The #1 Reason Smart Professionals Write Forgettable Books

“The process of formulating big ideas and insightful points of view on the issues your buyers face, capturing those ideas in multiple content vehicles and sharing the ideas with prospects and customers to enlighten them, engage them in a dialogue, and position your company as a trusted resource.”

Of the 48 words in this definition of thought leadership by Forrester Research analyst Jeff Ernst, six are particularly crucial. Especially in relation to thought leaders planning to write a book. 

Can you guess which six words I’m talking about?

Certainly a thought leadership book needs a big idea and must communicate an insightful point of view. Its aim is indeed to enlighten and engage others in a conversation. And as the author you will demonstrate your indispensability to your company by positioning yourself (and therefore your organization) as a trusted resource.

But none of this matters if what you are writing about isn’t directly concerned with the issues your readers face.

Yet it’s surprising how many smart professionals fail to focus on their readers’ specific issues when writing their books. Here are three recent examples of people who wrote their books without professional help then contacted me about fixing the problems (which I respectfully declined).

  • The former CEO who had written a series of letters to his employees over the course of his tenure and had collected them together into a book. He wondered why it wasn’t selling. I told him it was for the same reason that cobbling together blog posts makes for a bad book idea: other than showcasing the writer’s thoughts on any given day, there is no overarching theme aimed at providing a solution to an issue, and hence no immediately discernable reason why someone should buy it.


  • The consultant who had compiled a smörgåsbord of a book on his subject matter expertise and, despite advice that it was far too comprehensive and detailed for the targeted business leader, clung to his original concept. Meaning that a reader looking for enlightenment would  have to wade through a history of the topic, an explanation of the science that read like an academic journal article, and a level of specificity about the nuts and bolts of applying this particular approach that C-level executives (the alleged target audience) couldn’t care less about.


  • The subject matter expert who, like the consultant above, first wrote everything she knew about the topic on which she was an undoubted authority – and then wanted to know how she might go about marketing his book. The problem was, given its comprehensive nature it was doubtful there was that many people interested in that level of specificity. She had never given the matter of her audience any thought before starting to write. A project that had taken her several years to complete and had cost thousands of dollars.

A leader is one by virtue of the people who choose to follow them. The same is true when an expert writes a book with the aim of shaping a conversation.

It is the readers who will determine whether you are a thought leader or not because this title can only be conferred, not claimed. Forget about them, and you can forget about everything else.

What books have you read recently where – like the literary equivalent of the Ocean’s Trilogy where the actors had more fun than many moviegoers – the authors have apparently ignored the needs of the reader?



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