Writing a Business Book: Advice from Paul Brown and Charlie Kiefer

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I love stories about business book authors’ publishing experiences. Dorie Clark shares the odyssey of Paul Brown and Charlie Kiefer, authors of Just Start: Take Action, Embrace Uncertainty, Create the Future, in her Forbes article titled: “So You Want to Write a Business Book.” It’s worth reading if you’re thinking about writing a business book.

She also shares advice from the authors. Here it is, with my comments.

Look for a mainstream publisher if: your topic has broad-based appeal. “I’ve been doing this since 1989 or 1990,” says Brown, “and the thing that gets beaten into your head by publishers is to go as broad and mass market as possible, in order to sell as many units as possible.” And for a book like Just Start, which is relevant to almost any business professional, Brown believes it’s still the right answer, given the services and distribution mainstream publishers can provide.”

I would add that another advantage for my clients is the fact that mainstream publishers have published lots of books. You don’t have to find an editor, figure out how to get an ISBN and bar code, or find someone to design the cover.

Think about self-publishing if: your topic is time-sensitive (traditional publishers aren’t equipped to move fast) or perfect for a niche audience. “Instead of thinking how to make it broad, we can also think about how to make it really narrow,” says Brown. “Think about a book on how to run an internal focus group. There are only a certain number of potential buyers for it, maybe Fortune 500 companies. Doubleday doesn’t want it but for the people who run a Fortune 500 company, it’s really valuable. You can get more and more information that’s targeted for the people who need it.”

I agree with the above, but for my clients who’ve chosen self-publishing, control has been a very important reason. You have complete control of the content if you publish your own book. You can decide that a shorter, electronic version is just the thing. You can change the concept part way through the project. In fact, Brown and Keifer did that very thing, but you need to read their story to get the details.

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