I’d Like To Thank…

One of the most common questions I get asked is how can authors find the best people to help them get their book published and promoted.

I always tell people go to the bookstore (or their bookshelf) and look for titles that match the one you want to publish.

You can immediately see the publishers who released the books. You can get a good sense of their choices about packaging—whether typography, titling, or trim size. But the best source can be found inside the book.

In the world of book publishing, we also have a wonderful tradition of thanking people for the work they have done on books.

By looking through the Acknowledgments section, you can see everyone who contributed to a book: the agent, the editor, the publisher, the publicist. If someone helped write it, you see who (but sometimes you have to read between the lines). Authors will often thank earlier readers and inspirations for writing in the first place. They always thank family and friends.

From there, you can get your first set of answers to things like:

  • Who might represent a book like mine?
  • Who might buy a proposal for a book like the one I want to write?
  • Who has experience promoting the kind of book I want to write?
  • Are there other experts who might contribute to the overall success of my project?

And remember the Acknowledgments section when you write your book and pay it forward to the next author who needs the same help.

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The Three Business Books You Need To Read From 2019

I know I am making a big promise in the headline, but stay with me on this one. There are several reasons these three books can help narrow down your “I’m behind on my 2019 reading” list.

In this post, I’ll share some good sources I use every year to help with choose what I read, tell you why these books are good selections and give you a few reasons to pick up each one.

The Sources

I mentioned in a post earlier this week that we are in the heart of the “Best of” Season. Everyone is posting their favorite things of the year. I love it. You get to see what is important to people. With these curated lists, you can see if there are themes that arose out of the past year.

In the world of business books, there are a handful of outlets that I watch each year to see what they are recommending when the year closes. Let me share each of them and tell you why you should pay attention.

First, Porchlight Books (the fine folks formerly known as 800-CEO-READ) are in the 13th year of the Business Book Awards. Some of you know that I spent several years working there and starting the Awards program is one of the things I am most proud of. Last week, they announced their longlist with forty books across eight categories. In December, they’ll announce their category winners and at their New York City gala in January, they’ll crown their Business Book of the Year.

Going on even longer has been the Strategy + Business Best Business Books feature, now in its nineteenth year. The publication from PwC and its partners keeps seven categories, selecting three books for each category and choosing one title in each as their TopShelf pick. The category winners are generally curated by industry experts, as seen in their choices of Bethany McLean, James Surowiecki, and Sally Hegesen to serve this year.

Given the headliners, many consider The Financial Times and McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award to be the most prestigious. The judging has a nice Trans-Atlantic feel with the awards ceremony alternating locations between New York City and London. The visibility also comes from the £30,000 in prize money given to the winner. Their format is to start with a 16 title longlist announced in August, the six title shortlist shared in September, and the winner celebrated in December.

Amazon has a comprehensive set of year-end selections. These are picked by a set of editors at the company. They choose 20 books across a range of what they call “business and leadership books”. Their list is always good balancing bestsellers and practical problem solving. Already this year, they named Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber by Mike Isaac as their business and leadership book of the year.

In the world of small business, I want to mention the list that comes from Leigh Buchanan at Inc. Magazine. She covers business books for the magazine and she often write articles that look ahead to upcoming book seasons, or as she did earlier this month, she wrote an eleven title Must-Read list for entrepreneurs in 2019.

The final list is from Bookpal, a West Coast best book retailer. They have the newest awards program, The Outstanding Works of Literature (OWL) Awards, which they started in 2017. There are five categories from their OWL awards that fit into the world of business books and on their longlist, they nominate five books for each category.

Each of the lists above have different flavors. FT McKinsey is global and conglomerate. Strategy + Business is corporate and smart. Amazon plays it straight to the core of the business book category. Inc. Magazine leans toward small business. And Porchlight digs deep into their indie bookstore roots. Bookpal highlights books across the breadth of categories they sell.

The lists also have things in common. They are created by people who care about the business book category. They are journalists, booksellers, academics and business leaders who all believe they have a stake in helping readers find the best titles.

Intersections: A Meta-Analysis of The Lists

Personally, I always find myself drawn to the spaces between. With the common interests and divergent preferences, I always want to know where the business book lists intersect. A good book is a good book. And if multiple groups see that, there is something worth paying attention to. Looking at the intersections between those lists was particularly interesting this year.

