Writing a Business Book
Writing a book can help you enhance your brand and position yourself as a thought leader. It can help you become the media “go-to” person, and otherwise advance your career and promote your business.
We, Barry Fox and Nadine Taylor, are experienced book ghostwriters. As such, we know that writing a great book can be difficult and time-consuming.
To help you get started, we’ve prepared this page. On it you’ll find answers to many of the most common questions we’re asked about business book ghostwriters and ghostwriting.
In a Q&A format, we look at issues like structuring a business book, determining the best way to start it, types of business books that succeed, the most important characteristic of a business book ghostwriter, and more.
1. Is there a “best approach” to structuring a business book?
One of the ghostwriter’s early tasks is to help you select the best structure for your book. There are many possible approaches, including:
- “We’ve Got Trouble” – an examination of a problem, with a mention of the solution
- “Smashing the Paradigm” – a look at why our current understanding of some aspect of business is completely wrong
- “Presenting a New Idea” – a discussion of a new idea, broken into several parts
- “Telling a Story or Fable” – an entertaining way to introduce a concept
- “Borrowing from Other Fields” – an application of lessons learned in other areas to business
- “The Encyclopedic Approach” – a reference book addressing certain aspects of business
- “Topic 101” – a “basic course,” in book form
For a more detailed look at these structures, see our article, “Approaches to Writing Business Books.”
2. How do I start it off?
There is no hard-and-fast rule for determining whether you should begin with some startling statistics, a quote, a case history, or your own story.
If you look at the New York Times best-selling business books of October, 2015, you’ll see that there are five popular approaches:
- A story illustrating the book’s topic, used in The Tipping Point
- A story about why the author(s) wrote the book, used in Think Like a Freak
- A dictionary definition, used in Outliers: The Story of Success
- An example of the phenomenon/situation the book is describing, used in Thinking, Fast and Slow
- An explanation, used in Money: Master the Game
For a more detailed discussion of each of these openings, see our article, “First Words in Bestselling Business Books.”
3. Are there different types of business books?
There are many, including:
- Biography/autobiography – the story of a company or business leader
- New ideas – introducing new concepts or reimagining old ones
- From life to business – applying lessons learned in life to business
- From business to life – transferring concepts from business to other aspects of life
- Wealth-enhancing ideas – approaches to making money
4. What kinds of business books are most likely to succeed?
All kinds. Here are the book listed on the New York Times Business Best Seller List from January, 2019:
#1 – Leadership: In Turbulent Times, by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Noted biographer tells the story of four U.S. presidents who faced dramatic and disruptive conflicts
#2 – Dare to Lead: Brave Work, Tough Conversations, Whole Hearts, by Brené Brown. The author, who has conducted research with key leaders, explains how to “dare greatly, rise strong, and brave the wilderness.”
#3 – Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup, by John Carreyrou. This book tells “the inside story of the breathtaking rise and shocking fall of Theranos…”
#4 – Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones, by James Clear. The author, “one of the world’s leading experts on habit formation, reveals practical strategies that will teach you exactly how to form good habits, break bad ones, and master the tiny behaviors that lead to remarkable results.”
#5 – Principles: Life and Word, by Ral Dalio. The founder of the investment firm Bridgewater Associates “ shares the unconventional principles that he’s developed, refined, and used over the past forty years to create unique results in both life and business—and which any person or organization can adopt to help achieve their goals.”
#6 – Extreme Ownership, by Jock Willink and Leif Babin. Two former U.S. Navy Seals explain “how to apply powerful leadership principles from the battlefield to business and life.”
#7 – Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike, by Phil Knight. The book “offers a rare and revealing look at the notoriously media-shy man behind the swoosh.”
#8 – The Magnolia Story, by Chip Gaines and Joanna Gaines, with Mark Dagostino. A memoir by the couple who star on HGTV’s Fixer Upper.
#9 – Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman. The author, a Nobel Prize winning psychologist, “takes us on a groundbreaking tour of the mind and explains the two systems that drive the way we think.”
#10 – Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, by Angela Duckworth. The author, a professor and researcher, “shows anyone striving to succeed that the secret to outstanding achievement is not talent, but a special blend of passion and persistence she calls ‘grit.’”
Notice that there are no books on how to run a business on the list. Instead, the ten best-selling business books fall into five categories:
- Leadership – Leadership, Dare to Lead
- Company biography – Bad Blood, Shoe Dog, The Magnolia Story
- Self-improvement – Atomic Habits, Principles, Grit
- Applying lessons learned from a different area to business – Extreme Ownership
- Understanding yourself – Thinking, Fast and Slow
(You can view this list of New York Times bestselling business books HERE.)
5. Can a business book ghostwriter help me develop a huge concept like Freakonomics?
This is the ghostwriter’s goal—to come up with a powerful concept that grabs everyone’s attention! When it happens, it’s wonderful.
