You can get a share of that business.
The market is so hot that writing a business-related book has become one of the best ways to break into print. Many topics can be explored by authors who wouldn’t consider themselves “business” experts. Editors actively seek manuscripts covering job and technical skills training, starting and running a business, market trends, sales training and coaching, performance improvement, business letter writing, financial and investment advice, time management, company case studies, leadership styles, new management philosophies, career guidance, and much more — including computer operation manuals, guides for women and minorities and biographies of famous business personalities. According to Launchscore.com, strong writing is essential for almost all of the top 10 startups-most-likely-to-succeed in the US.
The Root of All Success
Most business books are related in a fundamental way to career enhancement Readers buy these books for the information they need to win a promotion, master a specific job-related skill, outsmart the competition, learn performance secrets, master a management technique, stand out among fellow employees, learn what the other outfit did wrong, become magically equipped to start and run an enterprise, and so forth.
I turn these raw goals into specific books by reading and talking with business leaders. I routinely read The Wall Street Journal, Fortune, Forbes, The Harvard Business Review and many other publications, including local newspapers. I interview senior-level business executives, middle managers, supervisors and company line employees. I attend conventions and seminars. And I listen. The questions asked by attendees at these sessions reveal current management concerns. For a business writer, the questions are as illuminating as the experts’ answers.
I use this informal research to spot business trends that might become subjects for a book.
Get to the Point
Once you develop a topic for your book, your task is to make it easy and painless for your readers to learn. To do that, you must keep your writing uncomplicated. Your readers are ambitious, bottom-line oriented business executives with limited time and less patience. No matter how complex the issue, write with clarity and simplicity. Get to the heart of the matter quickly.
Be direct, says Tom Power, senior editor for the Business & Professional Division of Prentice Hall. “Don’t make the mistake of writing all around the subject without getting down to the nitty-gritty details. Be specific, particularly when writing the `how-to’ business book.”
Your organization of the book is important. Except for a few editors at the publishing house and a few members of your immediate family, not many people are going to read your book from cover to cover. Business-people will pluck from the work the material they consider important and ignore the rest.
To accommodate them, you must make the information easy to find. Readers don’t want to memorize information, they just want to refer to it as required.
The most popular business books organize their subjects in ways that attract readers. They use step-by-step programs, practical guidelines, proven techniques, organized systems, pinpointed suggestions, working tools and real-life examples. These structures help writers “get down to the nitty-pitty details,” as Power suggests. They help the reader get from business point A to business point B.
I also include a very detailed table of contents in my books. For The Sales Manager’s Portable Answer Book, the table of contents is 15 pages long. Preparing them in such detail benefits me as well as the readers. I’m forced to think through, step-by-step, all the material I intend to cover. When I finish, the contents pages become my outline for writing the book. I’m also confident that I have enough to say on the selected topic to justify a book-length project.
Confidence in your topic is crucial to writing a successful business book. If there’s a place to pontificate, it’s in this genre. Readers look for wisdom, authority, certainty, surefire formulas, absolute truths and arcane knowledge. Make your points positively with little equivocation. The fewer ifs, ands and on-the-other-hands, the better. Reach conclusions. Be positive, but be practical.
What editors look for in any business book project is value to readers. Your book must provide advice, information, training or a system of doing things that readers can adapt or apply to their own situations.
It all comes back to the basic theme behind most business books: career enhancement. Your readers want to reap a substantial reward for the money they’ll invest in buying your book and the time they spend reading it.
Do that well, and you’ll be reaping some substantial rewards for yourself.
Inside the Manuscript
There are certain conventions editors like to see included in business book manuscripts.
Checklists and other lists deliver information in concise “bullets.” They satisfy the business readers’ demand for information in concentrated form. Lists also cultivate reader curiosity. Offer “50 ways to close a sale,” or “25 management mistakes that lead to disaster,” and readers will buy the book to learn these secrets.
Charts present information in a visual way. They make it easier for readers to understand relationships and draw comparisons. Similarly, illustrations, graphs, sample forms and tables are wonderful when providing quantitative data. Such graphics help sell a project to an editor and help sell the book to readers.
Quotes from authorities establish credibility, obviously, but also direction. I often use a quotation at the beginning of a chapter that reflects the theme of the pages that follow. My quotes aren’t always from business personalities. Politicians, military leaders, philosophers and sports coaches offer many observations that fit business situations.
Anecdotes are popular in business books for two reasons. First, they use actual events to illuminate theory. If you’re writing about a revolutionary distribution idea, your manuscript should include stories from the companies that use the scheme. Business readers want to know that proposed systems actually work in real life. Anecdotes also illustrate the reasons for failure. The horror story of what went wrong at one company can help another avoid the same errors.
Anecdotes also keep the text from becoming dull. Business books aren’t suspense thrillers or romances, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be entertaining. Randy Voorhees, sales manager for the literary agency and book packager Mountain Lion Productions, says, “There can’t be too many anecdotes. The more relevant stories, the better.”
Finding pertinent anecdotes requires observation and curiosity. Whenever I see a company doing something different from others in the same field, I ask its employees why they’re doing it, when they started and what their experience has been. I also look for corporate hubris. Arrogance and pride are usually the forerunners of disaster. I don’t use all the stories I collect, but the collection process is a learning experience itself.
A catchy title “is incredibly important,” offers Voorhees. “A title with a gimmick, like Harvey Mackay’s Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive, grabs the attention of book buyers.”
Mackay’s title promises readers they will receive insider knowledge enabling them to survive in a tough, eat-or-be-eaten business world. Also implied is the idea that readers can become business sharks themselves.
The One Minute Manager, a bestseller by Kenneth Blanchard and Spencer Johnson, holds out the lure of instant wisdom. Not only will this book offer important information, the title suggests, it will be dispensed in easy-to-swallow capsules. This is attractive to harried business executives whose most valuable commodity is time.
Gimmicks that produce blockbuster sales aren’t limited to eye-catching titles. Rapid changes in business structures have created an audience for radical ideas. Creative authors have applied the “philosophies” of Attila the Hun, Sun Tzu, Jesus Christ, Sitting Bull, Machiavelli and even Winnie-the-pooh to modern business.