Using the longlist from each group, the six groups recommend a total of 102 books. The majority of those books, 80 titles or 78% of titles, only appear once across the five lists. That represents the wonderful variety in both what these entities believe is a book that will appeal to a business audience and what represented a good book among what was published in 2019.

There were 19 books that appeared twice on those five lists. I am not sure I have pattern or conclusion I can draw from those. Porchlight nominated twice as many (or more) books and they are the common partner in 13 of the 19 titles that were selected twice. When you look at the other half of those pairs, they are evenly spread among the other five lists. The categories of those 13 books are also spread across general business, economics, current events and narratives. I believe this set of books shares the same effect of judges’ preference, as can be seen in the single titles.

This is where it gets interesting.

There were no books that were appeared on three of the lists.

There were no books that were picked by four lists.

And there were no books that were chosen by all six lists.

That leaves us with only three titles that were chosen by five lists. That’s where I want to focus the rest of the attention.

[If you’d like to see all the titles and some of the analysis, I have put all the data in a Google Sheet that you can find by clicking on this link.]

The Three Titles For 2019

Let’s start with the books:

  1. Loonshots: How To Nurture the Crazy Ideas That Win Wars, Cure Diseases, and Transform Industries by Safi Bahcali
  2. Nine Lies About Work: A (Freethinking) Leader’s Guide to the Real World by Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall
  3. Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein

As I said, these were chosen by four different arbiters of business books. The last bit of analysis that I’ll share is that each book was chosen by a different combination of those five players. So, there was no voting block of perspective that led to these three titles.

I’ll admit there is randomness and probably pattern bias in trying to focus on these three titles. I am not going to try to justify these picks with any statistics or additional analysis. Let’s just say that the bubbling up of these three books is convenient.

It’s handy that there are only three books with such overwhelming support. Anyone can get these three titles and be through them between now and the end of the year. If that sounds hard, go read my essay on How To Read A [Business] Book.

Another convenience is this small group of books touches on the three things we should always be working to improve. First, we always need to put some focus on ourselves and Range provides an interesting thesis for how we should position ourselves in today’s world. Next, we always need to be working on how we work with others. Nine Lies pushes hard on some commonly held wisdom and turns it on its head. Finally, I don’t know anyone who isn’t touched by change and doesn’t need a way to bring new ideas and approaches into the world. Loonshots addresses that.

After I saw the broad agreement on these three titles, I decided to dig into each of them again. I’ll be posting reviews on each one of them between now and the end of the year. I hope maybe you’ll read along. When I share more about these books, I’d love to hear what you thought of them and how they helped you.

Update (11/26/19): I added the longlist selections from Bookpal’s OWL awards to the year-end lists for this article. They also chose the three common titles are well.

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#Author Booknotes: Hit Makers

The Book

Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction
By Derek Thompson
Penguin Press, 2017


A staff writer for The Atlantic, Thompson pulls together a slew of fascinating stories and anecdotes to try and explain what makes things popular. The trick with a book like this is there is no singular way that phenomenon reaches critical mass. So, in that way, the overview approach to the material works well, as it does in magazine articles. The downside is that the variety dilutes the utility of a strong throughline or highly actionable advice. If you read it like you are going to move through lots of material and that will find nuggets to inform your worldview, you’ll be satisfied when you’re done.

