Olga Mizrahi reached out to me on Twitter to ask the following question: “With all your experience, what are the top three qualities you look for in a solid business book?” I gave her a quick reply on Twitter, but the question deserves a more detailed answer. Here it is.
People read business books to solve a problem or answer a question. They want to be able to do something different when they are done with the book and they want that something different to improve their life and/or work.
Solid Business Books Use Research and Stories to Make Their Points
When you’re an author, writing a business book, you must persuade people that your suggestions will work for them. That’s why it’s not enough just to make your points, you need to support them, too.
Use research to support your points. One place to find a lot of good academic research is Google Scholar. Whenever you use research, describe it and cite specific examples. Try to avoid the phrase “research says.” Academics, like Adam Grant or Bob Sutton, may be able to get away with that, but not the rest of us.
Research is good, but it’s not enough. Human beings have been using stories to convey complex information since about the time we crawled out of caves. Use relevant stories and examples to humanize your points and make your case.
If you’re looking for a good example of how to use research and stories, pick up a copy of Scaling Up Excellence by Bob Sutton and Huggy Rao
Solid Business Books Are Lean
Lean business books contain the important information and everything you need to put it into action. But that’s all.
Lean doesn’t necessarily mean short. Some lean books, like Michael Bungay-Stanier’s The Coaching Habit are short. But I consider Adam Grant’s Originals to be lean, even though it weighs in at over 300 full-sized pages.
This advice is a bit like those recipes that instruct you to “cook until done.” Say what you need to say, then stop. Lean means no excess verbiage.
Solid Business Books Are Original
I read business periodicals and blogs, and so do the people who read your books. They don’t need you to share the same information that lots of other writers are using. You add value to your book when you add original content.
Share research that no one else has. The best way to get that is to do some yourself. The research doesn’t have to be fancy or elaborate, either. For years, I asked the participants in every supervisory skills training program to list what they most wanted to learn. I used what I learned from that to pick topics to write about and to support points in blog posts, articles, and books.
The same goes for stories. The stories that will make your book solid and get readers to tell their friends are not the same stories that are being told in the standard business press. Tell your own stories and build on them. Chip Bell does a great job of that in all his books. Check out Kaleidoscope for some good examples.
Look for great companies that don’t get a lot of press, the ones Mark Sanborn called “not yet media darlings.” A good example is AAON, located in Tulsa, specializing in semi-custom heating and cooling equipment. They’ve been consistently profitable and a great place to work since they were founded in 1988. They don’t get much press because their CEO doesn’t give interviews.
Mine your client list, industry, or geographical area for companies to write about. Ever hear of AnswerLab? Read Stephen Lynch’s Business Execution for RESULTS. How about Stor-Loc or Incisive Computing? You can find out about them in Steve Miller’s book, Uncopyable.
In a world where just about anyone can write and publish a book, your book had better be solid just to survive. Use research and stories to support your points. Make your book lean with no extra stuff. And, include material people will find nowhere else.