The last chapter of your business book

How do you end your business book? Many just fizzle. Here’s how to leave your readers on a high note.

I already wrote about how the first chapter is the scare-the-crap-out-of-you chapter. And I explained how to write all the other chapters. But once you’ve said all you need to say, what’s left to say?

The readers have come all this way with you. You have them captivated. If they’ve read 40,000 or 50,000 words so far, they’re buying what you’re selling. So you don’t need to convince anyone of your thesis at this point — assume it’s proven.

Like the dessert after a fine meal, you need to take someone who’s satisfied and elevate them to a different level.

At Forrester Research, my former employer, we ended reports with a concept called WIM — what it means. The concept of WIM is that, once you have proven your case and explored all the natural consequences, you would take the concept further — look at how it might affect industries or governments or society in ways that went beyond the scope of the report. To create WIM, you needed to think beyond normal analytical reasoning and ask what nonobvious, startling, logical consequences there might be of what you had proven already.

This is the spirit of what you need to do in the last chapter. You don’t just pull together everything you’ve written, you extend your thinking further.

How to gather ideas for that last chapter

Face it: you’ve probably exhausted your thinking and reasoning with writing the rest of the chapters in the book. Even if you haven’t, you’re still stuck in the same modes of thinking. A final chapter needs to go further, and after running a marathon, the idea of going further seems pretty challenging.

This is why you should convene a brainstorm with some of your most imaginative friends. There are two basic frameworks for this. If you have written a how-to book, the prompt is, “How would the world be different if everyone did what we said?” And if you have written a trends or strategy book, the prompt is, “How would the world be different once these trends become widespread?”

I did this for the last two books I ghostwrote. For The Age of Intent, for example, we convened about ten people from the author’s company in his office — including sales executives, business development people, PR people, marketing people, and senior technical staff (some in person, some on video). These were not all senior people; I told my client to gather people who were smart, articulate, imaginative, and not shy. They were diverse, not only by title, but by gender, age, and national origin. Diversity is crucial here.

I laid out the thesis of the book in three or four minutes and then asked them what the future might hold. These brainstorms typically start slowly, but once people hear a few of their colleagues suggesting ideas, they chime in and you’re off and running.

Don’t let ideas just sit there — request that people extend them. “If what George says is true, how would that affect marketing? If Sally is right, what would happen to companies who failed to participate?” Questions like this can extend a good idea into a fascinating scenario.

If things flag, I always have a few prompts ready. What might this mean in different parts of the world? In the entertainment industry? For employees? For government regulation? For families?

Brainstorming is often a poor way to solve problems. But you’re not solving a problem here. You’re generating as many ideas as possible, the more startling the better.

Now write it

Now that you have all this raw material, the last chapter become easy to write.

First you write a short section that firms up and summarizes everything you’ve written so far. A couple of pages is sufficient for that.

After that, you sort and organize the best and most fascinating of the ideas from your brainstorm. The silliest ideas may end up on the cutting-room floor, or as tossed off “even this might happen.” You’ll combine other ideas. And you’ll pull it all together in an order that makes logical sense.

You should use future-oriented words like “will” and “could” (even a “might” or two for the most outlandish ideas). You support them with events, statistics, trends, or examples from the rest of the book. But you don’t have to prove anything as you did in the rest of the book. You just have to dazzle.

After 3,000 or 4,000 words of that, your readers will be tingling.

And you can write whatever you want to finish off that chapter. You can charge them to change the world. You can extrapolate a century forward. You can pull in to a tight focus and remind them what they, personally, need to do. The last part of the last chapter is about inspiration.

Leaving your readers on a high note — rather than with a boring summary or whatever chapter of analysis happens to be at the end — makes a big difference. Inspired readers actually act on your advice. They share what they’ve read. They write reviews. They turn a good book into a phenomenon.

So don’t fizzle at the end of your manuscript. Write an ending that energizes people. All it takes is a little extra inspiration.

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