My Notes

  • We like what we are familiar with.
    • Exposure (or repeated exposure) is one way we get more familiar
    • The impressionist painters we know today all came from a single collection.
    • James Cutting, at Cornelll, found you could change preference just by showing students obscure paintings with a higher frequency.
    • Music publishers in Tin Pan Alley agressively pushed new music to musicians playing in clubs in New York City and gather feedback about what to further promote.
    • Music prediction services like HitPredictor or SoundOut can explain part of the success of some songs, but exposure and airplay also play a huge factor.
  • The familiar needs to be balanced with the new
    • Industrial designer Raymond Loewy called this “Most Advanced Yet Acceptable” – MAYA
    • “People like a challenge if they think they can solve it. [Claudia Muth] calls this moment where disfluency yields fluency the aesthetic aha.”
    • Example four chord music, cable news focus on headline topics with endless viewpoints, Spotify’s Discover Weekly feature needed new and known songs
  • The balance can be found in patterns
    • The longest time to create surprise with the fewest number of musical notes is BBBBC-BBBC-BBC-BC-D
    • Rhetorical devices like epistrophe (repetition of words at the end of the sentence), anaphora (repetition at the beginning of the sentence), tricolon (repetition in short triplicate, and my favorite antimetabole (AB;BA – do onto others as they would do onto you)
  • This leads us to another pattern – STORY
    • Joseph Campbell’s ingredients: inspiration, relatability, and suspense
    • “…[T]ake twenty-five things that in any successful genre and you reverse one of them. Reverse too many and you get genre confusion. Invert all the elements, you get parody. But one strategic tweak? Now you’ve got something that is perfectly new.”
  • Popularity is always being shaped by choice, economics and marketing
    • Industrialization is followed by the rise of fashion
    • “Distribution is a strategy to make a good product popular, but it’s not a reliable way to make a bad product seem good.”
    • Researchers Balaz Kovacs and Amanda Sharkey found that winning awards actually produces lower ratings from readers
      • Possible cause – higher expectations for those titles
  • Randomness
    • Duncan Watts studies information cascades
      • Everything starts at zero
      • And 1 in 1000 is still 1 in 1000 and very hard to predict
    • Al Greco calls the entertainment business “a complex. Adaptive, semi-chaotic industry with Bose-Einstein distribution dynamics and Pareto law characteristics with dual-sided uncertainty.”
    • Virality is a myth; broadcasters that share with millions make the difference in hits
      • “Items spread wider and faster when everyone can see what everybody else is doing.”
    • Sometimes it is not really about the product, but that someone “buys” popularity of the product.
    • Even people who produce lots of product can’t predict what will be a hit (i.e. Vincent Forrest on Etsy)
  • “Ideas most reliably spread with the piggyback off an existing network of closely connected and interested people.”
  • “The paradox of scale is that the biggest hits are often designed for a small, well-defined group of people.”
  • “Artists and teams produced their most resonant work after they had already passed a certain threshold of fame and popularity. Perhaps genius thrives in a space shielded ever so slightly from the need to win a popularity contest.
  • Random facts
    • One percent of music artists earn eighty percent of all recorded music revenue.
    • Music companies use Shazam to see where songs are being searched and find small places to launch into bigger markets
    • NBC uses 40-40-20 test for new programs
      • 40% of people say they are aware of the show
      • 40% of that (16% of total) say they want to watch it.
      • And 20% (3.2% of total!) of that say they are passionate about the new show
  • FX’s Nicole Clemens: “I am looking for a 90 hour movie. It is a Trojan horse for a deeper question: Who is the character becoming? What is he or she going to do next?”
  • Kat Kamen, first head of merchandising at Disney: “The art of film is film, but the business of movies is everywhere.”

The Next Step – Bard Press

In 2004, I went to my first Book Expo, the yearly convention for booksellers. The event still serves as the milestone in the calendar where publishers launch their new titles for the upcoming fall and holiday seasons (these days less than what it was then).

I’d only been working with 800-CEO-READ for a couple months at that point and I was lucky. That year BEA was held in Chicago, only 90 minutes from our headquarters in Milwaukee. The proximity gave me an opportunity to get a close-up of the industry. 

It was special for other reasons too. 800-CEO-READ was a part of the Harry W. Schwartz bookshops and that year David Schwartz, owner and son of the founder, was honored as Bookseller of the Year. David was very ill at that point and couldn’t make the trip. The company chartered a bus for employees, giving the opportunity for many to attend the convention for the first time. The group accepted the award on his behalf. David passed away a few days later. 

Most of the day in Chicago, I followed my client (and soon to be boss) Jack Covert from meeting to meeting. He was booked in 30 minute segments from 9am to 5pm each day of the show – 20 minutes to talk and 10 minutes to walk.

In our race between two publisher meetings that day, we turned a corner and we both heard “Jack!” We stopped. Jack and the gentleman shook hands. “Todd, let me introduce you to Ray Bard.” 

That introduction changed my life.

In the years since, neither Ray or I can point to what got our friendship started. Ray spoke at the 800-CEO-READ author event in one year. He gave Jack and I sound advice on publishing The 100 Best.  When I started attending SXSW Interactive in Austin, we’d have lunch.  Eventually I added a few days to that yearly trip to give us time to talk books, publishing and whatever else came up. 

We’ve helped each other on projects almost as long as we’ve known each other. A time or two, we joked about finding a way to work together on a more consistent basis. That talk got more real last year when I left IT Revolution. For me, I was excited by the opportunity but cautious about anything that could affect our 15 year friendship.

In this month’s note I wanted to share two pieces of news.

