Approaches to Writing Business Books

There’s no such thing as “the business book.”

Instead, there is a very broad and deep genre called “business books” which includes biographies and autobiographies; books that criticize and books that analyze; how-to books, inspirational books, handbooks; books that teach and books that preach, and more.

The genre covers a multitude of topics, including management, leadership, motivation, marketing, reengineering, entrepreneurship, finance, investing, business culture, human resources, sales and infrastructure.

Some business books are built around metaphors. Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun[1] uses war as a metaphor for business, while The Ignorant Maestro [2]uses the conducting of an orchestra.

Some are based on scientific research, including Thinking, Fast and Slow[3], which was written by a winner of the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences.

Some are biographies or “company-ographies.” Among them are Ray Kroc’s Grinding It Out: The Making of McDonald’s[4] and Losing My Virginity,[5] by Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Airlines.

Some are academic while others are chatty; some are highly structured while others amble through their topics at a leisurely pace. Some warn that the sky is about to fall, while others offer hope and bright ideas for improvement.

In short, the business book genre is not only flexible, but bursting at the seams with approaches, structures and ideas.

In this series of blogs, “Approaches to Writing Business Books,” I’ll review seven common approaches used when writing a popular business book. Click on any of them to learn more:

1) “We’ve Got Trouble” – The author explains a problem in depth, but offers little in the way of a solution. Example: The Paradox of Choice, by Barry Schwartz.

2) “Smashing the Paradigm” – The author explains why our current way of thinking or doing something is seriously wrong. Although the book rips the old model to shreds, it does not offer a new paradigm. Example: Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell.

3) “Presenting the New Idea” – The author offers a new way of thinking or doing something, a new model or mode. Example: Made to Stick, by Chip Heath & Dan Heath.

4) “Telling a Story or Fable” – The author tells a story that illustrates a problem and solution. Most of the book is devoted to the story, which is typically invented and sometimes takes the form of a fable. Example: The Energy Bus, by Jon Gordon.

5) “Borrowing from Other Fields” – The author borrows ideas or approaches from other, often surprising, areas to teach readers lessons that can be applied to business. Example: Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun, by Wes Roberts.

6) “The Encyclopedic Approach” – The author presents a detailed look at, or a complete resource for, a process, situation, or idea, with each topic presented individually. Example: The Economist Guide to Financial Markets, by Marc Levinson.

7) “Topic 101” – The author lays out all the basics, teaching readers everything they need to know about a topic to get started. Example: The Dummies books.

These seven approaches to writing business books are certainly not the only ones; however they are commonly used in contemporary business books.

[1] Wes Roberts, Grand Central Publishing, 1989.

[2] Itay Talgram, Portfolio, 2015.

[3] Daniel Kahneman, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011.

[4] St. Martins, 1992.

[5] Crown Business, 2011.