Business books are stories. This isn’t an exaggeration. Every successful business book is story about how to solve a problem. And the ones you remember are full of stories about people solving problems.
The biggest problem business authors have — at least based on my interactions with them — is they haven’t collected enough stories to make their books interesting. Without stories, books are collections of facts and argumentation. That might be useful, but it’s not likely to be interesting enough to retain readers’ attention. No attention, and you might as well not bother.
I made the decision to start every chapter in my book for authors — 24 chapters in all — with an author story. At the time, it seemed questionable. Now, it seems excellent. It makes what might otherwise have been a dry reference book into a relatable set of advice.
My favorite author stories
The fun part about book research is hearing the insane and unusual stories of the people you write about. Here are some of the author stories I loved.
- How hall-of-fame speaker Jay Baer and coauthor Daniel Lemin crafted the perfect story-based book on word of mouth — and made it resonate by sending out a bunch of plush alpacas.
- How Laura Gassner Otting’s book was so powerful that her friend got the cover graphic tattooed on her body.
- How Charlene Li found a new spin on Disruption.
- How I won a bet with Stefan Falk about whether his leadership book was publishable (and he got a six-figure advance).
- How an author drove herself into a ditch: “I’m 75,000 words into my 60,000 word book.”
- How Fotini Iconomopoulos powered through writer’s block to write a bestselling negotiation book.
- How the chief revenue officer of a multinational ad agency convinced his boss to let him become an author.
- How Jimmy Soni corralled millions of words of notes into a bestselling business narrative with sophisticated writing tools.
- How the former executive editor of the New York Times inadvertently plagiarized whole passages of other people’s prose.
- How much I hated Stefani Fink’s cover for my first book — until I realized it was truly great.
- How James McQuivey used a church connection to get the world’s foremost expert on disruption to blurb his book.
- How Joe Pulizzi based his whole business on a 1957 diagram from Walt Disney.
What stories are you telling? It makes all the difference to your readers.