First, I have joined Bard Press as Deputy Publisher. Ray and I plan to keep the same approach to the business—publishing one book a year, focusing on helping authors bring their best work to the widest audience of readers possible. In 2020, Bard Press will celebrate its 25th year and our plan is to keep publishing for another twenty-five years. 

The second piece of news is about our first collaboration together. 

On June 3rd, Bard Press will be publishing The Gift of Struggle: Life Changing Lessons About Leading by Bobby Herrera. Bobby shares the leadership lessons he learned from his life growing up in a migrant farming family, serving in the U.S. Army and building a successful career in business. Bobby co-founded Populus Group in 2002 around the core idea that everyone deserves an opportunity to succeed. 

Ray and I believe this book serves that same mission by showing, as Bobby says, “struggle is the most honest and revealing measure of progress towards the leader you desire to be.”

The book is available now for preorder in print and ebook.  The audiobook, narrated by Bobby. will publish the week of June 3rd.

If you would like to find out more about The Gift of Struggle, there is a three chapter excerpt you can download here

P.S. I will be in New York City from May 27th to June 1st for BookExpo 2019. If you are going to be at the show, stop by the Bard Press booth. If we should meet up, drop me a note.

Michael Schrage – Author of Innovator’s Hypothesis (Better Books Podcast – Episode Three)

Better Books Podcast Tile EP3

In this episode, I talk with Michael Schrage about designing customers and running experiments in the world of book publishing.

Michael Schrage is a visiting fellow at MIT and the author of several books including Who do you want your customers to become? and The Innovator’s Hypothesis.

In the first half of the interview, we talk about an better way to think about customers and why cheap experiments are than good ideas. In the latter half, we apply these ideas to readers, authors and the world of book publishing.


Books By Michael Schrage:

Who Do You Want Your Customers to Become?

The Innovator’s Hypothesis: How Cheap Experiments Are Worth More than Good Ideas

Noticing What You Read

A few months ago, I noticed the songs I listen to give a view into how I am seeing the world. For a long time, I loved a good song about self-doubt. Lately the mix has been around positivity and growth. It’s interesting seeing myself drawn unconsciously to music ahead of the work I need to do in my life.

That insight about my listening habits lead me to look around at other parts of my life and what clues might be hiding in plain sight.

With my reading lately, I didn’t notice how much I was reading female authors. There was no plan for this curation, but it is again interesting to see.

Among recent reads are:

  • Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin – A recent NYT article pointed me to the book and its update this year.  The book does a fine job of talking about managing your money and managing the emotions that arise. Both matter.
  • Powerful by Patty McCord – As the former Head of People at Netflix, Patty had a front row seat for the growth and amazing change at the entertainment giant. I believe this is the first book from an executive at Netflix and you get a view into the company.
  • Advice for Future Corpses by Sallie Tisdale – You may not want to read a book about death, but you should. Sallie is a great writer.
  • Business of Being A Writer by Jane Friedman – So much has changed about being a writer and how to pursue it as a profession. Jane’s book is dense with wonderful advice.
  • Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski – This is the best book I have ever read about sex. It’s not scintillating or racy. It covers the biology, the physiology, and the psychology in a positive, clear way.
  •  Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat – A wonderfully different approach to cooking and the book is beautiful.
  • Pencil Me In by Christina Wodtke – I have never met a sketch note / visual thinking book I didn’t like.  This book is a wonderful compilation of original and complied material from other experts.

Have you noticed anything in what you have been reading lately?

My Favorite Business Books of 2012

As the year comes to a close, I have been thinking hard about what books influenced me this year.

In 2012, I read fewer books than in past years and that is why I called these books my favorites, not the best (if you are looking for the best, check out 800-CEO-READ’s Elite Eight for 2012).

“Favorite” is also probably a better description of these books because I found my reading more directed this year as I worked on growing my business and spent time thinking about the parallels between entrepreneurship and publishing.

In any case, I wholeheartedly recommend any of these titles:


Make Space: How to Set the Stage for Creative Collaboration by Scott Doorley and Scott Without

The people behind of the innovative work environments at Standford’s d.school put everything they learned about collaboration and how to build space that support collaboration in this beautiful book. When I say everything, I mean everything from communication theory to bills of materials for the fixtures they built.

The $100 Startup: Reinvent the Way You Make a Living, Do What You Love, and Create a New Future by Chris Guillebeau

There is one message you get loud and clear from Guillebeau’s second book – be relentlessly useful to your customers. That means you need to be communicate in your offering clearly, give customers what they want (not what you think they need), and be OK promoting what you do. This might sound like Marketing 101, but we all miss some part of this when we launch our latest project or new business.

