The Business Case for NOT Writing a Book


No other industry has so many new product introductions. ~ Steven Piersanti, President, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 10 Awful Truths about Book Publishing.

 You’re a businessperson, right? Would you decide to launch a new product into an oversaturated market with features and functionality that are little or no different to what’s already available? No? Then why are you rushing to publish a book?

Read Mr. Piersanti’s post and you’ll see one of the seven strategies he suggests for improving the odds that your nonfiction book will actually sell more than the average 250 copies (or 2,000 total in its lifetime), is 'build books around a big new idea.' Click To Tweet

So, is yours? Really?

Sorry to sound skeptical, but I have 30 years’ experience meeting aspiring authors, all of whom tell me they’ve never seen a book like theirs, then admit they haven’t done any “due diligence” in the form of a competitive analysis of competing titles. Some even believe they can produce a new angle on a well-worn topic like leadership, despite the fact that a search of that term on Amazon delivers 177,822 results and well-established names such as John C. Maxwell, Simon Sinek and Stephen C. Covey have got a good chunk of that market sewn up.

I haven’t had a “big new idea” since Craig Badings and I decided to do the preliminary thinking for aspiring thought leaders and produced 140 tweet-sized prompts for designing and executing an effective thought leadership campaign. Which is why I haven’t written a book myself since #Thought Leadership Tweet was published in 2012.

In the meantime, I’ve aligned my skills and talent around conceiving strategically focused, professionally structured and written business books with creative thinkers who do have fresh approaches to share with the world, like Ken Brand, Stig Nybo, and Sharon Schweitzer. If they hadn’t had a “big new idea,” I would have told them to save their time and money!

Your focus is likely the wrong way around

Then there’s the challenge of understanding enough about your market to take a reader-centric view. As Steven Gary Blank says in The Four Steps to the Epiphany: Successful Strategies for Products that Win'Build it and they will come,' is not a strategy, it's a prayer. Click To Tweet

Writing a book without any consideration of who are your “customers” and what they need is, unfortunately, the default position for most aspiring entrepreneurs whose ideas are solutions looking for problems, rather than problems known to meet an existing desire. Which is probably why the success rate in the entrepreneurial world is something like 10% – and that’s for those who’ve had help getting to launch! Yet successful entrepreneurs who transform their ideas into sustainable enterprises are always client focused.

Are you, with respect to your book?

Setting the right goal at the outset

I’ve never fully understood the current (U.S.?) obsession with having a “best-selling book.” That’s a bit like, before you even launch your business, announcing you’re going to be as big as Google or Apple. I’ll leave the topic of “gaming the system” so fondly employed by marketers to one side; that’s a whole different ball of wax.

Instead, let’s focus on the topic of goal setting.

While it’s admirable to have big, hairy, audacious goals, don’t we always tell ourselves that the journey is more important than the destination? Or is that just some empty mantra we set aside for our spiritual lives? The reason why I know a more thoughtful, slow, methodical approach to book development works, is  because it brings out of my clients ideas they’ve never had before. Instead of the predictable, yada yada, undifferentiated book they might otherwise have produced, I provoke them to take their time and in the process, develop deeper thinking. Which leads to books that are more likely to become best-sellers! Although that’s never the reason they’re writing their book in the first place.

Once upon a time it might have been true that publishing a book made you “special” in the eyes of those you wished to impress and influence. Today it just demonstrates you know how to use CreateSpace! Since the barrier to entry has been removed with the advent of self-publishing, the bar has been set so low it’s now in the gutter.

Think about reading instead!

Those millions of potential readers you keep hearing about? Are you one of them? Click To Tweet  If not, why not? Every professional writer I’m aware of (nonfiction and novelists) says you cannot hope to be a compelling, quality writer unless you’re also a reader.

As Mr. Piersanti points out:

Unfortunately, the marketplace is not able to absorb all these books and is hugely oversaturated.

But what is a marketplace but a human transaction — the willingness of one set of individuals to engage with another? A bartering of time and money? So, to work effectively, the publishing “marketplace” must have writers who have readers, and readers willing to read what others write.

What part are you playing in that transaction?

Or, going back to my business analogy again, why would you expect anyone to buy from your business when you refuse to buy from anyone else’s?

I’m interested in what you have to say. Please contribute your comments below.


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