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How to Write a Truly Great Business Book (Tip #5)

Writing (and publishing) a book can confer myriad benefits on your consulting firm. More publicity, more inquiries from clients, more projects, higher fees. A great book multiplies those benefits and can lift you and your consulting firm to the next level of success. But how do you write a great business book?

Most business books are like grocery-store cookies: reasonably satisfying, though too much filler. You wouldn’t recommend them to a friend. A few business books are bad or beyond their expiration date. A few are quite tasty—you’ll recommend those on occasion.

A very tiny fraction of business books are tiramisu: sublime to consume and (intellectually) fattening. They’re highlighted, filled with notes, dog-eared and frequently recommended.

Your consulting business won’t notice a difference between an okay book and a good book. But producing a great book raises you above the churning froth of experts in your field. It will be passed around and recommended extensively.

You’ll receive more invitations to speak, more inquiries about projects, and more consulting engagements at higher fees.

Writing an outstanding book is difficult and takes effort. It’s 100%, totally worth the investment.

For the moment, let’s focus on process rather than content. In other words, let’s not delve into commercial publishing vs. self-publishing, or formats (e.g., fables vs. how-tos), or the quality of your ideas.

What are your tips for writing an outstanding business book?

I’ve compiled a list of tips for writing an outstanding book, but am detailing only one in this article. I want you to share your tips in the comments, too.

Tip #5: Beta-Readers

Your Target, Not Your Friends – Assemble a list of beta-readers who look just like your prospective clients. Beta readers should not be your friends, family or other consultants.

At Least Two Per Chapter – Three per chapter would be even better, but never settle for input from fewer than two beta readers. You’ll find widely divergent opinions on some of your materials. I had as many as eight beta-readers review some chapters of The Irresistible Consultant’s Guide to Winning Clients.

Solicit Useful Feedback – You’re not looking for kudos at this stage. You want tough-to-hear reactions that point the way to a better book. The directions I gave beta-readers included the following:

Make it Easy – Mail hard copy drafts along with a red pen and a pre-paid return envelope.

Also, since a great book holds its reader’s attention from start to finish, put a scale at the top of every page to get a bead on when your book is becoming boring. (A single, ho-hum portion will instantly demote your work from the ranks of outstanding books.) The header I put at the top of every page looked like this:

As I mentioned above, Tip #5 (Beta Readers) is one of many that will help you pen a truly great business book that will meaningfully help your consulting firm.

Based on your reading and your experience, what else should a consultant do to write a great book?


 

18 Comments
  1. Will Bachman
    November 29, 2017 at 6:37 am Reply

    Use stories about real people and real situations to illustrate your general principles. Ensure your stories are fresh and surprising and we haven’t read before.

    Corollary: do not mention Apple or Steve Jobs in your book.

    • David A. Fields
      November 29, 2017 at 8:30 am Reply

      You mean we shouldn’t use the story about Steve Jobs throwing starfishes into the sea? Seriously, that’s a great tip, Will. Stories make your ideas concrete.

      You’ll notice, though, that some mediocre books layer in too many stories with too much detail, and each one sounds like the author was thinking, “I’m supposed to add a story here to illustrate my point.”

      Thanks for the tip, Will.

  2. Gloriana Hunter
    November 29, 2017 at 8:47 am Reply

    As always, your insight is priceless, David. (And in my case, timely too!)

    • David A. Fields
      November 29, 2017 at 9:49 am Reply

      Hooray for good timing, Gloria! Does that mean you’re writing a book? Tell us what outstanding work by you we’re going to be reading soon.

  3. Shahla
    November 29, 2017 at 8:52 am Reply

    That’s a great tip David. Not surprised coming from you. Every piece of advice in your blog is holy grail. I would like to know though how do you select perspective beta readers? You mentioned not to share with other consultants. I’m not sure sharing with clients is always beneficial. For example I’m currently writing a book the target audience for which is my peers- corporate training consultants l, my peers. Not sure how would I be selecting beta readers for such book. Thoughts?

    • David A. Fields
      November 29, 2017 at 10:25 am Reply

      Congratulations on the book, Shahla. The exception to the “don’t let other consultants be beta readers” is when your clients are other consultants. In the case of The Irresistible Consultant’s Guide to Winning Clients, for example, all my beta readers were consultants because consultants are the intended readers.

      Getting honest feedback from your target is a worthwhile step. It will make a huge difference in the end result, you can parlay the connections into other benefits, and there is little downside. Net: select other consultants if they are your audience.

  4. Anonymous
    November 29, 2017 at 9:34 am Reply

    David – When I was writing Beyond the Wall of Resistance back in 1995, Ray Bard, my publisher, send the book out to selected readers and asked for chapter by chapter comments. Those comments were very helpful. In addition, he asked, “Would you like a copy of the book when it is finished?” One of those readers was a fellow consultant who I didn’t know, but respected. He replied, “No.” I called him and asked if he would be willing to talk with me so that I could understand why he said no. That resulted in an immensely rich conversation. I made major changes based on that 30-minute conversation. (And I made a new friend in the process.) – Rick

    • David A. Fields
      November 29, 2017 at 10:32 am Reply

      Good for you for being willing to turn that “No” into a valuable conversation, Rick. The hard apart about soliciting feedback is you’re opening yourself up for criticism and, potentially, a ton more work. That’s why people avoid it.

      One chapter in The Executive’s Guide to Consultants went through a half-dozen iterations, always getting feedback from beta readers. It never reached the level of positive feedback that I wanted, so I ended up deleting the chapter entirely. You have to be willing to let something go even after hours, days, weeks or more of toil and sweat.

  5. Debbie
    November 29, 2017 at 2:15 pm Reply

    I’ve not written a book yet, however, I’m thinking about keeping track of the kinds of questions my target audience asks me to see if there are some themes and trends.

    • David A. Fields
      November 29, 2017 at 2:18 pm Reply

      There’s no time like the present to start, Debbie. (Though writing a book isn’t always the best use of time for a consulting firm leader.) Your client’s questions will definitely point you in the right direction. Make sure your book answer’s one large, overall question, not just a bunch of loosely related, small questions. Thanks for chiming in, Debbie.

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