First Words in Best-Selling Business Books

Selecting the opening words for your business book can be challenging. Do you begin with a story, or some startling facts? A review of the problem you intend to solve? An explanation of why you wrote the book?

There are no hard-and-fast rules, for no one has yet conducted a scientific study to determine the best way to begin. And, in any case, such a study would quickly become outdated, for the needs of readers evolve over the years—and trends move even quicker.

So rather than enlisting thousands of volunteers for a rigorous study, complete with double-blinding and placebo books, I went to my local virtual bookstore—Amazon.com—and read the opening paragraphs in the 10 books appearing on the October, 2015 New York Times Best Sellers list for business books. Whenever possible, I looked at the opening words of the first chapter, rather than the Introduction or Preface. The books are:

  1. Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell
  2. Get What’s Yours: The Secrets to Maxing Out Your Social Security, by Lawrence J. Kotlikoff, Philip Moeller and Paul Solman
  3. Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahnemann
  4. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, by Charles Duhigg
  5. Elon Musk: Telsa, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future, by Ashlee Vance
  6. The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight In the Age of Information Overload, by Daniel J. Levitin
  7. Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World, by General Stanley McChrystal
  8. Money: Master the Game, by Tony Robbins
  9. Think Like a Freak, by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
  10. The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, by Malcolm Gladwell

The openings in these best-sellers fall into five categories:

Seven of these top ten business books begin with a story, so if you feel the desire to borrow a page from the best, begin with a story. But remember: What worked for other authors may not be best for your book—even if those other folks were New York Times best-selling authors.

These five ways of opening a business book are not the only options, of course. I’ll explore other approaches in later blogs.

Click on any of the five categories above to read the business book openings, in detail.