Tens of thousands of business books are published every year that promise to upgrade readers’ managerial, leadership and strategic thinking capabilities. “Solve the unsolvable,” “worry less,” “do more,” “make big money.” So go some of the achievements readers can unlock, according to Amazon’s pick of its latest business titles.
How could a budding executive not be enticed?
But with so many titles on the market, how do new works stand out and find an audience, and how can customers trust a title’s claims enough to make it their next read? At Blinkist, we have combed through hundreds of business books to summarize their key insights, and have uncovered four common patterns in how the titles work — and how your proposed title could work, too.
1. Promise the world.
Successful business books reflect and promise to address modern business anxieties, using an intriguing strategy. Take The Four-Hour Work Week, for example. Remember it? Tim Ferriss’ title had such a strong promise — work less and earn more: Who could resist its guidance?
2. Make sure your structure is everything.
A well-structured narrative is the key to a productive nonfiction read. The entire structure of your book should hang off the title’s overarching question or promise. And each chapter or section should be a building block that continually returns to that central topic. It is embarrassingly easy to spot the fact that an author has developed his or her book structure during, not prior to, writing.
Often, the resulting book will end up too short, so the author will add fluff to pad things out, decreasing overall quality. At Blinkist, we sometimes decide against adopting a book’s own structure in favor of something much more logical. So, if you are holding a title whose narrative looks “off,” put the book back on the shelf and move on.
A good example was Chip and Dan Heath’s how-to on communicating memorable information: Made To Stick: Why Some Ideas Take Hold And Others Come Unstuck. The Brothers Heaths’ title had seven main chapters, each reflecting one (and only one) key characteristic of effective communication. Limiting sections to single concepts is key because the busy business brain can manage only so much; drip-feeding new ideas makes for a good page-turner. But Made To Stick’s greatest success was its seventh and final chapter, summarizing all six concepts in a super-memorable acronym, SUCCESs, ensuring that readers could easily recall what they hade learned.
3. Spell it out.
Simply by purchasing a title, a reader has already taken the first step to solving the problem the book promises to address, whether that means learning new leadership skills or becoming more productive.
The best way for readers to walk the remaining path is to follow concrete, vivid examples that are relatable. Too many business books remain abstract or conceptual. A good business book should be brimming with well-matched case studies that bring how-to’s to life.
Take Dale Carnegie’s classic and enduring How To Win Friends And Influence People, which remains a Top 10 Amazon business bestseller, 79 years after publication. Like many a modern title, it is structured around telling several stories of successful businesspeople, with each section closing on a core lesson the reader should take away.
4. Appeal to the modern mind.
The business book category is challenging because modern workers and executives are some of the busiest ever. Work has accelerated, and digital devices are constantly ringing to interrupt our dead time with new tasks. Attention is on the wane, and many readers are finding it harder to focus on reading a linear book from start to end.
Fortunately, nonfiction writers get this in a way that novelists simply do not. The best business books are broken down into short chapters which are, themselves, built from components like case studies, pullquotes, takeaways and key moments.
These days, the human mind needs rewards for and a sense of accomplishment from skipping through such chunks of information. So, readers should seek out books they know will work for the way they read today. And would-be authors should be prepared to write them.