and authentic, especially when it comes from your own experiences.

Perfect grammar is less important than warmth and clarity. If your writing reaches your readers, you are doing it right.


These guidelines were written in collaboration with Anna Paradox. Anna has edited books for several life coaches, including Brooke Castillo. If you think she might be able to help you with her work, drop her a line at [email protected].


A PDF of these guidelines is also available in the Free Resource section of this site.