A couple of weeks ago, Marc and I stumbled upon an ebook that, quite frankly, had us both stunned. Despite being well written, the information was dangerously misleading and in several areas, false. We spoke out in public about it, of course.
Marc and I realized, though, that this ebook was just one case amongst several where people (often innocently and unwittingly) end up damaging someone else’s life – by trying to help. This is a reminder for all of us that it’s not just buyer beware – it’s writer be careful, too.
Ahh, science fiction, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways… Or as Ray Bradbury so eloquently put it:
Science fiction is the most important literature in the history of the world, because it’s the history of ideas, the history of our civilization birthing itself. …Science fiction is central to everything we’ve ever done, and people who make fun of science fiction writers don’t know what they’re talking about.
Science fiction may be about ideas, but it also carries a warning that we should all pay attention to.
A recurring theme in science fiction is that of non-interference. From Star Trek’s Prime Directive to Stargate SG-1’s race of “Ancients”, it’s a tale often told: When one person or society interferes with another, even with the purest of intentions, the results can be devastating.
The internet, including the blogosphere, is a very powerful entity, because it gives voice to millions of people. But we are all aware of how power corrupts. Like Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars, corrupted by what he fought against, bloggers and business hopefuls obliviously walk the same path as the fated Dark Lord of the Sith.
The problem? Self-help manuals and do-it-yourself user guides.
I’m not talking about the manuals that promote get-rich-quick schemes or dodgy products peddled by snake-oil salespersons. Those we can spot a mile away. No, the self-help info-products I’m talking about are in fact more dangerous. They destroy websites, businesses and even lives.
From “How to SEO Your Blog Posts” to “101 Copywriting Tips for the Beginner” to psychology type e-books packaged as “user guides”, we find self-help manuals aplenty out there. Most have one thing in common: the authors don’t have the expertise or – perhaps worse – the qualifications to write on the subject.
Like a Kid with a Gun
Don’t you see the danger, John, inherent in what you’re doing here? Genetic power is the most awesome force the planet’s ever witnessed, yet you wield it like a kid that’s found his dad’s gun.
~ Dr. Ian Malcolm. Jurassic Park (1993)
In science fiction, there’s often someone warning others of potential danger of interference. The group listens and avoids disaster, or the group doesn’t and chaos ensues.
This happens in real life, too. Take psychology-style self-help books as an example, arguably the single most destructive e-book on the internet today. I have personally witnessed the negative psychological effects these books can have on those who choose to read and believe the words as truth. Continued denial, avoidance and a perpetual cycle of repeated, destructive behaviour.
All because many authors write from their personal experience alone, which does not make them qualified to provide advice or help to others. In fact, they seriously lack in professional qualifications, the kind required to be dispassionate and unbiased – essential skills if you truly want to help a person.
When you don’t know the proper methods for providing advice and help, without knowing what to say and how to say it, you may as well be handing a child a loaded gun. By all means, go ahead and share your experiences with others, but before you decide to package your experience into a guide for others and sell it as an e-book, ask yourself:
Is your interference going to do more harm than good?
Writing on Any Topic
The example above related to psychology, but you can easily substitute psychology with “SEO advice” or “business tips” and the results are the same: a large amount of money required to repair the damage. Many people out there have learned their lessons the hard way, assuming that because it’s for sale, it must be accurate information.
Not so. Today we can find helpful blogs, ebooks and info products about all sorts of subjects, written by all sorts of people who aren’t at all qualified to sell this information in the first place. Worse, a common occurrence is that the information being sold is being embraced by people who seem to lack judgment enough to discern fact from… well, science fiction.
Advice for Those Selling or Seeking Self-Help
Most powerful is he who controls his own power.
~ Star Wars: The Clone Wars
As an author, you have some responsibility for the potential effects your words might have on others. No matter what the topic is, before you put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, be sure that you have the qualifications to write about whatever you are about to share. If not, move on to something else.
And if you’re about to buy information that claims to provide you with the self-help you feel you need, do yourself a favor. Check the facts. Is there a legal disclaimer in place? What does it say? Does the author have an About page? Are there any credentials that makes this person an authority? If the author has qualifications, exactly what are they and where do they come from? Is the educational facility a recognized one?
Now, of course, self-help books are not always a total waste of time. They can be inspiring, they can be uplifting, or they can help you reach your goals, from learning how to juggle to shaking off low self-esteem to improving your business. Good, valuable information should never be underestimated.
But a good self-help book knows its own limits. It makes accurate claims that can easily be backed by facts, studies and authorities of the subject. It has an appropriate disclaimer – visible on the website and clearly mentioned in all promotional copy – if the author is not qualified in certain areas. And it should always recommend that readers seek professional help.
It’s advice I strongly agree with.
About the Author: Marc Pieniazek is the Successful Ghostwriter and an SEO consultant who works to get you up in the rankings and up in the credibility department, too. Contact Marc to learn more.