Running Lean: Iterate from Plan A to a Plan That Works by Ash Maurya

Maurya started his book in Lean Startup fashion as article written for his newsletter followed by a self-published edition. With a thousand copies sold of the minimum viable product sold, he partnered with O’Reilly to be their first book released in their Lean Startup Series. Running Lean is a more tactical book than Eric Ries’ Lean Startup and focuses around the three stages of startups: Problem/Solution Fit, Problem/Market Fit, and Scaling. Knowing which stage you are in allows founders to know what actions are going to move their startup forward.

The Launch Pad: Inside Y Combinator, Silicon Valley’s Most Exclusive School for Startups by Randall Stross

Books that promise an inside look into an organization are often weak. The writer often lacks the access required to provide new and insightful commentary. Stross delivers the rare exception with his fly on the wall view of the drama founders experience in the Y Combinator program. And yes it is drama with founders pivoting from one idea to the next hoping to find the funding they need to take their startup to the next level. What we also see through Stross’ reporting is the philosophy that drives the Silicon Valley’s premier boot camp/accelerator/grad school for startups.

The Essential Deming: Leadership Principles from the Father of Quality by W. Edward Deming

There aren’t many business authors who accumulate the quantity or quality of work that warrants a greatest hits album. Peter Drucker and Warren Bennis both did and it is nice to finally see Edward Deming receive the same treatment. You might find Deming’s writings more difficult to read as his arguments resemble geometry theorems in their completeness and clarity. The work might also seem foreign because his prescriptions are still largely ignored. Maybe this new volume will solve that problem.

The Sketchnote Handbook: The Illustrated Guide to Visual Note Taking by Mike Rohde

I am a member of the sketchnoting tribe and it’s so great to see my long time friend Mike Rohde create a book that celebrates visual thinking. I have wanted to move beyond my style of a single “font, arrows pointing all directions, and lots of exclamation marks. The Handbook shows great examples from other sketch noters and exercises to improve this largely improvisational art form.

Go Author, Go

On the front page of the Sunday New York Times this week is an article titled “In E-book Era, Rule for Writers Is Type Faster!” The piece focuses on the additional work already busy authors are doing now as readers demand more new material. Some are writing more books. Some are writing novellas between books. Some are hiring writers so they can write more books.

There are some interesting thoughts between the lines:

  • Publishers want to be able to capitalize on faddish interest in an author with more stuff readers can buy. Does art go well with speed? Is there other ways to gain permission to talk to readers in between books?
  • Talent is scarce and once commercial success is seen publishers want to scale the art. What are the limits to that kind of effort?
  • Abundance of an author’s works correlates to more sales and through these additional avenues discoverability improves. Does lower prices have the same abundance effect? How about removing DRM?

Idea Arena Podcast – The Big Thirst Interview with Charles Fishman

In this interview, I talk with Charles Fishman, the author of The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water.

Fishman, a longtime writer for Fast Company Magazine and the author of The Wal-Mart Effect, takes on the conflicted relationship we have with water and how those conflicts, left unresolved, will only lead to bigger problems as the water we need becomes more scarce. From the opulent water fountains on the Las Vegas Strip to water delivery trucks in India, from a wool processing plant in Australia to a IBM microchip production plant in Vermont, Fishman illuminates the unknown ways water gets used while showing how our attitudes about life-giving liquid must change.

Our relationship to water goes way beyond what we know about it. The facts about water, the science, the chemistry, the geology–those are both fascinating and important. There would be no advanced civilization today without that understanding–we would have long poisoned ourselves.

But our relationship to water is at least as much emotional as it is analytical. That’s why a bottle of Evian tastes so good that we pay a thousand times more for it than for the same amount of water from the kitchen faucet. It’s the reason that water pipes hidden beneath our streets are poorly maintained, it’s why people around the world get so angry when their water bills go up.

We need to understand the science of water goes only so far in explaining how we deal with water every day, both as individuals and as a society. And our feelings about water are often so powerful, so visceral, that we need to be sure they don’t prevent us from seeing water clearly.

The interview lasts 43 minutes.