But remember that not all ideas are groundbreaking. Indeed, relatively few books are based on paradigm-shattering ideas. Still, many still provide their readers valuable information, insight, and strategies.
For example, an inside look at a company or an introduction to a new concept are extremely interesting topics. So is a new strategy for getting ahead in business. While these may not earn you a spot on the New York Times bestseller list, they can certainly help you accomplish your business-building goals.
6. Should the ghost have a business degree or experience running a business?
Neither is necessary, as the experienced business book ghostwriter specializes in learning on the fly and translating ideas into books that people enjoy reading. You certainly want a ghostwriter who understands business, but there’s usually no need to find one with an MBA or C-suite experience.
7. What is the most important characteristic of a business book ghostwriter?
The most important skill the ghost must possess is the same that every ghostwriter writing for the popular press must master: being a good story teller.
Unless your book is a reference book, it will tell a story. The story-telling may be the book’s main thrust, as in a business biography, or the tale-telling aspect may be more subtle, as with books like Made to Stick, that relate numerous stories.
But today’s popular business books are almost invariably story-based.
8. How can I find a top ghostwriter?
There are many business book ghostwriters with varying degrees of experience and a range of fees. You’ll certainly want to find one with the right résumé and expertise, but these aren’t enough. The chosen ghost should be willing to challenge you, to (politely) tell you when your ideas are wandering off track, and to help you do what’s necessary to make your book work.
You may be accustomed to people who jump when you speak, but you’ll get much better results if you work with your ghostwriter as a collaborator, rather than expecting him to be a “yes-man.”
9. What’s the process? How does ghostwriting a business book work?
Most of the business book authors we work with are tremendously invested in their stories and ideas, and they are willing to dedicate many hours to interviews, reading drafts, and offering comments on our work.
If that sounds like you, we’ll begin by interviewing you for several hours—possibly over the course of a couple of days—to learn all we can about your story and ideas and discuss likely approaches to structuring your book.
We’ll continue interviewing you as the work progresses and conduct additional research if necessary. This research may consist of reading studies or other background material, discussions with your associates or outside experts, visiting your plant if you have one, and so on.
But even before the research is finished, we can begin writing the early drafts of chapters and sending them to you for comments.
As we near completion, we’ll ask that you read the entire book carefully and completely to ensure that it captures your story or ideas, and presents them in the desired tone and selected style.
10. How long does it take to write a business book?
The amount of time depends on several factors, including the book’s length, the complexity of the material, and whether the initial concept is solid or needs tweaking.
Another important factor is how available you are for interviews and the reading of drafts. We’ve had clients who have taken leaves of absence to focus on work or personal issues, which, obviously, delays the process.
In general, however, it takes about eight months to write a business book.
11. I’m really busy. Can I cut down on my time commitment?
The best way to reduce the amount of time you’ll need to spend on the book is to prepare ahead of time. You can do this by gathering pertinent documents, photos, news articles, studies, press releases, and anything else related to your book’s topic. Send these to the ghostwriter ahead of the initial interviews, and he or she will be able to hit the ground running.
You can also prep the ghost by arranging for interviews with appropriate associates, researchers, and others to ensure that he or she comes to the initial working sessions armed with as much information as possible.
Once the process begins, you can let the ghost know in advance about any upcoming periods that will be especially busy or free. That way, you can sync your schedules and plan more effectively, cutting back on wasted time.
12. What else can I do to make the book writing process easier for me?
Think carefully about:
- Why you want to write a book – This will help determine the book’s style and substance and prevent time-consuming false starts and U-turns in the writing.
- Who you want to read it – “Everybody” is not the best answer. Figure out who makes up your specific audience—those genuinely interested in hearing what you have to say. This will help the ghost figure out the book’s content, style, and voice.
- What you want readers to know/feel when they’ve finished your book – Zeroing in on your overall message will greatly help the ghost conceive and craft the book.
- How you’d like the book to be published – Will you go with standard, self, or academic publication? Your choice will affect the book’s content and style. To gain a better understanding of the pros and cons of these approaches, see “Which Is Better: Standard of Self-Publishing?”
13. What if my ghost and I disagree on the book’s structure or content?
This happens, and in most cases, should be welcomed.
Some books are pretty straightforward, such as an encyclopedia of marketing terms. Most, however, are more complex, and require an exchange of ideas to discover the right structure and tone as the client and ghost sort through the various ideas, stories, case histories, and other content that might go into the text.
We’ve found that our best work comes from this exchange of ideas, with one idea building on another to produce a better manuscript than either the client or the ghost could have come up with singly.
14. Can’t I just edit the transcripts of my speeches together into a book? People love my speeches.
While you may be an excellent speaker, there’s a major difference between communicating ideas via a speech and doing so through the written word.
When you give a speech, your mere presence will have a tremendous influence on how people respond—often much more than the text of your presentation. A great deal of what people take away from your speeches will be determined by your vocalization, gestures, and facial expressions, none of which will be present in your book. That’s why the text that works as a speech often flounders as a book.
