Business writing

More wow than words: How to write a readable business book

- October 18, 2012 2 MIN READ

I like reading. And as a publicist I receive a lot of business books. But some aren’t very readable. The print is small, there’s lots of pages and no spacing between the lines. My glasses aren’t strong enough for these, let alone my brain power. It’s clear the authors of these books haven’t really thought about the reader.

So the challenge is – how do you write a business book so it is the kind of book people want to read? Something they don’t have to squint at or get a headache trying to understand?

I’ve recently coined a term for certain kinds of business books. I call them Everything Books. They’re the book the author has put everything into. Every thought and idea they’ve had in the past 20 years is between those covers. The book is a testament to their original thinking – their study of a single field and a deep passion for making sense of it.

But Everything Books are not very readable. They’re not the type of business book you grab for a plane trip or pop in your bag for downtime reading at the office. They’re also not the best kind of book for a first-time business author.

An Everything Book is what happens when you haven’t distilled your ideas and worked out how to communicate them effectively.

On the other hand, there are books that make things simple. Deceptively simple – to the point you don’t realise how clever they are. They don’t need to prove they’re smart by telling you everything. They just make it clear and accessible.

So, how do you avoid writing an Everything Book?

I’d like to propose ‘The Main Thing’ book.

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What if you had just a few simple ideas and worked around those? What if you avoided the everything urge and focused on the main thing? What if you were to call your book The Main Thing to Know About X (where X equals what you do)?

If you’re considering writing a business book, I encourage you right now to grab a note pad. Put a big circle in the middle and write in it: THE MAIN THING. Now, draw only six lines pointing out of that, each with a circle at the end, and write in those THE NEXT THINGS. This is all you’re allowed to work with for now.

THE MAIN THING is what the book is about and THE NEXT THINGS are how you’re going to explain it. Remember fleshing out your school essays to get up to the word count? Do the opposite. See how few words you can use to explain something. See how much of your book you can plan without including everything. Get excited about being brief and find ways of making your point using key phrases. It’s your job to make the book accessible and readable.

I’ve even come up with a mantra for you while you write your business book: More Wow than Words.

I’m not guaranteeing a bestseller out of this. But I am promising a way to distil your ideas in a way people can understand and engage with. Plus – it will save you having to include everything.

(For more tips on writing succinct copy, read Caroline McDevitt’s article, “Write Less, Say More”.)

Are you considering writing a business book? Try the ‘More Wow than Words’ technique and let us know how you go!