Michael Bungay Stanier was the first person I heard apply the term “lean” to a book. Here’s how he said it when I interviewed him about his excellent, and lean, book, The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More, And Change the Way You Lead Forever
“My goal always is to write as well as I can, and write a book that is as lean as possible. What’s the shortest book I can possibly write that will be useful and valuable for people?”
Everyone who writes a book knows more than they put between covers. The question for you when you’re writing a business book is what to put in and, more importantly, what to leave out.
Why People Read Business Books
You may buy a novel to enjoy the story and the writing, buy a recipe book to make a particular dish, or read histories or biographies to learn about how other people have lived. But when you buy a business book, the goal is always to learn how to do something different and better.
The process of writing a lean business book starts with the answer to the question: “When a reader finishes this book, what will her or she be able to do differently?”
The Business Author’s Razor
You know a lot about the subject of your book. In fact, you know far more than you could possibly put in it. You need a way to decide what goes in the book and what doesn’t. I call that the “Business Author’s Razor.” Here it is.
Put everything in the book that the reader will need to do what you want them to be able to do. Leave everything else out.
That clearly doesn’t mean that your book should only be a list of instructional bullet-points. You’ll need stories, research, and clearly-stated learning points to help get the job done. What you don’t need is anything extraneous. Here are two simple questions you can ask to help determine whether something should go into your book or get left out.
Will this make the book better? If the answer is “yes” then consider it for the book. If the answer is no, leave it out.
What’s next? Your book should help people learn the basics of something that will help them increase revenue, decrease costs, or make their life easier. But you need just the basics, not everything you’ve ever thought on the subject. Here’s a list of other places where you might put additional learning that both enhances the book or builds upon the book’s content.
Business book readers buy business books so they can learn to do something important. Your book should contain everything necessary to help them do it and nothing more.