[audio: http://toddsattersten.com/audio/The%20Big%20Thirst%20Interview%20with%20Charles%20Fishman.mp3%5D

Download Interview

Idea Arena Podcast – TouchPoints Interview with Mette Norgaard

In this interview, I talked with Mette Norgaard, co-author with Doug Conant of TouchPoints: Creating Powerful Connections in the Smallest of Moments.

Leadership is often mistaken as grandiose visions or rallying battle cries. The authors of TouchPoints make the simple yet powerful case that leadership happens in every interaction you have and that most of us waste those opportunities. The book provides a simple model that start with “How can I help?” and through listening intently, framing the issue, and advancing the agenda leaders have the ability to move their organizations toward the positive results they have always wanted.

Sadly, leaders often see these interactions as distractions that get in the way of their real work: the important work of strategizing, planning, and prioritizing. But in our experience, these TouchPoints are the real work. They are the moments that bring your strategies and priorities to life, the interactions that translate your ideas into new and better behaviors. That is, providing you take these TouchPoints, no matter how brief, and infuse them with greater clarity and genuine commitment.

The interview lasts 24 minutes.

[audio: http://toddsattersten.com/audio/TouchPoints%20Interview%20with%20Mette%20Norgaard.mp3%5D

Download Interview


The Two Narratives of The Book

Sam Anderson wrote a piece for New York Times Magazine that ran over the weekend called ‘What I Really Want Is Someone Rolling Around in the Text’ about the importance of marginalina to books. Anderson shares his love for writing on the pages of books:

Anderson also shares the rich history of marginalia dating back to the 1700’s and how digital editions of books should allow this to flourish again.

With all of the talk about adding audio and video to books, sharing bookmarks and comments with my friends is my idea of an enhanced ebook. We are taking tiny steps towards this with Kindle-capable tweeting but we seem a long way away from what we all want to do through these social networking tools we us every day.

Let’s take it to the next step and imagine a marketplace as active as Amazon’s used book market that would allows people to sell their marginalia as an add-on to the ebook you just bought. That next layer of data would accelerate discovery of thoughtful passages and bring an in-text critical analysis. You could read along with the reviewer and discover as they did insights and art of the author. You might by multiple copies of marginalia to enjoy a favorite book again and again from different angles. Or imagine how this could be used in the educational setting giving instructors the ability to share what they teach with their students. And as Anderson points out, this data layer could be turned on and off with a touch.

I still think we need map; a standard linking structure of permalinks that would allow us to easily link to passages within the book and share those with others across an array of platforms. This is yet another reason why page numbers is a bankrupt mechanism for establishing location within a book in the digital age.

My first reaction was that publishers should build this infrastructure and maintain the narratives of both author and readers, but as we have watched the web develop, no one has maintained a vertical integration of the data stack. The successful companies have always built on what was there and gave people hooks to expanded it further.

The trouble is that book publishing is not native to the digital landscape and without a common set of mechanics to enable this sharing, progress is going to be difficult. The change in focus at Open Bookmarks from a standards approach to a principles approach shows that difficulty.

I continue to be hopeful. There is too much conversation going on for the industry not to see how readers want the reading experience to evolve.

Let Business Books Get Shorter

“Fact: If all business books were edited to be 80% shorter, there’d be absolutely no adverse effect on civilization.”@counternotion

I see a day soon when there will be peace between business book readers and business book producers.


“Where’s the conflict?” you may ask.

Well, let’s look at both sides.

Readers want great ideas that help them solve problems. That’s what they have always wanted. They want inspiration. They want to see the steps. They want their worldview altered. As Kathy Sierra says, readers want to kick ass.

Producers want credit for the idea. That is what they have always wanted. Authors wanted credibility gained from the bound edition of their hard work. Publishers want to make money distributing these insights to the masses.

This sounds like a wonderfully uncomplicated case of supply and demand, but when you ask readers their biggest complaint about business books, they always lead with “They are too long” or “They have too much fluff” or “The only thing I need to read is the introduction.” While I also hear from readers that the quality of the ideas in the books sometimes disappoints them, this is not the primary grievance.

Producers already know this. Ask authors how many times publishers have asked for higher word counts. Ask publishers about the pressure to maintain price points by having to maintain page counts. Ask retailers about how much they dislike small books with narrow bindings that won’t sit nicely on their store shelves.

All of these pressures lead to artificially lengthened books. The modifications include larger font size, smaller trim size, and plays of all sorts with margins and spacing; all methods to maintain impression of substance–an idea important to publishers and authors alike. A friend of mine refers to issue of substance as ‘The Whomp Factor’ or the amount of noise the book makes when the book hits your desk. The louder the thud, the higher the publisher’s retail price and the author’s consulting fees.