15. Should I self-publish my book? This seems to be a popular way to go these days.
This is an excellent question, which leads to another question: Why are you writing this book?
What is your goal? To make money from sales of the book? Raise your media profile? Introduce your product/service to potential customers? Share your concept with the world? For more on this, see, “Why Are You Writing Your Book?”
Your answer to this question will help you decide which type of publication is best for you: standard publication—getting your book published by Simon & Schuster or another major publisher—or self-publication.
To learn the pros and cons of each, read, “Which is Better, Standard or Self-Publishing?”
If you can’t decide why you’re writing your book and what publication strategy may be best for you, your ghostwriter can help you sort through the options. For a quick review of publishing, see, “Book Publishing: A How-To.”
16. Do I have to sell my book in “real” bookstores to make it worthwhile?
No. Selling books in Barnes & Noble and other brick-and-mortar bookstores is just one way to profit from your book. There are many others, and here are some of the approaches our clients have successfully used:
- Selling the book on Amazon and other online outlets
- Selling the book at seminars and other appearances
- Including the book as part of a larger package of consulting and/or educational services sold to clients
- Using the book to present their expertise and getting invited to appear on radio and television programs
- Giving the book away to generate interest in their product/service
- Using the book to explain their philosophy/approach as they seek promotion or other professional advance
- Using the book to memorialize their achievements and/or their company’s successes
17. Bottom line: Will my book be profitable?
As with all aspects of business, there’s no guarantee of financial success.
But keep your ultimate goal in mind. If your true ambition is to introduce a new concept or present your hard-learned lessons to the world, earning a profit on your book should not be a primary concern. If, on the other hand, profit is your driving motivation, remember that the increase in media attention and business generated by your book can greatly enhance your revenue, even if the book itself doesn’t make a lot of money.
When people contact us about ghostwriting their books, they’re usually thinking BIG—a quarter-million dollar advance from a major New York publisher, a New York Times bestseller, a 20-city tour complete with multiple appearances on all the big shows.
Thinking big is great.
But sometimes it’s better to think small.
And by “better,” we mean more profitable
We first learned that small can be lucrative in a big way from a plastic surgeon who, back in the 1980s, had his book published by a very small publisher. His plan was to use the book to get himself on local radio shows—that’s it.
He didn’t care about being on the bestseller list or the big TV shows, he didn’t care about making any money directly from book sales or winning the Pulitzer Prize.
He just wanted to get on local radio so he could talk about the new plastic surgery techniques he described in his book because doing so would drum up lucrative plastic surgery business. Which it did, without the help of national or local TV or radio shows. He didn’t earn a dime on the book, but the book made him a lot of money.
We once ghosted a book for a speaker/salesman who was intent on self-publishing.
He wanted nothing to do with the major publishers, and had no dreams of million-dollar advances or 20-city media tours.
When we asked him why, he explained that he gave speeches to very large audiences, and he believed he could sell several thousands of copies of his book at these speeches for $20 apiece. He sold twenty thousand copies, he told us several months after his book was launched, clearing about $250,000.
That’s much more than he would have made had the book been published by a traditional publisher, and the only marketing he employed was the speeches he was already giving.
Most people think big when thinking book, but sometimes SMALL is the better way to go.
So, big or small?
It depends on your goals, which are among the first things you should think about when you start to write your book. Better yet, think about them before you begin.
We are the business book ghostwriters
Writing a great book can help you accomplish multiple goals. And we can help you create it.
As ghostwriters of business books—and the “pen” behind over 50 published books—we’ve worked with leaders of major corporations, independent business people, B2B salespeople, and others. Here’s what some of our clients have said about working with us:
Barry “proved to have a tremendous ability to convert my words, thoughts and stories into a well-structured, thoughtful and insightful book.” – Bruce Krysiak, former President/Board Member of Toys “R” Us
“I want to thank Nadine Taylor, my wonderful editor and contributor, who spent countless hours making my random thoughts and scribbles eminently more readable. Thanks Nadine, you are truly the best in the biz!” – Denise Dudley, founder and former CEO of SkillPath Seminars
“With Barry’s help, writing my book was not only possible, it was pleasurable.” – Steven Friedman, Vice Chairman and CEO of United Steel Services
Our collaboration begins when we travel to your location to sit down with you and, over the course of several hours, get to know both you and your ideas. Then we return home to ghostwrite the manuscript, sending you drafts of the chapters as they are written for your review and correction. When our work is complete, you will have a highly-polished book that conveys your ideas and bears your name, and your name only. If you’d like, we will then facilitate the self-publication process for you.
If you’d like help with your business book…
Contact ghostwriters Barry Fox and Nadine Taylor. Use the contact form on this page to send us a message, or call us at 818-917-5362.
You can learn more about ghostwriters and ghostwriting in general on our “Finding and Working With a Ghostwriter” page.
P.S. Please note that we do not ghostwrite works of fiction (novels).