Six New Rules for Writing Business Books


As a literary agent I get pitched business book projects constantly. Writing a business book – or having someone write it for you – is a very worthwhile and valuable process that can pay dividends for you and your business in multiple ways. Relaying business experience or a unique philosophy not only improves your profile but sets you apart from your competition in a distinctive and marketing-savvy manner. It can lead to speaking opportunities, workshop presentations, media coverage, and is a powerful brand-building exercise. Finding a publisher for your wise words is another matter entirely.

The book publishing industry is undergoing massive change and much like what the music business has gone through, it comes down to consumers buying products differently.

Downloading e-books has altered the value equation for all the participants who work together to bring a book to market. Simply put, the e-book pie offers much smaller portions for everyone. And that includes authors.

By extension, publishers are being squeezed and are more cautious about acquiring and investing in books, at least compared to ten years ago. This means your business book has far less chance of being picked up by a publisher. Even if you are lucky to be selected, there is less marketing money than ever to bring some attention to your message.

However, as someone who has spent the past 30 years in the book industry, I have seen new rules for business authors emerge that in fact make the publishing process more certain, more controlled, and just plain smarter.

#1. If you want to build your brand and the brand is your book, do it yourself and self-publish. While publishers do bring much to the table they also control much of the process (including the publishing rights!) and therefore, your brand. I have found that is far too valuable to leave to the governance of others.

#2. The Toolbox is ready. Increasingly, the tools at your disposal are magnificent from sophisticated blogs, websites, internet retailers, to extraordinary good freelance editors, designers, writers. It is getting harder to distinguish the success of a self-published business book from a traditionally published one.

#3. Control. Unlike a trade publisher’s timetable, with self-publishing you control all aspects of your business including book price, format, style, and most important, controlling the release date.

#4. Forget about brick and mortar bookstores initially. This is where authors get into trouble, believing the only way to sell their book is to get it into bookstores. They subscribe to the “build it and they will come” theory. Publishers have learned the selling happens months and months before a book is released, and is built outside of the retail market. The true work in finding an audience, developing name recognition, and image building should happen light years before the book ever appears on a bookstore shelf. It is equivalent to what you try to do every day with your business!

#5. Travelling brand. Some business books can be published in translation, although certainly not all. Business books from North America are increasingly being picked up for translation in Korea, China, and elsewhere in the world. If the message is universal, your brand could become global very quickly.

#6. Cost. With the advent of print-on-demand technology and a growing number of publishing services to help self-published authors, the cost might surprise some people. As well, the business book price tag is much more cost-effective than many other forms of business marketing and promotion.

In conclusion, business authors know how valuable a book can be for their image. The new rules for business books however dictate authors manage the message, the product, and the brand themselves. Why leave that up to others to control?