[Part II] Engineering A Best-Selling Business Book
Why some ideas scale and others do not.
Dear Friend, Subscriber, and Category Pirate,
However, that was just the tip of the iceberg.
The First 3 Steps Of Writing A Best-Selling Business Book
Let’s recap what we’ve discussed so far:
Step 1: Choose Your Starting Category
Before you even begin writing your book (or “scaling” an idea of any kind), you first need to decide which of the 7 best-selling, most-scalable categories you are going to play in—and why:
Step 2: Idea-Centric or Author-Centric
Next, be honest with yourself:
Question: Are you a celebrity? Are you at the absolute height of your industry and would everyone inside that industry be able to recognize you on the street? (Michelle Obama’s book, Becoming, is a memoir that has sold over 14 million copies. And by the time it came out, she was one of the highest profile people in the world—and as a couple, the Obamas were the “most admired couple in the world.” Are you at that level?) Or are you a no-name writer, entrepreneur, or industry thought leader? Be radically honest with yourself. If you are, it might be OK to write an Author-Centric book that leans on your personal experience and social standing. But if not, then you’d be better off writing an Idea-Centric book instead.
Question: Would you care if someone else “stole” your idea? Or built upon your idea and added their own twist? Or took your idea and ran with it in a different direction? This gets at the heart of whether you are a missionary or a mercenary. Everyone cares a little bit, but if you really care (like you would be furious to see someone else building on your work), then you lean more Author-Centric. You need to be the star of the show. However, if you are ultimately glad people were helped, and you see other people building on your work as a net-positive for the world, then you are likely more Idea-Centric. You just care that the information helps people. Whether you get “all the credit” isn’t as important as the mission you are on.
If the book you want to write is Idea-Centric, the categories best suited to “scale” your idea are:
If the book you want to write is Author-Centric, the categories best suited to “scale” your idea are:
It’s worth remembering that Idea-Centric books are typically more scalable than Author-Centric books because when you write an Author-Centric book, your pool of prospective readers is limited to the number of people who know who you are. Whereas anyone can write an interesting Idea-Centric book, and if the idea is compelling, new, and different, that idea can take on a life of its own—and oftentimes outgrow the author. For example, nobody knew who James Clear was when he wrote Atomic Habits. That is an Idea-Centric book that did not require the author’s credibility in order to resonate with readers.
So, even if you want to write an Author-Centric book, consider how you might be able to give the spotlight to the idea itself.
Step 3: Ascend To a Superior Category
Finally, how “scalable” do you want your book to be?
To increase your total addressable market of readers, think about how you can ascend up these 7 best-selling categories to maximize your impact and financial upside:
If you are writing a Personal Finance book, can you make the category bigger and write it as an Insights/Thinking book geared toward a financial audience? Or, even better, can you make it a Personal Development book about how money habits can unlock more universal, desirable life outcomes (happiness, freedom, status, mental calm, emotional acceptance, etc.)?
If you are writing a Relationships book, can you make the category bigger and conduct your own survey or clinical study so the book presents new and different Insights/Thinking? Or, even better, can you give unique, actionable Personal Development takeaways for the reader?
If you are writing a Leadership book, can you make it a “science of leadership” book so it becomes about new Insights/Thinking? Or, even better, can you combine your new leadership science with different, actionable takeaways for the reader—so by the time they finish reading, they will have the necessary skills to be a legendary leader, too?
If you are writing a book full of Case Study/Allegories, can you minimize the timely aspects of these case studies and instead focus on the wisdom (Insights/Thinking) that will stand the test of time? Even better, can you help the reader implement this timeless wisdom in their own lives (Personal Development)?
If you are writing a Functional Excellence book, can you minimize the timely How To advice and examples that will only be relevant for a few years (if that), and instead focus on the underlying principles of success that will remain relevant for a much longer time horizon?
Again: all roads lead back to Insights/Thinking and Personal Development.
In order to increase your chances of writing a best-seller and presenting an idea that “scales” to millions of readers, you must either present new and different ways of seeing the world, or give the reader clear and actionable (Obvious/Non-Obvious) steps they can take to succeed in the world.
The magic combination is to do both at the same time.
The “Y Do You Write” Framework
Notice how all of these “thinking” decisions need to be made before you write a single word of your book!
(Thinking about thinking is the most important kind of thinking.)
Once you have worked through these first 3 steps, you will find yourself at a fork in the road:
To The Left: Obvious creation
To The Right: Non-Obvious creation
We call this the “Y Do You Write” framework because in order for readers to understand what kind of idea you are trying to get them to “buy into,” you need to have perfect clarity around whether you are writing an Obvious or Non-Obvious book. This is what dictates whether readers buy your book and devour it, buy your book but don’t read it, or don’t buy your book at all.
There are 4 combinations of Obvious and Non-Obvious ideas:
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