The ROAM test for business books

There are four questions you really should answer before setting out on a business book journey. They’ll determine everything from your title to your content to your publishing model.

I first created the ROAM test for general business writing. It includes four elements: Readers, Objective, Action, and iMpression. If you’re going to work on something as big as a book, this analysis is even more valuable. So let’s get into it, one step at a time.

Readers: Who is your audience

Many authors I work with are so focused on content (what’s in their heads that they want to get out on the page) that they don’t think hard enough about audience. Don’t just check this off quickly, think carefully about it.

If your book is about how to integrate marketing technologies, then your audience is obviously marketers. But maybe you want to be more specific. Is it marketers in large companies managing at least three technology tools? Is it marketers with a team of five or more people? Are they all in B2B companies? Is this equally applicable for marketers in the U.S., Europe, or Asia?

Other books have more fundamental audience challenges. If you’re writing a book about productivity, who is it for? Office workers managing complex tasks on varying deadlines? Would it apply equally well to a shop foreman and a product manager?

This is a particularly hard question for self-help books. A good audience description fora self-help book might be “people who have had ongoing problems with confidence and imposter syndrome in the workplace, especially women.” That’s easier to write for than “everyone who has ever had a confidence problem.”

Once you know the audience, you can decide what you will do for them. More importantly, you can ignore the people you don’t want to help. This will make your book better and more focused.

Objective: What will change in the reader’s mind?

Unless your book changes the reader, don’t bother writing it. What change will you create?

Complete this sentence: “After reading this book, the reader will understand . . . “

For example, “After reading this book, the reader will understand how best to manage a small department as a middle manager.”

Or “After reading this book, the reader will understand why conversational interfaces are the future of interactivity, and how to plan for that future.”

For self-help/productivity books, the objective tends to be a method for working better. For strategy books, it’s a shift in the world and how to take advantage of it. For a business narrative or personal story, they’ll understand what happened and why it’s important.

Unless you can answer this question simply and powerfully, you need to work on refining your idea.

Action: What will the reader do?

If you read a whole book and afterwards, do nothing differently, why bother?

Sure, some books have entertainment value, but we’re talking business books here: you need to be able to act on them.

For some prescriptive books with lots of tips, this is simple: the reader will do what you told them to do — follow the seven principles of productivity, treat women differently in meetings, spend an hour a day on networking, or whatever.

For books that describe a shift, though, pay attention to this. If all you say is what will happen, you’ve done the reader a disservice. Spend a little time on what to do about it.

It’s also worth thinking about what they will do for you. Will they contact you for a workshop? Ask you to consult on your area of expertise? Books should boost your reputation and therefore your business. But business books that just sell your services stink — and people can smell them a mile away. Concentrate on helping the reader and make it easy for them to look you up if they want more. (At the very least, your website URL should be on or in the book.)

iMpression: What will they think of you?

This matters a lot for business authors. If you spend 50,000 words speaking to the reader, what will they think of you?

Are you efficient with their time, or verbose?

Are you helpful, or self-promotional?

Are you witty, pointed, clear, lyrical, or dramatic? Or are you plodding, dutiful, repetitive, poorly organized, and confusing?

One grammar mistake can undermine your credibility.

Impression matters because it will determine if they finish the book, believe you, follow you, hire you, read your next book, listen to your podcast, read your blog, tell everyone else you’re great, and become a fan — or if you leave them unmoved.

To create the best possible impression, get an editor. An editor is the reader’s surrogate. They can tell you what’s good and what’s wrong — and if they’re any good, how to fix it.

Also get a copy editor, a graphic designer for illustrations, a cover designer, an indexer, and maybe, a publicist.

If you want to make the best possible impression, a traditional publisher is going to help. A hybrid publisher can do the job, too. They’ll supply the copy editor, the cover design, and the index, but you may have to pull together the rest of the help yourself.

If you’re self-publishing, you’ll need to work a little harder on getting that whole team together and making sure they’re the best you can afford.

You can cut corners here. But amateur books produced without editors and professionals helping tend to look like crap — and have weaknesses in the writing, too. Why put all that work into the writing unless you’re ready to make a good impression?

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One Comment

  1. Love this! I know you’ve written it for authors of books, but I think it translates very well to designers of presentations (which is what we teach). Thanks for the idea!

    We use something similar: Purpose, Audience, Resources, Content which is a bit more presentation-friendly but I love the ROAM idea!