If you don’t believe there is a disconnect over length in business books, we only need to observe that an entire industry segment exists to provide readers with only the main points of a book. Historically, the primary value of book summaries has been time saved as they have been traditionally expensive, driven by the same economics as publishers, but digital distribution is pushing prices lower with individual summaries at around half the price of the book itself. Or buy a subscription for a year and that price drops to one-tenth the cover price. Publishers have long lived with what they believe is a symbiotic relationship with summary providers. Publishers accept increased awareness for their books knowing a summary may cannibalize that same book’s sales.

I believe ebooks may be the place where both sides in this conflict can find peace. Without the physical qualities to judge a book, readers may be more open to shorter reads at similar price points if the material is good. And publishers may feel less pressure to maintain page counts in a world where that quantity changes based on the reading device.

The idea of shorter business books raises all sort of interesting questions.

  • Can you charge a similar price for a shorter e-book versus a printed p-book? (Yes, you can. Early publishers are ceded price too quickly)
  • What changes something from an article into a book? (The word ‘book’ is broken; I talk about that problem in this video)
  • Do book publishers start to compete with magazine publishers for the appropriate place publish to long form material?
  • Is there a duration dividing line for fee-driven and ad-driven business models in publishing?
  • What is the better way to measure length? (I took a shot at answering that one too)
  • Do you need book summaries if the book get shorter?

Reader want ‘books’ that deliver value for the time spent. The question is who is going to deliver that in the new era of digital publishing.

Just Do It

Seth Godin has been making the same plea in the last several books. “We Need You To Lead Us” was the subtitle of Tribes. Using reverse-psychology, Linchpin asked “Are You Indispensable?” to prod us into action. “I sell fireworks,” he says at the beginning of Small Is The New Big in talking about how his writing encourages those with great ideas to get them done.

In Poke The Box, Seth removes the whatever directional intent there may have been in those prior works and imploring us to do something, anything. There are no barriers left.

Inger isn’t photographing the Portland’s live music scene because someone told her to. Modern Skirts’ Gramahawk album was made up of music they wanted to make.The King’s Sixth Finger didn’t make sense to publishers, but it didn’t stop Jolby. Amanda Hocking and her 900,000 copies sold didn’t wait to get picked.

If you are already doing, you don’t need Poke The Box.

If you still need a push, here is it.

Three Great Solutions

Business books are solutions looking for people with problems.

Take a look at these three new releases:

From Bud to Boss: The Secrets To A Successful Transition To Remarkable Leadership by Kevin Eikenberry and Guy Harris

The pitch from Kevin and Guy is very clear: our book can help you be successful in your first role as a leader. I would guess that hundreds of thousands of people are giving that first leadership opportunity every year. You could see this book working in venues ranging from schools to companies to non-profits to religious groups. The book reminds me of The First 90 Days, where the argument was a handful of transitions determined that overall arc of your career. From Bud to Boss would be helpful to a lot of people.

10 Steps To Successful Virtual Presentations by Wayne Turmel

Did you do a Skype call this week? Have you attended a WebEx meeting in the last month? When moving from emulating phone calls with the new technology and add pictures or video, virtual presentations get alot harder. Wayne says that fewer than 15% of managers use these sort of tools, mostly because of fear and lack of training. This reminds me the rampant problems with poor Powerpoint presentation that finally started to get addressed in books like Beyond Bullet Points, Presentation Zen, and Resonate. It seems to me that there are thousands of people who could use the tools and tips that Wayne has to offer.

The Freak Factor: Discovering Weakness by Flaunting Weakness by Dave Rendall

Ralph Waldo Emerson said “Our strength grows out of our weaknesses,” and that strikes at the heart of the book Dave wrote. His message reinforces the work that Gallup has done over the last decade: Leverage your strengths while appreciating and embracing your weaknesses. Or as Kinko’s founder Paul Orfalea says, “Like yourself, not despite your flaws and so-called deficits, but because of them.” The book is heavy on people with pictures and profiles who live this philosophy. This book is 178 pages of permission to be the person you have always wanted to be.

These are all great books that solve specific problems – succeeding in first leadership experiences, using digital tools for effective, remote presentations, and finding the courage to embrace who we are.

If you are dealing with anyone of these issues, the three books above are great solutions to consider.